Letter to the editor from Board of Estimation and Taxation (BET) Democrats: Leslie Moriarty, Laura Erickson, Miriam Kreuzer, Beth Krumeich, Jeff Ramer, David Weisbrod
Messages poured into BET member inboxes over the weekend from over 1,000 parents, teachers and thoughtful taxpayers protesting an 11th hour $3 million cut to the Board of Education budget. Just a handful of emails agreed with the cut.
The Democrats on the BET heard all those voices, imploring us not to harm our children’s well-being at a time of such uncertainty. At this time of crisis, residents want their town elected officials to come together with a unified voice to address new economic realities and deliver town services residents desperately need and expect.
Put simply, we Democrats agreed with our Republican colleagues to defer a host of capital projects and to use a portion of the Town’s “rainy day fund.”
We did not agree with such a substantial cut to the school’s budget without any Board of Ed vetting and most especially without benefit of a public hearing where residents can express their points of view and respond to specific proposals to cut. We did not agree that the underfunded costs for Special Education in the current budget, expected to continue in FY21, should be overlooked.
The Democratic proposal reduces operating budgets, cuts capital projects and results in no increase in the mill rate. Our efforts were rebuffed, with the Chair belittling our concerns telling us “these comments are not worth the air you wasted on them.”
The Republican claim that their $3 million Board of Ed cut is “not a cut” because it is funding at the prior year’s budget is disingenuous. Our Superintendent of Schools explained to the BET prior to Monday’s vote that a $3 million cut “would have lasting consequences for our students, felt well beyond the immediate school year.” The reductions could mean eliminating 30 teachers, support staff and administrative positions, and across the board reductions to academic, athletic and extra-curricular programs. Increasing class sizes at this time is particularly reckless as it flies in the face of social distancing guidelines that are expected to restrict the schools when hopefully they re-open.
Leadership is not about exercise of raw power, giving an “order” and expecting obedience. It involves working with people to understand the impact of budgetary reductions, to implement efficiencies where they make sense, to manage the financial pain as wisely as possible.
Leadership involves hearing people’s voices. That is what residents deserve and should expect from their elected officials.
During the 2008-09 financial crisis extraordinary measures were taken by the Board of Ed to help reduce costs, but that unfolded in the context of collaborative discussions over a number of months. Back then, the Board of Education already had an appropriated budget but voluntarily cooperated with the BET and First Selectman to achieve additional savings. That is a far cry from being given a fiat literally on a Thursday with a vote on the next Monday paying no heed to the fragile condition of our educational community at this unprecedented time.
A compelling image of this era is the 7:00pm ritual every night in New York City with citizens using their voices to celebrate the dedicated health care workers.
For us, among the many voices we heard was that of the emergency room COVID-fighting doctor at Greenwich Hospital returning from another long shift pleading with us to support children and teachers at this terrible time.
That voice needs to be heard by all of us.