Budget Battles

Years ago, Board of Education and  Board of Finance budget hearings were political kabuki.  Educators and town boards engaged in elaborate public performances.  Behind the scenes, meanwhile, roles were clearly defined; outcomes were often predetermined.

Over time, that changed. Today’s Board of Ed is well aware of the current economic climate.  They took this year’s charge very seriously, scouring each line to make deep cuts across the board.  It was not easy; major items like salaries were negotiated long ago.

The board also knows that costs must rise.  Our school population will soar next fall, as parents who can no longer afford private education enroll their children in Westport public schools.

They do it knowing their youngsters will receive superb educations here.  The student/teacher ratio may not be as low as in private schools, but by many other measures our local schools equal — or out-perform — their private counterparts.

But more cuts may come.  Tonight at 7:30 at Town Hall, the Board of Finance continues its discussion of the education budget.  Soon the RTM will have its say.

Where will any cuts come from?  Anne Hardy and Lee Saveliff, Staples PTA co-presidents, say they could be in areas like technology, maintenance, extracurricular activities, class size — or anywhere else.  Nothing is off the table.

In years past, Board of Education sessions were polarized political theater.  One side shouted that every penny was wasted; the other, that every penny was precious.

That era is gone.  Everyone recognizes we’re in uncharted waters.  As the budget process moves forward, Westport must decide how many pennies to save today — and what the real cost of those savings will be tomorrow.

2 responses to “Budget Battles

  1. Hi Dan, thanks for putting it so succinctly. Indeed the days seem to be gone of the “us against them” mentality…we’re onto working together to find savings in these “uncharted waters”. Anyone interested in any town budget (education or otherwise) might watch these BOF, BOE and RTM meetings closely. If you can’t make it to Town Hall there is always channel 78 and the BOF often has a live e-mail line open for comment during the proceedings.

    If further cuts are made to the BOE budget tonight by the BOF, join in the work to find savings in areas that “touch the kids the least”. It is a good goal to have and one that we feel needs a careful approach. See you tonight!

    Anne & Lee

  2. Areas that “touch the kids the least” are salaries of administrators, teachers, etc.

    The First Selectman, who has not had a pay raise since taking office almost four years ago, ordered a wage freeze for all non-union town salaries.

    He also asked both town and BOE unions for a wage freeze.

    The superintendent has not followed suit (guess he needs his pay raise) nor has the BOE, its chair telling the last Board of Finance meeting that some non-union BOE employees will get 4 percent raises.

    Why are BOE salaries sacrosanct when many town employees will see a wage freeze (and probably many layoffs)?