Westport RTM approves $212 million budget
WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting has unanimously approved the General Fund budget of $212,772,828 for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
This included $75.2 million for the selectmen’s budget approved on Monday, and $121.9 million for the Board of Education’s operating budget.
RTM members largely showed support for the schools budget, but some questioned additional costs that may come because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Assuming that the COVID pandemic doesn’t end tomorrow, or in a month or two, I’m guessing that we’ll have costs associated with trying to help the students who have been out of school for pretty much a semester return to school,” Wendy Batteau, a RTM member, said at the meeting Tuesday.
She said she was also worried about the potential financial impact if Westport schools were closed again after reopening.
But Interim Superintendent David Abbey said a newly established Schools Reopening Committee will give regular updates to the Board of Education.
“Part of that, inevitably, will be related to finance,” he said.
RTM member Peter Gold said creative ways to do things will be needed to manage growing costs. One example he provided was sharing teachers for smaller elective classes across districts if schools remained closed.
“Given that salaries are such a large portion of the budget, if some of the salaries could be shared across the school districts through distance learning that would be something I think you should probably look at,” Gold said.
RTM members also questioned where things stood between the school board and Shipman and Goodwin, its legal representation.
The Hartford-based law firm had been criticized by local officials for representing both the BOE and a developer of a highly contested affordable housing application in town. The town has been embroiled in a legal battle with the firm since the application was denied.
“This is an unacceptable situation for an organization that we’re paying good money for to represent us while at the same time they’re taking money out of us,” RTM member Matthew Mandell said.
In October, the BOE voted to put out a request for proposals for new legal services following controversial remarks made by an attorney from the firm regarding race and affordable housing in Westport.
BOE Chair Candice Savin said the school board looked to start the process after the budget season.
“We made a commitment to do the RFP, we will do the RFP and we will let you know the status,” Savin said.
The Board of Finance is expected to meet on May 20 to set the mill rate.