Monday, April 22, 2024



Shifting Ground for Artificial Turf in CT

By Jan Ellen Spiegel

Susan Lewis’s soccer-adoring son Justin was already through his chemo and radiation treatments for lymphoma and thinking about getting back to his team at Fairfield University when she caught a television report one morning. Image
Justin Lewis when he was undergoing chemotherapy. Courtesy of Justin Lewis

“There was a story about a soccer player,” she said. “I stopped to watch it, and my mouth dropped open.”

The report was about cancer cases among athletes playing on artificial turf made from ground-up used tires – crumb rubber is what it’s called. Some soccer players in particular had been diagnosed, mostly with lymphoma as well as leukemia. The question posed was whether the crumb rubber was the cause.

“Obviously, as parents of this young man, we wanted to understand why or how this could possibly happen,” she said. The first focus had to be on getting Justin better. “But when that came up, I certainly thought, ‘Wow, could that be the answer?’”

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Board of Ed Appoints New Member Image
The Westport Board of Education today appointed Vikas Muktavaram to replace Republican Paul Block, who resigned last month (See WestportNow Jan. 5, 2016), and Town Clerk Patricia Strauss immediately administered the oath of office in a Town Hall lobby ceremony. Muktavaram, 43, a Westport resident since 2009, was chief risk officer for an asset management company. He is married to Lavanya Bellumkonda, an assistant professor and cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. The couple has two children, Lyah, 11, and Anya, 8. Pictured are (front row, l-r) Strauss, Eileen Flug, moderator, Representative Town Meeting; Muktavaram, BOE Chair Michael Gordon, and First Selectman Jim Marpe, (back row, l-r) BOE members Karen Kleine, Jeannie Smith, Mark Mathias and Brett Aronow. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

KHS Students Perform ‘Willy Wonka’ Image
Fourth and fifth grade students at Westport’s Kings Highway Elementary School (KHS) performed their annual school play Tuesday, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” The school is the only elementary school in Westport that produces an annual play production and has been doing it for more than 25 years. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Contributed photo

RTMers Hot Under the Collar in AC Debate

By James Lomuscio

Members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) got hot under the collar tonight during a debate over funds for installation of air conditioning at Coleytown Elementary School (CES). Image
RTM Member Meliissa Kane questions Board of Education Chairman Michael Gordon at tonight’s meeting.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Photo from Westport Town Television

After slightly more than two hours of contentious debate and a public flogging of the Board of Education, members approved by a 30 to 2 with 2 abstentions vote a $216,000 school board request to install air conditioning at the school this spring.

The request, reduced from the Board of Finance approved $290,000 due to lower bids, was for a long sought HVAC air conditioning system in the CES gymnatorium and cafeteria. Opened in 1953, CES is the only Westport elementary school among five without such air conditioning.

Tonight parents and others told stories of children becoming overheated, exhausted, passing out and getting injured.

School Board Approves $113.45 Million Budget

By James Lomuscio

A projected surplus this year allowed the Westport Board of Education tonight to save its school bus monitor program, third grade paraprofessionals, and middle school team leaders next year without breaking the bank. Image
Board of Education members (l-r) Karen Klein, Bret Aronow, and Mark Mathias listen at tonight’s meeting.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

By a unanimous vote, the board approved a $113.45 million 2016-17 operating budget, a 2.05 percent increase over the current year and up only slightly from the 2.03 percent increase that Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon had proposed.

“I think we put together a very progressive budget academically,” said Michael Gordon, school board chairman. ” ...and yet, it is an exceptionally lean budget.”

The school board unanimously voted to restore the bus monitor program, which Landon had proposed cutting to save $125,000.

Board of Ed Honors Staples Teacher Image
At tonight’s Board of Education meeting, attendees observed a moment of silence in memory of Staples teacher Cody Thomas, 27, who died Jan. 23. Chairman Michael Gordon said he clearly remembers when Thomas addressed the board last year. “After what he said, we all wanted to go back to high school,” said Gordon, citing “his connection” to students. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

Westport Gets $126,290 School Technology Grant Image
Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell (at Westport forum Nov. 15, 2015): “will empower more students.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) photo

Westport will receive a $126,390 technology grant as part of a state effort to help Connecticut school districts put more computers in classrooms and increase Internet bandwidth in schools across Connecticut.

State Department of Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell announced the grant following State Bond Commission approval of $10.9 million to be distributed to 171 school districts across the state.

The investment is part of the state’s broad efforts to strengthen computer and technology resources as schools continue to implement Connecticut Core Standards and administer computer-adaptive tests aligned to these standards, an announcement said.

“If we want our students to thrive in school and have the skills and knowledge to succeed in the hightech world they will enter after high school and college, we have to teach them technology skills,”  Wentzell said.

School Bus Monitor Cut Raises Fears

By James Lomuscio

It happened a generation ago, but the 1991 death of an 8-year-old Westport girl run over by her school bus still resonated at tonight’s Board of Education meeting. Image
School board member Jeannie Smith and Michael Gordon along with Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon listen to audience comments tonight.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for

At issue was a proposed cut in Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon’s 2016-17 $113.4 million school budget that would do away with Westport’s school bus monitor program except for special education students.

Landon, seeking to save $125,000 in the budget, said the monitors were no longer needed because, among other things, technology has made school buses safer.

Another reason, he said, is that a number of the monitors have retired and it is hard to find replacements. This left only one-quarter of the elementary school buses with monitors, which he called inequitable.

No Surprise, Landon is School’s Top Earner

By James Lomuscio

Click here for top 50 list

As expected, Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon in 2015 again topped the school system’s list of wage earners with $282,226 in compensation. Image
The top 20 Westport 2015 school wage earners, as provided by the school business office.  (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Landon, who after 17 years at the helm is retiring at the end of the school year, remains Connecticut’s highest paid schools superintendent.

On July 1 he will be replaced by Weston Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer, whose salary agreement with the Board of Education stands at $285,000.

Landon’s salary for 2015 is slightly lower than in previous years when it stood around $287,000. Elio Longo, director of school business operations who released the wage earner list today, said that Landon had deferred some of his 2015 compensation to the end of this year.

Landon: ‘No Comment’ on Lanni Parents’ Letter

UPDATE Westport Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon today declined to comment on an open letter to him from the parents of 14-year-old Staples High School freshman Christopher Lanni that asked the administrator to investigate whether their son’s sudden death was related to cyberbullying. Image
Elliott Landon: at Jan. 5 BOE meeting where Lanni death discussed. Dave Matlow for

“We have been in constant communication with the Police Department since Dec. 23 and have no further comment,” Landon said in a statement.

In their letter (see WestportNow Jan. 13, 2015), the parents asked to bring the police into the investigation if necessary. Social media posts by Westport parents during the holiday break speculated that Christopher had taken his own life as a result of persistent cyberbullying.

Westport police said today they have already investigated the death and turned up no evidence of cyberbullying.