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CMS Closure Hot Topic at State of Town Session

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The closure of Coleytown Middle School (CMS) was a hot topic at today’s State of the Town session at Westport Town Hall. First Selectman Jim Marpe (l) and Board of Education Chairman Mark Mathias said opening of the school was a top priority in maintaining Westport’s tradition of excellence in education. Jeff Wieser, president of the Westport Rotary Club, was moderator. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

RTM OKs $1M for BMS Portables

By James Lomuscio

UPDATE After more than three and a half hours of debate, division and public discussion, Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) in a special meeting tonight voted 28 to 3 for a $1 million appropriation for the rental and placement of six modular classrooms at Bedford Middle School (BMS).

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The lights were on in parts of Coleytown Middle School early today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Anna-Liisa Nixon for WestportNow.com

The RTM vote upheld Wednesday night’s Board of Finance unanimous vote amending the Board of Education’s request for $4 million for 14 portables at the town’s elementary schools.

The portables would have reconfigured the K-5 elementary schools to K-6 to accommodate Coleytown Middle School (CMS) students displaced by illness-causing air quality issues, including mold,

Tonight’s vote, however, maintained the established sixth through eighth grade middle school setup. It was also a rebuke of Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer’s K-6 solution that had been approved by a 4 to 3 school board vote.

Finance Board Cuts Schools’ Portables Request to $1 Million

Westport’s Board of Finance tonight voted unanimously to reduce a school board request of $4 million to $1 million for portable classrooms to accommodate displaced Coleytown Middle School (CMS) students.

“The objective is to reoccupy Coleytown as fast as possible in the safest way,” said Brian Stern, finance board chairman. “A fast a track as possible to get Coleytown Middle School up and running.”

CMS has been shuttered since the start of the school year due to a serious, illness-causing mold issues and other infrastructure issues. Its students have since been relocated to Bedford Middle School (BMS), where portables would be located.

The Board of Education had requested $4 million for 14 portables for what has become known as the K-6 plan.

Board of Finance Questions School Officials on Wisdom of K-6 Plan

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Finance (BOF) tonight drilled school officials on the wisdom of going to a K-6 plan.

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The Board of Finance tonight hears from Board of Education members. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The Board of Education (BOE) appeared seeking an appropriation of up to $4 million for 14 portable classrooms at the five elementary schools.

“It’s not all about the money,” said BOF member Michael Rea, with a two-year cost estimated in the neighborhood of $2.3 million. “It’s about how you’re going to deliver on this promise.”

“If we’re not convinced with that … we have to come up with another plan,” he said.

Parent: Complaint to State Led to KHS Leaves of Absences

By Gordon Joseloff

UPDATE The placement on leave of the Kings Highway Elementary School (KHS) principal and four others resulted from a complaint filed with the state about restraining of a 6-year-old special needs student, according to a parent familiar with the matter.

Principal Mary Lou DiBella and four others at KHS were placed on paid professional leave without prejudice and would be absent for “at least the next few days” while the district reviews unspecified allegations, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer told parents in emails on Jan. 28.

On Saturday, Palmer denounced “numerous erroneous rumors” about the action and said “It would be inappropriate to make any assumptions about any individuals at this time, and I ask for your patience as we work to resolve the issues at hand.”

According to the parent, who asked for anonymity, the KHS leaves followed a complaint about restraining the 6-year-old multiple times that was filed with the state Department of Children and Families (DCF).

BOE Maintains K-6 Plan

By Jarret Liotta

In a tight vote late Monday night, the Board of Education (BOE) stood by its K-6 plan for next year to alleviate the overcrowding caused by the closure of Coleytown Middle School (CMS).

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The Board of Education listens to public comment Monday night. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

Following a report from members of the CMS Task Force, who told the BOE it was very likely the school could be reopened by fall of 2020 — and potentially even as early as fall of 2019 if everything fell into place incredibly fast — three BOE members sought to change the board’s plan for next year to one centered on a townwide middle school.

“I would strongly encourage us to reconsider this,” said BOE member Vik Muktavaram, who made the motion to change the plan based on cost concerns, as well as worries over the particulars of implementing the plan.

The motion was defeated in a 2-4-1 vote, with Muktavaram and Elaine Whitney voting in favor, Chairman Mark Mathias, Vice Chair Jeannie Smith, Candy Savin and Neil Phillips voting against, and Karen Kleine, who spoke in favor of the change, abstaining.

Palmer Denounces ‘Erroneous Rumors’ About KHS Leaves of Absence

Westport Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer today denounced “numerous erroneous rumors” about the placing on administrative leave of the Kings Highway Elementary School (KHS) principal and four staff members.

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KHS Principal Mary Lou DiBella: unexplained absence. Westport Schools photo

“While I realize that there is a natural tendency to seek more detailed communication, in matters such as this, the District is bound to keep our messages to you at this level of generality,” she said in a Saturday afternoon email to parents.

It came five days after the Jan. 28 announcement that Principal Mary Lou DiBella and the staff members have been placed on paid professional leave without prejudice and would be absent for “at least the next few days” while the district reviews unspecified allegations.

“It would be inappropriate to make any assumptions about any individuals at this time, and I ask for your patience as we work to resolve the issues at hand,” Palmer said in the latest email, which disclosed for the first time that four staff members in addition to DiBella were affected.

Board of Ed Fine Tunes Proposed Budget

By Jarret Liotta

The Board of Education (BOE) Thursday night took what may be a final look at details of Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer’s proposed $119,283,880 school budget for 2019-20, with a requisite vote tentatively scheduled for its Monday meeting.

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(l-r) Board of Ed member Elaine Whitney, Vice Chair Jeannie Smith, and Chairman Mark Mathias. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com

However, owing to some confusion, the board has asked legal counsel to see if there might be a chance for more time for deliberation before it gives its official request to the Board of Finance (BOF).

“We’re looking to see if legally we can do that,” Chairman Mark Mathias said at a special Thursday night meeting, again reminding his board that BOF Chairman Brian Stern had said he hoped the educators would keep their increase request to 1.2 percent. Palmer’s budget seeks a 2.6 percent increase.

“Obviously we don’t know what levers and handles they have to pull,” Mathias said. “That’s their job to figure out.”

Palmer: Electrical Issue at Bedford Middle School Resolved

UPDATE An electrical issue that impacted the heat at Bedford Middle School (BMS) has been resolved, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer said tonight.

In several tweets, she said BMS and nearby Staples High School had their power interrupted earlier in the evening, and both went to generator power. 

“SHS back on grid now, but we have electricians en route to BMS as that school remains on generator power right now,” she said.

In a third tweet late tonight, she said: “Good news—got word team was able to fire up BMS boilers with some fancy wiring to the grid. School will be open at BMS tomorrow; bringing up the heat now to low 70s to warm school &  get ready for morning. Custodian on site for a bit, then monitor through normal remote sensors.”

Schools’ ‘Top 10’ Pay List Includes 22 Administrators

Twenty-two Westport school administrators, including principals and assistant principals, made the district’s 2018 “Top 10” list of highest paid employees, with Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer taking the top spot, according to a report released today.

Palmer received total pay of $318,608.70, which included $13,804.40 in vacation pay and a $4,392.90 in an annuity on top of her $300,411.40 salary.

The second high paid was Elio Longo, the schools’ chief financial officer who released the report. He earned a total of $249,486.50, including a salary of $224,572.40, $9,914.10 in vacation pay and $15,000 in other earnings.

The third highest paid was Staples High School principal James D’Amico with a salary of $200,369.98.