Superintendent’s budget proposal focuses on building renovations, retains staff

Superintendent Thomas Scarice has proposed a budget for the 2022-23 school year to Westport’s Board of Finance, which will be voted on at the end of March. Scarice’s recommendations include a floor replacement in the Staples fieldhouse, a renovation of a section of Staples’ roof, an assessment and possible replacement of the stage rigging in the auditorium and an assessment of the building’s Heating and Air Conditioning system.

A key item on the budget are substantial renovations of Long Lots Elementary School, which had reports of high humidity readings in classrooms in August and September, as well as appearances of surface mold in the auditorium and a basement storage room that has since disappeared. An architectural assessment of whether a new school building can be constructed next to the current Long Lots campus will be available by April, the alternative being a full renovation of the current building.

Scarice believes that the construction of a new Long Lots building next to the current school would be less disruptive to students than an ongoing renovation of the current facility, and would help modernize a building that was constructed in the early 1960s.

“Kids just sat in rows and stared at the teacher; that’s what teaching was like back then,” Scarice said. “Going to elementary school now, you’re all spread out and kids have reading corners and they’re in pods and groups […] If we’re going to think about that option of remodeling, we have to think about if it’s worth remodeling. Are we preserving the kind of teaching that we want to see?”

The Long Lots PTA would support both the construction of a new Long Lots and a full building renovation.

“We appreciate the time and resources the district has made as of recently to look at the current building holistically and make the right decisions for the students, teachers/staff and of course the town of Westport,” said PTA co-presidents Elsa Morgan and Paula Soto.

The district is also studying the infrastructure of Coleytown Elementary School, which has also had reports of high humidity and requires a renovation within the next few years. Scarice hopes to have a recommendation on Coleytown by the end of next year.

I think a lot more needs to be spent on supporting the Staples clubs.

— Thomas Sargent ‘22

Scarice did not recommend any staff reductions, aside from two clerical positions who will be reassigned elsewhere in the school they currently work at. He also recommended for the district to add a Special Education teacher at Bedford as well as more paraprofessional support.

“The priorities were first of all to protect teaching positions,” Scarice said. “We didn’t want class sizes to get too big and we also didn’t want course selections to be a problem. The second priority was protecting all of our mental health services […] Kids have really had a rough last couple of years, so I wanted to make sure we kept all the services intact.”

Additional items on the budget include the purchase of replacement chromebooks for the district and a transition to a more cost-effective healthcare system for teachers and support staff.

Thomas Sargent ’22 hopes that part of next year’s budget will be allotted to various after school activities.

“I think a lot more needs to be spent on supporting the Staples clubs and activities, particularly considering that bake sales are now [banned], so there are fewer opportunities for clubs to accrue funding,” Sargent said.

Scarice’s budget proposal has already been approved by the Westport Board of Education, and if it is approved by the Board of Finance, the Representative Town Meeting will vote in either the last week of April or the first week of May.