New Strategies to Fund Watertown Schools Sought

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Instead of relying on the state and town for money to run the schools, Watertown officials are searching for new ways to pay for equipment and even for staff.

The Fiscal 2015 school request is $6 million higher than last year, but the town will not likely be able to cover the whole request, Town Manager Michael Driscoll said Tuesday. Instead, school officials will have to prioritize what they want in the request.

Meanwhile, the Town Council’s Education and School System subcommittee brainstormed ways to come up with more money for the town’s schools.

They examined ideas provided by the Watertown Strong Schools advocacy group in a report (read the report here, with funding ideas on Page 57). Some included increasing the parking meter fees to raise money, they also looked at adding an excise property tax earmarked for the schools. Both ideas have been floated in Brookline.

Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said he believes any money raised by parking meters must go back into the parking meters and related expenses (such as parking lot maintenance and paying parking enforcement officers). If more money is raised, however, it could offset money in the budget which could be directed to the schools.

It is not clear if the town can charge a property excise tax. Counties in Massachusetts charge one at the registrar of deeds. Town Council President Mark Sideris said he has heard of communities, such as Boston and Waltham, which send out requests for donations in property tax bills to fund scholarship programs. Piccirilli said Belmont had a box on the property tax bill which residents could check to add to the tax bill. The money is earmarked for the schools.

The subcommittee voted to ask the Town Manager to examine those three ideas to see if they might work for Watertown.

The subcommittee also looked at creating a non-profit group dedicated to raising money for the schools. Some brought up the fact that the town already has the Watertown Education Foundation, as well as the Watertown Community Foundation. Both groups raise money for the schools, with that being the sole focus of the Education Foundation.

Town Councilor Tony Palomba said he wants to raise more than what those groups have been able to take it. Instead of raising tens of thousands of dollars for equipment such as iPads (as the WEF did last year) Palomba wants to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for something like adding an engineering program to Watertown High School.

In his vision, Palomba said he wants to have members of the non-profit board appointed by the Town Council President, the Town Manager, the School Committee Chairman and the Superintendent of Schools. The subcommittee will ask the Town Attorney to see whether it is permitted for elected and paid town officials to make appointments to a non-profit group.

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