Staff cuts proposed in latest Westport schools budget proposal
WESTPORT — Rising health care costs and reopening Coleytown Middle School this year will mean staff cuts in other parts of the district, according to the latest education budget proposal.
“The community has embraced two middle schools and there are costs associated with this,” Interim Superintendent of Schools David Abbey said while presenting his budget at a Board of Education Meeting on Monday. Between personnel, technology and materials, it will cost $1 million to reopen the school.
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The $122,305,502 budget proposal represents a $4,055,038, or 3.43%, increase over last year; the BOE previously asked Abbey to provide a plan with no more than a 3.5% increase.
This year’s budget cycle also includes a 10% increase in health insurance, which accounts for 40% of the overall budget increase.
“We have a significant increase in the budget in health insurance in a way that we didn’t have last year,” Abbey said.
To propose a budget under the requested parameters, Abbey said difficult decisions have to be made around staffing. The budget calls for cutting 18.1 full-time equivalent positions — including two-and-a-half elementary science coaches, two high school English and science teachers and one middle school literacy coach — while adding 9.5 to accommodate Coleytown’s reopening.
“Budget to budget, considering what we have faced this year and what we faced last year, there’s a significant difference to the number of challenges,” Abbey said. “We’ve met the board’s target, but not without a cost. ... These are fiscal reductions that impact the education as opposed as to coming to you with educational suggestions that might be necessary to improve the system.”
Parents, educators and town officials in attendance voiced concern about the impact such cuts could have on the disctrict’s programs.
Phaedra Taft, a science coach at Greens Farms and Long Lots Elementary, said she never thought her department would be cut.
“We built it from the ground up with a collaborative mission to work and learn together with the teachers and students to take our science program to the next level,” she said. “This would be undoing and dismantling the vision and goals we have set for Westport science elementary programs four years ago in this room.”
Mark Friedman, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, said he understood the need to balance educational excellence with fiscal responsibility, but was concerned the latest proposal went too far.
“I think we’re cutting too close to the bone, and we’re starting to impact some of the things that make the Westport schools really special,” Friedman said, adding he preferred a dedication to making the district great versus just making things work.
“It’s a lot to process,” Friedman said. “I hope that as we look at this budget we try not so much just to make it work, but let’s make the schools great. Let’s keep them great. Let’s make them great into perpetuity.”
RTM member Lauren Karpf said she was disappointed to see educators such as the science coaches could potentially be cut.
“I feel a lot of the cuts are hitting the classrooms,” she said. “If we support STEM so strongly in middle school, the building blocks need to start in elementary school.”
In response, BOE members compiled a list of items that could be added back to the budget as well as potential new budgetary cuts.
“The reality is there is an impact for many or most of these cuts,” Assistant Superintendent Anthony Buono said. “We can get by with this. The question is do we want to just get by.”
A budget vote is tentatively planned for the BOE’s meeting on Feb. 10.