RTM Approves Robust
Republican-Led BET Budget for FY 2024
If you’ve read the papers lately, you might have been misled by some of the ugliest of local politics this budget season. Ignore the Democrats who are spinning false stories to get your vote.
On Monday night the non-partisan Greenwich Representative Town Meeting (RTM) approved the FY2024 Town Budget which funds $650 million of town services and school construction projects. This is far and away the largest budget in the history of the Town of Greenwich.
We can thank the Republican-led Board of Estimate and Taxation for delivering a budget that funds all the services residents expect, fully funds the Board of Education’s budget for teachers, principals, and staff, invests in town infrastructure like roads and sewers and contrary to false political noise, increases capital spending on schools to the largest annual expenditures in more than 30 years.
For the fiscal year commencing July 1, 2023 (FY2024), Greenwich Town budget will fund $539 million to operate all town departments including Police, Fire, EMS, Parks, Recreation, Public Works, Health, Social Services and Schools. The operating expenses are an increase of 3.4% over last year. Meanwhile, capital expenditures will increase 72% from the current year to $111 million.
While all twelve members of the BET are elected and responsible for the proper administration of the financial affairs of the Town, unfortunately none of the six Democrat members of the BET voted to support this budget. Instead, they spread a narrative that Greenwich Public Schools (GPS) are “underfunded”. You decide.
Our public schools account for 48% of our Town’s budget. School operating budget including employee benefits is $225 million. This pays for the more than 1,300 employees overseen by the Board of Education (BOE); particularly teachers, who are the highest compensated in Connecticut. It was the BET who added additional funds for school security to the BOE’s and First Selectmen’s own budget requests. Additionally, the budget adds $86 million of capital to schools’ construction and maintenance accounts, which already contain $30 million of funded but incomplete projects; bringing the total funding of Greenwich Public Schools to $311 million. All of this in the face of student enrollment which has declined by more than 500 students over the last few years.
Rather than join their Republican colleagues in supporting this robust Greenwich Public School budget, the Democrat BET members played politics to the very end and will likely campaign on the false narrative that “schools are crumbling” and as State Rep Meskers said “Republicans hate kids”. This over-the-top hyperbole spreads misinformation and only serves to divide our community.
Here are the facts:
Greenwich spends more per student than any other comparable Fairfield town.
In fact, we spend 13% to 19%, respectively, more per student than the very highly performing school districts in Darien and New Canaan which both have higher median incomes than Greenwich. The data shows that through decades of thoughtful funding oversight by the Republican-led BET, Greenwich is the most highly funded school system in Connecticut.
This year’s school capital and infrastructure spending program is more than DOUBLE the average of the prior seven years.
The largest capital items for schools in FY2024 are: $67.3 million ($70 million total including last year’s appropriation) for an all-new Central Middle School, an additional $10 million for toxic soil remediation at Western Middle School, an additional $4 million for soil remediation at Greenwich High School, and $2.6 million to immediately respond with improvements to the sewer system and address immediate ADA compliance and continue architecture and engineering design for planned improvements at the Old Greenwich School. Additionally, the Julian Curtiss Building Committee is proceeding with the compliance needs that have already been funded for that school, and the BET added funds that were omitted by the Board of Education for Riverside School to address their immediate ADA remediations.
For a sense of recent perspective, here’s a summary of major GPS funded capital projects: Fully renovated Hamilton Avenue School ($21 million in 2006), major renovations and additions to Glenville School ($22 million in 2008), extraordinary Greenwich High School Performing Arts Center/MISA ($46 million in 2017), all-new New Lebanon School ($36 million in 2017). To that Greenwich will soon add the upcoming projects at Central Middle School ($70 million in 2024) and pending renovation to Old Greenwich School, which have the full support of the Republican-led BET.
The BET has demonstrated through years of experience what works and what doesn’t when it comes to deliberating, planning, and funding school construction. The approach which works best for Greenwich has been to budget for a feasibility study, followed by architect design, followed by full construction funding. These three important steps over three budget cycles allow for periodic review and cooperation by the BOE, the BET, the RTM, and most importantly input from our residents. This time-tested procedure allows for proper planning and multiple gating decisions by those with supervisory responsibility.
What doesn’t work is bypassing the time-tested procedure, spreading false information at public hearings, in local media and social media campaigns, and conducting secret meetings amongst select members of building committees, the BOE and even the PTA. Why don’t these insiders openly participate and contribute to what works?
Greenwich has been well served by the members of both our Republican-led BET and the non-partisan RTM who have passed and approved a very robust budget for FY2024. Let’s hope their efforts receive even broader support, greater appreciation, and far less political noise.
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