Why Has the Greenwich Board of Education’s Budget Ballooned While Learning Loss Remains a Sad Reality?

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To the Editor:

The Greenwich Time has been misleading readers regarding the cost run-up in the Greenwich Board of Education budget in recent articles.  As they reported, the current year’s budget is a 6.5% increase over the prior year. However, what was left out is the fact that former Greenwich Board of Education Chair Joe Kelly was also in charge of union contract negotiations, and Mr. Kelly negotiated an astounding $39 million increase (30%) in teacher costs over the next three years for fiscal 2024 through 2026.

This amounts to an average increase of 11 percent a year.  Greenwich Time also fails to explain that part of the reason that the budget presented to the BET came in at ONLY 6.5 percent higher is that Greenwich carries healthcare and other benefits on the Town budget and these are not included in the BOE budget, shrinking it.  Thanks to Mr. Kelly, these benefit costs increased by an average of 18% a year. 

That negotiated pay increase effectively guaranteed a showdown over whether we increase the Town budget above guidelines or cut staffing levels.  This choice was completely unnecessary and could have been avoided.

The Greenwich Time articles were also incorrect in claiming Greenwich hires mostly “senior” teachers. Town payroll data shows that, while 70 percent of Greenwich teachers have worked in Greenwich for over ten years, 56 percent of new hires were hired at the lowest pay grades.

Certainly we want to attract the best teachers but money is not a primary motivator for most choosing to be teachers, and despite paying 20 percent more per teacher than the next highest paying town in the state, New Canaan, and despite spending more per student in total:

  1. Greenwich is 19th vs New Canaan’s first in reading and math according to state data
  2. Greenwich is underperforming even after adjusting for the family income, race / ethnicity, special education and English learner status of our students
  3. Greenwich is 36th according websites which focus on outcomes like school digger and neighborhood scout
  4. Over Covid, Greenwich was 100th in the state in terms of in-person learning, and 129th in terms of hybrid learning (state data)
  5. As a result, over Covid, Greenwich learning loss was 51st in the state (also state data)
  6. Greenwich Teacher absenteeism is one of the highest in the state (149th out of 198).
  7. Greenwich has twice as many school psychologists as recommended despite a lower-than-average percentage of students with disabilities.

Burying our collective head in the sand and encouraging irate, but misinformed parents to call for more and more spending will solve nothing.  In fact, these issues – how many, and what kind of school staff we hire, what policies and pay will serve to attract the best staff, why such highly paid staff are absent so often, how large a school is needed and what are the priorities in its design, and so on – are all management issues.  And since Greenwich is an outlier to the downside in so many of these categories one must conclude that the Greenwich BOE oversight has failed at every level and for a long while.

Knee-jerk overspending on both sides of the aisle ignores the problems and is now forcing possible staff cutbacks, academic program cutbacks or large tax increases.  What’s needed is better oversight by responsible and accountable leadership. We spend plenty – far more than any other town – the problems lie elsewhere. We need to elect leaders who will focus on our children’s education outcomes and will do the hard work of supervising the administration rather than rubber-stamping huge pay increases and over-sized buildings which solve nothing.  Well-educated children and strong families are the time-tested, proven path to a successful future, and we should wake up to the fact that the problem is where and on what we spend, not how much.

Michael Spilo
Greenwich, CT

Spilo was an elected member of the Greenwich RTM Labor Contracts Committee from 2015 to 2023 and chairman of this committee from 2021 to 2023.