Landon proposes school budget with 2% increase
Unveiling his final budget as superintendent of Westport’s public schools, Elliott Landon on Tuesday proposed a 2016-17 spending plan with a 2 percent increase over the current budget.
Despite a request from the Board of Finance that any spending increase for the new academic year be 1.5 percent or less over this year’s $111,171,756 budget, Landon recommends the Board of Education his plan of $113,428,663. Landon plans to retire as superintendent this spring at the end of the academic year — and final town approval for the new fiscal year’s budget.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Landon said, citing contract negotiations with five personnel groups, including administrators, “so to bring in the budget at 1.5 percent was a most difficult task and it required some serious reductions, and in making those reductions I attempted to do so without having a negative impact on the functioning of our school system.”
Last year, the education budget was recommended with a 1.8 percent increase for 2015-16, which earned praise from the finance board. Last month, finance board members came to a school board meeting and its chairman, Brian Stern, said he hoped next fiscal year’s increase could be even smaller than this year’s was.
The 2.03 percent increase reflects additions to the spending package, including seven new courses at Staples High School. There are also proposed cuts, including paraprofessionals for third-grade classrooms and bus monitors for standard bus routes.
“We have maintained a really good class size,” Landon said, defending a proposed cut of the equivalent of four full-time classroom aides.
“Remember that they are aided by having a security person in each school, which they’ve never had before…” he said. “With that extra help and reduced class sizes, I do not think this will have a negative instructional impact on our schools.”
“We’re maintaining all of our existing programs,” the superintendent added. “We’re adding new programs that we described to the board in the most recent past. I think the school system next year will be strong and our curriculum, our instructional programs, will continue to flourish.”
“I’m very excited about the programmatic improvements,” board Chairman Michael Gordon said, adding that he feels they are needed for continued improvement of the town’s schools.
“I congratulate you,” he told Landon and his administrative staff. “I know the task was difficult and I know how hard the team worked on it … I applaud you for it.”
Several areas of the proposed budget feature significant increases, including the property services account, which would rise 15.6 percent, from $6.13 million to $7.08 million. The account for equipment would increase 20.5 percent, from $1.47 million to $1.78 million.
While certified staff salaries climb 3.3 percent from $55.75 million to $57.59 million, administrative salaries increase 5.9 percent from $5.03 to $5.33. Non-certified salaries go up 0.4 percent, however, as a result of the recommended reduction in paraprofessionals and support supervisors.
Total benefits decrease 3.5 percent, from $17.33 million to $16.72 million.
Two budget categories for “Purchased Services” and “Other Purchased Services” would increase by 6.3 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, to a proposed combined total of $10.36 million. Factors driving those increases include a 25 percent increase in gasoline for buses, from $200,000 to $250,000, a 7.3 percent increase in transportation costs to $3.59 million, and a range of tuition and legal-related costs.
“Over the next several weeks the board will do a line-by-line review of the budget, asking questions, and seeing if there are opportunities for further savings,” Gordon said.
Board of Education members begin a detailed review of Landon’s spending plan Friday, with a day-long public work session on the budget beginning at 8:30 a.m.
“At some point before Feb. 15 we have to adopt the superintendent’s budget … and then from there we take it to the Board of Finance and then the RTM,” he said.