Board of Education approves budget, new administrative structure

WESTPORT — The Westport Board of Education unanimously passed a $118,913,715 budget Monday.

The approved budget marks a 3.97 percent increase over the current Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget.

The board chose to cut $256,490 from the Superintendent’s proposed budget, which was introduced Jan. 2., by making reductions to things like stipends, the allocation to the Teaching & Learning Center, the appropriation for daily subs and building projects, among others.

But, board members and Superintendent Colleen Palmer agreed that the board was hamstrung in terms of making significant cuts because of a health care “iceberg” created last year when the Board of Education borrowed $1.5 million from the district’s health insurance reserves to offset the current year’s budget increase.

“What it is doing is diminishing all the good work that is being done on the education budget side,” said board member Vik Muktavaram.

Excluding all health care increases, the proposed board of education budget represents only a 1.22 percent increase, according to Elio Longo.

The board also chose not to increase funding to the Innovation Fund to $100,000 and will instead stay at $50,000.

But perhaps the most contentious change discussed at the meeting does not have any significant financial impact.

The board voted in favor of Palmer’s plan to rejigger the district’s elementary administrative structure by eliminating an assistant principal at Coleytown Elementary School, the smallest elementary school in the district by enrollment, and shifting the responsibility of one Greens Farms Elementary School to focus part-time on science oversight for the district. The directors of elementary education and of secondary education would also be cut.

In addition, an assistant superintendent would be added to Central Office staff, as would district-wide director of academic programs and services and a pre-K through fifth-grade district math coordinator. As a result, remaining elementary school assistant principals would be able to focus solely on their schools, as opposed to working on district-wide curriculum, as they currently do.

The proposal has drawn sharp criticism, especially from parents of Coleytown students, who feel resources are unfairly being pulled from the school.

“I understand the ideas behind this, but I still look at these numbers and it just does not add up to me. Coleytown will end up being the school with the highest number of students per administrator,” said Elizabeth Moriarty, a Representative Town Meeting member from District 8.

“We are going to be the most disadvantaged under this model.”

However, the board was supportive of Palmer’s proposed change, saying that it could improve schools throughout the district. Board of Education member Candi Savin said that, though she understands the concerns of Coleytown parents, she believes in the plan.

“It really strikes me that this is a restructuring at all five elementary schools because now we’re going to have all five elementary principals entirely focussed on their buildings, which we don’t have now. To me this makes intuitive sense, it seems like a big improvement in the way we’re doing business,” said Savin.; @justinjpapp1