Weston residents show support for schools budget despite coronavirus pandemic

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 majority of Weston residents voiced support of the town and school budgets, but some cautioned about increasing funding during an uncertain financial future because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Board of Finance has budgeted a mill rate increase of 1.38 percent. Some residents voiced concern of the $54 million schools budget because it came with a projected 2.28 percent year-over-year increase despite the recent schools closure.

But Jeffrey Goldstein, a Wildwood Lane resident, said he favored the budget increase during the public comments portion of Saturday’s online finance board meeting.

“One of the reasons I moved to this town seven years ago was because of the school system,” Goldstein said. “The most important thing, in my perspective, is keeping our kids educated and keeping our kids focused.”

Goldstein said as a business owner, he understood the tough economic times, but noted the schools were the town’s main draw.

“If we’re not taking care of our school, not only will people not come, people will leave,” he said.

Ilene Richardson, of Heritage Lane, echoed his sentiments and shared support for the schools budget.

“I think we have to make sure we don’t sacrifice what our children need and what’s valuable to this town out of the general uncertainty of what our future might hold for us,” she said.

But some residents voiced concern that a budget increase in the midst of a crisis was tone deaf.

Tim Rodgers, a Newtown Turnpike resident, said he supported keeping the budgets flat during the crisis.

“This is almost like a World War II situation and I think special times call for special measures,” Rodgers said.

Joseph Castro, a Charles Path resident, said he felt it may be best to maintain the current budgets until a vote can be held by the public.

“If we legally can go forward without changing our budget, I think that should be the prudent thing to do until we can get a vote of the people in town,” Castro said. “Especially if we’re going to be having cost savings on the BOE side, which is the largest percentage of the budget.”

BOF member Greg Murphy said he was in support of holding the school budget flat.

“I think the Board of Education should be redirected to submit a flat budget in light of the circumstances in the nation and the town,” he said.

The schools budget faced scrutiny earlier in the year when Superintendent William Mckersie first proposed a 5.5 percent increase. Since then, the BOE reduced the $54 million budget to a 2.28 percent — or $1.2 million — increase from last year.

But BOE Chair Tony Pesco cautioned against further cuts because of the potential impact on the schools.

“Obviously, these are really difficult times,” Pesco said. “All of these discussions have been had by the Board of Education and administration. Some of them sound good, but they’re almost impossible to achieve.”

BOF Chairman Steve Ezzes said the finance board would not be able to discuss cuts in the BOE budget until it’s presented with savings for the fiscal year because of the schools closure.

“There should be cost savings in the current fiscal year that maybe we can carry over into the next fiscal year,” Ezzes said.

The finance board will vote on the town budget and set the mill rate on Thursday.