Proposed school budget up 2.9 percent
BOE anaylzes budget today
The superintendent's proposed budget totals 190 pages, but the number that matters is $97,311,912. The other important number, 2.9 percent, represents the increase from the 2009-10 budget.
"In several instances ... by holding line expenditures to the same level as reflected in the current budget, our students and staff will be required to do with less," said Elliott Landon, superintendent of schools.
Landon stated there were no restorations to last year's budget, which represented a .57 increase, while in past years there were more generous increases upwards of 3 percent.
The budget still needs to go through the Board of Education -- which began preliminary talks on Tuesday -- the Board of Finance and, finally, the Representative Town Meeting, so it is possible that the final number could be lowered. Stating the need to keep taxes low, members of the Board of Finance told school administrators in December of their desire to have a flat budget.
Nancy Harris, assistant superintendent of schools, said the roles of the schools and the Board of Finance are different, and that's why there are differences of opinion when it comes to the school budget.
"The Board of Education and its professional educators are charged with providing the very best education possible," Harris said. "The Board of Finance and the RTM have a different role. They, of course, want the very best for the children of Westport ... but they have to balance the educational needs of town's children versus police needs and firefighters and Parks and Rec, so there's a built-in tension in that process."
The Board of Education will go through each item in the budget and make recommendations or inquiries as they see fit, and that's what will begin today when the board meets for its annual day-long budget session in the Westport Public Library at 8:30 a.m.
Board members have to take the day off from their jobs so they can pore through the budget, with the bulk of the time dedicated to salaries and benefits, which account for 81 percent of the Board of Education's expenditures. Efforts have been made to curb spending in this category.
In November, new teacher contracts were approved that froze step increases -- which are annual raises in pay -- and limited the general wage increase to 2 percent in the first year.
Step increases would return in the second year, but only teachers on the highest step would receive a general wage increase of less than 2 percent. The third and final year would have step increases and a wage increase for all teachers.
Last year, the janitorial staff received wage freezes.
"[The day-long session that will take place today] very often sets the tone for changes that will be made to the superintendent's proposed budget," said Don O'Day, chairman of the BOE. "My expectations will be that we will have a number that is not flat to the budget we're seeing this year, but it will be the lowest budget we can possibly come in with and still maintain the services that we expect to see."