PETER SHERR: School Funding – Facts are Facts

Letter to the editor from Peter Sherr, Board of Education Member

Bravo Ed and Caroline Lerum! We love parents who are actively engaged in Greenwich Schools. We tend not to call our neighbors liars, but all is forgiven because we know you just arrived from Chicago so “hall pass” for you.

Mr. Lerum clearly doesn’t understand our local municipal budgeting and made some rookie errors citing school budgets in his Greenwich Free Press letter. His data was incomplete or incorrect but more importantly his conclusions are flat wrong.

Let’s set the record straight.

In Connecticut elementary schools, we teach when comparing something its important items counted are the same. Hence, the phrase “apples to apples”. All Connecticut towns calculate school budgets differently and include different things based on their local preference. As an example, $163.4Mil quoted is NOT our expenditure for schools. We actually spend a lot more. $163Mil is employee salaries, supplies, travel, training and other incidentals. You need to add all the other millions spent particularly employee benefits, outsourced services like payroll and grounds maintenance, (we are the largest land holder in Greenwich so there is a lot of landscaping) and building maintenance to compare to other towns.

Fortunately, The Connecticut State Department of Education normalizes all this school budget weirdness for parents, taxpayers and elected officials. All the districts cited by Mr. Lerum including Westport actually spend approximately $21,500 per student each year. Greenwich is perennially at the top at $21,869 in the latest State numbers.

Board of Education and Finance Board members know this system. We all watch other comparable school districts and react if we are “falling behind”. This is the reason you don’t hear any elected officials saying “were $7,000 per pupil less than Westport” as Mr. Lerum has asserted. It’s factually false and misleading.

Staff salaries and total compensation are also benchmarked against other districts. Using Mr. Lerum’s Greenwich to Westport comparison is helpful. A new Greenwich teacher fresh out of college is paid $56,111 in salary this school year. In Westport, the number is $49,095. After 14 years (which is our top pay-scale) a Greenwich teacher with a master’s degree (its’ required) base salary is $110,810. $85,061 in Westport. On top of these salaries, there are extra money stipends for sports coaching, summer school teaching, supervising student clubs, and writing curriculum or lessons content.

All this financial comparison mumbo-jumbo distracts from the most important question – Is $216 Million enough money to well educate 9,000 K-12 children in Greenwich in safe and secure schools? The Finance Board’s 2020-21 budget commits the town to write checks totaling $216Mil on behalf of the Board of Education. This is “all-in”. Everything. And unlike the real world, they are “100% insuring” the schools from the financial problems of Hartford orWashington.

We can do exactly what we are doing now if, and it’s a huge if, all our existing employees starting with Superintendent Jones agree to be paid a weekly paycheck of what they are paid right now. This is a decision for our staff. We can keep every single teacher, special education aide, building principal, janitor, secretary and other staff we have now. A full employment plan if there ever was one. If employees decide they want their contacted pay raises hell come high water, then some choices will need to be made.

If difficult choices come, I will do what I’ve always done – prioritize teachers in front of your children and mine. I will look at any efficiency EXCEPT cutting teachers, special education aides or increasing class sizes. I voted against last year’s budget because it cut teachers and increased class sizes so jobs could be funded in central office administration. I was alone. Parents and taxpayers can count on me to put our kids first – now and always.

Mr. Lerum, I appreciate your engagement but please leave the Chicago-Style Rahm Emanuel Punch-em the face antics behind. We roll differently in Greenwich. We actually talk with each other. My home telephone number is in the book.