RTC Chair: Greenwich schools do not have a funding problem.

Letter to the editor from RTC Chair Dan Quigley in support of the Republican Led BET

In the whirlwind of the last few days, I have read many articles and have had a lot of conversations about the confusion surrounding the Republican led BET’s proposed (now passed) Fiscal Year 2020-21 budget.

For the first time in what seems like ages there was even a traffic jam in downtown Greenwich. The sound of congestion and car horns provided a welcome break from the monotony. My phone was bouncing around the counter in a blizzard of text messages. To what do we owe all of this pandemonium??

We owe it all to a flat Year-Over-Year Board of Education budget. Yes. That is correct. Go ahead, you can read it again. A flat Y-O-Y BOE budget! Talk about an anticlimax. However, upon further inspection, it is quite an astounding achievement. The Board of Education has never seen their budget decrease from one year to the next in my lifetime and now it faces the draconian prospect of seeing its budget remain………the same.

Then the phone calls started to pour in on Monday afternoon. Friends of mine, really smart people called me saying things like; “Hey, why is my son’s school closing?” or “Why is the BET forcing the schools to fire 50 teachers?” and my favorite, “Who is this Mason guy!?”

Nothing stirs people’s emotions like telling them somebody, or something is trying to make things harder for their children. I’m writing to you to expose this fallacy and set the record straight.

I write this as a member of the RTM, a member of the RTM Finance Committee and newly elected Chairman of the Republican Town Committee. More than any of that though, I am writing this as the father of a six year old who attends a Greenwich Public elementary school, with which my wife and I are very happy. Our son’s teacher has done an incredible job making distance learning not only palatable, but accessible and productive. She, her fellow teachers, school social workers and Principals are doing exemplary work during challenging times. They deserve a standing ovation like the ones we’ve given to our healthcare workers.

What the BET did yesterday was to cement a FY2020-21 budget that will keep every single Town budget flat heading into the new fiscal year. The Republicans on the BET basically said that the budget the town agencies had worked on before the arrival of COVID-19 was no longer a viable option. So they asked each department to reduce back their budgets so as to remain flat year over year.

The unprecedented fiscal storms caused by COVID-19 and its potential economic aftershocks have put our community’s finances in a precarious situation.

How could the BET pass a budget increase during a time of such radical economic uncertainty? It couldn’t. They are the fiduciary of our taxpayer dollars. They are being prudent.

Teachers salaries will go up again in FY2020-21. One would think a pay freeze (not a pay cut) would be an acceptable measure now. However, that is not the reality the Republican BET is dealing with. A pay freeze for one year would be enough to fill this budget hole. The teachers unions reserve the right to reject a pay freeze, but at least if asked they would have to reject it during the worst recession in recorded history. During past crises, the bargaining units of our town have all stepped up and done the right thing. During the financial crisis, the Teamsters were the first to offer cuts and the teachers union followed suit. This crisis will be worse.

How many of you reading this article wish you could have a flat return on your pension portfolio in 2020-21? How many people who have lost their job might welcome a fraction of their old salary just to help make ends meet until the virus storm clouds clear? A flat salary doesn’t sound so bad after all does it? These are fair questions to ask and I’m not sure why they not part of the public conversation.

Let’s look at how Greenwich funds its schools. Our students are funded at one of the highest cost per student ratios in Connecticut. When you consider that CT ranks third nationally in funding/student and that the US spends more than any other developed nation on education, it’s pretty clear to any objective observer that Greenwich schools do not have a funding problem.

The facts in this debate are on the side of the Republican BET members who took the step to pass this budget under intense pressure, great duress and the theater of emotional overreach by many well-intentioned parents.

I also believe that our Board of Education wants what’s best for both its faculty and students. But when Greenwich is facing a drastic drop in revenues, departmental “wants/wishes” have to be checked at the door and our focus has to be holistic.

I read a comment by a local resident who said “BET Republicans voted to gut the Greenwich Public Schools.” It’s a lot harder to believe that once you know the facts, isn’t it?

We are a close community. We all want Greenwich to prosper. We all care about our families, and we want our elected leaders to do the right thing for our residents. Times like these are when leadership is most important. This is when decisions are toughest to make, and the risks are greatest. Today our Republican BET leaders stood up and exhibited true leadership. They deserve our thanks, not our vilification.

Just a quick afterthought. There was no upheaval in any of the other town departments who were asked to keep their budgets flat.