Westport BOE cuts superintendent's budget

Photo of Katrina Koerting
Staples High School on Wednesday July 25, 2018 in Westport Conn.

Staples High School on Wednesday July 25, 2018 in Westport Conn.

Alex von Kleydorff / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — The school board has adopted its nearly $127 million budget, backing off from some of the cuts members considered for the superintendent’s proposal.

The adopted budget is 4.1 percent, or about $5 million, more than the current budget, though about $1 million less than Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s proposal.

The school board previously discussed reducing the budget to $125 million, which would have been 3 percent more than the current year.

However, several members decided they could keep more items in the budget than originally thought based on possible health insurance savings.

“I don’t think we need to be as drastic as we might have been,” Vice Chairwoman Karen Kleine said.

The board is considering switching from the state’s health insurance plan to its own plan through Anthem, which officials project could save the district about $3 million next fiscal year. But because school officials will now discuss the option with employees, the original larger estimate is still in the budget.

Benefits and salaries are the largest part of the district’s budget.

Unfunded positions from the previous fiscal year, loss of the cafeteria fund, coverage for custodial services due to COVID, and funds previously used from the carryover account all contributed to the 4.98 increase in Scarice’s proposed budget.

However, the board was split on whether those potential savings should be factored into their decision to cut from the request. Some argued there are items on the list that would only be considered in a recession and others saying some of those positions that were removed based on enrollment could be added back if needed in the future.

“In my mind, this shifts to preserving our resources,” Chairwoman Candice Savin said, adding she doesn’t view the items “as a wish list.”

The board decided to remove a support supervisor communications specialist, an elementary assistant principal, as well as two regular education teachers and two paraprofessionals at Staples.

The board also cut money for furniture, equipment and materials, including $200,000 for smart boards, leaving about $73,000 to cover replacements, needed repairs and the ability to pilot a few different smart board technologies.

The bulk of the line items were decided in split votes with three or four board members for or against.

The overall budget was adopted 6-1 with Kleine opposing.