Prelim School Budget Adds Handful of Positions, Most of Increase Goes to “Level Service”

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The School Committee got the first look at next year’s school budget, and while the Town Manager has allotted a 5 percent increase, most of the increase will be used to maintain the same level of services as the current school year. There will be a handful of positions added to the district.

On Monday night, Heidi Perkins, the district’s Director of Finance and Operations, told the School Committee that nearly 95 percent of the $2.52 million increase for Fiscal Year 2021 (the 2020-21 school year) will go to maintaining a level service budget. The total budget is $52.9 million.

“Available for the FY21 budget priorities will be $145,022, or 5.8 percent of the 5 percent increase,” Perkins said.

Four positions will be added, but Perkins said they are part of maintaining the level service budget. Perkins has budgeted $236,222 for these positions.

The new positions are:

  • a social worker shared by the Middle School and Lowell Elementary
  • a nurse to be shared by the Middle School and the High School
  • a fifth-grade Spanish teacher for the FLES program to be shared by Cunniff School and Hosmer School, and
  • the District Registrar position will be increased from half time to full time.

The biggest increase comes in the salaries for the Watertown Public Schools, which will rise an estimated $1.3 million. This includes 326 full-time equivalent teachers. The increases are guaranteed in the teachers union contact, which gives step increases of 3.5 percent. There are 15 steps.

Some of other major increases in the budget come from special education, the Minuteman High School charges and a bus for Cunniff students during the school construction.

The district is offering free school busing to students at Cunniff Elementary School during the construction of the new school. They will be attending classes at the former St. Jude’s School in Waltham during construction. The cost of the bus is $66,000, Perkins said. She added, however, that there is a chance that the cost of the bus may be absorbed into the school construction budget.

Superintendent Dede Galdston said students will not be picked up at Cunniff because it will be a construction site.

“We would be running routes, but that does not mean students would be picked up at their house,” Galdston said. “We would have stops along the way and you could choose to use them if you wish.”

Perkins said the cost of out-of-district special education placements will go up an estimated $725,278. Some students with particular special needs that the Watertown Public Schools cannot provide are sent to specialized schools. Some are bused each day and some are residential programs.

The budget estimate is based on the students currently going to out-of-district programs, and those who have been identified as likely needing those services, Perkins said.

Tuitions charged by the schools are likely to rise, Perkins said. The state sets the tuition for the schools, but that is not decided most years until late summer or early fall. Some schools are seeking increases. For instance, Perkins School for the Blind has requested a 29 percent increase, she said.

“We are budgeting for what they are requesting from the state,” Heidi Perkins said. “If know what budget will be before that (we will use that number), but, we probably won’t. We likely won’t know until the fall, so we budget for the high level mark.”

The cost for sending Watertown students to Minuteman also is a bit uncertain. Perkins used a 2 percent increase in the preliminary budget, but she said she is hearing from contacts at Minuteman that the hike could be as high as 4 percent.

One change Minuteman has approved is a capital fee of $1,600 per student which would cost Watertown $104,000.

The District will also get some help covering costs from state programs. Perkins has estimated a Special Education Circuit Breaker payment of nearly $2 million in Fiscal Year 2021. The money is to cover the cost of the highest cost special education students from the previous year, and must be used during the year it is received. The state goal is to reimburse 75 percent of the cost, Perkins said, but most years it is not that much.

The district will also be one of just two districts to receive a Foundation Reserve Grant. This year, Watertown will receive $125,000, but Perkins said the state will not be funding the program in future years.

School officials have made a priority list of unfunded positions and programs which they will fund if the money becomes available. Positions include part of the salary for a Watertown High School drama teacher, an eighth-grade teacher, a special education inclusion coach and an ESL teacher for the middle school.

See the list of unfunded priorities and all of the budget presentation documents by clicking here.

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