For some perspective, let’s revisit last year when the onset of the COVID pandemic caused a country wide lockdown. The BET (led by Republicans) called for a flat budget for all town departments in the face of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty. Shortly thereafter, BET’s throughout Fairfield County followed suit. It was a tough decision to make in the moment. Every town department responded with compliance, except one. The Board of Education.
What ensued was a viscous and often personal campaign against Republican BET members. It was accompanied by calls to action by the Greenwich PTA and Superintendent and threats of mass teacher firings. Despite the cacophony, BET Republicans did not waver in their decision. They knew COVID related savings were a possibility and that there were other avenues which could be pursued in an emergency. Soon, the school bus transportation contract was renegotiated by excellent GPS CFO Sean O’Keefe, and by the end of the summer, more than $3,500,000 of EXCESS funding was returned by the Board of Ed to the Town. None of what was threatened ever materialized.
Local Democrats on the BET have used the North Mianus School ceiling collapse as a campaign tool to suggest Republicans are callous to school maintenance funding. They want you to think that every school in the district is on the verge of structural collapse. The facts do not support this.
Our BOE has a long history of mismanaging large scale capital projects. From MISA, which went from being originally budgeted at $18million to a $47,000,000 behemoth that has required multiple interim appropriations for repairs subsequent to its construction, to Hamilton Ave School and its uneven and unplayable athletic fields. They are simply not good at project management. They should, instead focus on the education of our children. That is something we rarely hear about at BOE meetings.https://1926cb37c6f6ada55ad1a08f5154be6f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Case in point. More than three years ago, the Master Facilities Plan outlined the options and associated costs of renovating and rebuilding Central Middle School. This is already in the BOE’s hands. Did they make a decision? No. They asked for ANOTHER study ($120,000) to answer the same question about CMS that they had already received. This is analysis by paralysis.
One last bit about BET Democrats. Just two years ago, THEY ran the BET. It is interesting to note that in their FY2019/20 School Capital Budget, the BOE requested $26million and the Democrats gave them $21million. Roughly a 20% haircut. That same year, the Board of Ed decided to defer more than $13million dollars of capital spending from their own capital budget. The deferral? Western Middle School field remediation ($8.5mil) and turf fields at WMS ($4.7mil). To add insult to injury, the BOE cut $1.4million dollars out of its own operating budget that year to conform with BET Democrats’ budget guidelines. Despite interim school superintendent Ralph Mayo calling the budget cut “extremely uncomfortable” there were no angry PTA letters, no calls of panic to parents and no flurry of angry OpEd’s.
Back to the present. Like last year, there will be lots of noise surrounding this issue. Although the debate is slightly different from last years, the results will be the same. North Mianus will be funded and repaired. The students will be brought back in, in as expedient and safe a manner as possible. Another call to arms followed by a totally anticlimactic ending.
Konstantine G. Wells is a Greenwich resident.