Westport school board reviews $128 million budget request

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 — The school board is considering a $128 million budget, which is nearly 5 percent more than the current year.

“Very positively I think we’re ready for some real exciting work on the horizon in the upcoming year,” Superintendent Thomas Scarice told the board this week. “Certainly we have some work ahead of us here and really getting ready for the next launch as I call it.”

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.

“Without some of these additional impacts this year, we’re looking to come in at a 3.42 increase over last year,” he said. “We’ve had some significant increases across the board here and some modest changes to programming that led to that overall recommendation.”

His proposed budget increases salaries by $2.9 million and benefits by $1.2 million. The two line items make up a majority of the budget.

“Salaries and benefits combined (are) 80.5 percent of the total budget expenditures,” said Elio Longo, chief financial officer. “That year-after-year tends to range anywhere between 80 and 81 percent, that is true of most districts in Connecticut.”

The budget also projects a decrease of 68 students across the district, largely at the high school where there are 61 fewer students expected. Three more students are projected for pre-kindergarten, while the elementary schools are expecting a decrease of two students and the middle schools are projecting eight fewer students.

Scarice’s budget request will cut six full-time equivalent (FTE) regular education teachers, and add three FTE special education teachers and two FTE special education paraprofessionals.

Longo said for the upcoming fiscal year the district is also requesting $599,000 in improvements at the schools as part of improvements outlined in the Antinozzi report — a 10-year facilities’ plan. But an expected 30 percent discount will bring this down to $419,000, he said.

Last year the Board of Education separated building improvements from the schools’ operating budget to present to the Board of Finance, highlighting improvements being made.

BOE member Elaine Whitney floated the idea of doing the same again.

“I propose that as we did last year we carve out as a separate summary line in the budget all of the facility accounts,” Whitney said. “We’ll do some total budget without facility-related items, then facility-related items, then grand total budget, just so it’s clearer what that investment is.”

The BOE is expected to vote on the budget in February.

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com