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A Collaborative Approach to Education Funding

Letter to the editor fromBoard of Education members Peter D. Bernstein (Chair) and Kathleen Stowe (Vice Chair). April 30, 2020. Greenwich Free Press.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of our students, families and teachers. Distance learning has become the new norm and we are already discussing safe ways to bring our over 9,000 students and staff members back into our buildings.

And now this virus has had an impact on our proposed budget as the Board of Estimate and Taxation has reduced our operating budget request by $3 million and deferred several school-related capital projects.

We understand the need for fiscal prudence given this new world. However it should be noted that for years we have been making cuts and finding efficiencies in order to remain within the proscribed BET budget guidelines, so there is limited flexibility to make additional cuts. In fact, this year we yet again met the guideline of 2% through further cuts when 90% of our budget are contracted costs and are running at higher than 2%. Additionally, since our budget was presented we have another $1.5 million of costs due to mandatory out of district special education. This leaves us with a $4.5 million budget gap based on the BET changes this week.

We appreciate that the Superintendent and her team began to work as soon as the BET signaled its intention to cut our budget last Thursday and shared a list of potential areas within our budget for adjustment with the BET as they deliberated over the weekend. Given that timeline, our Board did not have the opportunity to engage in discussions amongst itself or with the BET. Nor was there any opportunity for public comment.

We also appreciate the many parents and community members that have spoken up in support of the amazing work that goes on in our schools and the needs we have as we try to emerge from this period of uncertainty. Parents are more engaged in the educational process than ever before and they should know that we will continue to have their students interests at the heart of everything that we do. A healthy, vibrant school system is a critical asset that supports our property values today and the success of our children tomorrow.

We remain committed to working with Superintendent Jones and her team to minimize impacts on students in the classroom. In the coming days and weeks we will explore any and all options available to us. Many of the options that BET members have suggested would have long implementation time frames, illusory savings or be disruptive to the educational process. We would prefer a partnership with the BET in order to start discussing these issues and work together to find solutions.

As was discussed by several members of the BET, we have the ability to seek interim appropriations above the budget that has been passed by the BET and will soon be acted on by the RTM. Knowing that our original budget was already underfunded, it is highly likely that we will be forced to request interim appropriations for costs associated with safe return to our schools, special education and other programs. This causes challenges in our planning, but that is the path that the BET has laid out for us.

On a final note, the BET has the ability to make changes to the budget up until the date that it is submitted to the RTM. We would like to take the time to work in partnership with the BET to find an appropriate compromise that does not jeopardize the education of our students.

Our school norms are Be Here; Be Safe; Be Honest; Care for Self and Others; and Let Go and Move On. We pledge to continue to model this behavior as we move forward.

Board of Education members Peter D. Bernstein (Chair) and Kathleen Stowe (Vice Chair)

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