LETTER: Fight the $3 Million Cuts to Greenwich Schools Budget

An open letter to the Greenwich community submitted by Nicole James, Greenwich

This is week 10 of distance learning for my third grader at Julian Curtiss School, and the care taking of my preschooler.

My days, like for so many other families, are a juggle of two working parents, with various screen devices flying, lots of frustration, and general chaos. Add to my to do list: follow and oppose the recent $3 million Board of Education budget cut decided by the Board of Taxation and Estimation this past March 27th.

These cuts may result in the loss of teachers; of class size increases to 30-40 kids, of educational programming and services being eliminated, and the deferring of building maintenance and upgrades.

As a parent and a PTA board member of a school in this district, it is my strong opinion that cuts in these categories will negatively impact our childrens’ education in the short and long term, and will have rippling effects in our community. These schools will suffer greatly; the school state exam scores will be impacted, and so will our real estate values. This is not a “parent” problem,” this is not a “public school problem.” This is a community problem.

As I’ve watched the “for and against” budget cut debate play out in the Greenwich headlines I’ve thought back to February when I attended a Board of Education meeting at Western Middle School; the auditorium was packed with parents from across the district who felt their children were falling through the cracks due to a flailing special education system. Remember the headline: “Sobbing in the parking lot’: Teacher’s union leader lists special education struggles?”

I listened that night about understaffing, about how teachers are forced to do “classroom evacuations” – over 1,000 of them were quoted being done in the district. (An “evacuation” is when a teacher must empty their entire classroom because of one disruptive child.) One on one support for that child would help the situation. Fewer staff can’t possibly help. And that’s just a normal old “pre-COVID problem.” This is only one haunting example from that very sobering evening.

What about the state of our kids next year? They will have become addicted to screens because their parents needed to hold down a job. They’ll have likely regressed in all subjects, and have fallen behind behaviorally. They surely won’t be soaring ahead in order to thrive in overstuffed classrooms stripped of resources, staffing, enrichment, and support. By the way, larger class sizes and “social distancing” do not go together.

Whatever new world we are entering this fall should be met with resources and support, not a decimated bank account that was already in need of help.

Any problems we had in winter 2020 will not be minimized but will have blossomed into a fervor.

We’re going to need all those teachers — on “google classroom” or off.

We’re going to need those school psychologists times two—I’d put my mill rate money on it.

Here’s what happened on March 27th: a fiscally conservative plan was been made to prepare for the consequences of COVID-19. In effect we have gouged an education budget for small taxpayer savings in a town where the median price of a home is about $2 million. Bottom line: after week upon week of distance learning and isolation, with school cancelled for the year, a long summer ahead, and an unknown future, parents, children, and educators have been kicked while they’re down. It’s quite a message and the conversation is not ending here.

There are thousands of residents in this town petitioning, writing letters, and fighting against this budget cut. I’m writing in that same spirit – to join the chorus, and to encourage others to do the same. We should all consider the impact of these cuts and if you agree with my position, write to the RTM members in your district, and ask them to vote YES on 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. It is a thoughtful compromise – meant to replace much of the cut. This is our next call to action in the fight for this funding which will support our schools during one of the hardest times imaginable for our kids and our community.

Nicole James
Greenwich, CT