BOE Approves Budget Adjustments
During a special meeting on Tuesday night, the Board of Education (BOE) unanimously voted to approve budget adjustments which brought their new spending total to $163,364,192 for fiscal year 2020-2021. The new budget has no cuts to staff or programming and keeps most raises and benefit increases in place. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
The budget adjustments were needed following the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s response to the coronavirus and subsequent economic concerns. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the BET held town operating budgets flat to the current year (2019-2020) with no increases. Because of that, the Greenwich Public School budget request was moved from $166 million to $163 million.
The budget flattening sparked protests held in front of Town Hall and scores of emails sent to town officials.
The District said it was looking at potentially cutting staff and programming, which would have totaled $695,000, and would have included eliminating two Physical Education positions, reducing five Media Assistants from full-time to part-time, and delaying advanced learning and foreign language programs for students. That did not happen.
To help close the $3 million budget gap in a more comfortable way, the District made $1.2 million in budget cuts by eliminating new library books next year, cutting down on travel expenses and on smart-board replacements, among other items.
Additionally, the District renegotiated it’s transportation contract with Student Transportation America, which resulted in a savings of $2.1 million, according to District Chief Operating Officer, Sean O’Keefe. The surplus was used to bring encumbrances, such as the purchase of office supplies, classroom non-capital equipment, and textbooks, into 2019-2020.
“Sean and his team worked feverishly over the last couple of days. This was a team effort from our entire administrative team. Every building leader, our coordinators, everyone at Havemeyer [helped] to get to this point tonight… It’s been a herculean effort,” said Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Toni Jones, on Tuesday night.
“This was an amazing process. I honestly didn’t think we’d get it done. We got all of the members from all the schools and departments engaged. I’m very happy to report that we were able to pull this together,” O’Keefe added.
BOE members praised Jones and O’Keefe for working diligently on budget adjustments without making staff or programming cuts.
“I want to express my sincere gratitude to Toni and Sean and all the administrators across the district who spent some furious hours in the past few days trying to go through every line item of their budget to get us to this point,” BOE member, Karen Hirsh, commented. “There really are no words for how grateful we are of your hard work.”
BOE member, Christina Downey, thanked Jones and O’Keefe for their diligence and perseverance.
“But more importantly, [thank you] for your positive attitude as you’ve gone through this exercise, which cannot be easy,” Downey said. “We really appreciate all this hard work in saving jobs and saving our students, and being creative in ways to solve problems. It’s a great example of teamwork from top to bottom.”
BOE chair, Peter Bernstein, said the adjusted budget “reflects a lot of hard work behind the scenes” that has taken place since the BET left town department budgets flat more than two months ago. But that work distracted the district from other pressing issues, he said.
“Since that time, we’ve invested two full and frantic months of effort looking deep within our budget to try and spare major cuts to programs, affecting students in our classrooms,” Bernstein said. “That’s time that Dr. Toni Jones, Sean O’Keefe, and others in our cabinet and schools could have used focusing on things like distance learning and planning for reopening in the fall. It’s really been a tumultuous two months, and it’s been a shame.”
Bernstein said that this is just the beginning in dealing with budget issues as they relate COVID-19 and other factors in the future.
“While we’re able to solve this problem on our own now, I’m sorry to say to Toni and Sean that there’s a lot more work to do. This is, I think, just a starting point for us when we start kicking off discussion in earnest on what our budget beyond this looks like,” he said.