Board of Ed, selectmen seek restoration of budget funds
Last month, the Board of Finance asked the Board of Education to cut $1 million from its $96.6 million budget. Tonight, the Board of Education will be asking for every cent back in order to prevent further cuts.
"This school system should be the lighthouse for school systems around the country," said James Marpe, vice chairman of the Board of Education. "I don't think we want to begin a race to the bottom. We should be the ones setting the bar high."
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff also intends to seek some of the money cut from the municipal side of the 2010--11 budget: $1.35 million of the $3.6 million cut.
The Board of Finance has the power to restore all, some, or none of the money that they originally asked to be cut.
On Monday, the Board of
Education unanimously agreed to seek restoration of the $1 million cut on Monday, but the exact amount to ask for was up for debate. The full million was agreed upon in a 4--3 vote before any other amount could be discussed.
"I truly do believe that we need it and I think that we've done a lot of work to keep costs down at a 2.13 percent increase [from the 2009--10 budget]," said Don O'Day, chairman of the education board, noting that most of that increase was from contractual salary increases.
As the board was determining how much money to ask for, board member Michael McGovern said that the needs of the municipal budget -- which was cut deeper -- should also be considered.
"When we look at what's happening on the town side, we can't just look at the schools in a vacuum ... and what makes sense for us to do is to be good partners with the town," McGovern said. "While I certainly have a lot of faith in the budget ... I always think there's something we can do -- that we can dig a little bit deeper and come up with some restoration that is less than $1 million dollars."
In a memo addressed to the Board of Education, Elliott Landon said there is no "low-hanging fruit," and outlined a number of potential areas where the cuts could take place: class sizes at the elementary level may need to increase; proposed teachers for computer and Web-based programming courses could be put on hold; all bus monitor positions could be eliminated, as would an additional secretary and two paraprofessionals, just to name a few of the potential cuts.
"The reductions that I will be recommending to [the Board of Education] are not easy ones to make," Landon wrote.
Joseloff, in a news release, spoke of the areas that will be affected on the municipal side. Some of those include fewer police officers, periodic closings of the Greens Farms and Saugatuck fire stations, less road paving and the Westport Public Library would sometimes close on Sundays.
"Town departments will be slower to respond to requests and applications. Technology advances will be far and fewer between because we won't be able to support them," Joseloff said. "In short, our quality of life will be diminished and so will property values."
At the Board of Education meeting, several people spoke against the cuts outlined in Landon's memo. The school bus monitor positions were worth saving above the other areas according to Representative Town Meeting member Stephen Rubin, who serves on the education committee.
He told the story of Holly Finley, an 8-year-old Westport student who died in 1991. Part of her jacket caught on the railing as she got off the bus, and when the bus drove away, she was pulled beneath the bus, according to an article in The New York Times. A year later, the school bus monitor positions were created to ensure that such an accident wouldn't happen again.
"Please remove the thought of even suggesting to remove $170,000 in the budget to discontinue this program," Rubin said. "How valuable is your child's life? Anything would be better to remove than this line item."
If none -- or only part -- of the money is restored by the Board of Finance to the Board of Education tonight, then exactly where the money will come from will have to be determined. In the municipal budget, the cuts are already known, since the Board of Finance is able to change individual items on that budget.