WESTPORT-Residents in Westport had their chance to offer advice to the school board during a special hearing March 15.
The hearing was called by the school board as a way to get ideas from the district's taxpayers on how to look at the 2011-12 budget, which is fraught with state and federal cuts as well as increases in mandated spending.
"The purpose of this evening was to list rather than debate," superintendent Dr. John Gallagher said. "We wanted to hear the public's suggestions on the matter."
Gallagher also had some of his most pointed comments to date about the current state of education funding at the state level.
"Education in New York state has been put under attack as a means to help a state in a difficult budget year," he said. "The governor has said that the cuts are about 7 percent, but Westport's cut is more significant than the state average because that is the way the numbers are run."
Several residents offered comments to the board.
"I'd like to thank the board for the initiative to go with a part-time supervisor," Robert Rice said. "If he (Gallagher) decides to leave any time in the future, I hope that the board will continue to go in this direction."
Rick Hoffman addressed the issue of whether or not out-of-district students should start being charged a tuition for attending school in Westport.
"I think that this is a plain economic issue and you have to start charging some costs for the out-of-district students," Hoffman said.
"It seems to me that the one of the only ways to cut into this tax gap is a tuition for out-of-district students, and I don't think the parents of these kids would object to paying something," John Ferree said.
Others brought up the possibility of cuts to the faculty and staff at the school.
"Why do we need so many employees at the school," Nancy Montville asked. "It was quoted that there are 52 employees for 249 overall students. I think that is extreme. I couldn't be more proud of the education that I received here in Westport and I commend all on the board for their work, but I think that things are too expensive right now."
"I would urge the board to take to heart the things that they hear from the taxpayers," Bruce Ware said. "If you can only get a two or 2-1/2 percent increase in spending, then we have to look at how we can do more with less, but we also have an obligation to do right by our kids first and foremost."
At the end of the meeting, school board president Alice LaRock said that she felt the forum was a good thing.
"I have found this quite rewarding to see the turnout," LaRock said. "We are here for the students above all else, and even though there are some things that have been brought up that may be seen as negative, I feel that this board has the support of the community."