Submitted by Michael Bodson & Sue Moretti Bodson, Concerned Greenwich Residents
Local Republicans have long brandished themselves as the party of fiscal prudence, who made Greenwich a beacon of financial stability in a state that has seen its share of economic turbulence. A cursory glance at Greenwich’s fiscal health paired with its consistently low tax rate might suggest that there is some merit to this argument.
However, upon more thorough inspection, a disturbing history of deferred maintenance of public schools and an oncoming backlog of acute school capital needs gives credence to a counter argument. One that exposes the shortcomings of their fiscal “prudence” and reveals a stark reality of fiscal negligence.
Greenwich Republicans have run the Town’s powerful finance board (BET) for 98 of the past 100 years. During this time, Republicans have benefited from a perpetually growing grand list, increasing tax revenues and a reliance upon limited borrowing to maintain their reputation as the party of fiscal prudence. However, accompanying the BET’s very conservative management style has been a recent reluctance to increase capital spending for the town’s now aging school infrastructure. This pattern has been noted over the years, and has been reported in various articles including two examples that are prescient today.
A June 1912 New York Times article claimed in a headline that “The second wealthiest town in America depends on philanthropy for educational improvements – 51 percent of pupils examined show bad effects of insanitary conditions.” More than fifty years later, a March 1969 Times article chronicled a BET meeting at which 35 town residents spoke to make “pleas on school funds” to the BET, which was then as now, under Republican leadership. One speaker, a GHS student spoke of “what is was like to spend three years in high school, sitting on the floor, eating in the halls” and “always being promised the new high school will be finished next year – maybe.”
Flash forward to 2023. More than half a century after one article and a full century after the other, a similar picture of Greenwich public schools in dire need of help has emerged. On the heels of a public elementary school ceiling collapse, and a middle school being closed and deemed “unfit for human occupancy”, an elementary school suffering from unsanitary conditions due to sewage backup and massive non-compliance with ADA law throughout the district, residents are demanding action. Once again a Republican controlled BET is stubbornly refusing to provide necessary funding (in the interest of “fiscal prudence”) for school capital needs.
Debate over the proposed capacity for Central Middle School (CMS) threatens to cause a delay in the school’s timely construction. CMS is based on a “two team model” of teaching. In order to accommodate this model, the CMS administration recommended that the school be built for enrollment between 480-660 students. The Board of Education, working in conjunction with the CMS Building Committee has agreed to this size, which incidentally fits the arc of enrollment at the school over the past 40 years and will allow the school to accommodate the inevitable future fluctuations in school enrollment.
Then there is the well documented case of Old Greenwich School (OGS) which is currently suffering from problems that a major public elementary school in a bellwether town like Greenwich should never have to face. These issues are well documented.
Consistent flooding; sewage waste backup into classrooms on the lower level; lack of ADA compliance; lack of ANY ventilation; lack of fire sprinkler systems et cetera. The OGS building committee is operating at light speed and is ready to move forward with these critical upgrades.
Enter the BET Republicans.
True to their history, instead of looking for creative ways to address these projects in an expedited manner, the BET Republican majority is narrowly focused on spending as little as possible on CMS, pushing to downsize the project based on the premise that the current downtrend in public school enrollment will be perpetual not temporary. They have also opposed funding OGS in this year’s budget, thus delaying the project at a critical juncture in its development.
Here is where fiscal “prudence” becomes fiscal negligence. These capital infrastructure improvements are not items of choice. They are not akin to the types of big government spending packages that often over promise and under deliver, and make it difficult to decipher whether taxpayer funds were well spent or wasted. These are literally brick and mortar necessities for a healthy, functioning and vibrant community. Our public school capital infrastructure needs are not going to disappear anytime soon. The broad absence of ADA compliance, security deficient entries, lack of proper HVAC and lack of ventilation are widespread throughout the GPS and demand attention. None of these deficiencies should be tolerated in a town as wealthy as Greenwich.
It is time for BET Republicans to proactively deal with these issues. Their delays in addressing glaring GPS capital needs over the past decade have already cost the Town millions of dollars due to the current inflationary environment. Democrats on the BET have openly declared a willingness to find a solution to do both CMS and OGS simultaneously. The financial wherewithal for this exists in Greenwich, but Republicans are slavishly adhering to their historical position of fiscal prudence.
When asked once what he believed the legitimate objective of government was, Abraham Lincoln replied “To do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do well for themselves.” The infrastructure needs of the Greenwich public school system is at a critical crossroads. There should be a political cost associated with a failure to address these needs in the most timely manner. It needs BET Republicans, as Mr. Lincoln so aptly said “To do for the people what needs to be done”. If they do not deliver, their historical message of fiscal prudence will be judged by the public as fiscal negligence.
Michael Bodson & Sue Moretti Bodson
Concerned Greenwich Residents
• “And There Was Light” by Jon Meacham (page 38)
• 1912/1969 Articles