PTA Council Response to BET Budget Vote: “Nickel and Diming, Delaying School Capital Projects Short-Changes Our Children”

The following statement is issued on behalf of the Greenwich PTA Council:

The Greenwich PTA Council (PTAC) is the non-partisan, non-political umbrella organization of all 15 public school PTAs. PTAC members are first and foremost parents who volunteer for and care deeply about our schools. We are Republicans, Democrats, independent and non-aligned voters, and others. We advocate for all the students and families of Greenwich, who deserve a top-quality education in school facilities that are safe, secure, accessible and meet the needs of our town.  

On Tuesday, April 4, the Greenwich Board of Estimate & Taxation (BET) met for “Decision Day.” Fourteen hours of rancorous debate were on vivid display, the best interests of our children and schools went missing in action, and the BET delivered a disappointing town budget.  

While we appreciate that the BET put in place the funding for piecemeal – albeit badly needed – ADA remediations for Old Greenwich and Riverside Schools and to address the sewage overflow and flooding at Old Greenwich, the budget fell far short of what is needed for our schools.

What’s more, the way the BET majority put that funding in place undermined the entire budget process, circumventing the First Selectman’s budget, bypassing the Board of Education’s priorities, and ignoring building experts and the many Greenwich residents who spoke out in favor of comprehensive funding for our schools. It’s hard to imagine how the six BET members who voted on an incomplete budget, at odds with other town officials, believe they are using our tax dollars in the best interests of our students and the town.

The Greenwich PTA Council has been advocating for the full funding of the desperately needed rebuilding of Central Middle School, and the repair of Old Greenwich School and Julian Curtiss. Nickel and diming school capital improvement budgets and delaying critical projects for yet another year is short-changing our children, and will impact our town as a whole, including increased risk, higher long-term costs, substandard school facilities, and reduced property (and grand list) values.

While the minutes from the April 4th BET meeting have still not been published, local media reported that the BET had made a “$750,000 cut to plumbing and electrical maintenance in schools.” This is a terribly shortsighted decision after the Town of Greenwich has had to provide costly emergency funding for building repairs and displaced students to other schools after pipes burst and flooded Cos Cob School in October 2018; broken plumbing and collapsed ceilings at North Mianus School in February 2021; and Central Middle School closed because the building was found to be “unsafe to occupy” in February 2022. 

The BET reduced the budget for the desperately needed new Central Middle School (CMS) building to $67.5 million from the $87.5 million required and unanimously requested by the bi-partisan BOE to create a building that would support educational requirements and meet the community’s needs.

BET members also reportedly said they should consider “scrapping the days of budget committee meetings leading up to decision day.”

That would do nothing to remedy a budget process the BET majority appears all too ready to ignore. It would make the entire process even less transparent, with even less accountability, and it would ensure that the town’s concerned citizens would have even less opportunity to participate. The budget process needs more – not less – public visibility and engagement.  Every one of the BET decisions to cut and reduce the schools’ budgets passed on a single tie-breaking vote. There needs to be more – not fewer – checks and balances.  

The BET has a fiduciary responsibility to represent the best interests of all students and families in Greenwich. The short-sighted BET budget from April 4th does not meet the needs of the town.  As we look forward, PTAC will continue to advocate for top-quality education in school facilities that are safe, secure,and  accessible. That’s what our community, our families, and all our students deserve. It’s better than what the BET served up on Tuesday.