Westport school board approves $123 million budget
WESTPORT — The Board of Education unanimously passed a $123,263,487 budget for the 2020-21 school year at its meeting Monday, a 4.24 percent hike over this year’s budget of $118,250,464.
With the approval, members chose to return funding for science coaches and middle school literacy coaches, and voted to keep assistant principals at the middle and elementary schools — positions some BOE members suggested to cut. But the main contributor to the budget’s increase came from $3,107,446 allocated toward facilities improvements, a 49.7 percent increase year-over-year.
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The major budget bump comes as the district looks to incorporate $838,905 in school repairs, recommended by a report prepared by architectural firm Antinozzi Associates. Priority projects for this year include a cooling tower replacement at Greens Farms Elementary School, and roof projects at Staples High School and Saugatuck Elementary School.
Facilities updates will come with a high price tag; however, it was the smaller budget items that riled up debate among the community during the meeting.
A motion to eliminate an assistant principal at Saugatuck Elementary failed after several people from the community highlighted the position’s importance.
“They do an enormous amount of work,” Westport parent Jen Greely said. “They get to know our children, they get to know our families, and they get to see what exactly is the best fit for our children in the Westport public schools.”
Elizabeth Mesler, principal of Saugatuck Elementary School, said the district’s structure is unique, but it works.
“I hear everything people are saying that enrollment is down, but the administration position is not just based on enrollment,” Mesler said, cautioning against the cut.
Currently, Greens Farms and Coleytown Elementary School operate with only 1.5 assistant principals while the other elementary schools have two.
“What I’m asking is not necessarily to make everyone less because that’s what one school has,” Mesler said. “I’m asking you to think about what’s right for Westport.”
The school board also decided against cutting an assistant principal at the middle school level, which could have saved $202,132.
Jacquelyn Mellin, assistant principal at Bedford Middle School, said the cut would’ve been a significant concern.
“An assistant principal at a middle school is going to have direct impact with students, families and programming,” she said.
Alongside the assistant principals, board members chose to add back $228,200 in funding for elementary science coaches and $94,880 for a middle school literacy coach after the public voiced support for the positions.
“I know there are difficult choices to be made in any budget cycle, but I think it’s important to not cut things and programs that are just starting to gain traction,” Westport parent Meg Himes said.
Items cut included $90,000 for bus monitors for regular education students, despite Abbey’s recommendation to maintain the position. The board also cut $25,000 from the innovation fund and $20,000 from a furniture account.