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.