To the Editor:
Last year at this time those of us trying to restore the school budget from cuts had over 1,000 signatures on their petition. By the end of the successful campaign we had over 2,300 names.
The community helped to secure a successful, but rare, super majority vote at the RTM. The margin was two votes. Our arguments included having a new superintendent, keeping head count flat, and a modest 2 percent increase in the cost per student. RTM Education and Finance Committees unanimously recommended restoration.
A year later — I stood up in the Board of Finance this week, and supported the motion to reduce the 2018/19 schools budget by $2,050,000. It passed. The Board Of Education (BOE) will be discussing its next steps on Monday. Will they ask for a restoration?
This year I will not be supporting any restoration request. Others might.
So what has changed?
My excitement around the superintendent has not changed. I sat down with Dr. Palmer last week. I am confident things are beginning to change. She needs broader support to execute. The teacher unions need to play their part too.
The BOE and the administration should have been more proactive with this budget. They failed to control the agenda. They didn’t set a compelling narrative.
This year the arguments for their budget are not as strong. Instead it was a justification of why spending had to be a certain way. The initial request was $4.6 million extra. The cost per student which has risen almost 20 percent on a five- year basis — was set to rise by over 5 percent — double the rate of last year. Head count was going up for the first time in several years. This was not a budget moving in the right direction.
Head count is going up, but enrollment is going down.
Elementary Schools are being reorganized, but costs are staying the same.
We continue to pay to bus kids to private schools.
BOE does so much good for our schools and its members work incredibly hard for us. They give their time for our schools. They work to provide a better education for our children. They work tirelessly to ensure a safe environment for all. We just don’t see eye to eye on parts of a particular budget.
If they had found a middle way at the BOF — the cut may not have been as large. We must learn these lessons for next year.
In reality, $1,300,000 of the requested reduction will come from shifting to the state health plan. It’s critical the teacher unions support this shift. Westport looks after its teachers, and we need to see the Unions step up and get this deal done.
The additional $750,000 reductions can be found within a $119,000,000 budget.
A commitment to flat head count in the coming year would be a good place to start.
To be clear any additional costs around Special Resource Officers (SROs) are not responsible any of this. The one SRO that is added in this budget, replaces the DARE Officer. A decision on two more SROs will come later, and be part of the town budget.
Our schools are strong, and will remain strong with this budget.