Weston selectmen vent frustration with schools budget
WESTON — Amid the Board of Selectmen unanimously recommending a 2.5 percent increase for the schools budget, members again expressed frustration with the education board’s budget process and rising transportation costs.
The Board of Education’s proposed $54 million budget — a 2.89 percent increase over last year — had been previously scrutinized due to the appearance that board members and Schools Superintendent William McKersie were not on the same page with costs. McKersie had originally asked for a 5.5 percent increase.
The selectmen’s recommendation also came with concerns about increasing transportation costs in the district.
“We are having conversations about laying off teachers, closing sections, making class sizes larger. ... I looked at two books because I didn’t understand it and I was able to say, ‘Hey, this doesn’t make very much sense,’ ” Selectwoman Samantha Nestor said at the Feb. 20 meeting, noting special education transportation costs rose from $462,930 to $805,025 in one year.
With such a sharp hike in transportation costs alone, Nestor said there were other budget reductions that did not make sense.
“If we are at a cost-cutting load and we are doing things that are going to touch the kids, I want to make sure this is absolutely 100 percent thoroughly explored,” she said.
McKersie said transportation costs were a challenge that districts across the state were facing.
“We were as concerned as anyone at this very large number,” he said, adding the district was also analyzing unanticipated special education students’ ridership for this fall.
BOE Chair Tony Pesco said the district needed to review the transportation budget when considering cost-saving models.
“I think it was a real eye-opener to see the level these costs went up in a short period of time,” he said.
First Selectman Chris Spaulding said the situation showed something went askew in the budget process.
“I know for your budget this is not that big of a deal, but to me it’s an astronomical number,” Spaulding said.
The BOS also questioned the internal service fund and asked the education administration to further explain the line item in anticipation of the Board of Finance’s review.
“We want a certain level of comfort with what’s in there,” Spaulding said.
To achieve cost-savings, the selectmen proposed selling vehicles that may no longer be needed due to the district outsourcing transportation. The school district is also reviewing its current insurance plan and suggested a cut to open source software for $35,707.
Pesco expressed cautious optimism that, if some of cost-savings measures were reached, the education board could achieve the recommended 2.5 percent increase.
“I think if they don’t come through, the one thing I would hate to go back to is some of the things on the list we were really rejecting outright,” he said.
The finance board will review the education budget on March 4.