LETTER: Rebuilding Greenwich Schools Requires Better Financial and Operating Controls

Letter to the editor from RTM District 10 Candidates Natalie J. Adee, Granit Balidemaj, Peter Jude Collins, Allyson Cowin, W. Brooks Harris, Katherine V. Hynes, Sheryl B. Sorbaro, and Jane S. Sprung

In District 10, a group of 8 of us are running for the RTM and focusing on fiscal responsibility. It is our pledge to our neighbors to do our best to protect their financial interest.

Fiscal responsibility means
• making a commitment to spending our tax dollars on what makes sense
• avoiding spending on wasteful or unneeded projects
• paying a fair price for what we buy
• financing our capital projects without leaving debt for our children
• protecting our shoreline and the environment
• spending tax dollars as if they were your own, because it is all of our money

The Town spends over $400 million each year, and we support investment in education, fire protection and other vital services that insure the vibrancy of Greenwich.

Why is fiscal responsibility so important right now?
Greenwich is embarking on a massive, $1+ billion effort to rebuild our schools. Amazing and exciting, right! We have the best teachers so naturally we should have the best facilities.

What does this mean for fiscal responsibility?
The “master plan” involves spending $1 – $1.2 billion over 15 years assuming even modest price inflation and NO cost overruns. Greenwich does not currently collect enough taxes to pay for this. Therefore, Greenwich has two options, tax the residents even more or borrow the money, tripling the town debt. Greenwich was founded on pay as you go, and it is this philosophy that made Greenwich the wonderful town it is today. Whichever way the town chooses we need better financial and operating controls to make sure we get our money’s worth from our
significant investment. To see why this is the case, look at two recent projects undertaken by the Town.

Greenwich High School – Performing Arts Center (MISA)
Approved Budget – $29,000,000
Money Spent – $46,000,000

After a number of significant delays, the project was completed at a cost of $46 million. A little more than one year after completion, one of the brand-new fixtures in the building ruptured, and the facility was flooded and had to be closed for repairs. This example raises many questions about the Town’s controls. Why did it cost so much more than expected, and why did it break so soon after completion? And why did we spend so much money on this project and not prioritize even a fraction of this amount to make Cardinal Stadium even passably acceptable?

Julian Curtis Elementary School – New Roof
Approved Budget – $550,000
Money Spent – $1,700,00
The roof had been leaking for years, and patching was no longer possible. There was broad consensus that this made sense and the money was approved on a resounding bipartisan basis. Shortly after approval the problems started. When the project was put out for bid, the lowest bidder came in at $1.7 million. So instead of returning to seek the additional funds (which also would have been readily forthcoming) the roof was ripped off and a contract was signed for $1.1 million to put only part of a new roof on.

With only half a roof on and rain water threatening the interior of the building, an emergency session of the RTM was called to approve money to replace the rest of the roof. Of course, this was approved immediately, but it raised several troubling questions. Why was the cost of a new roof off by so much (more than 3x the original estimate)? Why was a bid accepted to replace part of the roof rather than seeking additional funds to replace the whole roof before the original roof was torn off? And how could a bid be accepted for only part of the roof at a cost of twice the amount originally approved for the whole roof? Why was no one notified of the shortfall in funding until so late in the process? Are we sure this type of SNAFU will not happen again?

Fiscal responsibility is hard, and it is only fair to the taxpayers of Greenwich that their hard-earned tax dollars be spent with care. That is why the 8 of us have volunteered to get involved and watch out for your interest.

On November 5th at the Glenville School, District 10 residents will have a chance to vote for RTM members committed to making Greenwich the best it can be, which means great schools and facilities without high taxes or massive borrowing.

Please support us on election day.

Natalie J. Adee, Granit Balidemaj, Peter Jude Collins, Allyson Cowin, W. Brooks Harris, Katherine V. Hynes, Sheryl B. Sorbaro, and Jane S. Sprung – RTM Candidates – District 10

The views expressed in this editorial reflect the opinions of the candidates and not those of the RTM or any of its committees.