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Monday, February 01, 2016

School Board Approves $113.45 Million Budget

By James Lomuscio

A projected surplus this year allowed the Westport Board of Education tonight to save its school bus monitor program, third grade paraprofessionals, and middle school team leaders next year without breaking the bank.

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Board of Education members (l-r) Karen Klein, Bret Aronow, and Mark Mathias listen at tonight’s meeting.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

By a unanimous vote, the board approved a $113.45 million 2016-17 operating budget, a 2.05 percent increase over the current year and up only slightly from the 2.03 percent increase that Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon had proposed.

“I think we put together a very progressive budget academically,” said Michael Gordon, school board chairman. ” ...and yet, it is an exceptionally lean budget.”

The school board unanimously voted to restore the bus monitor program, which Landon had proposed cutting to save $125,000.

The program had been in place since 1991 following the death of 8-year-old girl Holly Finley. She was run over by her school bus when the drawstring of her jacket was caught on the bus on Evergreen Avenue.

School board member Karen Klein argued for the restoration, saying, “It keeps kids safer.” Board member Mark Mathias said he was not as convinced about the program’s effectiveness, but agreed to vote for the restoration with the provision that it be reevaluated.

Resident Richard Lowenstein spoke against keeping the program, saying no other district in the state has bus monitors and that it would open the town to liability not all elementary school buses have monitors.

Elio Longo, school business administrator, said that it would cost the school system $230,000 to have monitors on all elementary school buses. Michael Gordon, school board chairman, said adding $105,000 to the budget was a possibility, though no action was taken.

The school board also rejected Landon’s proposal to eliminate four, third grade paraprofessionals to save $108,000.

“It has an effect beyond the third grade,” Gordon said, adding that the paraprofessionals do a lot of work outside the classroom.

The board also rejected Landon’s proposal to cut team leaders and liaisons at the middle school level to save $128,355. Board member Brett Aronow said he had received a number of letters from parents in favor of restoration.

Landon has said he proposed the cuts to come close to the Board of Finance’s directive that next year’s budget increase not exceed 1.5 percent.

Longo, however, tonight proposed using nearly $400,000 from this year’s surplus to fast track projects and equipment to this year instead of budgeting them for 2016-17. The board concurred.

“It’s close to a wash what the board restored and what the superintendent has recommended,” said Gordon.

The budget will now go to the Board of Finance before its final review by the Representative Town Meeting.

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Posted 02/01/16 at 09:30 PM  Permalink



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