KORDICK: Risk from St. Roch’s Church Use of Hamilton Ave School Fields is Unjustified

Open Letter copied to GFP from Mark Kordick, RTM – District 9 – All opinions expressed are my own.

Members of the Board of Education and Dr. Jones:

I am writing to ask that the Board of Education reject the proposed agreement between GPS and St. Roch’s Church regarding use of the Hamilton Avenue School fields and parking deck.  To put it simply, the risk is unjustified.  After last year’s event, large portions of the field were left unusable to students until nearly Thanksgiving.  I am sure the church has guaranteed the Board that nothing will happen and that safeguards are in place … but weren’t those same assurances made last year as well?

School property is held in trust by the Board of Education to provide for the education of students.  The for-profit event proposed to be conducted on the field has no rational relationship to the school, no educational value and benefits the student population in absolutely no way whatsoever.  There is only risk of another unfortunate happenstance for an event that has zero connectivity to the school or its mission.  As such it would be a violation of the Board’s duty to students and their education to approve this non-educational use of a school facility by a private, outside entity, especially given the considerable – and now demonstrated – risks.

The efforts of the church and some of its event organizers to “grease the wheels” with gifts to the PTA and the District itself are fraught with ethical difficulty.  Our schools should not be put up for sale to the highest bidder.  Furthermore, some of these “gifts” violate the Board’s own policies and the Superintendent’s regulations on gift-giving. 

Board of Education Policy 3280 plainly states that “All gifts shall be accepted for the school district as a whole, and not for a particular school except as outlined in the regulations for partner organizations.”  Regulation 3280R defines “partner organizations” as “Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs), the PTA Council, and the Greenwich Alliance for Education” exclusively.  Neither Mr. Frank Cortese, his private company nor St. Roch’s Church is a “partner organization” of the Hamilton Avenue School.  Gifts of free landscaping or a sprinkler system for installation by a non-partner organization cannot be properly directed to a particular school.  Policies that prohibit the directing of gifts are set in place specifically to guard against the exact type of favoritism, influence-peddling and special treatment the donors clearly hope to receive by directing these donations to improve the very property they are soliciting permission to use.  

Regulation 3280R also requires an evaluation of the appropriateness of proposed gifts to include ensuring that the gift “will not bring costs to the District for which a budgetary appropriation might be necessary.”  While I understand the sprinkler system gift, as proposed, includes a 15-year service agreement, as I understand it, the largest long-term cost of athletic field irrigation is the provision of the water itself.  The Town of Greenwich’s own website reports on its “Water Supply and Conservation” page that locations “with automatic sprinkler irrigation systems often use large volumes of water—about 40% more” than those without.  Clearly Aquarion does not provide water to the school for free.  Regulation 3280R also requires an examination of whether or not the proposed gift “will not create inequity between or among programs or schools.”  I do not believe there are plans to provide athletic field irrigation or 12 months of bespoke landscaping services to all schools in the GPS District.

I will conclude by reiterating my first and most important point.  The Board of Education’s own “Mission, Vision, Values and Beliefs Regulation” states explicitly “All District operations and resources will be directed toward fulfilling the Mission, Vision, Values, and Beliefs in word, action, policy, and decision-making.”  The same regulation defines that Mission as follows:

Mission: It is the Mission of the Greenwich Public Schools

  • to educate all students to the highest levels of academic achievement;
  • to enable them to reach and expand their potential; and
  • to prepare them to become productive, responsible, ethical, creative and compassionate members of society.

Permitting a for-profit carnival to be held that has already significantly damaged school property once, prompted large police responses and caused students to be denied use of their school’s athletic field for weeks is absolutely not part of the defined mission of the Greenwich Public Schools system.  In fact exposing students and their school facility to needless risk for no educational reward is a direct contradiction of your Board’s own mission statement. 

I get it.  Rattletrap rides operated by chain-smoking carnival workers are fun.  Pizza fritta is delicious.  But neither one is the responsibility of the Greenwich Public School system.  The Board of Education should not be horse-trading political and economic favors but instead be acting in the best interest of students and their education … period.