$100.23 Million Budget Passed for 2012-2013 School Year

Eliza Llewellyn, Staff Writer

On Feb. 6, the Board of Education submitted a $100.23 million budget, making significant changes to the budget proposed by Superintendent Elliot Landon.

According to Donald O’Day, Chairman of the BOE, the Board added middle school French and physical education back into the budget. In turn, it reduced health insurance premium costs, electricity and technology expenses, and cut five secretarial positions.

“The Board of Education needs to minimize the cost of the budget,” O’Day said. “But the last place we want to look is the classroom.”

The Board’s budget is a $331 thousand reduction from Landon’s proposed budget, totaling $100.23 million. This marks the first year that the district’s budget will break the 100 million dollar mark.

According to O’Day, although the budget plan is an increase over last year’s funds, with an increase in salaries, the extra money cannot cover all existing costs. O’Day estimated that salary increases accounted for a roughly $3 million increase, though the Board’s budget only augments the budget by about $2 million.

According to Nancy Harris, Assistant Superintendent for Business, the salary increases impact roughly 66 percent of the budget, with benefits impacting roughly 15 percent. With so much of the budget non-negotiable, cuts must be made somewhere, according to Harris.

The need to keep budget costs down put pressure on officials when drafting the budget. Landon’s proposed plan eliminated sixth grade French and reduced physical education time for fourth and fifth graders. It also cut funding for preventative maintenance, including the painting of the music hallway in Staples.

The budget proposal also included revisions to the Workshop program, a program for academically gifted students. However, the changes will not include any increases in funding.

With the past few years’ economic climate demanding budget reductions, Landon says there is little left to cut. “For the past few years there’s been tremendous pressure to hold costs down,” Landon said. “This is the first time in 13 years that I’ve been forced to look at program reduction.” Landon had parents write him complaining about his proposal, which cut sixth grade French with the intension to phase out the language in the middle school and reduced fourth and fifth grade gym by a half hour per week.

Cuts to French and physical education had been proposed in order to reduce teachers. “We have already consolidated bus routes and jobs,” Principal John Dodig said. “There’s nowhere else to go, other than people.”

But parents went to Board of Education meetings to share their opinions about what programs are being reduced. The Board’s budget restored the programs and assuaged parents’ complaints.

“Parents are unanimously pleased that French and physical education are being restored,” O’Day said. However, many are unhappy about the reduction in secretarial positions. According to O’Day, the Board felt that it needed to make cuts somewhere in order to keep price increases down.

The process of creating a new budget is complex. First, each principal submits a list of necessary supplies needed to run the school. Landon then calls a meeting of all principals and the group discusses where money can be cut. According to Dodig, he had initially wanted the music hallway to be painted.

However, with big maintenance postponements and a tight budget, parts of Staples will forgo painting and other preventative maintenance will be put on hold.

After meeting with the principals, Landon drafts a budget, which is revised and voted on by the Board of Education. The revised budget, with changes made by the Board, will then be submitted to the Board of Finance and later the RTM. The budget will be finalized in May.

Throughout the process, parents, students, and teachers can share their opinions on the proposed plan. According to Kathy Sharp, President of the Westport Education Association, a union for teachers, union members will speak at public meetings.

Also, surveys will be conducted within the group in order to gather staff opinions on the budget.

The Board of Education’s budget will be submitted to the Board of Finance for review. The Board of Finance will submit an approved budget to the RTM at the end of March.