School board approves budget after $1 million cut

December 21, 2018

GREENWICH — After making an unpopular cut, the Greenwich Public Schools approved the 2019-20 school budget on Thursday night at its final meeting of the year.

The board approved a $163,364,193 operating budget for the next school year, which is down from the originally proposed $164,774,196 figure. How the cut will be applied within the budget is still to be determined but there has already been discussion of cuts for conferences and professional development for teachers and special education support stafoid

It could result in an increase for class sizes in the district’s three middle schools, a reduction of additional course offerings at the high school, the cancelation of underused digital tool subscriptions and a deferral of buying some new textbooks across the district.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Ralph Mayo, prior to Thursday night’s vote, said the budget made him “extremely uncomfortable” but that it would save $1.4 million without increasing elementary classroom sizes or cutting middle school intramural sports, two areas the public had spoken out about.

The reduced budget is under the two percent growth limit that the Board of Estimate and Taxation has asked all town departments to adhere to in its budget guidelines as it seeks to keep a tax increase for next fiscal year from becoming too large.

The question of how the cuts will be applied is an open one and the board is expected to receive more data and guidance from the district’s cabinet about the best ways to proceed.

“If we have to move money around we have the ability to do that,” Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein said. “Obviously we’re starting from a smaller pool but there is some opportunity to do that. We see these budget transfers on a monthly basis.”

Board member Peter Sherr objected to the cuts and was the lone vote against the budget, which passed with seven in approval and Sherr opposed. Sherr first attempted to pass the originally recommended budget of $164,774,196 but did not receive a second to his motion.

“I will not support a budget that directly impacts the number of teachers in classrooms in any level of the system and that directly impacts the courses that we offer,” Sherr said. “This plan here absolutely violates that principle. We will be cutting teacher positions by doing this and you can’t dispute it.”

Bernstein said he understood Sherr’s concerns.

“This is a cut budget, there’s no mistaking that,” Bernstein said. “We have tried to minimize the impact in the direction to the administration and they have done a lot of work. Is that work done? No, I don’t think so by any means.“m

The cuts were made over the objection of Carol Sutton, head of the Greenwich Education Association, which serves as the public school’s teachers union. At Thursday’s meeting during her regular remarks, Sutton said the budget should be approved without cuts due to the classroom impact.

“The proposed cuts basically pull the rug out from under professional development and curriculum development theoretically for a year,” Sutton said. “The reality is all cuts hurt…Imagine Greenwich Public Schools as a tree. Whether you starve the roots, strip the bark or hard prune limbs you damage the tree and it takes several seasons for a tree that’s weakened to recover.”

But board member Kathleen Stowe said later in the meeting it was important to focus on the positives of the budget.

“This is actually still a $3 million increase year to year and if nothing else it’s a 3.6 percent increase for our teachers and to me we’re investing most then in the people who have the most impact on our children,” Stowe said. “That’s where I want to put my money.”

The Board of Education also approved a $26 million capital budget for 2019-20 which is reduced as well after $4.7 million for a potential turf field at Central Middle School and $8.5 million for soil remediation at Western Middle School were deferred to a future year.

The capital budget also was approved by a vote of seven to one with Sherr voting against it because he wanted more time to work on the board’s capital budget priorities.


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