Letter to the editor from RTC Chair Dan Quigley
There is a lot of hyperbole in our public discourse and certainly emotions run high when it comes to education. That has always been the case. I respect everyone’s opinion on this, but I urge our community to focus on the facts in this debate.
In Dec 2019, the BOE passed a $166mil budget proposal and sent it to the BET for FY2020-21. This represented an increase of the prior year’s budget which was $163mil. This is a “proposed” budget. These budgets go through a review process by the BET and the RTM and are eventually voted on by the RTM for ratification in June.
Until that process is completed, a budget is not set in stone. Every town department submits their budget proposals and include what they think they need and want. To reiterate, a proposed budget is exactly that. A proposal. It does not mean that the department will automatically get what they ask for.
Between Dec 2019 and now, COVID arrived and plunged us into a major global health, economic and social crisis. We are just beginning to measure its profound economic impact. Thirty million Americans have lost their jobs. Economic data is reflecting realities not seen since the depths of the Great Depression.
This is the nexus of the issue. The BET revisited all proposed departmental budgets from Dec 2019 and determined that they were no longer a viable option due to COVID. The BOE budget was part of this evaluation process. Both BET Republicans and Democrats agreed that budgets needed to be revised downward. What differed was the amount of the reductions.
Therefore, along party lines, the BOE budget was walked back to $163mil, or the exact amount for 2019-20. Residents will get the same services in our schools that we have had this year. This is an important fact. Also important to note is that Greenwich does not count teacher healthcare costs as part of its budget. Almost all other neighboring towns do. If this was included, the BOE budget for next year would reflect an increase.
While the BET approved no change in the public schools’ budgeted operating expenses, the cost of related benefits for the public school employees will grow 7% from $34.9 million this year to $37.4 million next year. The total budgeted cost of the public schools inclusive of these benefits will rise 1.2% from $198.5 million this year to $200.9 million next year.
Remember, the budget still has to go to the RTM for ratification. Between now and then other Fairfield County Municipal budgets will be revealed. Stamford is contemplating a 10% across the board reduction from 2019-20. Many neighboring communities will be reducing their education budgets to balance out the shortfall in municipal revenues. It is also possible that the RTM could decide that we should reduce our budget further.
As Chair of the RTC, I encourage everyone to respect all opinions in this debate, even if we disagree. The BET’s job is to be the fiduciary for your tax dollars. They have to balance a lot of considerations to achieve the best result. Inevitably, there will be some people who are unhappy.
Consider this direct quote (from a Greenwich Moms interview) from our excellent Superintendent of Schools Dr. Toni Jones:
“I did not think that we would see the lowest percentage increase to our budget that has happened in the last 20 years.”
It is the lowest percentage increase in twenty years, because we are facing something unlike we have ever seen in our lifetime. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.
I urge everyone to look at the facts and not get caught up in the emotions. We ALL care about the quality of our children’s education. It is not a partisan issue. Some of the comments directed at BET Republicans have been inappropriate. All of the members of the BET care a great deal our town. They have volunteered countless hours, at no pay, to ensure that all residents receive the quality services we expect in our community. Their deliberations and decisions deserve our respect. Even when we disagree with them.
I hope everyone and their families are safe and healthy.