Greenwich Teachers Union President Blasts BET Budget: “What I witnessed was deplorable”

At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting GEA president Lil Perrone blasted the Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee.

Without mentioning party affiliations of BET members, she vented her outrage.

“I’ve never done this, but I feel I must. I’m calling out the BET and the Finance Budget Committee,” Perrone said. “I sat in a meeting with them. I do not know who these people are. I know their names, but I don’t know their political affiliation, but what I heard and what I witnessed was deplorable.”

Lil Perrone, president of the Greenwich Education Association, addressed the Board of Education. April 20, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

“They deal with numbers. Our children, our schools. It’s our gift. They’re our future. All decisions should be based on honesty and numeric numbers, not subjectivities.”

“I sat there and they knew who I was,” Perrone continued. “Most of the members were very polite and nice, but these three individuals really need to be off that committee. It was based on subjectivity. They made rude statements: ‘If it hurts Dr. Jones, then I’m voting for it.’ ‘Let’s get our own lawyer and stick it to the teachers.’ I could go on and on.”

“I’m going to call them out, and anyone else in this town, I’m asking the parents…it’s deplorable. It’s duplicit in nature. We don’t tolerate it in our schools. We are honest. Those three individuals need to be off of that committee.”

“I hope parents call town hall. That’s not how you run a town. I’m not feeling the love. They cut. They cut. They cut.”

Parents can infer who Perrone was referring to, but certainly the fiscal year 2024 capital budget for schools has been a hot potato for months, and hasn’t cooled down after BET decision day.

Letters to the editor have been flying.

In a letter on April 6, Democratic BET member David Weisbrod took Republican BET members to task.

“They rejected the Board of Ed’s request for $85.5 million for a new Central Middle School, as well as the First Selectman’s reduced request for $75.2 million for the school. Instead, they lowballed everyone, sending the Board of Ed back to the drawing board, instructing them to build a smaller school that would come in at $67.5 million, a process that will delay the start of construction for another year.

In his letter to the editor on April 11, Democratic BET member Stephen Selbst wrote that the 2024 budget “fails our schools.”

“For Central Middle School (CMS) and Old Greenwich School (OGS), BET Republicans imposed arbitrary and unrealistic caps on spending, ensuring that neither project can begin construction in 2024,” he wrote, adding, “In a 7-6 party-line vote, Republican BET members refused to acknowledge the revised numbers. Imagine having to lead a building project for something as important as a school, and discovering partners won’t budge from the first estimate you received, one developed before any planning work had commenced.”

On April 12, Republican Michael Spilo wrote, “The BOE has a history of over building, and they focus on ‘marquis’ projects like MISA, CMS and ‘green’ projects which all failed to deliver. These are done at the expense of other projects. BOE maintenance is often ‘fix it when it breaks,’ and when it breaks it’s an emergency which costs extra. As a result, the BOE under-project maintenance costs and overspend on marquis projects and emergencies.”

On April 14, the PTA Council wrote complained about nickel and diming school capital improvement budgets. “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.”

On April 15, Henry Orphys wrote, “The BET’s budget adopted last week demonstrates its commitment to ensuring that the taxpayers of Greenwich, many of whom are likely unaware of the BET’s decisions, have had their financial interests well and prudently represented.”

Orphys asked pointed questions: “Are we throwing good money after bad by repairing a facility that is so close to the end of its life that it will soon have to be replaced anyway?” “Has the construction or renovation plan for a proposed capital project been thoroughly vetted to ensure that it will result in a structure that is well-designed, well-built and that will not result, a few years after construction, in problems such as leaking pipes in ceilings because of inappropriate construction techniques?”

Then on April 19 the Republican BET members published a letter defending the $67,500,000 approved to build a new Central Middle School.

They said arguments that the BET’s allocation for CMS was too little were misleading and that the budget was responsible.

They said there had been an unnecessary increase in size of the building and an escalation of the budget from $70 to $90 million could be avoided.

“We are in uncertain times, and there is no reason to burden each household with extra thousands in property taxes when reasonable choices can avoid it,” the BET members wrote.