After more than four hours of strained discussions, Westport’s Board of Education tonight voted 5 to 2 to ask for a $1.5 million restoration from the Board of Finance when it meets Wednesday.
The finance board by a 6 to 1 vote last week cut $2,050,000 from the schools’ $118,223,800 proposed budget for next year. (See WestportNow April 18, 2018)
“This was the deepest cut I’ve ever seen,” said Superintendent Coleen Palmer, citing her 15 years as superintendent in other districts, as well as Westport.
Palmer had said that the schools could achieve a $1.3 million savings if the school unions partnered with the state health plan. But that estimate has since been lowered to $1,078,000, the board was told.
To date, only six of the seven bargaining units have agreed to enter the state partnership plan, and if the seventh union did not, the estimated savings would be reduced to $172,000, according to an update tonight by school officials.
“If we can save money, if only for a couple of years, we have to leverage that,” Palmer said of the savings from the state partnership.
Tensions were heightened at the meeting as a phalanx of teachers and Westport Education Association (WEA) officials argued against possible personnel cuts.
“I feel sick,” Jeannie Smith, board vice chairwoman, said about potential personnel cuts while pledging her support for teachers. “We’re in a perfect storm.”
WEA C0-President John Horrigan excoriated the administration for having sent out 90 letters to untenured teachers about possible layoffs.
“I am going to keep as much as I can away from the classroom, away from the people,” Palmer said. “But on the road to $2 million, it will affect people.”
Palmer then read a list of mitigation strategies totaling $772,000, which included taking $320,000 from the school cafeteria fund to finance having a school resources officer at Staples High School and reducing copying costs via electronic documents.
Palmer said that the unexpected $2 million finance board cut forced her to examine all areas to scale back since the Board of Finance cut was not “anything we expected.”
This story has been updated to clarify the estimated savings to be achieved by joining the state health plan.