Westport’s Board of Finance Wednesday night cut $1,327,000 from the Board of Education’s proposed $123,263,487 operating budget for next year.
According to Brian Stern, chair, the cut represents a 1% reduction when the schools’ debt service, aid to private and parochial schools and other programs are added to the operating budget, totaling $132,700,000.
Even with the cut, the school board’s proposed budget is a 3.24% jump over the current year due to the reopening of Coleytown Middle School (CMS), a 10% bump in school health benefits and funds for facilities upgrades.
“I got very good cooperation from the Board of Ed, my fellow board members and the administration,” Stern said. “We’re all on the same page, and we’re all dedicated to being frugal and to maintain our reserves.”
He added that town officials had also been asked to take a 1% cut on the proposed $75.7 million municipal budget.
According to Stern, it remains critical for the town to maintain its reserves at a time of fiscal uncertainty due to the coronavirus and expected decreases in state aid. He said retail shutdowns due to COVID-19 have decimated sales tax revenues, “and at some point that will all trickle down to little Westport.”
Finance board member Lee Caney said there is a possibility the schools might not have to weather the full $1,327,000 loss if there is a $550,000 health insurance reduction, plus a decrease in $250,000 for projected facilities upgrades recommended by Antinozzi Associates, a Bridgeport-based architecture and engineering company.
With such funds being freed up, the school cuts could “be back stopped,” Caney said, with the Board of Education requesting and receiving funds totaling $800,000. In that event, he added, the reduction for the 2020-21 academic year would stand at $527,000, a .4% decrease in the total budget.
The Board of Education will have the opportunity later this month to seek restoration from the Board of Finance before the budget goes to the Representative Town Meeting.