The Westbrook School Department has slashed what was once a $3.5 million deficit to about $587,000, according to a recent audit.

Auditor Christian Smith of the financial firm Wipfli told the School Committee last week that his review was positive. The deficit has been cut nearly in half over the past year, and the department’s budgeted $41 million in spending for this school year is on track, he said.

“There was great improvement in addressing the buildup of losses that had occurred in the past,” Smith said.

At this time last year, the deficit was down to about $1 million. The shortfall was first uncovered in early 2020 and has been attributed to financial mismanagement.

City Councilor Gary Rairdon, who leads the council’s Finance Committee, said the school department is headed in the right direction. Rairdon was an outspoken critique of the School Department and School Committee when the deficit came to light.

“I think that we are getting to where we need to be,” Rairdon said. 


Brian Mazjanis, former principal at Saccarappa School, has been the department’s acting finance director since August, when Heather Neal, the director credited with much of the deficit reduction, stepped down.

“Brian is really taking the bull by the horns,” Rairdon said. “I was hesitant with him not having a finance background, but he does have a background in common sense and we are in a good direction, we just can’t let the foot off the gas.”

The audit came as school officials and School Committee members prepare for an early start on next year’s school budget. Their process this year will include joint meetings with the council, which were proposed after last year’s heated budget talks when both officials and residents called for more collaboration.

Superintendent Peter Lancia said one thing that will likely make its way into this budget is a formal study of school facilities.

Sports fields and the high school need major rehabilitation, he said, and elementary schools may need to be expanded because of the city’s growing population. A study would show what is needed and also allow schools to apply for state funding, he said.

“We may need to prepare for if we are looking at upgrades, certainly at our high school, and with development in the Congin area, we may need to look at expansion over there,” Lancia said.

School Committee Finance Chairperson Sue Salisbury said a facilities study “will be huge on what we need and what to prioritize.”

“Our focus is the needs of students but also equity around the work we’ve done and to continue that through our budget as we work forward,” Salisbury said.

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