The West Hartford Board of Education approves a budget of $181 million


WEST HARTFORD — The Department of Education on Tuesday approved a $181 million budget after making small changes to Superintendent Tom Moore’s proposal.

Moore originally proposed a budget of $181,328,975. The Board has removed $141,957 from this proposal, with the final approved budget representing a 2.77 percent increase over the year to date.

Among the changes was the elimination of a vacancy in the high school library, saving $120,593. The board also saved $177,086 through a reduction in the city’s pension contribution.

The Board added $155,722 to the budget for an additional Student Services Department Supervisor, bringing the total from six to seven.

Assistant Superintendent Andy Morrow said it was a position the department was looking for.

“It was something that was considered,” Morrow said. “We set a budget considering what can and should be appropriate to move forward with our tax base and understand the resources available. There is a huge need for this. The demands on the mental health of our students are increasing every day. We are overwhelmed with that.”

Melissa Caballero, the director of student services, said this will help her department’s supervisors as the need for mental health services increases in West Hartford.

“They need to have the time to meet with teams and see the students in their classroom,” Caballero said. “This would allow me to reassign their roles so they can do the important work of being physically in the classroom to see the students’ programming.”

The longest discussion of the evening revolved around board member Jason Chang’s proposal to reintroduce pay-to-play sports fees. The fees had been abolished during the pandemic.

Chang proposed shifting federal emergency relief funds previously earmarked to cover sports fees to instead hire more paraprofessionals, counselors, tutors and a trauma interventionist. The move will have no budgetary implications as federal funds will be used.

The motion, passed by a four-to-three vote, restores pay-to-play to $100 per student per sport, with a $400 family cap. Pre-pandemic costs were $175 per student per sport with a family cap of $700.

The vote came after a debate on whether it was a fair burden for families to reintroduce sports fees.

“I strongly oppose this proposal,” said board member Deb Polun. “Participating in physical activity, music and art is healthy for people. It encourages learning and it encourages engagement. We also try to ensure that our children feel welcome and are encouraged to take part in activities. In this way we can remove a barrier. We know that nobody has ever been turned away when asking for help. We don’t know how many families don’t even have the conversation.”

Moore said the district doesn’t turn away students who can’t afford to play, although some board members questioned how many students wouldn’t come forward to ask for help.

“I think we’re very good at identifying kids and not keeping kids out of sports,” Moore said.

Moore said that while he’s opposed to pay-for-play, $100 for 12 weeks of esports, which covers expenses like coaching, administration and bus transportation, “isn’t exorbitant.”

“Families are suffering now,” said board member Dr. Gayle Harris. “There is raging inflation. Gas prices are out of control. Real estate is basically sky high. I am also concerned about the cost to our families. While these numbers aren’t huge, some children may be prevented from participating in these sports because they don’t want to ask their parents for money that isn’t there.”

Chang said he plans to add money to the budget over the next few years to fully cover pay-to-play fees. He hopes that the fees will be fully covered by the budget by 2026.

“I really thought about it to really think through how this is going to affect families,” Chang said. “My plan isn’t just to turn off the tap and make families pay more now. My plan is to lower the fees in the long term so families never have to pay for them again.”

For now, however, he said the emergency relief funds should be spent on addressing learning losses that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The need for high-need students, a majority of students who were completely or mostly absent are not at grade level,” Chang said. “I think this is a balanced approach that pulls kids up where they need it at school in the classroom and provides some relief and a much lower $400 cap while we on the board work towards achieving a permanent one.” Find a solution to finally abolish activity fees. ”

The board approved the final budget by a five-to-two vote on the party line, with both Republican members voting against. The budget will be submitted to the city council, which will pass the city budget on April 25th.


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