Open letter to the entire 230 member RTM from Sara Selbert Savov, District 10; James Waters, District 12; Kathleen Yu, District 10; Clare Lawler Kilgallen, District 4; Audra O’Donovan, District 12; Jennifer Kutai, District 6; Caroline Lerum, District 2; and all the members of Support Greenwich Schools
In this trying time for our nation and our town, thank you for your service. The residents of our town owe you a debt of gratitude for continuing to put our people first in a time when many things are uncertain.
We also thank you for your patience this budget season; we know you’ve received a fair amount of fan mail in recent days. While emails may have flooded your inbox and you might not be able to get to them all, we feel confident that the majority say the same thing: PLEASE VOTE YES to the Education Committee’s Sense of the Meeting Resolution to make a $2.272 million interim appropriation to the Board of Education Operating Budget this June.
We represent Support Greenwich Schools, a group formed in the last two weeks that includes voices from every pocket of town and across the political spectrum: Republicans, Democrats, and Unaffiliated voters alike. We believe this funding is critical to the future of our town. We know it is critical to our children, who have already been suffering without essential social interactions and the vital teacher-student connection. This funding properly balances the need for fiscal responsibility in uncertain times with an appropriate education budget that invests in our children, safeguards our schools from the public health impacts of COVID-19, ensures we get our local economy going, and protects the property values of our residents. Without it, we save the median Greenwich taxpayer 31 cents per day but put everything else at risk. Surely the town’s children are worth 31 cents, aren’t they? As the duly elected representatives of our residents and taxpayers – the formal voice of our town – we trust that you see the big picture and understand that the school budget has more wide-ranging impacts than numbers on a page.
The last nine weeks have been difficult for all of us – and the most recent two weeks have been especially concerning for our town and our future. This one topic – our school budget – has sparked a backlash of epic proportions. Residents understand the need to postpone certain capital projects and reduce departmental budgets that are administrative in nature. Yet thousands of residents across the political spectrum cannot understand why the Town of Greenwich, which remains financially healthy and stable,
would choose to cut an already lean school budget proposed by the Superintendent and vetted by the Board of Education.
Here are the facts residents see:
• They see what is happening in our neighboring peer towns, who are all choosing to continue investing in their schools in the COVID-19 era while Greenwich pulls back. As usual, town finance boards often adjust Board of Education proposals, but Greenwich is the only peer town that is not investing more in education in the coming year. See Chart A in addition to attached facts and sources.
• They see that Greenwich has a $64 million Rainy Day Fund and wonder why it is not available to plug the schools gap in a time of crisis.
• They see the Superintendent and her cabinet willing to forgo raises while others in town government do not.
• They see home sales and rental agreements in Greenwich increase by 40-50% year-over-year, according to GMLS data, in March and April, as young families flee New York City permanently. They shake their heads in disbelief at the inherent assumption that Greenwich Public Schools in the COVID-19 era will adequately and safely serve even more children with less funding in more crowded classrooms.
• They worry crowding will either result in a resurgence of COVID-19 in our town or require more extensive digital learning protocols in our schools … and a longer period of time before our residents can fully get back to work.
• They wonder why people will continue to move to Greenwich – or stay here – if the quality of our public schools suffers and fear what that will do to their property values, especially when other neighboring town continue to invest in education when we do not.
To make matters worse, town residents were enraged by a budget process that simply ignored these concerns. Despite a petition signed by nearly 3,000 residents to date, tens of thousands of emails sent to elected officials, and countless letters to our newspapers, the majority party on the Board of Estimate & Taxation (BET) refused to even consider a solution. Instead, the nearly 400 residents who tuned into each of the BET’s recent public meetings were greeted with arcane parliamentary maneuvers intended to silence discussion. Since then, engagement with Support Greenwich Schools has skyrocketed. The numbers are building and the clock is ticking.
The RTM has a unique, perhaps heroic opportunity to make things right by passing this interim appropriation. We teach our children not to be bystanders when something wrong is happening. Our town
residents now turn to you, their elected voice: will you stand up and do the right thing for all of us?
We hope so, for the sake of our entire town and most especially for our children. Thank you for your service and consideration in this matter.
Sara Selbert Savov, District 10
James Waters, District 12
Kathleen Yu, District 10
Clare Lawler Kilgallen, District 4
Audra O’Donovan, District 12
Jennifer Kutai, District 6
Caroline Lerum, District 2
And all the members of Support Greenwich Schools
Sources of Information:
Fairfield Public Schools Budget Note: Latest details based on May 5, 2020 meeting of Fairfield Board of Finance. Board of Finance meets again on May 11, 2020 to vote.
Darien Public Schools Budget Note: Board of Finance meets May 14, 2020 to approve the budget. Current status of discussions envisions 2-2.5% increase for Board of Education.
Town of New Canaan budget Note: Used operating budget statistics to make comparable to Greenwich because of extraordinary non-operating New Canaan adjustment/transfer to health fund.