LETTER: How Politics Can Poison The Well

Submitted by Greg Piccininno, member of the CMS building committee. These views are his as a resident

I have never been attracted to politics or for that matter to a public life. When I was a young man, it was clear to me from what I saw on the evening news that politicians tend to be hypocritical. I noticed that most politicians struggled to give straight answers to simple questions. Even “yes or no” questions provoked long winded replies that left me scratching my head. I also noticed that they often did not practice what they preached.

Not wishing to compromise my own moral standards, I had managed to steer clear of politics. The closest I got being when I was as President of stop95noise.org when I helped lead the successful fight against highway noise pollution.

Hence, when I was asked to be on the Central Middle School Building Committee (CMSBC) I was honored and joined it with a positive spirit and a commitment to build the best school at the most efficient cost to Greenwich taxpayers. What I did not realize was how easily a building committee could become prisoner to the divisive politics of our time and our town. I assumed naively that because our task was limited to the Educational Specifications (EdSpecs) of the project, politics would not intrude with our ability to do our work. I was wrong.

From the beginning of the process the size of the school was targeted to be reduced. The recommended BET budget was treated as an ironclad demand with little to no flexibility despite the fact we did not yet know the scope or details of a final design. Obstacles to our progress became common place and our committee was criticized for being “political” despite the fact that none of its non-elected members were politicizing it. This has made doing our job excruciatingly difficult. Nothing illustrates the absurdity of the of fabricated turmoil surrounding the CMSBC more than the fact that our budget has been reduced from $85.5million – to $75.5million – to the $67.5 million plug number prior to our even having received a final cost estimate for the project.

The work we were charged with is the subject of constant criticism by some whose job is not to determine the size and scope of the project, but how to finance the final product presented to them. The countless hours of sweat equity by well-meaning and hardworking CMSBC members feels like a waste of our time when the recommendations we make are consistently deemed as “faulty.”

GPS parents and people in our community may ask who is to blame? The answer is that there is plenty to go around. BET Republicans and the BET representative on the CMSBC have used misinformation to call our work into question. Instead of being an integral part of the solution, they have created obstacles to getting to a point where we can have adult conversations about size and scope of this urgently needed project, which has caused unnecessary delays.

The RTM Rep has also made numerous suggestions outside the scope of the project and has lately resorted to ad hominem attacks against members of the committee, including me.

The Board of Education (BOE) also bears some responsibility because they have not fought for this essential project in a way that would advance its progress.

The CMSBC is made up of Greenwich Residents who are focused on one goal. To build a great school for the CMS community at the lowest price possible. However, the corrupting forces of politics have made accomplishing this goal all the more difficult.

Instead of looking at ways to increase the State Reimbursement, finding creative funding solutions should the project exceed the arbitrary “budget” (set for it by BET Republicans) or having legitimate and respectful debates about size and enrollment, our committee is caught in the crossfire of a political battle steeped in past grievances between BET Republicans and the BOE (which incidentally has also been run by Republicans for several years). Instead of our committee being allowed to do its work and produce a final product that is actionable, we are hampered by political forces that seem more concerned with winning elections than doing right by our community and its students. At this point, an on time completion looks improbable.

Perhaps I should have heeded all those who questioned my willingness to join a town committee, however that decision has been taken and now I will endure for the duration, and I will not allow politicians to damage a good thing.