Higher salaries for these top Westport public school administrators were approved last week by the Board of Education, from left, Chief Financial Officer Elio Longo and Assistant Supts. Anthony Buono, Michael Rizzo and John Bayers. / Photo by Linda Conner Lambeck

By Linda Conner Lambeck

WESTPORT — For the first time in 10 years, the cost of a basic school lunch will increase this fall, by 45 cents.

Salaries for the school district’s non-union staffers, including several top administrators, are rising 3 percent for the 2024-25 academic year.

And tuition rates for non-residents who send their children to Westport public schools will rise 5.3 percent.

Higher lunch prices served

The price rise for school lunches is built into the one-year contract extension awarded last Thursday by the Board of Education to the Chartwell Division of Compass Group USA, Inc.

Chartwell has had the district’s school lunch contract since July 2022, with the option of four one-year renewals.

Elio Longo, the school district’s chief financial officer, said Chartwells has proven to be a valued partner for the district. It collects annual management and administrative fees tied to the Consumer Price Index. 

For next year, its costs will go up 4.6 percent based on inflation. The firm will be paid $4,943.81 per month for 10 months as a management fee, and $30,589.85 monthly for 20 months as an administrative fee.

The base price for student meals, meanwhile, is set to rise 18.3 percent to $2.90 at the district’s five elementary schools. Middle school students will pay $3.15, a 16.6 percent increase, and at Staples High School, lunches will cost $3.25 in the fall, a 16 percent boost.

Longo said the current $2.80 cost for a Staples lunch is the same as when he joined the district in 2013.

He compared Westport’s current and proposed lunch prices to 10 other Fairfield County school districts and found them to be among the lowest.

Over the course of the next three years, Longo said he’d like to see lunch prices inch up by $1 a meal over 2023-24 rates.

The vote taken Thursday, however, covered only this coming school year.

Longo said the 2024-25 increase could result in $98,469 in additional revenue, much of which could be used for kitchen equipment and repairs.

Some concern was raised about the impact the increase might have on students who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, but who are “borderline.”

“I know it sounds like not a lot. The base lunch is very inexpensive,” said board Vice Chair Dorie Hordon. “It feels free.”

That is until students tack on a la carte items, such as waters, chips and cookies, not included in the standard meal and not affected by the new contract.

Maybe some students stick to the base meal for a reason, Hordon said.

The 45-cent per meal increase for a student who buys the basic lunch every day will cost an additional $81 over the course of the school year, the board was told.

Higher salaries approved unanimously

Salaries for nearly 60 non-union staff members in the district are rising 3 percent. The rate of increase is roughly the same teachers will receive.

The board approval covers central office staff, head custodians, technology assistants, security staff, occupational and physical therapists and an athletic trainer, as well as the district’s three assistant superintendents and chief financial officer.

There are a few exceptions. An athletic trainer position and a security aide job remain open. One new occupational therapist will not get a salary increase and another occupational therapist will get $4,000 on top of the 3 percent raise for earning a PhD.

The board approval comes after the raises were discussed in executive session. There was no public discussion.

Raises for the superintendent’s cabinet, however, come with three-year contract extensions through June 30, 2027.

For the 2024-25 school year, Assistant Supts. John Bayers, Michael Rizzo and Anthony Buono will be paid $234,382, $242,909 and $249,325, respectively. 

Longo’s salary will be $263,208.

The board has yet to vote on Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice’s contract and salary. Board Chair Lee Goldstein said that will happen sometime soon.

Tuition rates for out-of-towners

Also approved unanimously last week was a 5.3 percent increase in tuition rates paid by non-residents for their children to attend Westport public schools.

Under the new tuition schedule, elementary students would pay $20,935 per year, middle school students, $29,315, and at Staples, the non-resident rate would be $31,405. 

Non-resident school district employees who send their children to town schools pay 25 percent of those rates.

Pre-school tuition rates in the fall will be $8,401 for half days and $12,958 for full-day sessions. As with K-12 tuition, employees pay 25 percent of those rates, according to a memo to the board.

Freelance writer Linda Conner Lambeck, a reporter for more than four decades at the Connecticut Post and other Hearst publications, is a member of the Education Writers Association.