20 employees cut in $118M Westport schools budget
WESTPORT — The Board of Education unanimously passed a $118,500,464 operating budget for the 2019-20 school year at its meeting Monday night, a 2 percent increase over this year’s budget of $116,173,800.
The approved budget is less than the 2.22 percent increase Superintendent Colleen Palmer originally proposed in a document made available at the Feb. 11 Board of Education meeting.
While the superintendent’s original budget proposed a cut of 18 school employees, the approved budget plans to decrease school staff by 20.7 full-time equivalent employees.
“We’re downsizing,” Palmer said, noting the cuts were “aggressive” and necessary because of declining enrollment and Coleytown Middle School’s closure. The majority of cuts will be teaching positions, in addition to fewer paraprofessionals, nurses and custodians.
Total student enrollment is expected to decline until 2026-27 and then begin to rebound after that, primarily due to estimated increases in K-5 enrollment, according to projections from Mike Zuba, director of planning at the Milone & MacBroom firm.
“I don’t expect we’re going to be able to do this again. We have a workforce that we’ve downsized appropriately,” Palmer said.
Savings were also found in the plan to house all of town’s middle school students at Bedford next year and operate seven schools in the district, as opposed to eight. If Coleytown Middle School was in operation next year, the budget increase would be 2.61 percent, Palmer said.
In order to accommodate for the the 1,300 students who will be taught at Bedford next year, Palmer proposed, and the BOE approved, the addition of one support teacher, two psychological services professionals, a secretary, and a security aide, which were all not in Palmer’s original budget.
BOE member Elaine Whitney asked whether the additional staffing is necessary only for the interim middle school plan or will serve long-term needs.
In response, Palmer said there has been an increase in special-education students at the middle school level this year, and called on Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services Tina Mannarino, who noted 12 percent of the middle school population meet the eligibility designation for social and emotional disturbance.
“We really want to be able to respond in a systemic way to the needs of students. Students are feeling a lot of pressure under our strong academic program,” Mannarino said.
The education budget will next go to the Board of Finance for final approval.
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