There were no hard feelings between the Westport Board of Finance and the Board of Education on Thursday night after $250,000 was cut from the schools proposed operating budget of $98.3 million, a move finance board member Ken Wirfel described as a necessary evil.
"The town, as everyone has discussed with these OPEB [other-post employment benefits] obligations, literally has a knife to its throat. We must find savings wherever we can," Wirfel said. "There is no intention to have any cut that's made impact class size or the number of [teachers] . I feel sorry and apologize that all of you have been terribly frightened by this. It is our intent to do no harm to the educational product of this town."
The motion to reduce the schools budget by $250,000, proposed by member Avi Kaner, was unanimously approved by the finance board. Even with the reduction, the budget is $2 million more than last year.
It is up to the school board to decide where to cut from the budget. Kaner, a father of three, said he would like the school board to consider reducing the instructional technology allocation. "I'd rather you cut out of that than from something that will increase class size," Kaner said. Board of Finance members, including Chairwoman Helen Garten, agreed and stressed their desire for the school board to trim money from areas that won't impact students.
Board of Education Chairman Don O'Day said he absolutely agreed that the cut can't affect kids and that the board will do what it can to make that a reality. "We have to investigate where we can find $250,000," O'Day said. "Any cut is difficult to fund, but I understand the Board of Finance's position and we'll do our best to see if we can make it."
With the reduction, the total education budget stands at nearly $112.43 million. If the board determines it can't reduce the budget by $250,000, it can request the Board of Finance to restore the money on April 6. The Representative Town Meeting, the town's legislative body, will have the final say on the education budget in May.
Are you surprised by the size of the cut in the Board of Education budget?
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.