We are confronting complicated and unsettled times. While the impact of COVID-19 is having a monumental impact worldwide and throughout the nation, our state and community, in particular, have shown significant improvement in terms of the number and severity of cases. And thanks to the commitment of Granby’s residents in maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, we should continue to be on track to minimize the impact of this terrifying and uncertain virus.
Still, the tactics we have used to successfully minimize the impact on our community’s health have had an impact on our community’s economy. There are certainly individuals here in Granby who have felt the financial strain, and it is likely we all will continue to face difficulties for a significant period. From those who have lost jobs, to small business owners suffering decline in their income, to those who may see a decrease in their retirement accounts and their essential income, times will no doubt continue to be challenging.
However, thanks to the preparation and diligent work of our town’s elected boards, the impact has been blunted slightly, and Granby is in a better financial situation than many communities across the nation. Despite its devastating effect on the health of Connecticut residents, the COVID-19 crisis has not had a correspondingly serious impact on Granby’s fiscal status. Expenses for 2019-20 came in below what was budgeted, allowing our town to lessen the impact for 2020-21, and the 2020-21 budget was able to meet the requirements of the town while holding our mill rate flat.
In June’s issue of the Drummer, Board of Finance Chair Michael Guarco’s article (“Preparing for when the other shoe drops…”) outlined some of these challenges, most notably that we expect there to be a serious financial impact from COVID in Granby related to the expenses needed to safely reopen the schools just a short time from now. These expenses are likely to far exceed the budget adopted this past spring.
Guarco’s article also took aggressive and surprising aim at some of the essential workers that serve our community, stating, “wages and benefits comprise about 75 percent of the budgets. Those contracts coming up for negotiation need to fit the bill as they drive operating budgets.” In fact, Granby’s teachers make up the majority of our town’s paid employees. Guarco then projected, “it is better to be still employed with benefits than joining the one in six who aren’t.” In the spring, teachers were forced to completely change their approach while ensuring that students stayed strong academically and emotionally. Sometimes this involved simple online check-ins or going well beyond their normal work hours to get their jobs done. Other stories of several outstanding teachers in our school system going above and beyond—including in-person, socially distanced sessions with students in need—filled us with pride for our community.
Parents forced to work from home while also helping their children set up for remote learning every day saw teachers in a new light, realizing the struggle of getting anything done while managing just a small group of children, let alone 20 or more.
Now, our teachers are being asked—or in most cases, forced—to be in an uncertain environment regarding the spread of this disease. We do not yet know how easily this disease will spread in the return to school. While children seem to be less impacted by the disease, there is not enough data to know the long-term effects or rate of spread at this time. The challenges that our teachers face include, but are not limited to:
• Asking children as young as three to maintain social distance and wear masks
• Teaching in an environment with face shields and Plexiglas
• Dealing with emotional situations without being able to give reassurances or positive support with a hug, a high-five, or a pat on the back
• Working in an environment with close proximity to a large group of people in buildings with ventilation systems that were not designed to handle or reduce the spread of illness
The Granby Democratic Town Committee agrees with Guarco that times are tough and everyone needs to be willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the community. However, we also know that there are resources and support beyond our local tax base through the federal (such as FEMA and other school programs) and state (such as the Education Cost Sharing grants and other organizations) levels. This is ultimately the way to achieve financial balance for the Granby Public Schools, not by taking money away from our teachers and other town employees.
Financial times are tough, and in order to protect our residents, Granby should aim for a flat mill rate again in FY22. Granby needs to maintain its high education standards and strive to compensate our teachers appropriately, not only as a service to our children and their future but in order to keep Granby an attractive place to live.
The bottom line—Guarco’s inference that, in the face of upcoming contract negotiations, teachers should simply feel fortunate to have a job as they walk into circumstances that are at best uncertain and at worst dangerous—is unfortunate. The educators and administrators in our schools are the next group of local heroes that we should be cheering, not marginalizing. The Granby Democratic Town Committee proudly stands for—and with—the teachers of this community that serve our students and families diligently and faithfully.
The authors are Matt Brady and Monica Logan, on behalf of the Granby Democratic Town Committee