LETTER: Further Cutting of the School Budget is Unreasonable

Submitted by Joan Thakor

Last week, along with other RTM members from the Education Committee and District 6, I met with assistant principal Caitlin Bertram for a tour of Old Greenwich School.

I was curious to see this gem of a school because OGS is in the Town of Greenwich capital budget pipeline for a large renovation project. For those of you who continue to press the town to pare down its budget, I offer OGS as an example of how misguided that position is and why further cutting is unreasonable and will do more harm than good.

OGS is a beautiful school, but at 120 years old, it desperately needs some attention. One glaring problem is that the building is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law enacted in 1990. Anyone driving by the school can spot the steep staircase leading to the front doors. For students and others (voters visiting the school on election day, for example) with mobility issues, the school staff places a temporary ramp on the back gym entrance. Within the building, the school lacks an elevator, so whenever a student cannot use the stairs due to mobility issues, as there currently is, that student’s entire class must be relocated to the main floor.

As any parent knows, the safety of our children is paramount, and here again, the building falls short. The current front office is several yards away from the main entrance, making it difficult to know who is buzzing in from the front door. The new design moves the front office and front entrance together to the Northeast corner for improved security.

Other issues include cracked floor tiles at each classroom entrance (a constant problem, we were told), a frequently flooding toilet in a first- grade classroom that is below sea level, and poor air quality.

The BoE’s budget request for OGS is far from extravagant. On the contrary, new air conditioning will be restricted to the gym only (sweltering even in April) because the current window units in classrooms and offices (paid for by the OGS PTA, NOT the Town) do an adequate job. When asked how many new classrooms the plan includes, Ms. Bertram responded that the net number would remain the same- although the design would allow for better functionality and learning for today and include the much-needed elevator.

The new plan will also address the flooding bathroom, alleviating the anxiety of myriads of first graders who would be mortified at the thought of causing an overflowing toilet in front of all their classmates!

Why do I say delaying this project will do more harm than good? As anyone who owns a home surely knows, patching up problems like these invariably costs us more in the long run: for example, I was surprised to learn that every time a major storm is predicted, we pay extra for custodians to operate the pumps in that first-grade classroom on a 24-hour basis, at overtime rates. As for its non-compliance issues, the school is currently dealing with an ADA-related lawsuit against it. Couple that with the buckling floors, all too easy to trip on, and it’s easy to imagine other lawsuits to follow.

Old Greenwich School’s needs are many and urgent-and similar needs exist at other Greenwich schools. Can we please be thoughtful, move ahead with these long-overdue school projects, and fund them properly, responsibly, and cost-effectively? I can’t be the only town resident who finds it unconscionable to live amidst such affluence and yet have our children attend public schools that are so poorly maintained.

(I am an RTM member in District 5 but these views are my own.)