Budget Season Review

Rachel Suggs

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Over the course of the 2016-2017 school year, the town of Westport endured a long budget season. In the fall, a Connecticut judge ruled that Westport needed to cut its municipal spending by 2.44 percent.

What this meant in terms of the school budget, the town came to learn, was that the Westport Public School district needed to make some serious financial reductions.

Originally, the Westport Board of Finance (BOF) said that Westport needed to cut $1.7 million from the 2017-2018 school budget, because of the 2.44% percent cap on municipal spending. However, through multiple meetings and a long process of mitigation, $1.7 million eventually turned into only $1 million on April 12.

In an April 18 email to staff, Dr. Colleen Palmer, superintendent of schools for the town of Westport, described the changes that had been made.

“At the meeting with the BOF the Wednesday before vacation [April 12]…the Board of Education (BOE) requested restoration of $700k … the BOF voted to restore $310k and to support the BOE as a backstop for its health reserve (allowing the BOE to save another $480k) The district has since presented a list of mitigation strategies that totaled about $1 million out of the $1.7 million reduction asked for by the BOF,” wrote Dr. Palmer.

In March, before the restoration of the 700,000 dollars, Dr. Palmer notified the town that resources such as the Workshop program and the elementary school’s music programs, as well as staff members such as paraprofessionals and crossing guards, would be affected by the budget reductions. However, after the restoration, she said that they would be left untouched, which pleased much of the town.

Finally, after a thorough budgeting season, the RTM voted to approve the budget on May 2 in a 26-7 ruling.

Looking back on the long journey, Dr. Palmer says, “I think, had this been more typical times fiscally, it would not have been such an arduous journey…In the typical times, our original 2.44% budget adopted by the BOE would have been accepted by the town. I think the conditions of the state of Connecticut facing its fiscal challenges in reduced funding to Westport have made the budget process more difficult for all communities.”

The budget season is not over, by any standards. Dr. Palmer states, “I think this is going to be more than a 1-year situation for us. I think we are looking at a period of posterity for the state of Connecticut.”

However, at least for now, the most brutal part of the journey is behind Westport.

The overall experience of budgeting says a lot about a town, in the way that they handle reductions, and what they choose to keep or cut.

So, one wonders what message this long budget season has said about Westport. “It has underscored the value of education in our community,” explains Dr. Palmer. “We had so many citizens, parents, and public officials support education. It reinforced what I had been told about Westport in a very transparent way.”

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Budget Season Review