Pressing needs devour apparent Westport school ‘surplus’

To the editor:

I am writing to clear up misrepresentations and/or misstatements written in a letter dated December 5 by the Westport Taxpayers Association.

In September, after discussing the results of our MCAS scores, the School Committee identified several areas of need. Specifically, we discussed implementing a new reading program at the Elementary School and adding math resource help at the Middle School; the latter was cut due to budget decreases three years ago.

In July, the governor increased Chapter 70 education aid by $40 per pupil; about $70,000 directly to the town. Knowing this, at our October 3 meeting, a motion was made by School Committee member Eric Larrivee and seconded by committee member Michael Sullivan to request $70,000 at the November Special Town Meeting. The breakdown of our needs:  $30,000 for a certified remedial math specialist/teacher and $40,000 to update our antiquated reading materials in grades K-4.  The School Committee supported the motion unanimously.

It was decided by the Board of Selectmen to put this item under Article 2, along with the veterans’ benefits and short term PCB bond payment, which has been supported by the BOS as a town issue and said it should not lie within the schools operating budget.

After the failed override, the School Department worked within the town’s decision, cutting $675,000 of our requested budget. We cut into transportation and staff/teachers. We increased transportation fees and used $200,000 we usually pre-pay for SPED tuition to level fund our budget, even though our costs increased from one year to the next. This pre-payment is a cushion for new SPED students entering the district mid-year. Without that, the district is vulnerable to sudden increases in tuition costs.

With seven months remaining in this fiscal year, it is impossible to project an end-of-year surplus, and any monies being “tracked” cannot be considered surplus or savings. Out of the $336,900 that was discussed on November 14, $199,000 has been earmarked for four new SPED students, and an additional $40,000 is pending a SPED arbitration case. With the governor’s 9C cuts, we may not see an additional $45,000 from Circuit Breaker funding for 2013. Very quickly, that “surplus” has dropped to about $90,000 after adding additional staff (nurse and assistant) to respond to the needs of the new SPED students.

We encourage anyone with any questions to contact the superintendent’s office. We have met with the Westport Taxpayers Association in the past and have reached out to them again.

Sincerely,

Michelle Duarte

Westport School Committee

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