Weston finance board questions staff, transportation costs in schools budget

The Weston Board of Finance reviews the First Selectman's budget on Mar. 2.

The Weston Board of Finance reviews the First Selectman's budget on Mar. 2.

DJ Simmons /Hearst Connecticut Media /

WESTON — The Board of Finance has asked for more long-term planning within the school district, after an apparent disconnect emerged between district administration and the Board of Education on their proposed $54 million budget.

Scrutiny surrounded Superintendent of Schools William McKersie’s initial proposal of a 5.5 percent budget hike, which was later cut to 2.89 percent by the education board after $1.4 million in reductions were made.

McKersie acknowledged at the finance board’s March 4 meeting that the 5.5 percent increase was beyond what the town could seek, but the administration wanted to send a message to the town.

“The reality is since I’ve been here as a superintendent, we’ve been cutting quite substantially out of the budget,” he said. “This year where we want to cut required us to get into an open public conversation with the Board of Ed.”

The administration, he added, was signaling that a discussion was needed on affordability.

“We had to signal no longer could we as an administration make reductions that weren’t affecting the core work without doing that very much in partnership with the Board of Ed, and make it very clear to the town,” McKersie said.

To get to the Board of Selectmen’s recommended 2.5 percent budget increase, McKersie said the district was reviewing additional staff adjustments, transportation and its health plan.

Still, BOF members raised questions about the hike in special education transportation costs, which rose from $462,930 to $805,025 in a single year, as well as financial impacts of out-of-district placements.

BOE Chair Tony Pesco explained the education board has been working to keep out-of-district placement costs tight over the past few years, adding a similar rigor would be needed to address rising transportation costs.

With student enrollment in flux at various grade levels, BOF Chairman Steven Ezzes questioned how the district will handle administration staffing.

But Mckersie argued staffing should remain as is, while the district continues to evaluate enrollment, noting there have already been cuts to administrative roles.

“You still have to staff for what’s in front of you unless you’re going to change the service level,” McKersie said. “I would contend for at least the next couple years that administration staffing at the building level should stay as is.”

BOF member Allan Grauberd suggested if there’s a need to further lower costs, there should be a study to find priotorization on where to cut administration staffing.

“It’s not that you haven’t looked at things,” Grauberd said. “It’s just to suggest ways you might examine things if indeed the request from this board ends up being you guys going a little bit lower than you are at.”

A public hearing on the schools and town budgets is scheduled for March 24 at the Weston Middle School Library.