By Jarret Liotta
The Board of Education (BOE) voted unanimously tonight to accept Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer’s revised budget proposal for fiscal 2020, which is a $2.3-million increase over the current operating budget of $116.2 million.
The Board of Education unanimously adopts the budget. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
The $118,500,464 budget, which represents an even 2.0-percent increase over the current one, will now go to the Board of Finance (BOF) for its approval.
While Palmer had initially requested a 2.68-percent increase, savings were found when the BOE decided to abandon the K-6 plan, which was projected to be more costly.
While going with the 6-8 model to house displaced Coleytown Middle School (CMS) students brought the increase down to 2.13 percent, funds were also found through $263,000 in the Cafeteria Fund, as well as an estimated savings of $300,000 in a projected decrease in health benefit costs.
“I think 2 percent is a very reasonable increase,” said BOE member Candice Savin.
She hoped to emphasize that last-minute additions by Palmer for two Full-Time Employee (FTE) psychology professionals at Bedford Middle School (BMS) next year, one FTE security aide, and the reinstatement of one FTE secretarial position there, are a direct result of the CMS crisis.
Palmer said that comments she had heard regarding the emotional and social well-being of students in the new large school prompted her to add one psychologist to BMS, as well as another support professional who will either be another psychologist or a social worker.
“We want to be sure we can respond with agility,” said Tina Mannarino, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services, explaining that BMS alone has had three school psychologists, while CMS had had one.
“I don’t know why that was but it was a little lopsided,” she said, noting the administration wants to make sure that with the combined school they will have ample staff for not only the special needs students, but the general population as well.
“Students are feeling a lot of pressure,” she said, due to high academic demands and other factors.
“I think this is a very responsible and very responsive addition,” Mannarino said.
Palmer said that it seemed impractical to handle the new middle school with only 4.5 FTE secretarial positions, so it was reevaluated.
“I think it’s important we make sure the main office runs very well,” she said.
Palmer noted that use of the Cafeteria Fund — while welcome for this year — is not something that should be regularly counted on going forward, explaining that the cafeterias should not be profit-making enterprises for the district.
“I’m just not comfortable that this is a place we need to make money,” she said.
“I support the concept of adjusting our margin,” BOE member Elaine Whitney said. “I would support getting the costs in line with our actual costs.”
“I’m fully supportive of the budget,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram, who commended the administration for having taken the time to, in essence, create three different budgets over the past several weeks in response to planning changes for next year.
Palmer and the BOE are scheduled to present to the BOF on March 6 at 8 p.m.