Westport school board wants $235K added back into budget

File photo of Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice. Taken Oct. 13, 2020.

File photo of Westport Superintendent Thomas Scarice. Taken Oct. 13, 2020.

DJ Simmons /Hearst Connecticut Media /

WESTPORT — The school board is asking for a restoration of $235,000 to its budget that, coupled with the announcement of federal grants, would be used to help fill the $975,000 cut the finance board made last week to the district’s proposed budget.

“The priority remained at all costs to avoid direct impacts to students if we can,” Superintendent Thomas Scarice told the school board at a recent meeting.

The school budget had already been decreased a few times before this point.

The Board of Education adopted a nearly $127 million budget in February, cutting about $1 million from Scarice’s proposal. This budget was about $5 million, or 4.1 percent, more than the current year.

New health care estimates from the state health insurance plan brought that budget down to $126.6 million, which is 3.8 percent more than the current year. The Board of Finance then brought the total figure down to $125.6 million, which is 3 percent more than the current year.

The federal grants are expected to cover about $608,000 of that cut and will most likely be used to cover one-year expenses, such as facilities projects, to prevent the district from banking in additional expenses for the next budget and starting the schools off with a deficit.

Scarice said technology is another possible place to put this money, but there could be maintenance costs connected to it and might create expenses they would have to cover in future budgets. He said the grants shouldn’t cover personnel if it can be avoided because they would have to figure out have to cover those positions going forward.

About 20 percent of one of the grants is dedicated toward learning loss due to COVID though and could be used for intervention expenses, or possibly tutors.

Board member Karen Kleine suggested the board ask $500,000 be restored to the cut because they’ve already made cuts on the school side before it went to the town, including to the assistant principals and technology.

“I feel like we’ve already done our part,” she said.

Another concern was unexpected costs that would arise due to COVID-19, but some said they could come to the town for a special appropriation if needed.

The finance board is expected to discuss this topic on Wednesday.