Westport parents rally around vice principal, special education position ahead of budget vote

Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice at a school board meeting on Monday. Taken Oct. 5, 2020.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Parents urged the Board of Education to not cut an assistant principal or special education position, highlighting the challenges that would pose for the district and students.

“In a ‘typical’ year a regular education AP’s responsibilities are imperative and robust and as we know additional responsibilities have been taken on because of the pandemic,” Lindsay Sherman, a Westport resident, said at a BOE meeting this week.

Her comments come as the school board reviews a list of possible cuts to Superintendent Thomas Scarice’s proposed $128 million budget.

Last week the BOE got its first look at a list of reductions to bring the originally proposed 5 percent increase in the budget down to 3 percent, a target previously floated by the BOE. The list of possible reductions includes one full-time equivalent (FTE) elementary assistant principal, a part-time special education teacher and five FTE elementary paraprofessionals.

But Sherman said she had grave concern of losing an assistant principal at Kings Highway School because of the possible ramifications.

“If we suffer a cut to either AP role — regular or SPED — the chain of events will negatively affect all children at our school, the second most populated elementary in the district, offering less education and emotional support at a time when it is needed most,” Sherman said.

Michelle Barman, a Westport resident, similarly urged the BOE to not cut an elementary assistant principal.

“The district already has one less than it needs,” Barman said. “You should achieve parity by bringing CES and GFS back up to three APs, not by lowering the bar and reducing the number at SES and, or KHS.”

Parents also spoke out on how additional cuts could affect special education. One area in particular that could be affected is the district’s transition program, which is designed to help children in special education prepare to be independent young adults.

Mike Rizzo, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, said the addition of a 0.5 FTE special education teacher as originally proposed would help make the position into a full-time transition coordinator.

“I think it would be very difficult to create that self-sustaining program, that in-district program, without the addition of the 0.5 to make it a full-time person,” he said. “By adding the 0.5 transition to make it a full-time person we might be able to take significant steps towards building that program that we can have on our own.”

BOE member Karen Kleine said she endorsed the program.

“I just don’t think a lot of us realize how difficult it is for these young adults to gain autonomy,” Kleine said. “This is a program that will teach them how to do things and the sense of pride that creates.”

BOE member Elaine Whitney said this was one of the reductions she would be particularly reluctant to do.

“I’m still thinking and will have to weigh and balance it with everything, but it does seem like a huge amount of value for a relatively limited increment of resources,” she said.

Despite this, the BOE ultimately decided to keep the possible reductions in staff on its list for further review.

But administrators cautioned the effects of possibly cutting staff, and in particular another elementary school assistant principal.

Rizzo said the reality is extra work will have to be picked up by staff who already have full plates if the cut is made.

“Any reduction to an assistant principal is a programmatic change and the effects of that will be felt throughout the elementary program,” he said. “It will affect special ed and it will affect regular ed.”

The BOE plans to vote on reductions in the budget at its meeting on Monday.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com