WESTPORT—After a cut in state aid, Superintendent Colleen Palmer had to chop almost $1 million from the 2017-18 school budget, which she presented Tuesday.

Palmer’s budget comes in at $115 million, a $2.7 million increase over the current budget. Despite the 2.44 percent increase, Palmer still had to draw from reserves and cut about $735,000 from the district’s original spending plan in order to bring the budget into balance.

Staffing reductions include: an elementary teacher position at Long Lots Elementary School, the full-time salary equivalent of 1.4 special area teachers and the full-time salary equivalent of 4.5 paraprofessionals across the district.

“We did that, keeping in mind that we wanted to make sure we kept reductions away from the classroom, away from the integrity of any academic program,” she said.

A major reason Palmer’s budget came in at 2.44 percent was by assuming about $1.2 million would still be available from the health reserve fund come June. They also shifted an additional $165,000 from the Board of Education carryover account to help offset the budget.

“Now, it is only Jan. 1. We still have six months of health claims to go through so this is not guaranteed,” Palmer said. She added that her staff is in the process of rebidding health insurance, which could possibly bring in an additional “couple hundred thousand dollars” of savings.

Over 80 percent of the $115,358,712 budget comes from employee salaries and benefits.

“We’re a people business. We can’t leave our children alone. We need to supervise them on the playground. We need to make sure we have adults around, talking especially (about) our youngest learners,” Palmer said. “It’s intense on human resources to make sure that we’re providing high-quality education.”

Palmer called the state’s Dec. 29 decision to take an additional $443,947 from Westport’s Educational Cost Sharing money from the school “disheartening.” The cut brings Westport’s ECS funding to only about 465,000, down from close to $2 million two years ago.

Given the harsh economic climate in the state, board members lauded Palmer’s budgetary efforts.

“That was excellent. Thank you,” Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon said. “First, I loved the detail with which you looked at so many line items and made adjustments based on priorities or were able to mark some savings. I just love the thoughtfulness that went into that.”

“That was a great overview and preview for our big day on Friday,” Vice-Chairwoman Jeannie Smith said.

The Board of Education will hold a budget work session on Friday at 8:30 a.m. in the Westport Library.

@chrismmarquette; cmarquette@bcnnew.com