Weston school board approves $55.6 million budget

The Weston Board of Education approved its $55 million operating budget for fiscal year 2021-22 on Thursday. Taken Jan. 28, 2021.

The Weston Board of Education approved its $55 million operating budget for fiscal year 2021-22 on Thursday. Taken Jan. 28, 2021.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTON — The Board of Education voted 6-1 to approve a $55.6 million operating budget, and unanimously approved a capital budget of nearly $1.06 million on Thursday.

The budget represents a 2.68 percent increase over the current fiscal year, down from the 3.8 percent increase first proposed by Superintendent William Mckersie. A decision to forego a $421,000 deposit to the Internal Services Fund was one of the biggest cuts in the budget.

BOE Chair Tony Pesco said despite the approval of the capital budget he expects it to come back after the finance board reviews it.

“My view is we approve this now but I think this will definitely change over the next several weeks as we get more clarity and the Board of Finance includes this with the town’s capital needs as well,” Pesco said.

A large point of debate on the operating budget was to either remain with 43 teachers between Hurlbutt Elementary School and Weston Intermediate School, or add an additional teacher, as proposed, based on enrollment projections.

The BOE ultimately decided to remove the additional teacher based on some members’ uncertainty about the projections. But BOE member Gina Albert, the lone vote against approving the budget, said the school board had two months for a clearer picture to form on enrollment before making such a cut.

“I voted against this budget because I don’t believe we are giving ourselves the time to fully consider all of the information that we may have available for us in order to properly staff our lower schools and provide every single child walking through the doors of Hurlbutt and WIS the same accommodations and same respect of every single student that have walked through those doors,” Albert said.

She said the guidelines are there for a reason and making a decision now could potentially cost experienced Weston educators.

Patricia Falber, principal of Weston Intermediate School, said there are 133 current second graders expected to move to third grade next year. However, enrollment projections have 150 in third grade next year and class sizes max out at 144 students.

“I worry about going over the guidelines,” Falber said. “Third grade is a transition year, not only physically where they’re moving to another building, but it’s a year where they really are beginning to apply those skills that they’ve learned at a younger grade.”

However, several BOE members questioned the enrollment projections by district demographer Milone & MacBroom.

BOE member Ruby Hedge said the demographers’ projections were off by 6 percent this year for second grade. She said if this is accounted for in next year’s projections it could mean class sizes would not be maxed out.

“I want to keep the conversation away from the guideline, but it’s more around the believability of their third grade projection,” Hedge said.

BOE members also said there’s no guarantee another enrollment spike may come due to COVID.

“I don’t think it’s an assumption that just because people are coming to town that corresponds to a historical increase in students,” BOE member Melissa Walker said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com