On Thursday, March 28, the RTM Finance and Education Committees discussed changes to the proposed town budget, of which the education budget is 61%. Although nothing was voted on at this meeting, ideas to raise or save money were discussed.
Dick Lowenstein expressed concern that the budget process only involved budgeting town expenditures. Lowenstein felt that it should also consider the revenue for the coming fiscal year.
Lowenstein pointed out that the Board of Education may make some profit from rental fees if certain groups rent school grounds, income that hadn’t been factored into budgeting. Though rental fees would be a minor source of income, he said, he still wanted “good faith” efforts from the schools to find revenue.
An idea that Stephen Rubin had for raising revenue was charging parents for school nursing. Parents would then put in a claim with their insurance company, which would pay for it. He estimated that over 90% of Westporters had health insurance, and he said that any who did not have health insurance would not need to pay.
However, Eileen Flug pointed out that school nursing was less a service to individual students than a public health measure to keep healthy students from getting sick. Also, Clarissa Moore was skeptical that insurance companies would pay for these claims.
John McCarthy disagreed with revenue generation in general, saying that the schools should not be responsible for raising money. Louis Mall also opposed schools’ generation of revenue, giving a hypothetical example of Staples hosting a gun show to raise money, which he considered inappropriate.
An idea discussed that might save money was to reduce the salary of the next Assistant Superintendent for Business, as Nancy Harris, the current Assistant Superintendent plans to retire soon. Those who opposed this decreased salary described Westport as a complex school system, though Lowenstein called it “cookie-cutter” in that what is done at one school can be done at the others.
Another topic of discussion was money spent for school security. McCarthy questioned the need for increased measures.
“What’s changed since Newtown?” McCarthy said. “Our kids are as safe now as they were on that day [of the Newtown shootings].”
After the meeting and all the talk of budgets, Velma Heller, chair of the Education Committee, closed with emphasis on the importance of a quality education, not the money or the budget.
“What do the numbers mean in terms of what gets delivered to the schools?” Heller said.