The Board of Education's proposed $104.2 million operating budget for 2013-14 picked up another key endorsement Tuesday night, as the Representative Town Meeting's Education Committee unanimously recommended that the full RTM approve the spending plan without changes.
The Education Committee's backing will likely ensure relatively smooth passage for the budget when it is voted on in early May by the legislative body. The 36-member legislative body has final authority over the total budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The budget was unanimously approved without cuts last month by the Board of Finance.
"I think the budget's very well-laid out and very clear in the way it's presented," Velma Heller, the committee's chairwoman and the RTM's deputy moderator, told the Westport News. "In general, people have confidence in what the schools are doing, and they want to be supportive of it."
The budget would raise education expenditures by $4.2 million over the current year, or a 3.95 percent increase, the largest percentage uptick in school spending during the last four years.
Board of Education Chairwoman Elaine Whitney described that increase as a counterpoint to a period of relative fiscal austerity, highlighted by an approximately 2 percent compound annual growth rate in education spending during the last five years.
"We've consistently requested increases that are below our contractually obligated costs for salary and benefit increases," she told the committee. "We have been essentially been doing effective cutting for previous budget cycles. This year, we're essentially looking to cover costs. We're investing in education, but doing it as cost-efficiently as we can."
The total cost of salaries for the town's public school teachers will rise by about 3.5 percent during the next school year, according to terms of their new contract.
Whitney also cited increased out-of-district placement costs for students with special needs.
The school board's proposed budget totals $1.2 million less than the spending plan Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon presented in January. Among their cuts to the superintendent's request, the board reduced by $500,000 his proposed allocation to the school district's health-insurance reserve.
"They've done a good job of reining in spending over the past two years, and this seems like a very responsible budget," Eileen Flug, a committee member and the RTM's moderator, told the Westport News.
Despite their backing for the budget, some members expressed concerns about the district's commitment to finding savings.
"In terms of the total amount of salaries, when you look at any one of these presentation budgets, it seems to be the one area that grows the most," said Paul Lebowitz, District 6. "Those salaries are not for Latin teachers or English teachers, they are for administrators ... Last year, we heard the exact same thing that they're looking for cost savings, but they never seem to get there."
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