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Defending Weston's School Budget

The Weston Board of Education met with the Board of Selectmen to answer questions about the 2011-2012 budget.

Defending Weston's School Budget

On Tuesday evening, the Weston met with the Board of Selectmen to defend and the per pupil student cost of over $18,000 the proposed 2011-2012 budget brings with it.

Both Board Chairman Phil Schaefer and First Selectman Gayle Weinstein were complimentary of the effort to keep the budget increase small. Weston's increase is far less than other schools in the district reference group, which have asked for increases of between 2.5 and eight percent.

"I am astounded at the ability every year to find efficiencies," said Selectman David Muller. However, he said "when do we find that there's not juice left in the orange? What do we do to offset the mandated increases?"

Finance Director Joann Keating said that effectively using collective bargaining in the past has helped implement cost savings.

"Timing is everything," she said, noting that the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations due to take place this summer are also well-timed. "We will continue to look for opportunities to save money."

Selectman Dan Gilbert asked about the possibility of raising revenue by bringing in student populations, presumably on a tuition basis, who would be able to offset higher special education costs. 

Of special concern to the selectmen was the number of administrative staff utilized by the central office.

"I don't really feel that [the administrative cost has] been addressed," Weinstein said. "The level of office support we've known from the past doesn't exist anymore."

Muller added that while he had "very few questions about the educational portion of the budget," he felt that the board should "restructure the business delivery of that excellent product," meaning the schools.

Interim Superintendent John Reed noted that he felt that the administrators in the central office "function at a high level. These people are doing things that require initiative and effort, " he said. "To start off a search for a new superintendent with a half-time administrator" would be difficult. 

Selectman Muller also added that he would like to see more parent volunteers in older grades' extracurricular activities, such as the Short Wharf program at , which might result in budget savings.

Reed replied that "my preference is to get quality from within internal staff," partly because there must be a consistent, responsible party who would be the go-to person in the event of an emergency.

Assistant Superintendent Thomas Scarice gave a brief overview of , and noted that there is a public meeting that will take place on March 1. A representative from Columbia Teachers College, Weston's partner in the initiative, will be present at that time.

Scarice also said that philanthropic funding from the Weston Education Foundation has been approved for the assessment, and the schools' PTOs are discussing the possibility of providing additional money.

Selectman Dan Gilbert asked about the possibility of using the internal services reserve fund to open a community center, believing that "it's unhealthy to have a reserve fund of this amount," which is projected to be about $3 million dollars.

Keating replied that the fund is used to record transactions from the employees' health care coverage, and that there could be an increase in premium of several hundred thousand dollars for the upcoming year. The money to pay the increase would be drawn from the internal services fund. 

The Board of Education is scheduled to meet next on Feb. 28.

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