SWOMLEY: Feelings about Greenwich Schools budget cuts are heartfelt and legitimate.

Submitted by Joanna Swomley, Greenwich (The contents expressed are my own and not those of the RTM.)

Earlier this week, a loving parent wrote a letter to the editor detailing her feelings about the recent school budget cuts proposed by the Republican-led BET. She was channeling the views of many others who care about our town. I know, because I received more emails from constituents expressing deep concern about this issue than any other during my tenure on the RTM. The feelings are heartfelt and legitimate.

What this parent got in return was a snarky letter to the editor from a Republican operative complaining that her letter was “insufferable, condescending, and preachy,” “devoid of facts,” and “heavy on political rhetoric designed to play to the emotions of people.” Welcome to Greenwich.

Given Evan Osnos’ recent New Yorker article, “The Greenwich Rebellion: How one town’s elite formed an alliance with Trump,” why should we be surprised at the level of discourse and disdain unleashed on a fellow resident by Jon Redmond, a republican Party District 11 leader whose Twitter page ironically asserts that “Politics needs less hate and more effort to get things done for the people.”

Many of our elected representatives on the BET and RTM are opposed to government regulation (environmental and otherwise) on what they consider a matter of principle. They simply don’t like the idea of government spending and Covid-19 is just the latest excuse.

And they come up with “facts” and “rabbit trails” that are often cherry picked, distorted or outright wrong. (Take the assertion that Greenwich spends more per pupil than any other town. By what legitimate metric? The State’s latest report shows that Greenwich is ranked 24th in the state on overall spending and on a town by town basis, there are many other towns that spend more money per student than Greenwich.

See http://ctschoolfinance.org/spending/per-student.)

Then there are other pesky facts like 1) Greenwich has a rainy day fund balance precisely for times like this but we aren’t using it to avoid the education cuts, and 2) if we kept the mill rate the same as last year (rather than trying to lower (!!)it on the backs of our education budget – a rate that is already about the lowest in the state), we would have enough money to cover the full education budget. It is all the more maddening when one realizes fact # 3) that several of our schools are literally falling apart (crumbling) and many are not ADA compliant (think – no elevators so, among others, a child with a broken leg must be carried up the stairs) some 40 years after that act was passed.

The bottom line is that ideologues start with the notion that the budget cannot be increased.

Knowing there are built-in increases that cannot be avoided, that means budget cuts. That is not a plan of fiscal management but a blind homage to a political philosophy at the expense of our children and, I believe, our Town. When I joined the RTM, a colleague warned our district, “I grew up in a town on Long Island. They started cutting everything. It became a town no one wanted to live in.” That powerful statement has stuck with me. It is in our interest to spend on things that matter, like our schools, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because such expenditures usually also increase our property values. We do need to be careful with Town money. But we should not be a penny wise and pound foolish. Too often, members of the BET and RTM are just that.

So Sara – and everyone else out there who doesn’t like these educational cuts, or thinks we should actually have adequate fire protection for all parts of Greenwich (yes, when he was on the RTM Mr. Redmond voted against a NW fire station something we desperately need in the NW area), consider this: run for the BET or the RTM. Fight for a town that funds what is important in a sensible way – like using long term financing that most other towns use but we eschew. And if you don’t want to run for office, at least make sure you and everyone you know is informed on each candidate’s positions and record and then shows up to vote – in every single election.

These cuts should not have come as a surprise given who we elected last
November. Local elections matter.