By James Lomuscio
In its first meeting of the 2017-18 academic year, Westport’s Board of Education tonight voted 5 to 1 to give back $390,000 of its unspent funds to the town and to put $327,075 of its unused money into its carryover account.
The return was requested by Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer as “an act of good faith” to the town. She said it would help to build a strong partnership with the town, which had shown the school system support by providing the money at the end of the school year.
Her request was met with some resistance.
“I think we should put it all in the carryover account,” said Mark Mathias, calling the account “a mitigating tool for uncertainty,
Vice Chairwoman Jeannie Smith, who moderated the meeting since Chairman Michael Gordon was absent, suggested the school board return only $100,000 of the amount.
“The school year hasn’t even started yet, so we don’t know what will break down,” Smith said, adding that the board should “err on a more conservative side.”
The carryover account had been front and center at the meeting since Elio Longo, school business manager, discussed mold remediation performed over the summer at Coleytown Middle School.
Longo said that 27 classrooms and one major corridor had been remediated with invoices totaling more than $200,000 this summer alone.
He said testing would continue at the school with six additional classrooms targeted for mold remediation. He estimated $600,000 to $680,000 has been committed to Coleytown mold remediation so far with another $50,000 to $80,000 needed to complete the job.
Refurbishing of the Staples High School locker room, showers, and swimming pool spectator seating was completed over the summer at a cost of $800,000. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo
As of June 7, he said, only $96,000 was in the carryover account, and that in addition to a needed $104,000 to pay vendors, there would be the added expense of about $150,000 for other areas of the school for mold removal.
One member of the public who spoke was Brian Stern, chairman of the Board of Finance.
He urged the school board not to view its carryover account “as a mold fund.”
Stern said the finance board and the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) “would have whipped it through” to make sure funds were available to prevent students from being subjected to respiratory distress.
After a motion made by Mathias to return only $100,000 to the town failed with only three votes, the motion to return the full $390,000 passed by a vote of 5 to 1, with Mathias the lone dissenter.
In his presentation about work done in the schools this summer, Longo cited refurbishing of locker rooms, showers, and the swimming pool spectator seating at Staples High School.
When the project was bid several years ago, he said, the cost was estimated at $1.3 million. When rebid and through working with the contractor, the cost came in at $800,000, he said.
Longo praised Staples custodial staff for helping complete the project over the summer and said without the concerted effort, it would have taken much longer.