Westport finance board cuts $1.3 million from school budget
The Board of Finance unanimously voted to cut $1,327,000 from the Board of Education’s $123 million proposed budget Wednesday night.
The budget represented a 4.24 percent hike over this year’s budget of $118,250,464, with the increase’s main contributors being facilities improvements and the reopening of Coleytown Middle School.
“I do think we have to look at the town as a whole,” BOF Vice Chairman Andrea Moore said, adding she wouldn’t have been comfortable with the reduction if she believed it significantly affected staffing or programs.
As part of the total budget reduction, BOF Chairman Brian Stern suggested areas to find cost-savings, including a $250,000 reduction from the $838,905 allocated for school repairs, which had been recommended in a report by architectural firm Antinozzi Associates. Priority projects for this year included a cooling tower replacement at Greens Farms Elementary School, and roof projects at Staples High School and Saugatuck Elementary School.
“I think this 30 percent task we’ve asked you on the Antinozzi report is totally achievable without any impact on life, safety or the quality of education,” Stern said, noting there were opportunities for shared services between the town and school district.
Finance board members questioned if savings were anticipated with the schools being closed to slow the spread of the novel coroanvirus.
Human Resources Director John Bayers said the district anticipated savings due to daily substitutes not being needed. Permanent building substitutes, who were typically contracted for the year, were kept on board.
“It’s critical we keep them available because we really don’t know where the crisis is going for some of our staff,” Bayers said. “We have to make sure we have proper staffing in place if some of our staff has to take advantage of family medical leave during the crisis.”
The BOF also urged the BOE to start discussing ways to address rising per-pupil costs.
But Interim Superintendent David Abbey pointed out overall enrollment for the district was slated to be down 43 students, adding the administration has not discussed the coronavirus’ impact on families moving to Westport from other locations
“The next few years, any kind of educational planning and fiscal planning is going to involve a new superintendent and largely be dependent on what he or she wants to do,” Abbey said.
Stern said it’s good news that the district recognizes a structural change is needed, but worried of potential budget increases.
“There has to be some meaningful strategy change over the next couple years — maybe a three-year horizon or something — that enables you to keep the quality of the education up and get to a good endpoint fiscally,” he said.
Town departments that sustained reductions and the BOE can return to the finance board on April 15 to seek fund restorations.