Dr. Jones Presents 2021-22 School Budget: $169+Million; A 3.97% Increase

On Thursday night Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones proposed to the Board of Education an operating budget of $169,846,597, which represents a 3.97% increase over the current year budget. That said, the current year’s budget is flat against previous year due to cuts the BET made last spring as a result of Covid.

Historical Budget Trends: 20 year history of how Greenwich Schools have been funded. There were annual increases of 3-4%, or higher. Lower budgets began after the economy collapsed in 2008. “The challenge with a 2% budget, doing it year over year over year, is that it doesn’t meet the contractual obligations, so every year you are cutting into materials, supplies, or not hiring for a position that may be needed,” Dr. Jones said. “This year is the first year in 20 years that Greenwich Public Schools is at 00%, but it is the first year any of us has been in a pandemic and we understand that.”

Dr. Jones said the budget process is typically a 12-month process but had been compressed due to Covid.

The budget includes money for special education out-of-district placement.

The Superintendent is recommending a permanent shift of positions out of the Havemeyer building and back into the schools. Specifically, she proposes taking five positions and turning them into math interventionists, which was a recommendation that came from a Key2Ed report.

Also, she proposes not to fill three administrator positions as a way to create more efficiencies.

Despite a contractual rate increase of 2.9%, through route efficiencies there is a projected overall decrease of 0.01% increase for -$992.
Special Education tuition in the 20-21 budget was $7.1 million, resulting in a $1.9M shortfall. The proposed 21-22 budget is for $7.3 million.

Another efficiency she proposes is to eliminate three bus routes.

While contractual obligations are going up 2.97%, the district will see a small savings as a result of the efficiencies.

On WGCH on Friday BOE chair Peter Bernstein noted that historically, over the past 22 years, the average increase in the schools budget has been about 3.32%.

However, he said beginning in about in 2009, budgets increased only about 2%.

The district has declining enrollment and is projected to lose 100 students a year, which is due to a natural process that reflects a lower birthrate and fewer children enrolling in kindergarten.
78% of the operating budget is dedicated to salaries. About 10.7% is for tuition and transportation.
Salary expenses: classroom support is at 90.75%, administration: 2.60% (In 2019-20 year it was 4%)

“And, at 2% you’re really not covering your contractual increases every year,” he said “We’ve been on the hunt for efficiencies ever since.”

Bernstein thanked the BET budget committee for including contractual increases in their guidance.

“It gave us a little bit of breathing room,” he said.

One item the superintendent did not put in her budget, was $500,000 for an increase in special education.

“We know we have an audit going on here. We don’t know what the results will be, but very likely we’ll want to make some changes, and we’ll want to make sure we have the funding available to start those changes as soon as possible,” Bernstein said. “It’s a discussion we’ll want to make as a board, and we’ll want to work with the BET on that.”

On the capital side, the overall capital proposal is about $38 million.

Of that, $8 million reflects the potential cost for remediation at Western Middle School. The district has been working with the state DEEP and the EPA, and doing extra soil testing.

“The hope is that we would have some clearance to begin that work over the summer,” Bernstein said.

Major projects include $25 million for upgrades to Julian Curtiss School, which was built in 1949 and is not ADA compliant. Other projects include the continuation of the Cardinal field improvements, which are under way with the replacement of the bleachers.

Another project is security entrance vestibule at Greenwich High School. The ed specs have been approved, and last week the RTM approved the building committee.

In addition, the district is considering the feasibility of replacing Central Middle School.

“That was the only building recommended for replacement as part of the master facilities plan,” Bernstein said. “The upkeep that we have to do on that building just continues to increase.”

About $15 million of the capital budget is allocated to annual projects.

“It’s work that gets done over the summer, during the school year but are not included in the major project category,” he said.

Bernstein said Superintendent Jones, the Chief Operation Officer Sean O’Keefe, and their team reviewed over 2,000 lines of the budget.

“It’s a level of detail we haven’t seen before,” he said. “It was quite helpful.

There is another BOE budget meeting on Dec 3. The board will vote on the budget during their December business meeting.

From there the schools budget will go through the BET process, and lastly be put to the RTM in May.

Of the uptick in Covid cases, Mr. Bernstein said urged residents to wear masks.

He said there was no evidence that Covid was spreading within schools.

He said contact tracing has indicated that incidents requiring quarantines have resulted from activities outside of school, including social activities and sporting activities.