LETTER: Neighboring Towns Already Spend More Per Pupil than Greewich

Letter to the editor from Greenwich Public School parent Ed Lerum

With the recent school budget cuts for the 2020-2021 school year, the school budget has become a point of focus for many of us. Something that struck me was Peter Scherr’s claim that Greenwich spends more per pupil than any other regular school district in Connecticut. Mr. Scherr is on the BOE after all, so he would know, right?

Simply put, not even close.

After reviewing the 2019-2020 school budgets of some neighboring Fairfield County towns, here’s what I found: for the 2019-2020 school year, Greenwich budgeted $18k per student, Fairfield budgeted $19k per student, Darien budgeted $21k per student, Westport budgeted $22k per student, and New Canaan budgeted $22.5k per student. In other words, Fairfield spends approximately 6% more, Darien spends 17% more, Westport spends 22% more, and New Canaan spends 25% more on each of their student’s education than Greenwich. I’m shocked. These are material differences!… and disappointing to say the least.

Let me repeat, New Canaan spends 25% more on each of their student’s education than Greenwich spends on ours. Even Fairfield, a school district with 500 more students than Greenwich and a median home value that is 60% less, spends 6% more than Greenwich!

The lack of funding for our school system compared to our neighbors is in itself alarming, but it also translates (arguably) to lagging school rankings. Per Niche’s 2020 Best School District Rankings in Connecticut, Westport is ranked #1, New Canaan is ranked #2, Darien is ranked #5, Fairfield is ranked #9 and Greenwich is ranked #12. See a correlation here? Definitely.

Bottom line, Greenwich does not invest enough in its school system. Is Greenwich a good school system? Yes. Should it improve? Yes!

Further, the cut is really $4.5m, as opposed to the widely-known $3m, because the previously proposed $166m budget had already been identified as being $1.5m short due to newly realized costs for the following year. As mentioned in other forums, the BET has multiple levers at their disposal to avoid these cuts, including a rainy day fund that is many, many millions above its target level. The BET could cover this $4.5m deficit and still keep the rainy day fund well above target.

Ultimately, however, the point of this letter is to stress that even if the school budget was $4.5m higher at $167.5m, that is still not good enough. To reach Fairfield’s per student spending in the current year (which should be the bare minimum), Greenwich’s budget would need to be $172m. At $163m, we’re $9m off that mark.

Finally, multiple BET members who supported the budget cuts expressed taking a longer-term view as part of their reasoning. Here’s a long-term view for their consideration: our children’s growth projections are a function of compound growth, and therefore, are constantly changing. What happens now or next year impacts what happens many years down the road. Our BET members are aware of how compound growth impacts their investments. I ask they consider how it impacts our children.

Ed Lerum