Letter to the editor from multiple-signers*
On Thursday, June 18, the Greenwich Board of Education announced that they had figured out how to make the necessary budget cuts without cutting teaching positions or programs such as elementary foreign language or ALP.
The way the BOE can do this is by using a 2019-2020 budget surplus (thanks to COVID) and pulling forward “encumbrances” as well as cutting several other 2020-2021 expenses (such as all library book purchases). Because of the savings from the 2019-2020 budget, the BOE said it will also be able to give back approximately $300K to the Town of Greenwich.
You may be asking yourself “What is an encumbrance?”
In short it is any expense that can be paid for now but used next year. An example would be copy paper. If the BOE expects to spend $26K on copy paper in the 2020-2021 school year, they can purchase it now and let it sit until it is needed. However, encumbrances can’t be used for things like teachers’ salaries, or items that couldn’t be invoiced before June 30th. Teachers throughout the district have been scrambling to come up with a list of supplies that they could purchase now that would meet the accounting requirements.
This is a great solution to an artificial problem that the BET created when it slashed the BOE budget by over $3MM. But unfortunately, unless the BET agrees to increase the 2021-2022 BOE budget substantially over the 2020-2021 budget, we’re setting ourselves up for more cuts in a year. Going back to the example of copy paper: by using 2019-2020 budget dollars to purchase paper for the 2020-2021 school year, the BOE no longer has a 2020-2021 “base” for copy paper. When it’s time to buy paper for the 2021-2022 school year, it will be an incremental expense compared to the prior year. Schools will need copy paper, and in order to buy the paper, the BOE will be forced to cut elsewhere.
While other towns, colleges and universities are recognizing that costs associated with education are going to go up in the next school year due to COVID, our BET is forcing cuts that will be felt for years to come.
We urge the BET to commit now to funding the 2021-2022 BOE to at least 5% above the 2020-2021 level. If they are unwilling to do that, then they must commit to including any interim appropriations in the 2020-2021 base when building the 2021-2022 budget.
We also urge the BOE not to “give back” any of the $300K in excess 2019-2020 budget. Use this money to fund library books, or other items on the long list of $1.6MM in cuts to the 2020-2021 budget. Find additional encumbrances and spend every single available budget dollar. By giving back dollars the BOE is essentially saying that we don’t need our annual budget increased significantly year over year. At one point this may have been the case, but not anymore.
Over the years our BOE budget has been cut to the bone, and parents, teachers and students are prepared to fight for what our schools truly need.
Sara Selbert Savov
Janet Lee McMahon
Samantha Pirenc Bright
Lucy von Brachel