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Westport Schools Save Gym, French From Budget Ax

WESTPORT, Conn. – Advocates of physical education and French language instruction in Westport can breathe a sigh of relief. Proposals brought forth by Superintendent Elliott Landon to decrease physical education in the elementary schools and eliminate French at the middle schools next year were shot down by the Board of Education on Monday night.

“We received a tremendous amount of feedback and emails on the P.E. and French proposals, and they were very persuasive,” board Chairman Don O’Day said.

By rejecting these possible cuts, the board added $165,000 to Landon’s proposed $100.5 million budget for 2012-13. At the same time, however, the board cut more than $300,000, reducing Landon’s budget to $100.2 million. The Board of Education unanimously adopted this as its proposed budget, which will be submitted to the Board of Finance.

Instead of cutting costs by eliminating French at the sixth-grade level or reducing gym time in the elementary schools, the board voted to eliminate five secretarial positions throughout the district — one-and-a-half at each school and one at the administrative offices. This reduction generated a $230,000 savings between salaries and benefits.

Although this decision was unanimously approved, Landon urged the board to keep those positions in the budget, saying the cuts would impact services parents have come to expect. Keeping those positions would have put the proposal back at a 2.5 percent increase over the current year, which Landon said the finance board wouldn’t “complain” about.

Citing his years on the board and financial background, O’Day, however, supported the cuts, saying it's important for the board to “come in as close to 2 percent” as possible. Board member Michael McGovern agreed, saying these cuts “are hard, but necessary.”

The board saved about $158,000 by changing the individual health insurance “stop loss” level. An additional $50,000 savings was found by allocating electricity costs and $50,000 was cut from technology costs.

A proposal to reduce general music in Grade 5 for students in band or orchestra failed to generate support and was taken off the table, much to the delight of the public in attendance, who applauded. This proposal would have saved about $60,000.

The $100,226,554 budget proposal represents a 2.17 percent, or more than $2 million, increase over the current year budget of $98,095,118.

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