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School Board Pay Hikes Irk Town

Tensions were high Thursday evening when Weston residents and town officials got their long awaited chance to speak out against Board of Education pay raises for three top officials. Many Weston residents expressed their anger at a contentious Board of Selectmen meeting.

"I don't think anyone here is questioning the value of them or what they have done," said First Selectman Gayle Weinstein, who said at a Board of Selectmen meeting that the issue is how much the town can afford in tough economic times.

But Weinstein's words could not hide the anger of frustration of others. Selectman David Muller said that the Board of Education's decision has created distrust. The town had approved the budget with an amount of money marked for "TBD" uses. Muller said he believes the town deserves to know who on the board voted in support of the raises, saying, "executive session should not be used to shield votes," to which the room erupted in claps.

One resident who does not have children in the school system said she was worried she would be taxed out of the town she calls home. Another asked tough questions to Schaefer about whether lower raises were suggested during closed the closed meeting, which Schaefer said he did not believe he could answer because it was in executive session.

The increases for schools officials included a 7.5 percent pay increase for Superintendent of Schools Jerry Belair for the 2010-11 school year. His annual salary will rise to $232,458, according to published reports. Also approved were 4 percent increases for Assistant Superintendent Tom Scarice and Jo-Ann Keating, director of finance and operations.

School board chairman Phil Schaefer said the board is worried that if Belair is not given a raise of this measure that he would leave Weston.

Weinstein pointed out that Belair's raise of about $20,000 is equal to about half her yearly salary. She added that many of the other town employees took a 1 percent increase over two years. The average increase in comparable towns for superintendents in the area was 3 percent.

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