Doing More With Less: 2012-2013 School Budget Proposed to Board of Finance

It has become apparent that all of the “low hanging fruit”- a metaphor used to describe non-essentials within Westport- has been picked.

At the Wed., March 7, Board of Finance meeting held in the auditorium of Town Hall, Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff and Board of Education Chairman Don O’Day presented the town and school budgets. Both highlighted the fact that “going without” will be a common theme in the upcoming year.

“You may not have been counting, but this is my seventh year as Westport’s First Selectman,” said Joseloff. “It is similar to recent years in that it shares a common theme – doing more with less.”

The school budget, which received a lion’s share of the budget talk, was presented by O’Day with the aid of Dr. Elliot Landon, Superintendent of schools. The pair presented the proposed budget for the district schools which was already passed by the BOE in late February.

In his speech, O’Day highlighted the various strengths possessed by the Westport School District: student achievement in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities, a passionate community including a “superior PTA,” and great facilities.

However, along with the strengths came the weaknesses: the increasing class sizes throughout the elementary schools, the capacity issue at Staples, and the uncertain future of State and Federal funding.

Overall, O’Day said that the proposed budget “maintains services that we have come to expect.”

For the BOF, the problem was not doubt in the achievement of the students within the district, but what the necessary finances are in order to get the students there, specifically with regards to transportation and technology.

Various BOF board members took up issue with the $250,000 yearly price tag that comes with parking the Dattco owned buses in the lot on Post Road. However, Landon and O’Day explained that other locations to park the buses have been looked into.

One of the locations being considered is the Staples parking lot where a maintenance facility and trailers would be put up in order to house the buses at night. This is done in both the New Cannon and Weston school districts.

In addition to the issue of bus parking, the subject of technology came up at the meeting, specifically the amount of money that is required to keep the technology updated throughout the district.

“There are 200 laptops up for replacement at the high school” said Landon. “These aren’t like yours or my personal computers. These are pounded eight periods a day, five days a week, 180 days a year.” Landon stressed the need to have up-to-date technology within the schools especially the maintenance of the pipes or Wifi capabilities in the schools. This issue has received attention lately due to the recent increase in network traffic caused by the surging number of laptops, smart phones, and tablets students at school.

Another topic that was referenced throughout the night was the possibility of adding lights to the Staples football field for the 2012 season.  This is a topic that still continues to see a difference in opinion. One Westport resident seated amongst audience members made the soft-spoken comment, “What will the electric bill be on that?” Meanwhile, at the podium, O’Day expressed how this is an accomplishment that has taken “30 years to happen.”

The BOF will vote on both the town and school budgets at their next meeting on March 29, 2012. If the school budget fails on the 29th it will go back to the BOE whose job will be to revamp the budget so that it fits within the funds allocated to the schools by the BOF. If the budget passes it will move on to the RTM who will hold a vote on it in May.