Friday, February 03, 2023

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BOE Considers Budget Cuts, CMS Design Requirements

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Education (BOE) Monday night heard suggested budget cuts and the urgent need to determine final educational requirements for the now-shuttered Coleytown Middle School (CMS).

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Retiring Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer and Board of Education Chair Mark Mathias at Monday night’s meeting. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

The possibility was raised of CMS becoming a grade six academy, or possibly a grade five-six school with reparation costs estimated at $10 to $20 million.

Following a $250,000 reduction to its budget by the Board of Finance (BOF) last week, the BOE unanimously agreed not to ask for a restoration, buoyed in its decision by some suggested cuts from the retiring Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer.

“I’m of the opinion that we should not seek restoration,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram, with others concurring. “I think there’s enough here we can work with,” he said, referencing the cuts.

Among $568,888 Palmer outlined in possible cuts to the proposed budget was a suggested $101,000 that could be taken out of the consultant budget—a response to observations made by BOF members that less should be spent in this area.

She also suggested an additional cut of 2.6 full-time employee equivalents in combined special area and regular teachers that would save more than $227,000, including benefits.

Also there could be a $150,000 savings from the amount estimated in the teacher turnover category, which is currently at $450,000, Palmer said.

But this amount could be increased on the potential belief that additional retirements, followed by younger hires, would drop pay scales and save the district money, she added.

“I also believe that we should not seek restoration,” BOE member Elaine Whitney said. “The amount removed, I feel, is something we can manage.”

Don O’Day, chairman of the Coleytown Middle School (CMS) Building Committee, gave an update to the BOE, essentially sharing that things were on schedule for a fall 2020 reopening. The school was closed at the start of the school year because of mold and other issues.

But he also cautioning his committee needed to report back with any education-related modifications it would like to see to the CMS facility by April 1, its next meeting.

“We are trying to meet this deadline and it’s kind of backwards of how you’re going to build education space,” said BOE member Candy Savin.

She gave a committee report on the review of information to determine exactly who the BOE would like to see housed at CMS.

Savin gave voice to some perceived historic inequities between CMS and Bedford Middle School (BMS), with the latter known to have the more modern facility, but the former known to maintain smaller class sizes.

Toward that end, she said, the idea of CMS becoming a grade six academy, or possibly a five-six school, is under discussion, along with potentially moving the Stepping Stones preschool, which is currently housed at Coleytown Elementary School, over to CMS.

“So what do we tell the building committee?” Muktavaram asked. “How do we communicate the educational specs by April 1st?”

Palmer, whose resignation was officially accepted toward the end of the meeting effective July 31, said the BOE should look at “commonality” of space changes that would be applicable to whatever scenario is chosen.

Savin said interest has been expressed in revamping the CMS library, in making the front hall more secure, and in updating the science labs, among other things.

There is also a possibility of adding an additional wing—something Palmer said might be required if a five-six school is opened there.

O’Day said that in order for the funding bodies to have time to give approval by June, the BOE needs to give answers to the designers by April 1.

Otherwise, he said, the plans might need to be modified, more planning costs accrued above the $400,000 currently allocated, and the timeline for opening CMS in fall of 2020 put into jeopardy.

Barring any enhancements, O’Day broadly suggested the core project—which would include roof repairs, windows and extensive work on walls—would likely be between $10 million and $20 million.

Meanwhile Adam Rosen, BMS principal, gave an update on the planning for the new six-eight townwide middle school.

“I know a lot of parents want to be sure, ‘Am I kids going to have the same opportunities at Bedford as the kids who came before?’” he said, outlining efforts to bring comparable core and encore experiences.

“We’re accelerating everything we can,” said Anthony Buono, assistant superintendent of schools. He added that everything should be in place by the end of the year, ahead of the usual schedule for program planning.

This week staff requirements at BMS will also be solidified, with staff members who may need to be let go to be notified at an in-person meeting with John Bayers, director of human resources.

“We don’t want to lose anybody,” Bayers said.

He said not only will they try to find other posts in the district for people with appropriate certification but also would help them find jobs in other districts.

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