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BOE Proposes 2013-2014 School Budget

This+years+budget+reflects+another+year+of+tight+cuts.+Although+the+budget+increased+by+3.95+percent%2C+a+4.44+percent+increase+would+be+required+to+maintain+the+current+expenditures+due+to+increased+enrollment+and+inflation.+
Jamie Wheeler-Roberts
This year’s budget reflects another year of tight cuts. Although the budget increased by 3.95 percent, a 4.44 percent increase would be required to maintain the current expenditures due to increased enrollment and inflation.

The Board of Education’s $104.2 million 2013-2014 school budget represents a 3.95 percent increase over this year’s budget.

Changed points in this year’s proposal include the middle school STEM engineering program; a decrease in the second grade class size; and a reduction in the amount of money set aside in health insurance reserves, an accounting change that won’t affect staff coverage. Although students may not directly feel the changes, each year of tight budget cuts is a step closer to eating away at programs and services.

Superintendent Elliott Landon’s proposed budget originally increased the budget by 5.15 percent. Most of the BOE’s reductions to Landon’s proposal were in “behind the scenes” accounting and cash management adjustments, according to BOE chair Elaine Whitney. However, the BOE also reduced funding for supplies and equipment by $50,000. Landon chose to reduce funds in the equipment area, leaving supplies intact.

Supplies are already at a bare minimum, according to Landon and Principal John Dodig.

The budget process begins in a conference room, where school administrators meet with Landon to discuss costs—textbooks, equipment, furniture, personnel—to be covered in the budget proposal.

In discussion with administrators, Landon initially called to increase per-pupil spending on supplies by 10 percent. According to Landon, despite rising inflation, per pupil spending has stayed the same for almost 10 years. His initial proposal for an increase was lauded by principals.

“There was a round of applause,” Dodig said. “Two weeks later, we had to find $50,000 to cut.”

For the high school, the tight parameters of the budget meant that supplies like microscopes and other science equipment, laptops and smartboards, and 150 iPads for the social studies and English departments, although requested, will not be purchased for the coming year, Dodig said.

The 2013-2014 budget may still undergo further pruning. A version has been approved by the BOE, but the sum total cost still must be approved by the Board of Finance (BOF) and Representative Town Meeting (RTM), bodies that may further reduce the number.

But the Superintendent is concerned that there’s little left to cut. “We try to put together a bare-bones budget,” Landon said. “We’ve trimmed out any fat. It’s all skin and bone.”

About 95 percent of the budget covers nonnegotiable costs, including property expenses, the wireless network, and staff salaries and benefits. “It doesn’t leave you a lot of money for discretionary expenditures,” said Nancy Harris, Assistant Superintendent for Business.

A budget maintaining current expenditures would require a 4.44 percent increase to compensate for enrollment and inflation, about 0.5 percent more than the current proposal. Even small percentage discrepancies have an effect when one percent of the budget is roughly $1 million.

Dodig is worried that keeping spending on such a tight rein will eat away at Staples’s edge, an edge gained by advanced technology and a progressive curriculum.

“We have a lighthouse district school in danger of becoming a historic lighthouse district school,” Dodig said.

Brian Tippy, an English teacher, was involved in developing ideas for an iPad driven curriculum. “I wish they could have found the money,” Tippy said. “We have a lot of great stuff ready to go for kids.”

Although iPads and science equipment have vanished from the budget plan, the cuts reflect a determination to leave people and programs intact.

Still, Landon is concerned for the future of the budget draft, as it is shaped by BOF and RTM input.

“I’m hopeful that the Board of Finance won’t cut further but fearful that they will,” he said. “Any further cuts will probably bring significant program reduction.”

“When people and programs are cut, you’ll see some draconian decreases to what we’ll offer students,” Dodig added.

According to Whitney, the BOF is aiming even lower than the 3.95 percent increase, having asked the BOE for a figure as close to last year’s 2.2 percent as possible.

The town funding bodies evaluate the school budget, about two-thirds of the town’s total expense, as a piece in a bigger system: the town and taxpayers as a whole.

“The higher the budget, the greater the tax increase,” said Hadley Rose, moderator of the RTM. “Westport has offered relatively low taxes with superior services. You want to be able to improve, but you have to recognize that these things cost money.”

Although real estate values in Westport have increased this year, there are other factors that require tight spending, said Avi Kaner, chairman of the BOF. The BOF aims to keep tax increases smooth and in line with surrounding communities, Kaner said.

Financial obligations, including post-retirement benefits, are another concern that prioritize tight spending. According to Mike Rea, a member of the BOF, the town owes money in pensions and benefits to town employees. “It’s a fixed cost for the future,” Rea said. “We can’t ignore our debt. We want to maintain the quality of life but make sure that when we spend money, we do it wisely.”

Wise spending is something that Rose sees as a benefit of a strict budget.

“Budgets of two and three percent increases forced people to be more efficient,” he said.

Rose and Rea both felt that with discussion, efficiency could further be increased without compromising students.

“You can’t always cut and chip away. There’s a point where there’s no money to cut,” Rose said. “We haven’t gotten there yet.”

The future of the budget lies with the BOF and RTM. In its March 6 meeting, the BOF had a preliminary discussion about the proposal. On March 21, after discussion with the BOE, the BOF will recommend to the RTM to reduce or maintain the budget, evaluating its total sum.

The RTM, which communicates with the BOE, BOF, and other evaluating committees, will then approve the budget, with the ability to maintain the BOF recommendation or restore the original BOE proposal after hearing appeals from BOE members.

The BOE will adopt a finalized 2013-2014 in May or June.

 

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Eliza Llewellyn, Web Managing Editor
Eliza Llewellyn ’14 is driven and well-rounded. Now that it’s her third year on Inklings, she’s ready to take the lead. As web managing editor, Eliza is excited to advance the Inklings website with innovations in media and graphics. It’s not going to be easy, and fortunately her experience as co-captain of the Staples JV tennis team has taught her the valuable leadership skills necessary for the job. Not only this, but her position on the yearbook committee and her commitment to playing piano constantly puts her time management skills to the test. While her job on Inklings may also be extremely time-consuming, she puts it above all else. “If I’m doing homework at 10:30 p.m. and a new e-mail pops up with an article, I stop what I’m doing to read it,” said Eliza. “It’s one of my first priorities.” When Eliza isn’t editing articles, she’s writing them. Last year she wrote a news story, "Legacies: Investigating a College Application Controversy," which she considers one of her best works. “It felt good to talk to guidance counselors and college admissions officers because I was finding information that people would not get otherwise,” said Eliza. This year she hopes to pursue writing in-depth and research-based articles, as well as find a good balance among all her extracurriculars. With her dedication and drive, there’s no doubt Eliza will go above and beyond.
Jamie Wheeler-Roberts, News Editor
Jamie Wheeler – Roberts, who loves to write and edit for the paper, has a passion for journalism as well as something else. Jamie is a girl who along with loving journalism loves to travel.  Because her mom works for an airline, flying alone at a young age is natural to her. She’s traveled across the world, from Europe to Australia, and has plenty of stories to go with it. “I like going to new places and seeing how different others live their lives compared to ours,” said Jamie ‘13. Jamie is still aspiring to travel more, as she looks forward to hopefully attending college in London. Besides getting to live in a foreign country, she can also focus on her interest in Social Studies which she has indulged over the years by taking courses at Princeton during the summer.  At college though, she wants to focus on her specific passion for International Relations. Jamie has been active in clubs such as JSA, the debate team and student ambassador.  However, during her last few years at Staples she has spent more time at Inklings where she likes making the paper.

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