The Westport Board of Education and Board of Finance clashed tonight over the proposed 2007-08 school budget.
Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon has proposed an $89.2 million 2007-08 budget, which is a 8.8 percent, or $7.2 million, increase over the current budget.
The discussion ranged from a battle over all-day kindergarten to the needs at Staples High School, but the two board chairmen argued when Board of Finance Chairman Jeffrey Mayer suggested the school board hold off its budget vote.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on its proposed budget on Feb. 5, which is its next scheduled meeting one week from tonight.
Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Parmelee said the board is not necessarily happy with the proposed increase.
“It has caused us a great deal of concern and angst,” she said. “We didn’t do a happy dance singing the praises of being able to ask for more money.”
Mayer said for many years the municipal departments deferred costs while the schools experienced growth and large budget increases.
Now those departments – including the fire department and human services department – are trying to catch up, he said, and the finance board needs to help give them the resources they need.
“I urge you to not vote next week until you hear what the town wants,” he said. “Then reconsider what you’re asking.”
Parmelee said while municipal departments held back on costs, where was the Board of Finance to tell those officials to spend more on the things they needed?
“We are responsible for education,” she said. “We’re not responsible for plowing the roads. We’re not responsible for the basketball program at parks and recreation. We are not dependent on what the town needs. We come with what we believe our education system needs.”
The board probably will not come forward with the currently proposed budget, Pamelee said, but the board is not going to wait until the selectman’s budget is completed.
Tonight’s discussion started with a battle over Landon’s proposal for an all-day kindergarten program.
Several parents attended tonight’s meeting and expressed their displeasure with Landon’s proposal for a program where kindergartners attend school for three full days and two extended days.
Following the discussion, several Board of Finance members asked how the proposal to expand the kindergarten program could not cost more.
Landon said the kindergarten teachers are already hired and work full days even though school for kindergartners ends at 1:15 p.m. rather than 3:15 p.m.
Mayer said he has seen dozens of parents and professionals speak to the issue of expanding the kindergarten day, and the parents are not urging for the program to be expanded.
“Parents want to see the resources invested back into our current programs rather than expanding into uncharted territory,” he said.
Landon shot back saying that the term “uncharted territory” is “misinformed” because neighboring school districts have a form of a full-day program.
Mayer said he has a hard time believing the kindergarten program could be expanded without there being any additional cost.
The two boards also discussed how school officials are tackling an anticipated enrollment increase, specifically at Staples High School.
Landon has proposed eight new teaching positions at Staples for an anticipated increase of approximately 100 students.
Kevin Connolly, a finance board member, said school officials need to prioritize and ask if they can offer everything from high-end classes to the lower-level classes for struggling students.
“I know we can’t really cut teachers at the middle schools and elementary schools, but perhaps you can do a more aggressive redistribution at Staples,” he said.