Letter to the editor from Laura Kostin
The BET (Board of Estimate and Taxation) Republicans created a political firestorm on Monday after they voted unanimously to cut the Board of Education’s budget by $3m.
After the deed was done and parents were rightfully fuming, the Greenwich Republican Party chair moved quickly into damage control mode and penned a public letter to *ahem* “set the record straight.”
He writes that he simply cannot imagine what all the “pandemonium” was about… as he claims it’s not really a “cut”— the Board of Education is really just dealing with a “flat Year-Over-Year Board of Education budget.”
It seems he is unaware that the budget he’d like to revert back to was such a stinker that Republican school board member Peter Sherr wouldn’t even vote for it. Among the concerns raised about the FY20 Operating Budget totaling $163,364,193… were increased class sizes at the middle school level, the elimination of funds for teacher professional development and reduced course offerings at Greenwich High School.
Sherr said at the time “I will not support a budget that directly impacts the number of teachers in classrooms in any level of the system and that directly impacts the courses that we offer.”
Superintendent Ralph Mayo stated that the budget made him “extremely uncomfortable.”
Fast forward to December of 2019. The FY21 Operating Budget $166,631,476 was unanimously passed by the Board of Education and met guidelines established by the BET, even though the BET was aware it was less than what was needed to cover increases in contractual costs.
Among the concerns raised about this budget were that it failed to resolve the issue of overcrowding at Eastern Middle School and did not restore any funds for teacher professional development. Additionally, the School Board has had to ask for another $1.4m appropriation in funds to cover budget overages due to Special Education outplacements.
If you are taking the Greenwich Public School operating budget from $166m to $163m, it’s a reduction. It’s not semantics, it’s math.
But it’s not all about the money. Parents (also residents and taxpayers) are also furious that BET Republicans unveiled the proposed $3m cut during a budget workshop on Thursday (4/23) days after the public comment period had passed.
Shockingly, they did not schedule a new one. So, parents took matters into their own hands and flooded the BET members’ email inboxes and staged a loud protest in the rain outside Town Hall, all in under 48 hours.
Republican Chair Quigley also muses that a teacher “pay freeze for one year would be enough to fill this budget hole.” But the BET Republicans never reached out to the Superintendent or the Board of Education and they never even sent the GEA (the teachers union) a cursory email. The BET was required to pass a budget by May 5th. There was certainly plenty of time to negotiate a compromise IF THEY HAD WANTED TO. The BET Republicans also could have tried to negotiate with their Democratic colleagues who offered compromises repeatedly during the voting on Monday, but they voted to defeat those comprises measures repeatedly.
One last point. It’s NOT the BET’s job to set education policy, so it should refrain from “suggestions” as to how Board of Education administer its funds.
The BET’s job is to issue a budget, set the mill rate and act on appropriations. In a letter to Dr. Toni Jones, BET Chair Mike Mason makes many suggestions about how the Board of Education could bow to the BET’s funding whims.
So, if the Greenwich Republican Chair is still wondering what all the “pandemonium” is about, he should wonder no more.