RTM backs full $113M school budget despite likely cut in aid
WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting on Tuesday unanimously passed the Board of Education’s $113.1 million budget for 2016-17, and then endorsed an overall spending packge of $204.5 million for the new fiscal year.
The action came a day after the legislative body approved $91.4 million for the municipal side of the fiscal ’17 ledger.
Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Smith lauded the work by school officials that led to the “lean" 1.31 percent increase over current school spending.
Despite the limited budget increase, Smith added, "The large point in all this is that our school district, as you know, is at or near the top always.”
The total spending package represents a 0.98 percent increase over the budget approved last year last year. The mill rate for the new fiscal year, which starts July 1, is expected to be set by the Board of Finance on May 18.
In approving the school budget, many RTM members paid tribute to Superintendent of Schools Elliot Landon, who this year presided over adoption over his final budget as schools chief. Landon will retire at the end of this academic year, and will be succeeded by Colleen Palmer, who is currently the superintendent of Weston’s schools.
"Dr. Landon, you are leaving our schools better than you found them. For that, I am grateful and I am sure the rest of the community is grateful for that. Thank you," Louis Mall, RTM District 2, said.
Meanwhile, the state’s unresolved fiscal crisis, which could result in a starp reduction in aid to Westport and other affluent communities, was discussed for the second night of the RTM’s budget review. Total elimination of the town’s nearly $2 million in Educational Cost Sharing aid had initially been proposed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, although subsequent state budget alternatives appear likely to ease, if not entirely eliminate, the proposed reduction in aid.
Although the governor and state legislators continued wrangling over ways to close a projected $900 million deficit in the state’s budget, it appeared last-minute negotiations might not succeed by the end of the legislative session Wednesday. That would mean the fiscal dilemma would be taken up by a special session of the General Assembly.
Seth Braunstein, RTM District 5, who also voiced his gratitude for Landon’s service, asked the departing superintendent how he plans to handle a cut in state aid, if eventually approved.
"We are very much concerned about the ECS cutback," Landon answered. "We received communication today from Rep. (Jonathan) Steinberg indicating that while it won’t be $2 million, it will be closer to $1.1 million."
Landon said he is working diligently with Elio Longo, the director of school business operations, to close the gap posed by the loss of state aid.
"We are trying to accumulate as large a surplus as possible … and we’re hopeful that we might be able, through some really intelligent reworking of things offset, we hope, virtually all of that," Landon said.
"We don’t know if that’s possible, but that’s our goal," he added.
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