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Weston Weighs 1.27% Increase in School Spending

The Weston Board of Education proposed a 1.27 percent increase in next year's spending at a meeting on Monday. Superintendent Jerome Belair proposed 1.34 percent increase last month, and school officials spent the past few weeks finding areas to cut. First Selectman Gayle Weinstein has asked for a zero budget increase across all town departments.

Additions to the superintendent's budget include another $10,000 for snow removal. Money to refinish the gym floor and buy studio lights at Weston High School were sliced, cutting an additional $27,500 from Belair's proposed spending plan.

Contractual salary obligations remain the largest portion of the budget increase. Savings occurred through the use of health savings accounts and changes in energy policies. Enrollment is expected to fall by at least 38 students next year, which could save the district in per pupil expenses.

Some residents expressed concern over the process, especially given that $1 million in capital expenses were left out of the budget proposal.

The 21st Century assessment project has also generated controversy. This plan involves implementing more involved and practical assessments that test students' abilities to apply what they have learned rather than simply regurgitate information.

Weston is in its pilot year of the program, but Assistant Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice said the town could spend up to $300,000 during the next two years for the assessments.

To complete the assessments, the district has partnered with Columbia University's Teachers College, which is training Weston staff to take over the assessment duties after the third year. After that time, Weston's costs would be included with in-house expenses.

The proposed budget – $45.3 million – represents 80 percent of the town's total spending. The Board of Finance will review the schools' plan this month, and the town's budget will go to referendum in spring.

What do you think of the decision to increase the school budget by 1.27 percent? Should the money be spent in other areas? Are there other items the school board could cut? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below.

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