State of the Town Address discusses yearly updates, fiscal challenges


Photo by Natalie Bandura ’22

First Selectman Jim Marpe (left) and BOE Chair Candice Savin (right) were both in attendance alongside other Westport officials during a press conference to discuss the town-wide implications of COVID-19.

First Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Education Chair Candice Savin spoke at Westport’s State of the Town Address on Jan. 26 in the Westport Public Library to report on town and school accomplishments over the past year and discuss ongoing challenges, most significantly the closing of retail businesses, the reopening of Coleytown Middle School (CMS) and the budget cycle.

Savin maintains that the reopening of CMS is on schedule for the next school year, including a complete renovation of the building that will replace the windows, roof and HVAC system, as well as improve the library and science labs.

“The BOE is monitoring the progress closely, and we are hard at work preparing to re-enter CMS and also doing scenario planning so we are well-prepared if any construction delays occur,” Savin said. “We will continue to receive updates at our public meetings from the building committee, and we will keep the community well prized of what to expect as we move closer to the opening of school.”

We live in a community with high expectations. There have been some significant challenges, but we have been resilient […] I know that Westport Public Schools will remain a lighthouse district far into the future.

— Board of Education Chair Candice Savin

In order to prevent the recurrence of infrastructural dilemmas like the CMS mold issue, the BOE commissioned the Antinozzi Report, an independent evaluation of the need for structural improvement in school and town facilities. 

“That concern is really what was the drive for the board’s strong desire to do the Antinozzi Report, and when we had the catastrophic crisis at CMS, we wanted to really make sure that we weren’t looking at that in any of our other buildings,” Savin said. “We’re looking at it as […] a roadmap for investment in our facilities over the next ten years.”

The costs associated with the reopening of CMS and the resources needed to implement changes suggested by the Antinozzi Report have led to uniquely large costs factoring into the yearly budget. These predicted expenditures are exacerbated by rising healthcare costs that include a special service charge for Fairfield county towns.

“We want to deliver a budget that ensures high-quality education to every student, and we need to be fiscally responsible,” Savin said. “But we also need to be educationally responsible, and that takes resources.”

In addition to dealing with budgeting complications, the BOE plans to reach a consensus on several initiatives over the course of the remaining school year. JE Consulting, the board’s hired superintendent search committee, is nearly finished with gathering community

feedback from teachers, administrators and parents. The new superintendent is set to be announced on March 18. Additionally, the BOE will vote on the unanimous recommendation of the School Start Time Committee for an 8:00 a.m. Staples start time.

Town issues were also discussed, and one of the chief concerns brought up during the followup Q&A session was the closing of small businesses in downtown Westport. Marpe spoke optimistically with regards to the Westport marketplace, explaining that there will be

Photo by Natalie Bandura ’22
Earlier last year, First Selectman Jim Marpe spoke during the State of the Town Meeting on Feb. 10, expressing positivity in the overall condition of town and schools.

nationwide chains opening on Main Street after its construction is completed, alongside smaller businesses filling vacant spots downtown.

“Women of various ages are working together to form stores that are able to cover the high rents that are being charged downtown,” Marpe said. “I view part of our administration’s job is to talk to those entrepreneurs, our local business owners, on a regular basis, and make sure [we do] anything we can do to help make that happen.”

While there remains some uncertainty with regards to budgeting, the district has resolved many dilemmas affecting the town last year, including redistricting, administrative changes and affordable housing debacles.

“We live in a community with high expectations,” Savin said. “There have been some significant challenges, but we have been resilient. My takeaway is that we must continue to invest: invest in our human capital, […] invest in our infrastructure, […] and invest in our leadership. If we make these investments wisely and intentionally, I know that Westport Public Schools will remain a lighthouse district far into the future.”