By Anthony Karge

akarge@bcnnew.com

The 2010-11 school budget has been all but signed, sealed and delivered after the Representative Town Meeting voted to leave the school budget at $96.1, a 1.6 percent increase from last year, as is on Tuesday night.

"I think we'll be just fine," said Gene Seidman, district 4, addressing concerns over the effect that the budget might have on the schools. "I think our kids will be just fine."

In order for restoration to have been granted, 70 percent of the votes were needed. Two motions were made: one to restore the full $500,000 that had been cut by the Board of Finance earlier this year and the other to restore $250,000. The former failed 4 votes to 31. The latter failed 9 to 25. The budget as originally presented was finally approved 34 votes to 1.

"We have to avoid a steady erosion to the education services we provide," said Don O'Day, chairman of the Board of Education, when he asked for a full restoration at the start of the meeting. "There are some folks sitting in some pretty crowded classes, especially at Staples. A $500,000 cut will affect them."

How exactly the schools will be affected has yet to be determined by Elliott Landon, superintendent of schools, and his administration.

The importance of the schools not just to the education of young, but in making Westport an attractive place to live, was considered as the RTM weighed the decision for three hours.

"I think that's certainly one of the reasons [people move to Westport] ...but people aren't going to be moving here when our tax rates begins to go up and Westport begins to look like Westchester in terms of taxes," said Amy Ancel, district 3. "I think we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot if we don't start pulling back [our expenses]."

Michael Rea, district 8, echoed similar sentiments.

"We cannot keep growing exponentially the way we've been growing, both on the Board of Ed [budget] and the selectman's [budget]," he said.

"This is my ninth year on the RTM," said Judy Starr, district 1. "I don't remember any budget this bad, this painful.

At the start of the meeting, about 30 people were in attendance, including several students. J.J. Mathewson, a sophomore at Staples, mentioned how he went to China with other students and couldn't help but notice the rigorous and advanced education system that he feels that Americans have to compete with.

"Students may find themselves at a disadvantage [if the cuts are made]," he said.

After various RTM members spoke, mostly in opposition to any restoration, John McCarthy, district 9, urged anyone concerned about the budget process to do something about it.

"If you care about it, stop throwing things at the T.V. and join us next time there's an RTM election," he said.

On Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Westport Town Hall, the RTM will finalize the 2010-11 budget when they finish deciding on the municipal portion of the budget. Once the budget is completed, the tax rate will be determined by the Board of Finance on May 20.