GREENWICH – School district officials are denouncing town Republicans after they advocated for a smaller Central Middle School rebuild by handing out flyers beside campus.
Greenwich Public Schools Superintendent Toni Jones emailed parents and staff on Monday explaining that “flyers of a political nature” had been distributed in front of the school building that morning, disturbing traffic and making some students late to class.
Last month, the Board of Estimate and Taxation approved $67.5 million to replace Central Middle School which, according to the school district, currently has numerous structural issues, no centralized HVAC system and excessive maintenance costs.
While an official project cost estimate has not been announced, members of the Republican Town Committee asked school officials this week to reexamine the project size – which is projected at 124,623 gross square feet – in a series of social media posts and flyers handed out to CMS parents during morning drop-off.
But Joe Montanero, vice chair of the RTC, denied Jones’ account of the incident and suggested she was playing politics.
“For her to have a knee-jerk reaction, we firmly believe, was political in nature,” Montanero told CT Examiner on Thursday. “Toni Jones made it seem like parents are being harassed on their way into the school and it caused disruption with students. It was totally overblown.”
According to Montanero, the flyers were handed out by two women beside the school to parents who were leaving the drop-off area. He said a school official at CMS “OK’d the process,” and no students were late as they had already been dropped off.
Montanero said the flyers were not political in nature, but “just stating the facts.”
One flyer urged parents to keep Greenwich sustainable, affordable and equitable, and promoted an upcoming public hearing on the CMS building alongside the RTC logo. The other flyer included graphics of three schools of different sizes, indicating the smallest school was “perfect” according to state guidelines and the medium-sized one was approved by town Republicans. Beneath the largest school, the flyer read: “Why do town Democrats want to SUPERSIZE to this? (…while enrollment is declining).”
Jonathan Supranowitz, director of communications for the school district, told CT Examiner that the district stood by Jones’ original email to CMS parents and staff.
Supranowitz said those handing out flyers had not been welcomed by staff members, but instead were told by an administrator that they were allowed to stand on public property after the administrator had both investigated the situation and consulted with his supervisors.
“Our administrator had to make two trips from his post, where his job is to make sure everyone’s arriving to school safely,” Supranowitz said. “He’s worrying about his students and the families that are dropping them off. He is now distracted by having to deal with these two people handing out flyers.”
Jones also emailed the RTC and Democratic Town Committee chairs on Monday, requesting that they “remind individuals that our schools are places of learning, and causing disruption in any way is not healthy or safe.”
In a series of tweets this week, the Greenwich RTC account said it was “irresponsible” for Jones to release a statement without “knowing the facts,” and continued to advocate for a smaller school.
Residents also questioned the projected size of the new school at a Wednesday community forum held by the CMS Building Committee. Panelists – including committee Chair Tony Turner and representatives from Construction Solutions Group, SLAM Collaborative and Turner Construction – answered questions regarding Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, design and construction, but deferred questions about the building size.
At the start of the meeting, Turner clarified that the building committee’s sole charge was to build according to the school board’s educational specifications.
“We are not responsible for the cost of the building, the size of the building, the educational curriculum and so forth. We really have that only purpose,” he said.
Still, those in attendance submitted numerous questions about the size and cost of the building. Panelists skipped the school size-related questions and deferred others to the school board for a later date.
Montanero further explained on Thursday the RTC’s concerns about the new CMS, particularly around declining enrollment and “flawed” educational specifications.
According to 2022 enrollment projections by the district, 508 students were enrolled at Central Middle School in October 2022, compared to 621 at Western Middle School and 786 at Eastern Middle School. The district also projected that enrollment at the middle school level would hit a low of 1,688 students by 2031 – a 12 percent decrease from current enrollment.
“The expert opinion is, in about two or three years, [CMS] is going to decline to about 450 students and stay around that number for over a decade,” Montanero said. “And never really rise to what they’re building the school for, which is closer to 700 kids.”
The school board’s educational specifications were based on a projected enrollment of 660 students, and current projections from architecture firm SLAM presented at the Wednesday meeting outlined increased space for departments like academics, special education and specialty learning labs in the new school.
Republican Board of Education Chair Joe Kelly told CT Examiner on Thursday that the group would try addressing all of the remaining questions from Wednesday’s meeting as soon as possible, but reaffirmed the original educational specifications for CMS.
Kelly said the board based the specifications on standard state requirements and CMS’s two-team model, which splits students in each grade into two smaller groups. A two-team model, he said, supports a lower student-to-teacher ratio and requires additional classrooms.
He said the school board is looking to support the district’s goals without overpaying.
“We’re going to build the right building for our town,” Kelly said. “We are going to look at it in a fiscally conservative way where we don’t want to overpay. But we certainly … don’t want to shortchange our students in any way, shape or form.”
Regarding the flyers handed out to parents on Monday, Kelly said there is a “time and a place for politics.”
“I don’t think it’s schools,” he said. “So, I would ask that we kind of keep away from that, because we want to keep everyone focused on teaching the kids stuff rather than having them [disagree] with their political views.”