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BET takes steps to address funding problem

September 27, 2018

GREENWICH — Finance officials will work with counterparts on the Board of Education to develop a process for evaluating the school board’s methods for funding capital improvement projects, in response to an incident this summer in which emergency funding was needed to complete a roof replacement at Julian Curtiss School.

The Board of Estimate and Taxation this week assigned its two liaisons to the school board, Democrat Leslie Moriarty and Republican Debra Hess, to work with the town’s internal auditor on the initiative.

Repairs had already begun at the school this summer when it was discovered money had not been set aside to pay for the work.

“We will get to the bottom of these issues for the taxpayers,” BET Chair Jill Oberlander said at a meeting Tuesday, thanking Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein and Interim Superintendent of Schools Ralph Mayo, both of whom attended, for being willing to work collaboratively with the BET.

A report on “next steps” is to be delivered to BET’s audit, law and budget committees prior to the full board’s Oct. 23 meeting.

“This is a duty we owe the taxpayers and the students and the parents and the teachers,” said Republican BET member William Drake. “I think there’s support from all of us here … We have to do it in cooperation with the Board of Ed. This is not an us versus them. We work jointly to provide services to finance education and we should cooperate.”

A resolution to embark on the project was passed after a long and at times contentious discussion about its scope.

Moriarty, who is chair of the BET’s Budget Committee and a previous chair of the Board of Education, said it would be better to take a one-step-at-a-time approach in determining the best path forward rather than rushing into a solution that could be too broad in its impact.

“As we look at the status of where we are today in collaboration with the Board of Ed we can identify what else we need to know,” Moriarty said. “I understand that we have a responsibility to see what the failures were in the past systems and that can come out of this as well. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if the scope of that is appropriate. I don’t know what questions we really need to ask. I don’t want to ask every single possible question I can consider because we waste resources in doing it, we create animosity among all the parties that are involved in this, which doesn’t help us with our end game.”

Moriarty said she and Hess would return to the BET after working with the Board of Education with the steps needed to reach a collaborative solution.

“That’s the approach that we will have the most success at and will yield the best results for the town,” Moriarty said.

The resolution was approved with nine members of the BET in favor and none opposed, but with three abstentions, Republicans Michael Mason, Leslie Tarkington and Karen Fassuliotis. Mason had introduced an unsuccessful motion put together by the BET’s Republican caucus that had called for a review of Board of Education capital maintenance projects dating back to the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Some Representtive Town Meeting members have called for a similar review. Mason, who expressed frustration at the lack of support for his motion, including from some fellow Republicans, argued that without proper study, problems would keep recurring with school capital projects.

“I just don’t see anything (in the resolution’s language) that is any type of look back whatsoever,” Mason said. “If I’m to understand it, this BET has no interest in looking back at any of the other projects.”

Other BET members insisted that was not the case but felt Mason’s proposal would cost too much money and take too long to complete.

BET Democrat David Weisbrod called it “the most ludicrous thing I’ve seen” using sharper language than other Democrats on the board, who felt it was too broad a motion.

BET Republican member Leslie Tarkington, who had supported Mason’s motion, said she was concerned the approved resolution was too narrow. She too wanted a broad look at past spending, saying the process should be handled by the BET Audit Committee.

Weisbrod, chair of the Audit Committee, said it was better handled by the liaisons working with the school board and the town auditor.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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