WESTON — The Board of Education voted 5-1 to approve a $54,609,663 operating budget, and unanimously approved a 2020-21 capital budget of $1,357,727 on Thursday.

The approved budget represents a 2.89 percent increase over the current fiscal year, and is below the 3.2 percent increase proposed by Superintendent William Mckersie. To make up the difference, the BOE elected to cut $175,000 from the budget and approve at a later date where the money will come from.

BOE member Gina Albert, the dissenting budget vote, said she appreciated efforts to maintain a low increase but was concerned about locking in a $175,000 reduction.

“It really prevents us from moving back from that if we don’t get a happy resolution,” she said. “That’s my concern.”

The night concluded a difficult budget season where the school board has looked for ways to potentially maintain a flat budget year-to-year. Budget drivers were largely attributed to salary increases, higher medical insurance premiums and dental benefit expenses.

McKersie initially proposed a 5.5 percent increase, which some BOE members said sent the wrong message to the town’s financiers.

“The message of having a 5.5 percent increase from the outset set some other things in line,” BOE member Victor Escandon said.

BOE members continued to question throughout the night if cuts could be made to central office. But Mckersie said further cuts could have a trickle- down impact on schools.

“I think the question is for you as the governing body for education in Weston what are you comfortable with,” he said, cautioning deeper reductions could become a deterrent for families.

“Area districts around here are not doing the kind of reductions that we will potentially have to do here,” he added. “They’re not saying we will run a district without certain leadership and management functions...that’s the balancing act.”

BOE Chairman Anthony Pesco said the disconnect between the administration and BOE highlighted the need for a high-level review of the district.

“After this is done and dusted and budgeted, we really have to step back and review how we’re organized from a governance perspective,” he said, adding a plan to tackle contract requirements was also needed.

“Unless we actually deal with the bigger structural issues, we’re always going to find ourselves here,” Pesco said.

BOE members voiced concern of the size of the central office despite enrollment was projected to decline 4 percent over the next five years. To find more savings, BOE members floated the idea of preemptively making cuts to the central office.

“I think we have to look at central office,” BOE member Melissa Walker said. “If you’re not able to help us make that decision, I think we’re in a place where we’re going to have to make it for you.”

Human Resources Director Lewis Brey noted although central office would find a way to make the $175,000 cut, the BOE will still get the final say. He added making a rush decision on any one position wasn’t best.

“I think tonight to decide what position is going to be cut would be a mistake,” Brey said.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com