Janet Stone McGuigan: I cannot put my name to the budget that is being put before the RTM

Open letter to the RTM Education Committee and District 6 Members, Members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Board of Education and Superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools Dr. Toni Jones

I am stunned by (Tuesday’s) special meeting of the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), which adjourned after a forty-minute debate about parliamentary procedure and no substantive discussion.

While Robert’s Rules and the Freedom of Information Act may not have compelled the town’s finance board to reconsider its decision to cut $3 million to the Board of Education’s operating budget, I had hoped that the meeting would serve as an opportunity for the BET to respond to an outpouring of concern from the Greenwich community.  To say I’m disappointed by the outcome doesn’t come close to capturing how I feel.

When I ran last November for what I thought would be a small but purposeful public office in Town government – member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) – I was especially interested in supporting the R in the title.  Meaning, I would do my best to listen to the concerns of my neighbors, and in turn help communicate to them the issues faced by our community.

So I struggled in the days before April 27 when the BET was scheduled to vote on the Town budget.  Until then, as an RTM member from Old Greenwich, I naively thought the big budget issues included (though were not limited to) the increasing costs of waste disposal, managing our town’s nursing home facility, a bridge replacement on the main road entering Old Greenwich (that I don’t think has been properly vetted by affected residents), and restoring a study that is a necessary first step to making the local elementary school accessible.

When, in the days prior to April 27, the public started to hear that deep cuts might be debated, I earnestly informed my neighbors and encouraged them to write letters to the BET if they had concerns about the budget.  One neighbor asked for documentation of the newly proposed cuts, but I had nothing to point her to.  In the event, what I thought were the big budget concerns were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the cut that the BET approved.

I have heard from those who approve the cut that the pandemic changed everything and to move forward we need to respond to the new reality.  I agree.  But we should remain steadfast in our value for community.

The budget process that began prior to the pandemic was a public affair that was noticed well in advance of meetings, with documents explaining what would be discussed and decided upon.  The final decision day was not. Moving forward means to me doing everything I can to signal that this was no way to make a public decision.

I will not take the space here to go into the reasons I do not like the proposed budget, and I must say there are a lot of reasons I like other parts of the budget.

But this was not a budget discussion that our town residents could meaningfully engage in.  It is my understanding that if I vote this budget down, I am asking the town to revert to the last approved budget, in this case, the one of 2019-20.  It is not clear to me if this helps or hurts the education operating budget.  But so be it.

As an elected official asking for the public’s trust, I cannot put my name to the budget that is being put before the RTM.  Meanwhile, I anticipate that our schools will need greater funding, not less, as we hope to return to our buildings, slowly but safely, in the coming year.  I will gladly make myself available to approve any interim funding request made by our Board of Education.

Janet Stone McGuigan
Greenwich RTM Member for District 6 and Alternate Member of the Education Committee