Ed Board Dollars And Sense

With the budget season in full swing, the Board of Education presents its figures to the Board of Finance this Thursday (March 29, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall — it’s a public meeting).

Among the key points to be made by chairman Don O’Day:

The Board of Ed has weathered 3 years of budget reductions. Each year, its budget has been reduced by the Board of Finance and RTM to levels below the contractually required salary increases for the union staff (94% of the total 872 Board of Ed employees). In response, they’ve cut — while delivering great services. That quiver may no longer hold any arrows.

This year, the Board of Ed made the very tough decision to reduce staff — and not through attrition. They did it before the Board of Finance and/or RTM told them to — to $300,000 below the contractual salary increases. They hope that in return, the Board of Finance affirms the budget — resisting the temptation to cut further, for the sake of cutting.

(Staff has been reduced by 28 positions — 3% — since the market crash of 2008. Enrollment, meanwhile, is up by 50 students.)

The Board of Ed denied a proposal to add more money to the budget, in order to lower elementary school class sizes. Yet as enrollment increases, and dollars become scarce, larger classes loom at Staples. We’re talking 25+ in some required subjects.

Coleytown is the #1 middle school in the state, according to Conncan.

Once again, Westport is at the low end within its District Reference Group (similar towns), for annual budget increases. And once again, Staples is rated the #1 high school in Connecticut — and Coleytown and Bedford are the #1 and #2 middle schools, respectively, in the Conncan assessment.

In addition, the Board of Ed switched insurance carriers. Meanwhile– pretty impressively — overall health benefit costs have been held flat.

The Board of Education’s goal is to do whatever it can to save money — without impacting services. Starting Thursday night, it gets the chance to hear what the town thinks of its plan.

69 responses to “Ed Board Dollars And Sense

  1. Yes, the Board – and you – are making a great case for “doing more with less.” Makes perfect sense in today’s fiscal environment.
    What else could they do to get more out of a diminished budget? Trying sharing services with other school districts.
    A hypothetical example: in addition to French/Spanish/German/Latin, our schools would like to offer Mandarin. We could use a half-time teacher. It probably turns out that Wilton or Fairfield could also use a half-time teacher of Mandarin.
    Why aren’t we actively considering sharing services – teachers, supplies, buildings, administrators – with other districts?

  2. David J. Loffredo

    You neglected to mention the not so stellar rankings of our Elementary Schools: #13 CES, #42 LLS, #43 KHS, #73 SES, #94 GFS.

    Maybe all of this cost cutting is hurting the educational experience of our youngest students, maybe it has nothing to do with money at all, but the fact that these Westport schools are ranked so low is troubling.

  3. The budget may have been cut, but spending has increased every year.

  4. David, where are these rankings for the elementary schools from? and why are they so low? this is very troubling. Its time to start investing in our schools again!!!!!!!

    • David J. Loffredo


      93 elementary schools better than GFS – Real Estate agents fail to mention that when they’re selling houses on Turkey Hill Road.

      • ConnCAN is a moneyed, powerful group that lobbies for public money to be given to charter schools. Its numbers here are solely based on CMT and CAPT scores, nearly meaningless standardized tests that have little to do with real education. No great surprise real estate agents do not mention ConnCAN’s numbers; they show nothing about Westport’s wonderful elem. schools.

        • David J. Loffredo

          Although we’re quick to point out that Staples is #1, CMS is #1 and BMS is #2? Can’t have it both ways – either the rankings are legit or they’re not.

          • Just a guess

            You are absolutely right- can’t have it both ways. This needs to be looked at closely over time to see if their are trends or if this is an outlier year- either positive or negative.

  5. Richard Lawrence Stein

    Emma again your positive nature comes out… You say you have lived here for over three decades… Did you go to school here? Spoiled or not the kids and teachers deserve better… You must of changed those Beach Boys lyrics to “Be Cruel To Your School”…

    • My statement was factual; try to deal with the facts Richard instead of offering up snide and off the topic statements. Here’s another fact, per student expenditures are planned to go up 3% in the next fiscal year. In fact, per student expenditures have gone up every year since 2005.

      In the more than 30 years I have lived in Westport, the BOE has never shown any indication that any amount of money will be enough. The argument that more money makes for better schools is specious; there is ample empirical evidence that relationship does not hold.

      • Richard Lawrence Stein

        You still didn’t answer the question… Costs will always be there regardless… But it’s what’s important that counts… And I think education is that… So did you or your kids go to school here

        • You are attempting to make an ad hominem argument. The issue is not where my children went to school. The issue is the adequacy of the budget, and the results the expenditures produce. The rest is irrelevant.

          • Richard Lawrence Stein

            Blah blah you are avoiding a simple question… Because you are a hypocrite most likey… Your kids are gone and you now are done… Answer the question did you or your children go to Westport schools

            • David J. Loffredo

              Does anyone actually ever look at the budget? Our per pupil expenditure is a misguided way to judge the effectiveness and efficiency of the budget. In the roughly $100M, consider this:

              $4,087,477 for Special Ed (SPED) teachers
              $2,152,138 for SPED para professionals
              $563,763 + $114,000 + $260,000 for SPED transportation services
              $1,900,000 for non Westport School mandated SPED tuition

              So without digging too deep, here’s $9,077,378 – or roughly 9% of the budget spent on a very small subset of the overall student population.

              Westport is known for being a town with very generous services for special needs students (mostly because we keep losing expensive lawsuits) so the costs of these programs continue to escalate and need to be paid for (usually by court or legislative mandate) in an environment where we keep trying to hold the bottom line.

              • Richard Lawrence Stein

                That David is a hornets nest I would not touch or want to go near! That is a subject and area that is very personal to every parent who has a child…. and by law they are to be covered

                • The Dude Abides

                  Indeed RLS. The BOE has been sued and lost a rather large lawsuit regarding exactly what Mr. Loffredo is inferring and/or suggesting. But I think you are browbeating Emma. She is paying the same taxes whether her children go to public school or not. I went through 2-12th grade here and I find no greater appreciation or subjectivity toward the school system than my lovely lady who has lived here since 1984 with no children. She yells louder at the football games too!!!

                  • Richard Lawrence Stein


                    • The Dude Abides

                      Yeah but your question was irrevalent as noted in my comment. A single person living here without children and pays their taxes has just as much say on the BOE budget as a father of nine OR whether they are a product of the school system or NOT.

                • David J. Loffredo

                  100% agree, just pointing out that when we talk about cost per pupil it’s not an apples to apples comparison because the Westport Public School System pays a hefty price to provide these services to a very small population – albeit “subsidized” by about $2M in state/federal funding….

                  • The Dude Abides

                    @DJL: In the 80’s, “Special Ed” or special needs kids came here from as far as Darien because of the expertise at Staples. I believe the school was compensated for such by other towns but tells you something of the history behind the emphasis. I sort of like it. No knock on your analysis. It is a good point.

              • The rule of thumb is special ed is 10% of the student population and costs 20% of the budget. It might move a percentage point or two in either direction year to year but that rule of thumb is pretty accurate.

            • Your question is irrelevant and your arguments are incoherent. When you come up with a relevant question or a coherent argument, you will deserve a response.

              • Richard Lawrence Stein

                You can say what you wNt Emma I was l

                • Richard Lawrence Stein

                  Lookingforclarification onyour pointof view. I happento have vested interestfrom a personal standpointand want the best possibleand yes smartly spent dollars onthe education… But your reticence to answer a simplequestionjust makes me and others think you are binding something…

  6. Then what would you suggest, Emma? As a parent I am definitely aware of the stress the teachers and administrators are under– They need support and financial resources to invest in the school system. Im tired of hearing what can’t be done. I want hope and investment.

    • 80 of the highest paid employees of the town of Westport work for the BOE; you can find their names and positions. Guess how many are actual classroom teachers. The school system needs to put more resources in the classroom and employ fewer paper pushers.

      Actually what you want is OPM, and who doesn’t?

  7. Time to cut administration costs. Westport has unneeded, multiple vice/asst principals in each school with large salaries. Staples alone has 4 asst principals!! In the past there were more students and only one asst principal at Staples. How about all the people in Elliot Landon’s office? His asst is one of highest paid employees in town. Board of Ed always threatens to cut teachers and classes but never makes substantial administration cuts because the BOE serves Landon, not the people of Westport.

    • The entire public school system throughout America is top heavy. But try slaying the head of the dragon. Good luck! It is not only unions but a political arena as well.

      • John McCarthy

        Anonymous, you wrote “Staples alone has 4 asst principals!! In the past there were more students and only one asst principal at Staples.”

        When I was at Staples (Class of 1982), there was a Principal and each grade had a Dean (Dean Curseaden!). On this point, not sure that much has changed except what the positions are called. But it is a good sound-bite!

    • Virginia Gilbertie

      Anonymous, I understand your point about high administrative costs, and often wonder why it’s always the teachers who are cut. However, I’m not sure if you are aware that, in addition to being responsible for the activities of their assigned grade, each of the 4 asst principals supervises several academic departments – overseeing training, staffing, and evaluation. I know first hand that they are very busy, but also manage to provide a level of commitment and support not available at other schools. As a result of relocations, I’ve sent my child to four different school districts, and Karyn Morgan, asst at Staples, has done more than any other person to advocate for her and help her succeed. Maybe this emphasis is a reaction to those of us who barely graduated in the ’80’s, but whatever the case, I’m grateful.

  8. I love conservative cognitive dissonance when it comes to spending money on “my children.” It gives me hope.

  9. Emma…stick to your guns. I have paid taxes in Westport for 47 years and never sent my kids to public schools. I never gave up my right to vote or speak out on unbridled education spending. Those who want the public schools to offer unaffordable benefits to their kids are counting on those who are past the school stage to be silent on the subject. Not me.

    RLS fix your ipod! 😃

  10. Old and gray

    Sorry the anonymous post preceding was from me

    • Richard Lawrence Stein

      O&G I am all about speaking out, but the constant and consistent negativity is overkill. I asked a simPle question to see where they were coming from and they chose not to answer the question. Which I think is an important and valid one.. For understanding their POV.

    • RLS is part of a cult that believes it is not polite to ask if the emperor has no clothes. The cult is loud and and gets angry when anyone asks when enough is enough. The fact is that roughly 1 in 3 housholds in Westport has a student in the public school system. 2 in 3 are subsidizing the cost of the schools. That represents a huge wealth transfer; those on the receiving end are both happy and defensive.

  11. 1. Bloated Administration
    2. Unions
    3. BOE that does as they’re told

  12. Shit costs money
    Good shit costs more money

  13. Does Staples really need a $300,00 track installed this year?

  14. It’s a track. If we cut the budget, programs will be cut and teachers and staff will loose jobs.

    • It is a capital expense not an operating expense so it has nothing to do with the operating budget.

      • The operating budget is only part of the costs of running the school system. An honest accounting of schools expenses would include capital costs.

        • The cost of capital a function of how and when the capital expenditure is funded, which is a separate decision made by the board of finance. The capital budget is approved separately from the operating budget and thus is fully accounted for.

          • The cost of running the schools includes capital costs. To exclude such costs when calculating the cost per student would be dishonest. Any accurate budget would include capital consumption. Do you undestand the diffence between depreciation and the cost of capital? Each year there should be a line in the budget for the depreciation of capital assets. Furthermore, to the extent that bonds have been issued to finance capital construction the costs of the bonds should be included in the budget.

            • Do you understand that the cost of capital and depreciation have absolutely nothing to do with each other? Do you understand government fund financial accounting? Do you understand that the concept of depreciation expense does not exist in government fund financial accounting? Do you understand that when calculating the per pupil cost for a school district the State of Connecticut Department of Education includes interest expense?

              • That is not quite true; if your accounting for depreciation is faulty, it could affect your cost of capital. Accruals do show up on a balance sheet and do help determine the cost of capital. Of course public entitities do not account for depreciation properly, that was the point of my post. If they did, the costs of their programs would be much higher, so thank you for agreeing with me. Interest costs are only part of the picture, as you borrow more and more interest costs go up, ask the Greeks, so direct interests costs are only the tip of the iceberg. Each borrowing is a determinant of the cost of the next borrowing.

                Leaving out capital costs when calculuatiing the cost of public schools is a direct and purposeful effort to understate the true cost of the public schools and their programs. The toothfairy did not deliver the funds to rebuild Staples.

  15. Old and Grey

    Maybe what we oughta do is charge for over the top elective programs….Like special language courses…like charging more for sports programs to underwrite the expensive new “Top of the Line” venues, lights etc. You want to play you have to pay. Too bad these issues are not put to the voters as a whole and not the noisy 1/3 that reap the benefits.

    • Why not charge for special Ed too? What constitutes a special language? Lights are being paid for by private donations. Haters gonna hate.

    • Voting on a budget is more democracy than Westport can stand.

  16. Richard Lawrence Stein

    O&G and Emma you both can say and do what ever you like… The biggest attraction Westport has besides it beaches, arts, and other fun things is it’s education. It is regarded as one of the best. If you want to remain at the top and attract the people to our town then WE need to keep education a top concern. I don’t disagree that it needs it’s costs looked over. But listening to two elders who I guess don’t have use to it anymore… As their argument is just sad… So when should we start billing the seniors and there center…. If that is your attitude… And Emma you still have not answered the simple question did you or your children go to Westport schools… If you did then you would of learned to answer the question.

    • As usual, you have no idea.

      • The Dude Abides

        While I have maintained that Mr. Stein’s inquiry into whether Emma’s kids went to school is irrevalent, I do agree with him that the quality of the school system (or its reputation, whether deserved or not) is very much a factor in people’s decision to buy a home here. Personally (and being a product of the school system), I think its reputation is overstated and resultingly, overfunded. I have lived many places and each area seems to “have one of the best school systems in the country.” Brewing the Kool Aid, I am afraid.

        • The quality of the school system is a direct function of the motivation and quality of students and the involvement of parents. It is not tough to have a good school system with bright students and engaged parents. On the other hand, the tax burden associated with funding the schools is a lien on every house in Westport, thus the schools are both a benefit and a burden. I am sure that most of the residents of Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, and Weston think their schools are excellent as well. BTW if you go to the Conncan site referenced by Dan, you will see a very different take on public schools, than the all is well attitude that prevails here.

          • The Dude Abides

            Agreed. DOD schools have shown that parental involvement may be the most important factor in the success of students. With a majority of students nationwide either dropping out of school or reading at an 8th grade level upon graduation, our public schools are a disaster. But, of course, that is hardly relevant here in Utopia . . .

            • As a nation the more we have spent on education, the worse have been the results. If you go to the Conncan site you will see that have zeroed in on some of the major reasons why our public schools ae failing.

        • Amen

    • Old and Grey

      I believe the Town has got to come to grips with costs generated by user specific interests. It seems that there might be more than one point of view regarding education. I never sent my kids to Westport schools and gladly paid my taxes (for 47 years). What I object to are the costs of what some consider “Over the Top” desires. Not everyone can afford a Cadillac or Lexus. They buy what they can afford to do the same job. I don’t think any class of citizen, including seniors, should get a free or “discounted” ride.

      PS..the Joseloff plan for Baron’s south will turn out to be another disaster. Why isn’t that idea/plan being put to the entire Westport voting population. I’d love to see how that vote would turn out. I’m still trying to figure out the money trail here to see who is going to benefit at the taxpayers expense.

      Can’t wait to see the pushback on this.

  17. David J. Loffredo

    Instead of giving Baron’s South to create Gordon’s Geezer Grotto, let’s sell it for the $20M it’s worth and then we won’t have to cut essential programs from our schools and we can maintain the facilities (my kids haven’t had ceiling tiles in KHS for 3 years now, it looks like a dump….) that drive the outrageous property values we all ultimately benefit from.

  18. http://conncan.org/learn/reportcards/about

    Just paid a visit to the Conncan site as noted by earlier posters. Link will bring you to the metrics for their scoring which was an interesting analysis, although certainly not straightforward or “one size fits all”, but what test is?

    I was a bit dismayed to see that the 2010 Annual Report cites $1.5M+ in donations, and slightly over $1M is accrued to Salary and Related Expenses. It would appear they don’t maximize their funding any better than our local BOE!

    Dan – I enjoy the blog every morning with my coffee, and look forward to visiting again after work each day…….just to see how the thread gets hijacked!

  19. Wesport parent

    Go Donald O’Day– thank you!! Please reduce class size. This is a #1 imperative to get the quality education the kids need!!