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Westport's Employee Pension Deficiency Could Hold Back School Budget

The town's OPEB problem was recognized as one reason to keep education spending 'flat' as Westport’s finance and education boards discussed future school budgets Monday night.

Some of Westport's schools are in need of , but the Board of Finance (BOF) advised the Board of Education (BOE) that funding for the 2012-2013 school budgets will be tight in the

Over the past few years, the BOE has been able to keep spending to a minimum while weathering a poor economy, according to BOE Chair Don O’Day. BOF members asked BOE members to keep the budget on that same path.

“Try to keep your operating budget as close to flat as possible, knowing ,” said BOF member Avi Kaner.

BOF member John Pincavage told the BOE to think “downside, not upside” while planning the 2012 and 2013 budgets because it is still unclear how long the economic downturn will last.

“You need to be as mean and lean as possible while keeping the jewel of Westport shining,” added BOF member and RTM Chair Michael Rea.

BOF Director Helen Garten referred to the OPEB and pension issues as the "elephants in the room" and acknowledged the possibility that the available funds may not be able to cover the school's contractual salary agreements. 

“We have to truly get serious about the consolidation of functions,” Garten said, referring to completing tasks and making purchases on a larger scale in addition to reducing the staff size of the school system.

Major spending items that must be consolidated are energy, maintenance, computers -- anything IT related, and services, such as repairs. Westport Schools must frequently rely on third-party contractors to maintain and repair facilities. These are services Garten believes should be combined and completed together between town departments, instead of relying soley on the school budget for funding.

Westport Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Elliot Landon said reasonable solutions to consolidate have been recognized in the past, citing increased productivity in the human resources department as one potential method.

Board members recognized the need to maintain the schools, but BOF member Tom Lasersohn differentiated between 'investment' and 'discretionary' maintenance. Lasersohn believes some maintenance, like painting walls, can temporarily be put off, but he voiced the need to “protect the structures and maintain things that are key to providing smart facilities.”

Lasersohn explained that the apparent “tail wind” Westport was operating with before discovering the major OPEB mistake is gone. Now Westport must cover its future costs as well as the pension benefits that were miscalculated over the past few years. 

The Five Year Capital Forecast was also discussed Monday night and Assistant Superintendent Nancy Harris cited several areas that will require maintenance in the coming years. The areas include, but are not limited to:

  • The replacement of the boilers at 
  • Track repairs at
  • The replacement of all windows and door coverings at

In addition to the budget discussion, Dr. Don Kennedy from The Nesdec Team explained the Connecticut State Data Center’s projected spike in young families in Westport over the course of the next five to 10 years.

According to the Connecticut State Data Center, the median age in Westport was 44.6 years old in 2010. That number is projected to rise to 45.8 years old in 2015, but then down to 30.2 years old in 2020. These statistics indicate the potential for a significant increase in the amount of elementary school students in the Westport School System down the road.

Both BOE Vice Chair James Marpe and Chair Don O'Day were re-elected to their positions Monday night while Elaine Whitney was elected to resume the role as secretary. 

John Izzo December 06, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Like everyone else I'm all for keeping up maintance of our school buildings but.... isn't it about time we realize , that what really drives the education costs up and up are the LABOR COSTS, which amount to some 80% of our school budget. I hope this dosn't make anyone of my fellow westporter's think I'm anti education as I have three grandchildren from 8 yrs old to 3 months old I love each of them dearly

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