Westport cost-sharing plan 'breakthrough' proclaimed
Updated 12:07 pm, Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Westport Board of Education and municipal officials have reached a "major breakthrough" by agreeing to consolidate several education and town services, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said in a memo sent Friday to school board members.
Within the next few weeks, the Board of Education will take over the town's mailroom operations, as well as its Voice Over Internet Protocol system, Landon said. In addition, the board's online "Technology Help Desk" will expand to incorporate municipal departments' requests for technology repairs and assistance.
"We are quite pleased to have been able to take this first step toward meeting the Board of Education's goal and objective for cost efficiencies," Landon said. "Concurrently, we have been responsive to the Board of Finance's request that we make every effort to consolidate town and school services where appropriate."
Consolidation of municipal and education services has been a goal for months as town officials have sought to rein in spending. The Board of Education, for instance, identified the creation of "cost efficiencies through collaborative efforts" with municipal departments as a fiscal managementgGoal for the 2010-11 school year.
Consolidation planning accelerated last January when Landon delivered to the education board a memo that offered specific recommendations for streamlining town and education services. Two months later, the Board of Finance cut $250,000 from the Board of Education's proposed $98.3 million operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year to spur consolidation efforts. That reduction was upheld in May by the Representative Town Meeting, which has final budget approval authority.
The new consolidation agreement will result in the loss of at least one job. In approving the 2011-12 town budget, the RTM backed elimination of a town communications/technology specialist, saving the town approximately $80,000, according to Landon. That decision was made, the superintendent added, with the "understanding that the position would not be re-instated and that town and school functions would be consolidated to cover the responsibilities associated with the eliminated town position."
Landon on Tuesday told the Westport News that education and municipal officials planned to explore further consolidation initiatives in the coming months, with the eventual goal of saving approximately $500,000 through such measures.
"I'm hoping we can implement some significant changes and save the town some money," he said. "There's been a lot of good, constructive input from all the parties concerned, so I'm optimistic."
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said future consolidation measures could also include municipal departments taking over certain education services.
"We're looking at a range of things, but I think this is a very good start," he said.
Landon added in the Friday memo that he, Joseloff, Finance Director John Kondub and Board of Education Chairman Don O'Day had met April 12 to discuss the memo on proposed consolidation initiatives he sent in January to the education board. He said they agreed then that proposed areas of consolidation such as information technology required "further study and research."
Following the April 12 meeting, Landon added that Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris, Kondub, town Information Technology Director Eileen Zhang and Board of Education Information Technology Director Natalie Carrignan met regularly to discuss consolidation efforts.
"We should and will continue to look for opportunities to act," O'Day said in an email. "We don't have to hit home runs every time. I'm happy with singles or just efficiently moving the runners into scoring position."