In 2009, Westport was engulfed in a battle over the education budget.
This year: not a peep.
There have been a couple of articles in the local press, and 1 or 2 letters to the editor. Beyond that: nada.
If you missed it, here’s what’s happening:
The Board of Education has requested a 2.13% increase for 2010-11. Word on the street is that the Board of Finance — which votes next Wednesday (March 24) — intends to keep the Board of Ed budget flat to this year.
Earlier this month, the Board of Ed made its case to the Finance men and women.
The main points:
- Recent district awards include “Best High School in Connecticut” (Connecticut Magazine and Business Week); national honors for Science Research; a nationally recognized theater program; a Gold Medal for Inklings; a national “Blue Ribbon School” honor for Bedford.
- 54% of graduates attend Barron’s “Top Rated” colleges; graduation rate is near 100%
- An extensive World Language program includes Mandarin; AP test participation has increased 130% over 8 years, with strong results.
- The middle school has a successful “team teaching” concept, and elementary school class sizes work well
- Staples’ “Spectacular Student Challenge” and Moody’s Math Challenge illustrate the success of collaborative learning and real-life analytical, problem-solving skills.
Turning to actual figures, the Board of Ed cites:
- An increase of $2,011,002 over the 2009-10 budget
- Projected staffing is flat compared to the current budget
- The new Westport Education Association contract — with a net 2% annual increase — is included in the proposed budget
- Ongoing negotiations with 4 other unions will impact the 2010-11 budget
- During the budget review process, $374,000 was removed from the initial recommendation; this includes bus savings of $225,000, heating savings of $148,000, and lowered supplies and equipment costs of $112,000
- Salaries and benefits account for 82% of the proposed budget; supplies and equipment count for just 3.6%
- Of the 15 full-time equivalent school positions eliminated last year, none were added back this year, and none will be added back next year — despite protests from parents who have seen services reduced
- In Westport’s District Reference Group of 10 similar districts, the 2-year budget increase of 2.67% (0.54% in 2009, 2.13% in 2010) is the 9th smallest. Redding’s is 8.10%; Darien’s is 8%; 3 others are more than 5%, and Wilton, Ridgefield and New Canaan are all at least 1% more than Westport. Weston, at 1.64%, is less than Westport.
- In that District Reference Group, Westport’s cost per student of $16,325 is squarely in the middle. Region 9 leads at $17,895; Greenwich, Weston and New Canaan all have higher costs per student. Redding, Wilton, Darien, Easton and Ridgefield all have lower costs per student
- The 2.67% increase over 2 years has been accomplished by adjusting school start times; eliminating 4th-grade paraprofessionals; reducing library paraprofessionals; consolidating department chairs; reducing individual music lessons at Staples; reducing the gifted program staff levels; lowering school building utility costs via aggressive contract management; negotiating a new bus contract; negotiating a new WEA (teachers union) contract, and implementing a townwide telephone system
The Board of Ed’s final points addressed key reasons to approve the budget as submitted:
- With 82% of the budget related to personnel, any reduction will impact employees, students, and programs that define the schools
- Benchmark data show Westport to be District Reference Group leaders in cost containment
- The Board of Ed works with the town to seize opportunities to lower costs without impacting services
- Westport’s schools are the town’s most significant attraction; property values reflect the strength of the schools
- “A move from Great Schools to Good Schools is in no one’s interest.”
The Board of Ed has presented its case. The Board of Finance votes Wednesday.
Speaking out after that point — about class size increases, program eliminations or anything else — is less effective than making opinions known now.
It’s been a silent budget process so far. Feedback is welcome; click the “Comments” link at the top or bottom of this post. To contact Board of Finance members directly, click here.