Westport finance board cuts $2 million from school budget
WESTPORT — The Board of Finance voted to cut $2,050,000 from the Board of Education’s proposed budget Wednesday night.
The budget now returns to the Board of Education to make the decision on where the cuts will come from.
Six of the seven Board of Finance (BOF) members voted for the reduced budget with member Lee Caney voting against the cuts.
“We all want our schools to thrive and succeed and be fantastic and the schools do a phenomenal job of educating our kids and we’re all so proud of them,” finance board member Sheri Gordon said at the April 18 meeting in Westport Town Hall. “But it does start to feel like the giving tree where every year it’s more, more, more and just at some point it’s going to get to be a number that’s just not sustainable and we have to do something to get us on a track where it’s not going to constantly be a struggle.”
The board’s $2,050,000 cut, resulting in a total school budget to $127,313,182, a 1.13 percent increase over last year’s budget, brings the school budget increase closer to inflation and aligned with trends of declining enrollment in Westport schools, Gordon said.
Caney, the sole finance board member to vote against the budget, said the BOF should determine the school budget based on the needs of the schools and not the goal of specific number for a budget cut.
PTA Council Co-President Candace Banks said she agreed with Caney, noting the increased school employees in the Board of Education’s (BOE) proposed budget was included to meet the needs of students. For example, the BOE budget included funds for a new literacy coach in the middle schools out of concern for the number of middle-schoolers not reading at grade level.
Kings Highway PTA President Jill Dillon also spoke in opposition to the $2,050,000 cut, saying many families may overlook Westport as too far from New York City if it does not maintain excellent schools.
“A cut of a million or two million is not going to ruin the education system of this town,” resident Don Bergmann said, adding he was happy to see the $2,050,000 cut. “We have not been fair over the years to the other demands and interests of the town. We’ve been very fair to the Board of Education...We need to focus on what’s fair to the Westport residents, to the Westport town employees, to older people like me, to younger people who may be moving in, to the future of our tax base,” Bergmann said.
Board of Finance members noted the budget does not account for two significant numbers — an estimated $320,000 for school resource officers expected to come before the board in the form of a special appropriation for the police department in the coming weeks and a $1.3 million expected cost savings from the moving the teachers health insurance plans to the state plan, which Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said is likely to occur this year.
Resident Robert Harrington, who was a leader in last year’s efforts to restore school funding, said he was not as excited about the BOE’s proposed budget this year as he was about last year’s budget because he said the current budget lacks proactive strategies around educational cost-containment strategies. Several members of the RTM, including new members Christine Meiers Schatz and Kristin Schneeman, also said they want to see more forethought about long-term strategies for the education budget so cuts are not made at the last minute again.
The BOF will meet again April 25 for a meeting to discuss possible restoration of the $2,050,000 in education budget cuts.
The school board has a meeting scheduled for April 23.
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