New Faces at BOE Meeting Plead: Waste No More Time on New CMS

During Thursday’s Board of Education meeting a vote was taken on a motion to request an interim appropriation of $42+million for the Central Middle School building project.

It was conditional, rather than an “action,” because its language included “subject to and immediately upon the project receiving Municipal Improvement status.”

If that language sounds boring, the discussion was anything but, given the frustrations over the many delays of the rebuild of the 1958 school that was condemned in February 2022.

After the building was deemed unfit for human occupancy, students were dispersed to other schools for two weeks while CMS was being shored up.

The entire project is estimated to cost $112 million with the existing ed specs, which reflect current codes and state requirements and incorporate the team model.

The students were able to return, but the repairs were intended to last for 5 years, of which 1-1/2 have passed.

The timeline for the replacement of the building has had delays despite the community’s overwhelming support for it.

In fact, during public comment about 20 parents spoke passionately about the project.

Among them were several new faces.

Jodi Applegate Kay, a North Street School parent whose 4th and 5th graders are districted for CMS,  fought tears as she delivered her remarks.

“When my husband moved here from the city to buy a house in Greenwich, Connecticut, we thought, we have really arrived. I cannot believe I am standing here now and it’s even a controversy whether to fix up a building to make it safe for our kids,” Ms Applegate Kay said. “You are galvanizing moderates and people who never come to meetings like this. They’re coming out now. And I represent hundreds and thousands of other moms and dads out there.”

“Please provide our tax payers, our town and especially our kids who have to come into this building with a safe learning environment that they need,” she said.

Mary Mulcare-Paretti, an Emergency Medicine physician who graduated from CMS herself, shared her perspective.

“I don’t want our emergency medicine system to be on the receiving end of a phone call – and I have been on the receiving end before – that says, ‘This is 911 dispatch calling in a mass casualty incident at a local middle school with a potential 500 children and a potential 100 adults involved, how many can you take?’ The answer is a fraction of that. And that’s at a level 1 trauma center in Manhattan. At Greenwich Hospital it’s a fraction of that.”

Another parent, James Walsh, suggested that the school’s declining enrollment was likely a reflection of parents seeking alternate options.

“While many in the community like to highlight declining enrollment at CMS in recent years as a reason to drastically reduce the size and scope of the project, to send the project back to the drawing board, and not fund it now, I urge you to look at numbers across all three middle schools in town. When combined this metric has risen about 7.5% over the last decade. The middle school population in this town is on the rise.”

“Are individuals sending their children elsewhere?” he asked. “Are they magneting into Western Middle School because they don’t want to send their students to this building? Are they choosing an independent school for their 6-8 grade years because they don’t want to send their children to the building?”

“It does not seem reasonable that the small pullback recently at CMS is due to demographics, but is due to parents not opting to put their children at risk by sending them to CMS.”

“Please push ahead and request the interim appropriation that is needed and fight against future cuts to the size or scope of the project.”

BOE member Karen Kowalski brought up the opinion issued from special counsel for the town John Wetmore citing the Charter to say no interim appropriation could be requested until the project had MI status.

BOE member Christina Downey said Mr. Wetmore did not represent the BOE.

“It’s opinion. I would submit it is the interpretation of one attorney. No one person is the master of all legal issues,” said Downey, is a lawyer by training herself. “There are some issues with this, in my mind. The opinion we received relies on insights to prior memos as part of this analysis. Some members of this board have asked for those memos, but we’ve been refused to see them.”

“As was discussed earlier, the town lawyer said they represent Fred (Camillo) and the town, but they don’t represent us. We do not have our own counsel on this matter.”

Further Ms Downey said more recently the town attorney (Barbara Schellenberg) communicated she would not authorize the BOE to hire their own attorney for an interpretation, and if they did, the town would not pay for it.

“We’re being denied an opportunity for our own counsel and analysis on the issue and being told what we can and cannot do. The process that we’re being told we have to follow has not always been followed by the town.”

Ms Downey said there was precedent, including the new New Lebanon School, of funding being appropriated prior to MI status is granted.

Ms Kowalski said the board had a policy allowing them to get outside counsel.

“What (Schellenberg) said is the town may not reimburse it. But that doesn’t obviate our ability through policy as a board to retain counsel,” Kowalski said.

BOE member Laura Kostin, who is the board’s representative to the building committee, said they had met with the town departments on Tuesday in lieu of a regular meeting, including the town planner, DPW, the tree warden, and the fire marshal.

She said they anticipated having all documents ready to be on the P&Z agenda the first week of October.

View of Central Middle School from across the field at Orchard Street by Coachlamp Lane. File photo

Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony said he had emailed town counsel the previous day to ask whether a motion was in order.

“She wrote me back and said the BOE should take this vote after MI is granted, which is consistent with the written legal opinion issued and discussed repeatedly.”

Mercanti-Anthony said he was concerned the motion was out of order.

Ms Kostin said the motion was conditional, and gave deference to MI.

BOE chair Joe Kelly said he asked both outside counsel and the town counsel how to proceed.

“She (Schellenberg) said it’s not necessarily out of order,” he said. “In my opinion, the motion is ripe. It’s time to move this forward.”

Noting he had spent almost 200 meetings to the CMS project, Mr. Kelly’s voice began to rise.

“My term runs out shortly. I’m not letting this go by without me voting in favor of this thing. Absolutely 100%, if this is turned over because it’s out of order, I’m going to call a special meeting and vote again. If the special meeting is turned over I will wait until our regularly scheduled meeting.”

“I understand this process. This is the correct pricing in this marketplace for this building. This building should be built immediately,” he said. “If you hear the words ‘Super Size,’ it’s made up, they are not telling you the truth. They are building to the educational needs of our students.”

Cody Kittle said he preferred having a new Central with some waste than having no Central at all, and that the motion made sense to him.

“When you think about the wasted time aspect of these projects – I don’t even know what it means to be out of order, but I find hat procedural arguments are most often disingenuous, and they’re just used when they’re convenient.”

Karen Hirsh said, “Every day we go past, waiting, is $13,000 more. Every month is $365,000….Those kids deserve our support.”

Mr. Kittle described citing escalation costs as an “intellectually dishonest argument.”

The vote was support the building committee’s $42 million request toward the $112 million project: 6 Yes (Kelly, Kostin, Downey, Stowe, Hirsh, Kittle), 1 No (Kowalski) and 1 abstention (Mercanti-Anthony).

See also from this meeting:

GHS Topics at BOE Include: School Spirit, Student Center Furniture, New Student ID App “Minga” 

Sept 24, 2023

Speakers are Impassioned during Fourth Central Middle School Forum

Sept 7, 2023

BOE May Hire Attorney for Second Opinion on Wetmore ‘Section 99 Memo’ Delaying CMS Timeline

Sept 9, 2023

CMS Building Committee Votes 7-1 Not to Explore Siting Options Including Pomerance Park

July 11, 2023

Republican Political Flyers Distributed at Central Middle School Morning Drop-Off Cause a Stir

May 15, 2023

BET Budget Committee Grapples with Greenwich Schools Capital Budget: OGS and CMS

Feb 14, 2023