Letter: Town Council Should Adopt Town Manager’s School Budget

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Everyone in Watertown wants strong schools.

But the notion that the schools have not been well funded by the Town Manager and Town Council is not true.

The basic premise put forward to substantiate that notion is that Watertown spends a lesser percent of its total budget on schools. That idea only masquerades the real reason. We spend less because we have far fewer students to educate.

The age old formula for school spending is per pupil expenditure.

The Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary School is the issuing authority on school spending and Data for all schools in the Commonwealth and the most credible source. They are the equalizer in varying opinions on school data. They tell an entirely different story than the schools.

I would urge all interested parties especially town councilors and parents to visit The Mass Elementary and Secondary state wide reports, click on school district profiles and draw their own conclusions.

This is how Watertown stands up to surrounding towns in the school population, per pupil expenditures and teacher pupil ratios.

School Population

Watertown has 2,745 students

Belmont has 4,088 students

Newton has 12,476 students

Arlington has 4,907 students


That is why we spend a smaller percentage of the total budget on the schools.

In per pupil spending

Watertown spends $16,493 per student

Newton spends $16,400 per student

Belmont spends $12,259 per student

Arlington spends $12,603 per student


Teacher to pupil ratios

Watertown has one teacher for every 12 students

Newton has one teacher for every 12 students

Belmont has one teacher for every 16 students

Arlington has one teacher for every 15 students


Watertown looks better in every category. Not exactly what we have been hearing.

Watertown schools are not that unique and complex. We have one High School, one Middle School and 3 Elementary schools in 4 square miles and far less students.

Many of the other things mentioned as complexities are common to cities and towns throughout the Commonwealth.

The increase the schools have received in the Manager’s proposed budget is unprecedented:

$2,267,000 Education Appropriation (6.18 percent increase)

$750,000 proposed FY 15 one time curriculum initiatives

$210,000 proposed FY 14 one time curriculum initiatives

The above represents an increase of 8.80 percent within the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 without a tax override.

In addition the manager has proposed $790,000 for a proposed Special Education Stabilization Fund.

For comparison with other Town Department’s increases, please see the following: Police 3.43 percent, Fire 4.59 percent, Public Works 2.69 percent, General Government (Town Hall) 1.37 percent.

Whatever the school appropriation is, it needs to be sustainable without touching cash reserves.

What the school proposed ($6.5 million – 17.80 percent) is not sustainable, what the Manager proposes is sustainable.

The town should never agree to create 32 new positions in the school department in one fiscal year at an approximate cost of $2.8 million annually forever.

The Town Manager has put forth a budget which is a record increase for the schools and addresses potential special education shortfalls during the school year with the proposed establishment of a Special Education Stabilization Fund.

He has given a reasonable response to an unreasonable request.

So voices have been heard!

All reasonable people should declare success in their effort and move on.

I would urge the Town Councilors to vote the manager’s recommendation for the schools, the real facts are on your side.

Thank you,

John S. Airasian

5 thoughts on “Letter: Town Council Should Adopt Town Manager’s School Budget

  1. Mr. Airasian’s statistics are broad brush stroke, and contrary to his belief that our schools are “not that complex”, you have to dig a little deeper to get a meaningful understanding of the numbers. As an example, Watertown has an unusually high ratio of special needs kids. Just to make an example up, a special needs kid might have 1 full time teacher and an aid. That would would have an impact on the teacher to pupil ratio for the kids that are not special needs.

    The same logic applies to spending. If that hypothetical special needs kid needs a specially trained teacher and aid, and maybe has special transportation needs, you could be looking at a much different number. Let’s pretend its $150k, instead of $16k or $17k. Spread those kinds of disparities over an unusually large population of special needs kids, and you can see how that could effect the kids that are not special needs.

    Simply because other departments are not getting the same budget increases does not necessarily mean the schools do not need them. I and others believe they do. Some people feel that if the schools need more teachers, we should hire them.

    Mr. Airasian declared the request for more resources for our school children as “unreasonable”. I am unaware whether Mr. Airasian has children in the Watertown public schools, but I do. With all due respect to Mr. Airasian, it sounds perfectly reasonable to me, and I am not alone in this sentiment.

    Mr. Airasian appears to be satisfied that “voices have been heard”, and if residents are “reasonable”, they should consider the schools to be in great shape, they should be happy and “move on”. With sincerity, and again with all due respect to Mr. Airasian, I will never “move on” when it comes to the education of my kids. Even if things were ideal at the moment, I would still be keeping as sharp an eye as I’m able that they remain that way. Many Watertown parents I’m familiar with share my point of view, and many of us vote in local elections.

  2. Agree Kate, we have been working tirelessly to understand the data and to communicate respectfully with our TC, SC, WPS, and TM.

    These are exactly the arguments that have lead to the decline of Watertown Public Schools over the last decade. With all due respect to the author (who I don’t know), this simplified misunderstanding of the situation, and presentation of numbers without understanding what they represent is why our classrooms are bursting, our MCAS and SAT scores have been declining, our graduation rate has fallen and remains flat, our principals are overwhelmed, our teachers say they can no longer provide the quality education that they used to offer, and why we have had 4 superintendents and 2 interim superintendents in 12 years or so. Watertown has become a place where talented education professionals leave because of the dynamics between the schools and the town.

    The insistence on the part of *some* of our town leaders (and their friends) to ignore facts, fail to understand the complexity of our school system, and refuse to work collaboratively with our educational leaders is why WPS are in serious decline.

    Mr. Airasian, I know you have not recently attended school committee meetings. Have you spoken with our Superintendent or our Principals? Have you been in our schools? I know that you have our WSS document. We are happy to sit down and discuss any numbers or data. We’d like nothing more than to be wrong and wake up one day to a school system headed in a better direction. I believe you have grandchildren who will soon enter the schools. Believe me, there is important information that you will want to know.

    That said, if you choose for your legacy to be that of arguing against the local public school system, when you lack information or understanding of the facts, that is your choice. I can only hope—for the sake of the children and families in Watertown—that your influence is limited and declining. Be assured that your current legacy, in part, is arguing against quality education for our children and your grandchildren. In the meanwhile, us “reasonable” people will continue to examine data, meet frequently and try to problem solve with our local leaders, insist upon a better education for our children, demand that local leaders pay attention to facts and data, and run for office. We are not moving on.

  3. In addition to The Mass Elementary and Secondary state wide reports, I would urge all interested parties, especially town councilors and parents and local business owners to visit any of the Watertown schools and draw their own conclusions…..

  4. There are several issues with the argument presented in the letter above:

    1) Watertown doesn’t spend less on education because we have fewer students. When Watertown is compared to other towns with similar student populations (+/- 500 students) we are at the bottom in terms of spending. We spend 49% (including insurance and retirement) while these other towns with similar enrollments spend on average 67.4%.

    2) The statement that Watertown has better student to teacher ratios than its neighbors is misleading. While the statement is true, one has to look deeper for a better understanding. Watertown has a much higher population of special education students than its neighbors (WPS 21.9% vs 19.4% in Newton vs 13.9% in Arlington vs 9.2% in Belmont). These special education students often have classes that are small sizes, anywhere from one on one to six on one to 12 on one. When a town has this high of a population of students with disabilities, it skews the topline ratio and makes it look better than it is. Elementary class sizes right now are as high as 28 students/class.

    3) The statement that Watertown spends more per pupil than its neighbors is also misleading. Again, while true, one has to go beyond the surface to get to the truth. Watertown spends 33.4% of its operating budget on special education. This is much higher than its neighbors, again because of our unique student population. Newton spends 25.2%, Arlington spends 22.5% and Belmont spends 21.8%. Because of this, Watertown again looks better at a top line when compared to its neighbors.

    This is not obvious for those that have not been spending months looking at all of the information. I welcome those interested to go to watertownstrongschools.com and look at our document. All of the data is sourced. There are no smoke and mirrors. We have long documents, short documents, presentations, etc. I am happy to discuss any and all of it with anyone interested.

  5. With statistics comes responsibility. The statistics stated here have not been vetted or explained thoroughly thus they are extremely misleading. Please take the time to look into the statistics and learn the actual situation behind them. The schools are NOT in great shape and our kids are not doing great. My statement is based on vetted data(see http://www.WatertownStrongSchools.com for vetted data or do it yourself which is time consuming but important), discussions with teachers/Administrators, and day to day experience with my daughter in these schools. I would urge all residents due diligence and read the document or the shorter summary on the http://www.WatertownStrongSchools.com site(http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WatertownStrongSchoolsv3_26_14.pdf or shorter summary: http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WatertownStrongSchoolsSummary_v3_26_14.pdf). The document also points out the approach of StrongSchools which is:
    Our 3-tiered approach:
    1. Data driven understanding of Watertown Public Schools and Watertown
    2. Relationship building with decision-makers and stakeholders
    3. Positive communication and community outreach
    One which I am proud to say has been ongoing for months. This includes meetings with Town Councilors, Town Manager, Town Auditor, School Committee,School Administration and residents. Please go to the schools and talk with the Principles or other parents(especially at the Elementary level but also Middle/High too) Again with statistics comes responsibility and it looks like Mr. Airasian did not do his homework!

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