Schools Superintendent Outlines Budget Cut Consequences

Last week, the Board of Finance voted to cut the education budget by $1.7 million. Today, superintendent of schools Colleen Palmer announced possible reductions, if that cut is sustained.

Other reductions may also be added to the list. Right now, it includes:

  • Implementing “pay for play” at Staples High School
  • Eliminating freshman sports at Staples
  • Eliminating individual music lessons in grades 4 – 8
  • Reducing club and after-school offerings at the middle and high schools
  • Reducing the Workshop Program
  • Eliminating bus monitors
  • Deferring yearly technology purchases
  • Eliminating all 4 grade level assistants at Staples (the previous proposal eliminated 2)
  • Eliminating library paraprofessionals
  • Moving to a “double 3 tiers” of elementary busing, causing a 3:45 pm dismissal at either Long Lots, Coleytown Elementary or Greens Farms.

Palmer noted that according to union contracts, salary and benefits require at least a 3+% budget increase each year.

“The structure of education funding in Connecticut is grounded in binding arbitration for our union contracts,” she said.

“It is impossible to hold costs constant for education when there are built-in systemic accelerators which we do not control.  A $1.7 million cut forces severe reductions, impacting the quality of our district.”

The Board of Finance meets on April 5 at Town Hall (8 p.m., Rooms 201/201A). At that time, they may consider restoration of funds cut at their previous meeting.

The Board of Ed will discuss these issues at its own meeting this Monday (March 27, 7:30 p.m., Staples cafeteria). The meeting will be televised on Channel 78.

31 responses to “Schools Superintendent Outlines Budget Cut Consequences

  1. I quote from your article: “Salary and benefits require at least a 3+% budget increase each year”. It’s well past time for town management to get in control of what they give for what they get. If you have to cut benefits for the “teachees” you need to cut the “teachers” who teach the “teachees”.

    Teachers may have a contract but they also have hearts. Put together a plan that makes all share in the benefits of the economy and the relapses caused by a downturn. Westport teachers are among the highest paid in the nation. Give a little.

  2. Please, do NOT eliminate private instrument lessons in the
    grades 4-8. ability in music is the reason a lot of kids stay in school
    these days, and the early grades provide what’s needed at the
    right time, when the brain is ready.
    i am living proof. Thank You, Mr. Ohanian !

  3. We just had a big meeting in Monroe and we are facing similar cuts. This all just stinks!!

  4. p.s. If you allow a 3% increase, why not require a 3% decrease that the economy demands?

  5. I agree – anyone who has worked in a company that wasn’t doing well experienced salary freezes and the like — I think our teachers would prefer this to job cuts, which is what’s happening. Why not at least try?

  6. Nancy Hunter

    “Pay to play” in school sports? Then try to find a hockey goalie who can afford the equipment.

    • Nancy, that’s not what “pay to play” means. In “pay to play,” each athlete (player) pays a fee to participate. Some towns have it, most don’t. Examples: $150 per player per season, with a $450 family cap. $200 per player per season, no cap. Etc., etc., etc. Some allow for waivers for families that can’t afford it, or those with more than one kid participating. Obviously, families that have to “pay to play” end up not paying for booster club fundraising, etc. Somewhat of a ripple effect.

    • Jeff Arciola

      Actually Nancy as a staples highschool hockey alumni, hockey players pay for there own equipment. It’s not like other privileged sports at staples.

  7. If doing Pay to play it should not be limited to sports. If it has to be done it should be pay to participate in all after school activities including arts,clubs and sports. If football,baseball,& basketball get hit so should Inkling, Orphenians and Players.

  8. Nestor Sawicki

    The proposed cut of $ 1.7 mm in Education is unacceptable. Westport always was a leader in quality education and our schools are a benchmark in the country. $1.7 mm in a wealthy town like ours does not represent a significant amount to affect the quality that our schools provide.
    I question the members of the board of Finance if they have children in our public school system or they go to private schools.

    I am sure if all the boards, committees in town meet and the first selectman participates, the town will find other sources that can generate the mentioned $1.7 mm target, not affecting our schools.

  9. My kids are long gone from the Westport school system so I am speaking against my own interests, but the simple (and unpleasant) answer is to raise taxes.

  10. David J. Loffredo

    Eliminating Freshman sports is a horrible idea, the transition to High School is hard enough.

    And in echoing some of the “pay to play” comments – that should go for Staples Players and everyone else. Maybe it does, but it should be more of an activities fee than targeting student athletes.

    Tough times, it’s not pretty in Hartford and that now hits close to home. Maybe it’s time to stop voting party lines.

    • Jeff Arciola

      I agree. But Connecticut and westport will still vote for Malloy. It’s so crazy.

      • Nestor Sawicki

        Malloy is not Westport friendly

        • Bart Shuldman

          Please-it is not only Malloy. Our own State Representative just voted to increase the state employee costs to all of us by $11 BILLION. Yes–$11 BILLION. Please-look at the facts and who we sent to Hartford and how he voted.

          We will have nobody else to blame but ourselves.

  11. Bart Shuldman

    Westport-please wake up. CT is in a fiscal crisis that will continue for years. It is time to elect individuals that will seek to fix the problems and vote for real
    solutions. Stop voting by party lines, just because you fear what is happening with national politics. As you do, the financial death spiral will accelerate in CT as cuts to education and other services continue.

  12. Rebecca Wolin

    This sounds just like the scare tactics that Paul Kehleher pulled over 20 years ago. When will the copy machines be shut off and parents asked to send in tp. Back then he blamed the whole school budget problem on special ed. At least this time I do not see this in the article. Many residents today were not here when we had special town election to vote on the school budget. In the end nothing was cut – it was all a big scare to get parents out to vote for the budget. There are other items that can be cut. We all have to do more with less,

  13. Nancy Hunter

    Here’s an idea: Pay for each other! A cultural conundrum, but it is time to join the rest of the welcoming world.

  14. In a town as wealthy as Westport, that spends millions on police, police vehicles and, yes, a police BOAT as well as millions on fire, rescue and town hall wages, it is a shame that folks are less than willing to spend whatever it takes to maintain superior educational facilities; that includes all manner of classrom and after class activities.
    Just raise taxes a little and for them that truly can’t handle it, let ’em slide.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Fix the problem!!!! Why are 55,000 state employees ruining it for 3,500,000 CT residents? Fix the problem. State employee pensions and medical benefits are destroying CT. Fix the problem. And it’s not just Malloy. He has to have the support of the democratic leadership and their members. Vote them out. This is not political. Malloy must have the legislators support to pass his budgets. Fix the problem.

  15. Malloy and the other big spending politicians are the problem. Vote them out, problem solved

    A cub snow machine??? No idea what that is but my guess we can survive without one.

    Hey And could we get an American flag set up at Ginny Parker for fielld hockey for the girls to. My guess is they love this country as much as much as the boys do and no dobt they earned it this year!

  16. Rebecca Ellsley

    We need to look at the numbers associated with the items in the budget. I admit I was shocked to learn a music file cabinet is over $1000. Not sure what exactly looks like but most legal file cabinets are under $300 from staples? So the numbers seem excessive. Tighten the numbers and the real needs and lets get reasonable about what this town can afford / have. Our spending needs to be accountable and our town citizens can’t just pay more.

  17. Samantha Alger

    Yes we should vote out the reps in Hartford who have caused this crisis. We also need to deal with the immediate issue – these cuts have to be made. Someone needs to take a good look at the schools from the superintendent’s office down to the maintenance office. The education budget makes up the majority of the overall town budget. The other part of the budget are things that we all need – police, ems, fire – yea a fire boat since we are a coastal community with a river running through town, the Levitt Pavillion, the library, parks and rec, the beach. Education is being asked to cut just over 1% of its budget. The town was asked to do the same thing. Surely the superintendent can find ways to tighten up the structure without taking away things that make our school system so great and help our teachers teach our children well. I can’t help but think there is a little bit of scare tactics going on like Rebecca Wolin said. I think I heard someone at the meeting say the superintendent has some new positions in the budget. What are they and why are they not being cut?

  18. Morgan Patrick

    As someone who works in the field of cognitive neuroscience of music I am definitely biased — but it is disheartening to see the readiness with which school boards across the country will kick music up to the chopping block. If you subscribe to empirical science, the numbers don’t lie: students with grades 4-8 music outperform age-matched controls in ALL academic subjects, speaking not of the cultural/social impact of musical training in HS, college and beyond.

    To echo Buell Neidlinger above: I am a product of Westport’s k12 Music and would not be who I am today without grades 4-8 music lessons.

    • Morgan Patrick

      …And from a cost-efficiency standpoint: more attention is needed to 4-8 music education because it will raise the entire K12 music program, ensembles, and yes, academic performance above and beyond music –> which will fuel a positive feedback loop pulling more kids into music and higher performance in HS and college.

  19. Clifford Sosin

    Doug. Do you know if these meetings are open to the public?

    Thanks

  20. Jim Westphal

    Unfortunately, there has been a lot of confusion about the state of the FYE June 30, 2018 BOE budget. First, the BOF did not “cut” spending by $1.7 million. In fact, the BOF approved an increase of $1 million compared to 2017. This is an increase of approximately 1% per student. The “cut” refers to the amount by which the BOF reduced the BOE request. By contrast, the Town’s budget (basically everything that is not in the BOE) actually is being cut by probably over 1%.

    Second, with respect to the School Outreach Message sent Friday stating that the BOE would now look at reductions in areas like freshman sports, music, all grade level assistants, etc., I am baffled as to what was NOT on the list. Thus far, Dr Palmer and her team have identified almost $1 million in items that could be removed from the original BOE proposal. In my view, they did a very professional 9and unpleasant) job with that list under difficult circumstances. However, not on that original list (and not on the School Outreach Message) were (i) a $.5 million reduction in the health insurance reserve; (ii) any credit for initiatives to consolidate Town and BOE back-office activities that could begin now and presumably go into effect before the end of 2018; (iii) a reduction in stop-loss insurance payments, using the Town’s balance sheet to backstop them against high individual claims; and (iv) a freeze or reduction in payments for NEW 2018 initiatives NOT related to staff, classroom, and productivity investment (both cost and outcomes). The $.5 million drawdown to the health insurance reserve would actually not even require a change in policy from the BOE and leaves the BOE within the range of reserve levels recommended by their outside consultant.

    The BOF has made it clear that it would support any of the above efforts (including continued investment in productivity enhancements). In fact, there have been numerous public and private comments from BOF members to BOE members indicating a willingness to “backstop” the BOE for a situation in which their health insurance reserves were inadequate. Why wasn’t this potential $.5 million item (and the other above issues) even raised in the Community Outreach Message?

    Third, the cost containment plan embarked on by the BOF was a response to actions taken in Hartford. We considered an approximate $8 million hit from reduction in revenue sharing (and similar programs) and from a proposed transfer of teachers’ pension payments from the State to Municipalities. The BOF consensus was that we should take immediate action on $3.5 million of the $8 million possibility and wait to see what happened in Hartford on the remainder. We reduced the $3.5 million by $.8 million due to the expectation that a house owned and maintained by the Town but used by the BOE could be sold. We obviously did not think it would be prudent or practical to reduce budget proposals by the full $8 million but we were unanimous in our view that we needed to slow the overall rate of our budget’s growth.

    As a taxpayer and father of two children in the school system, I am personally appreciative of the efforts taken by the BOE and Dr Palmer’s team. But, frankly, both the BOE and BOF need to think more creatively about how we can work together. A good first step would be to for the BOE, BOF, and public to have a common set of facts to work with. I hope this note provides some of that.