Piccininno: Calling on the GOP BET to work make Greenwich Schools safe, secure, educationally excellent

Submitted by Greg Piccininno

I am calling on the GOP BET to fulfill their promise to work on making Greenwich Schools safe, secure, and educationally excellent. We have just come through a campaign where a considerable amount of political discourse was on schools.

The common theme from both parties was during the election campaigns was “we support investment in our schools”.

As a resident and a pro-school Republican, I was happy the hear both sides recognize the need for investment in the public schools. While I expected to hear different approaches to the issues, I was not expecting to hear that Central Middle School (CMS) has motion sensors installed to monitor the movement of the walls. I was also not expecting to hear RTM member and now BET elect Dan Ozizmir say that CMS is the least structurally sound of the school buildings.

Do we really send a third of our middle school students to a building that has motion sensors and is described by an elected official as the “least structurally sound”. Until the Champlain Towers tragedy in Florida, I always thought buildings only collapse in developing countries but 2021 changed that view. What do CMS and Champlain Towers have in common? I don’t know but they do seem to share a commonality in terms of the amount of debate regarding the structural safety of the building and zero action to remedy the situation. I am not claiming we have an immediate cause for concern, but the BOE has been asking for funds to determine the true state of CMS for two years and the BET has removed those funds each time ($108,000 from last year’s budget). Isn’t it time we know the real state of affairs?

The BOE estimates the structural issues at CMS will cost $5 million per year in maintenance. To put that in context, $5 million per year would fund a $55 million, 20-year 7% interest rate bond. That is almost half the cost of replacing CMS and we know the State will provide most of the $120 million needed anyway.

Further we, the taxpayers, are spending between $5 and $10 million per year subsidizing the town’s nursing home which has 180 beds of which 72 are reserved for non-Greenwich residents. As a town we spend more per nursing home patient (including 72 non-residents) than we spend on educating our children. If the GOP BET are really the fiscal stewards they claim to be, why haven’t we gotten the town-owned Nathaniel Witherell nursing home to breakeven.

Getting the nursing home to break even would free up cash flow that could fund up to $110 million in school investments without impacting our mill rate. If we returned that money to taxpayers, it would be 3x the mill rate cut last year and would not impact our schools, our roads, or our town in any meaningful way. I have yet to meet someone who moved to Greenwich say the nursing home was a major reason, but I always heard the mix of low taxes and good schools was.

I am calling on the entire BET to take responsibility for maintaining Greenwich as a place people want to live and invest in our future. My children will leave the Greenwich public school system by 2024 so any investment in the schools will not benefit my family but Greenwich is a town my family loves dearly, and we want to see her prosper.

I also ask the town’s lawyer to determine if the actions of past BETs have created a potential legal liability for the town.

By kicking the can down the street on CMS we could be liable if anything happens. I am not a lawyer and the laws and court rulings on sovereign immunity regarding towns and municipalities are not clear. I also ask that the town’s lawyer determine if the individual BET members have personal liability.

While most government actors enjoy absolute or qualified immunity in their individual capacities as outlined in 42 USC 1983, it does seem that municipal officials who make policy, rather than carry out policy, and who are knowingly negligent, are not afforded this privilege. Both are important legal questions for the town and our elected BET representatives.