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Monday, April 03, 2017

Schools to Seek $700,000 Restoration from Finance Board

By James Lomuscio

After three hours of grueling numbers crunching, Westport’s Board of Education tonight voted unanimously to ask for a $700,000 restoration from the Board of Finance when it meets Wednesday night.

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Members of the Board of Education take a vote at tonight’s meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

On March 16 the finance board cut $1.674 million from the school board’s $115,351,346 proposed school budget for 2017-18, a 2.44 percent increase over the current year.

At the beginning of tonight’s meeting the Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to offset the Board of Finance’s cut by $480,000 by reducing its health reserve fund from 8 to 5 percent, which had been recommended by Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer.

While all who voted said it was not an ideal move and it posed risks, they agreed it was a needed short-term fix. That reduced the finance board cut to $1.194 million.

=The school board then debated for two hours how much of the $1.194 million cut it could reasonably ask the finance board to restore. The amounts were ranged from $420,000 to $783,000 to the full amount of $1.194 million.

Board member Mark Mathias’ suggested asking for the full amount and leaving the restoration up to the Representative Town Meeting (RTM), which has the final say on budget matters, when it meets next month.

“So many things are up in the air,” Mathias said. “Leave a lot of this up to the RTM. We should continue to seek the full amount.”

Others who took a more conservative view of what to ask for in restoration focused on the areas they did not want cut.

They included: deferring the hiring of a director of secondary education; cutting teacher support at both middle schools; reductions of a special education teacher at Staples High Schools and a Staples school psychologist; facilities and maintenance cuts; deferring furniture purchases and taking $100,000 out of the schools’ cafeteria account.

The finance board had originally lauded the schools’ $115,351,346 proposed budget, a $2.7 million, increase.

But that changed more than a month ago when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan requiring towns to pay 30 percent of teacher pensions was announced. If approved it would cost Westport next year an extra $5.9 million, $8 million when tallied with $2.1 million in state cuts.

Malloy’s proposal, however, faces bipartisan opposition in Hartford, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg has that it is dead in the water. Bracing for the worst, the Board of Finance asked the Board of Education and Palmer to put pencil to paper to cut $1.7 million.

Palmer responded by trimming $977,000, with the school board agreeing that any more would have a negative effect on programs and the town’s quality of education.

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Posted 04/03/17 at 10:45 PM  Permalink



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