The Watertown Public Schools will receive a $1 million budget boost in the current school year, and they will spend most of it on special education, but will also use some on technology, materials and preparations for the new PARCC standardized test.
Tuesday night, the Town Council approved taking the money out of the Free Cash Fund and use it for the school’s Fiscal 2014 budget (which ends in June 30). The majority, $790,000, will be spend to create a Special Education Stabilization Fund.
Unexpected special education costs when students move into town with severe needs can cost nearly $250,000 per student in some cases. The Watertown Public Schools cover the cost even when students go to out of town programs.
The stabilization fund was created to prevent the general education budget from being eaten away by the unexpected, un-budgeted costs, said Councilor Vincent Piccirilli.
Town and School officials must figure out how and when the stabilization fund will be tapped, said Town Council President Mark Sideris.
The other $210,000 will go to one-time curriculum initiatives. Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said the money would be spent on the English Language Learner – ELL (formerly English as a Second Language), special education and to prepare Watertown schools for the new PARCC test, which will replace the MCAS as the main standardized test.
Money will be spent on Chromebook carts for ELL teachers at Watertown High School and the elementary schools. The middle school already has a set of computers for ELL, said ESL Curriculum Coordinator Allison Levitt. The ELL program will also get some iPods for students and iPads for teachers, and the district needs bilingual dictionaries and glossaries for students when they take the MCAS or PARCC exams.
The special education department also seeks to improve its technology. They use iPads to help students in a variety of areas, said interim Special Education Director Arlene Shainker. Equipment for occupational therapy rooms will also be purchased.
All students in the Watertown Public Schools will need access to computers to take the new PARCC test, said George Skuse, the district information technology manager.
To prepare for this, the district’s networks will be upgraded, old laptops will get new batteries and power adapters and a new system will be installed to alert tech staff that the network is down, Skuse said.