Board of Education approves budget, solidifies cuts
WESTPORT — Less than a month after school administrators handed out 160 pink slips to all nontenured teachers, citing a lean budget year, actual cuts to staff are minimal.
One elementary school teacher, one elementary paraprofessional and two instructional technology teachers have been eliminated from the Board of Education budget in order to come up with $972,000 in cuts imposed by the Board of Finance. Other smaller cuts, like reductions to school supplies and copying costs and shifts to personnel, like requesting a part-time middle school coach, as opposed to full time, among other things will also be made.
“We’re staffing, we’re meeting the needs that we put on the table, but we’re really asking individuals to look at their work differently, and probably structure some of it differently,” Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said at Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education.
At the meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve its $116,173,800 budget for the 2018-19 year.
Additional personnel cuts included reductions in specials teachers, school secretaries and Bedford Middle School math intervention teachers, all by 0.5 FTE (Full Time Equivalencies). Response to Intervention teachers would be cut by 0.4 FTE and middle school psychologists that would have been new in the upcoming year were wiped from the budget.
The Board of Finance in April cut $2,050,000 from the school budget, which first represented a more than 4 percent increase year-over-year, but is now down to a 1.57 percent increase. Of that number, $1,078,000 is expected to come in savings after all seven of the unions representing Westport public school teachers agreed to switch to the less-expensive state health care plan. That left $972,000 in cuts for the Board of Education to make.
Palmer said with downsizing, the district and its staff would undergo a “paradigm shift,” in which the roles of employees are more fluid and staff may be asked to take on new roles or float between schools.
Several teachers spoke out against the cuts to integrated technology teachers.
“I’m for a paradigm shift; I think that’s an excellent idea. However, the idea of shifting staff around from elementary to middle may not be the right solution for that. There are different needs,” said Rob Rogers, a technology integration teacher, who said, because of his veteran status, his job would not be at risk. Still, he and other middle school teachers advocated against the cuts during public comment.
“All of my colleagues are asking, ‘What are we going to do next year without you?’ And I’m saying, ‘You’ll have to make do with yourselves.’ But that is a Band-Aid. That is a magic pill. Because what the ITL teacher gives is this idea of a partnership where pedagogy is supported and enhanced and reinforced to make the curriculum better,” Rogers said.
According to John Horrigan, co-president of the teachers union, the Westport Education Association, both Rogers and the district’s other instructional technology teacher are tenured and will not lose their jobs. Instead, they will be moved to another role within the district, possibly filling the spot of a retiree or bumping a nontenured teacher.
“Last year they didn’t have to let anybody go because enough people resigned or retired to make spaces available. So that’s what we’re hoping will happen this year so there won’t be people who actually lose their jobs,” said Horrigan. “But it’s never guaranteed.”
Similarly, the elimination of the elementary teacher and paraprofessional won’t result in jobs lost. Administrators just won’t seek to replace one retirement in each category, based on shrinking enrollment.
Still, Horrigan said certain members of the Westport public schools faculty are unfairly impacted each year.
The cuts always seem to come at the expense of the teachers and the paras and the secretaries and never really seem to come at the expense of the administrators,” Horrigan said.
“To me, as head of the teachers union, it’s kind of troubling that we keep cutting teachers’ positions.”
The cuts did avoid certain positions that drew particular concern from the Board of Education and the school community. The new prekindergarten through grade five math administrator will not be deferred, a district-wide literacy and math coordinator will not be cut, and Coleytown Middle School’s grade six team staffing will not go to a leaner hybrid model.
But still, in a hard-fought budget year, those like Rogers and his colleagues will be forced to adjust.
“We’re not going to deplete the resources at any one area of our district. We are going to look at spreading the remaining resources to support digital citizenship of our students and embedding technology or transformational approaches to learning in other areas,” Palmer said.
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