Cards on the table: Early discussion of Westport school spending starts amicably
In a preliminary discussion of the next fiscal year's school budget, several members of the Board of Finance and Representative Town Meeting sat down this week with the Board of Education to begin review of what is the largest share of town spending each year.
However, no specific dollar figures were discussed during the session at the school board's Monday meeting.
The current budget, which runs through June 30 of next year, is $104.2 million.
The discussion this week was a generally amicable chat, with finance and RTM members offering their help for the impending budget process.
"I have been here the last couple of years and I know how hard the people work for a great school system," said Jennifer Tooker, who had been a school board member until she won a seat on the finance panel in the Nov. 5 municipal election. "I would assume that it will stay the same."
"We re all in the same boat," said Velma Heller, RTM member from District 9. "It's a balancing act" to juggle "the goals for the town and schools, and to address those needs and the needs of specific students," she said.
"We trust you to do this balancing act and trust you to do it with some critical thinking. I trust you have the ability to do that," Heller said. "Good Luck."
Finance board member Thomas Lasersohn spoke about how an increase in taxes could affect the town's senior residents and, in turn, the school system.
He said "a real concern" of his is how to keep lifelong residents, who want to stay in Westport, from leaving town because the rising cost of living and taxes.
He said if that if they do leave, "more younger families will move in."
That issue was also raised during an earlier discussion Monday concerning school enrollment and how more families with children moving into town could cause enrollment to rise in the public schools.
A projected increase in the number of high school students was also addressed during that portion of the meeting, with Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon saying the issue of expanding Staples High School "has been ongoing for 15 years."
But Lasersohn said the idea of building an addition to the high school "sends chills up my spine."
"You have a lot of things on your plate," Michael Rea, finance board member, told the school board. "Just out of the gate you have 2 percent in salary increases and some pressing needs for school security."
He said the school board has "some opportunities that are non-educational" to save money, including consolidating and out-sourcing programs where it can,
"As a board of finance member, from where I sit, our priority is to maintain our school system," he said. "You have your work cut out for you."
"We appreciate your confidence in us," said school board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney. "We will continue to try to find ways to save."