Finance: Westport schools on the hook to total $1.67 million budget cut
Updated 1:11 pm, Friday, March 24, 2017
WESTPORT — The school district presented the Board of Finance with an incomplete assignment: Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer cut $968,079 from the schools budget, $700,000 less than the finance board had requested at its March 6 meeting.
Despite a procession of parents delivering impassioned pleas to make as few cuts as possible to the school budget, along with defensive remarks by Palmer and school board Chairman Michael Gordon, the finance board stood firm in its charge to the schools: Cut the budget by the full $1.67 million.
The decision comes at a time when the state is facing a $1.3 billion deficit. The state, in turn, passed that burden back to local municipalities. All $1.9 million in state education aid to the town has been cut, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget would saddle Westport with $5.9 million in teacher pension obligations.
The town is facing an $8 million shortfall and plans to draw heavily from its reserves. Still, not wanting to completely deplete its designated fund balance, the Board of Finance turned back to the schools and selectmen. Consequently, the first selectman’s budget has been reduced by $1.05 million, slightly more than requested. On the other hand, Palmer came in under the finance board’s request.
“Essentially, what the Board of Finance was asking for was just a little over 1 percent, and I know that it’s very easy to look at a list and to say ‘this can’t be, this can’t be,’ ” finance board member Sheri Gordon said. “But in any organization, any manager should generally be able to find items that could fall under the 1 percent.”
Gordon focused on the 41 secretaries the district employs, totaling a cost of $2.61 million, and four assistants at a price of $144,000. “So that’s 45 secretaries. It just seems like a lot in an age where secretaries are not that common anymore,” she said.
“The argument for secretaries used to be that they are the first person that people see when they enter the schools, that they’re the connection between the parents and the schools. But we now hired security guards for all our schools,” she said.
Vice Chairman Michael Rea, who has voted on 18 Board of Education budgets (12 as an RTM member and six as a member of the finance board), said this year’s school budget was one of only two he has voted against because of what’s going on in Hartford. “I think the superintendent and the Board of Ed has to do better.”
Palmer said, “If we’re asked to meet a fiscal goal, without regard for impact on the system, there may be long-lasting, unintended consequences, especially in the area of student services and/or town management.”
PTA member Sue Calger said the cuts Palmer has proposed already impact the kids, such as the elimination of three third-grade paraprofessionals.
The total town and education budget of $203.5 million was approved unanimously. The Board of Education will meet again on Monday.