By Edward Dadakis
There they go again! Its budget time in Greenwich. How can you tell? Because Democrats are yet again demagoguing the school budget vitriolically insisting that those stingy Republicans are strangling our schools with no money. Absurd.
The facts are clear. This year’s budget calls for spending over $217 million just for the school operating expenses. That is among the highest spends per student in the state of Connecticut. Stingy? I think not.
There’s an additional $112 million spend for capital projects the largest in Greenwich history. Stingy? I think not.
Of that $112 million over $86 million is being spent on school capital projects–the most in town history with an additional $4 million in school field remediation. Stingy? I think not.
Included is $70 million to build a new Central Middle School (CMS). That is the exact amount the Board of Education requested in 2022. Stingy? I think not.
Considerable debate is going on about the size of CMS. This debate is only possible because BET Republicans demanded that rebuilding the school take place now instead of in the 2030s as originally planned.
Facing severely declining enrollment, big eyed school administrators and big spending Democrats want CMS to accommodate 660+ students despite a projected average enrollment over the next decade of 450. If we cave into this pressure to overbuild, the school will be 50-75% bigger than state guidelines dictate and bigger than any middle school in the state with comparable enrollment. Spending oversight on the project is not only warranted but imperative.
There is also $2.5 million in the budget for Old Greenwich school. $1 million is earmarked to continue preparation for the school’s renovation. BET Republicans and the Old Greenwich school building committee agreed that continued A&E funding was appropriate. Most BET Democrats voted against this funding.
This will be an important planning year for that committee because they’re looking to spend $40+ million on renovations. The problem with that is after spending $40+ million it will still be a school built more than a century ago. Serious consideration must be given to building a new school especially comparing the $36 million cost of a brand new New Lebanon school.
During discussion about Old Greenwich School, it was revealed that on rainy days raw sewage floods into the lower level. THAT IS DISGUSTING AND UNACCEPTABLE.
Spending enthusiasts used the leak to demand the full $40 million renovation funding immediately. That’s ridiculous. It doesn’t take $40 million to fix a sewer leak. But it must be fixed at once and responsible BET Republicans allocated $500,000 to do just that. Stunningly all but one BET Democrat voted no preferring to allow the sewage into the school. Democrats playing politics with student’s wellbeing. Shameful.
Readers should know that school operations are not micromanaged by the BET. The school administration and the BOE are given a huge chunk of money to operate our schools without any BET oversight.
Funds for proper maintenance of schools is included in that chunk, yet the school administration has been negligent with the sewage back up at Old Greenwich school. They were also negligent at North Mianus school by installing a sprinkler system incorrectly which allowed the ceiling to collapse (no it wasn’t a maintenance issue). And at Monday night’s RTM meeting, BOE Chairman Joe Kelly revealed the school administration negligently declined a free offer by our insurer to install water detection systems in their buildings. The town took advantage; the schools refused and the result is a half million dollar flood loss at Havemeyer.
The school administration has repeatedly failed to properly maintain the infrastructure entrusted to them by taxpayers. And don’t get me going on how they could have been so negligent with CMS maintenance that its practically falling down. BET Democrats know this yet scream as if it is the fault of BET Republicans. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A recent letter to the editor in another publication by a former Democrat BET member is enlightening. He alleges that Democrat BET member and former Board of Education Chairman Leslie Moriarity was willing to compromise maintenance of our schools in order to spend even more on the budget busting Performing Arts Center (MISA) at Greenwich High. I have no idea if his comments are true, but they raise a concerning issue. It also makes you wonder why Moriairty voted against fixing the raw sewage leak at Old Greenwich School. There’s a troubling pattern here.
The politicization by Democrats of the BET is sad to see especially when one recalls the collaboration and camaraderie of past BET’s which accomplished so much for decades and decades. This politicization hit its crescendo as the final vote on the Budget arrived. Democrat Jeff Ramer abstained, preventing the passage of the budget thus forcing our townspeople and our employees to live with last year’s budget while denying all capital spending.
That would have been that, except for the leadership of BET Republican Karen Fausuliotis. Democrats got a little squishy with their radical choice so Dr. Fausuliotis made a motion to reconsider (something no Democrat could do). Democrat Ramer came to his senses, the budget was passed and is now with the RTM for final approval.
Despite great results, Democrats made the budget process painful. If you favor uncontrolled, unsupervised spending, higher taxes and more debt you should be happy with how BET Democrats performed.
However, if you are like me, and want outstanding services and facilities at the right price you should be proud that BET Republicans stood up to the Democrats.
Due to Republican leadership Greenwich students will enjoy a beautiful new Central Middle School soon, Old Greenwich students are on their way to a modern, functional facility and Greenwich taxpayers can be comfortable that their tax dollars are being spent responsibly and efficiently.
Thank you Republican BET members.
Edward Dadakis has served more than 40 years in local town government.