Austerity has been the theme of the Representative Town Meeting budget meetings this week and last night was no exception. The RTM voted against the restoration of $500,000 for 2010-11 Board of Education budget. The current budget stands at $96.1 million, a 1.6% increase over last year. RTM Members voted 31-4 against a full $500,000 restoration and 25-9 against a curtailed restoration of $250,000.
Members of the RTM and the public heard presentations from the Don ODay, BOE Chair who was seeking full restoration. Velma Heller, chair of the RTM Education Committee recommended the restoration on $250,000. Allen Bomes, recorder for the Finance Committee said his committee recommended no budget restoration.
We do not know when and if the economy will return to a pre-recession period, said Bomes. The pension contributions will continue to increase and continue to put pressure on the budgets. We should be thinking about cost reduction, outsourcing and revenue enhancements. Several of the RTM members talked about shared sacrifice and noted that the town was subject to some very big cuts. We need to prune the tree from all sides, said Mary Ann Neilson, a member of the audience.
Eileen Flug tried to turn the conversation around. Im worried about the slow chipping away at the quality of the school system, said Flug. She referred to a petition signed by 700 Westport residents that said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to ensure stellar schools. A couple of RTM members pointed out that approximately an equal number of Wesport residents are unemployed.
Jonathan Steinberg said that the BOE needs more systemic changes than the ones currently being addressed. "The paradigm has shifted and I don't think it'll be the way it was before. We need to reform the school system and do things differently."
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