Editor’s Note: This op-ed was submitted by William Fitzgerald of Old Lyme.
In Old Lyme, we claim to value education. Now is the time for us to step up and show we mean it. The Board of Education recently put out a request to crowdsource gifts for teachers. While this gesture is well-intentioned, it’s not enough. Our school staff – every adult who worked in the building, from the custodial crew to maintenance to the kitchen staff to guidance counselors to admin assistants to tech staff to teachers and admins – stepped up under the most challenging conditions this country has seen in a generation. Their effort and care deserves cash bonuses.
Currently, the district site lists 306 people. Let’s assume, for the sake of overestimating, that the full number of people supporting our kids in the district is 350. Estimating high, paying each staff member a bonus of $1,000 would cost $350,000. A bonus of $2,000 per person is $700,000; and a bonus of $3,000 per person is just over a million dollars.
We have the money to do this. The current budget contains a little over 1.7 million dollars in unspent funds “returned” to Lyme and Old Lyme. Returning “unspent” money is an annual ritual; between 2017 and the current budget the district has refunded amounts ranging between $647,000 and $1.7 million (see footnote, below). This money is cash that has already been taxed from the townspeople, and allocated via budgets. The towns or the district could pay every staff member a $3,000 bonus and still leave $700,000 of that 1.7 million untouched.
If the school board wants to solicit matching donations from community members, the contributions could potentially be routed through the Lyme Old Lyme Education Foundation, where these community contributions could be a tax writeoff. This assumes that the LOLEF would be willing to serve in this role, but it seems a natural extension of their past work and aligned with their general mission.
Given what things have been like since March 2020, I can’t imagine that our school board and superintendent would want to do anything except show our school staff that they are appreciated via this one time cash bonus. Frequent objections to doing something different include that it’s too hard, or that there isn’t enough time, or that the politics of the budget process are too complicated.
However, our teachers, our admin staff, our custodians, our kitchen staff, our tech staff did not have the luxury of these excuses. Their work was unreasonably hard, and they did it. They did not have adequate time to plan for the continual shifts and disruptions caused by Covid – and they showed up and excelled. Our staff had to navigate the impacts of the political quagmire that marked our national response to Covid – and they showed up and made it happen, under circumstances that were and continue to be unreasonably difficult and complex.
The commitment, professionalism, and follow through of our staff should be matched by this board, and the town selectmen.
In January, in the middle of the current pandemic, this school board committed nearly 2.5 million dollars for an artificial turf field. If we can afford millions for fake grass, we should be able to afford thousands for actual people.
Pay school staff a one time bonus for their work during the pandemic. We have the money, and they earned it.
School budgets listed on the Region 18 district website go back to the 2019-2020 budget, which allows us to see “returned” funds starting on 6/30/2017.
The budget overview pages are here:
Carry over funds from 2017 and 2018:
- 6/30/2017 – $1,101,399
- 06/30/2018 – $804,212
Carry over funds from 2019:
- 06/30/2019 – $647,155
Carry over funds from 2020:
- 06/30/20 – $1,725,886
The district has not yet released a projection of unspent funds for the current fiscal year ending 6/30/2021, but if past patterns hold there is potentially an additional $650,000 to $1.1 million dollars in play.