Weston selectmen push for more collaboration amid rising school costs
WESTON — To get ahead of expected rising schools costs in the coming years, Weston’s Board of Selectmen is pushing for better collaboration between itself and other town bodies.
“Obviously our budgets are high, and they tend to be running higher than the cost of living,” First Selectman Chris Spaulding said at Tuesday’s meeting. “From my perspective, that’s not a sustainable trajectory.”
The proposed $54 million education budget, approved by the Board of Education in January, represents a 2.89 percent increase over last year — the lowest increase in the past three years. However, a multiyear analysis has revealed the district will continue to see a 3 percent yearly increase in its budget for the forseeable future, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie said.
The selectmen reviewed various items for potential cost-savings, ranging from transportation to the district’s health insurance plan. Members also floated the idea of having the Board of Finance give more guidance earlier in the budget process.
“We did, for the most part, try to stay away from programs and classes,” BOE Chair Tony Pesco said of the approved budget. “This is not a solution. This is a way to get by into the year. Next year we will be faced with something similar.”
Pesco noted the budget process highlighted a need for more long-term thinking to address rising costs.
“We’re getting closer and closer to what was always viewed as untouchable,” he said, adding a plan that was both affordable and maintained a high standard of education was needed.
The district has cut back $2.5 million in the past two years, including five central office positions, according to McKersie. In this year’s budget, the BOE also eliminated a central office support position budgeted for $100,573.
“We’ve been on a reduction plan,” McKersie said.
The final approved budget was well below McKersie’s initial proposal of a 5.5 percent increase, which was the subject of some scrutiny. Spaulding said it appeared the administration and BOE were not in unison.
“I’m not getting involved in what you guys are internally doing,” he said. “It appeared to me the 5.5 percent increase was not fully anticipated by the board.”
Meanwhile, Selectwoman Samantha Nestor said a solution was needed to halt the momentum and level out the rising costs.
“One of the challenges is you can’t change the boulder from rolling down the hill in a month’s time,” she said. “It’s an exercise in futility.”
With contracted costs like wages and insurance contributing to 80 percent of the budget increase, McKersie said, “The option to move the needle financially is very slim.”
The selectmen will next meet on Tuesday to discuss the first selectman’s budget proposal. A review of the town budget and education budget is scheduled for Feb. 20, before heading to the finance board.