Extra $1 Million Could Mean Reducing Class Sizes in Watertown Schools

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The School Committee will request an additional $1 million in funding from the town to cover special education costs and hire teachers to reduce class sizes.

Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said the schools need $653,000 to raise the funds for special education in Fiscal 2015 up to the amount spent this year in Fiscal 2014. The money is needed along with the $750,000 the Town Council has approved for the Special Education Stabilization Fund.

“We need the additional $653,000 to get to the base, and then if we go above that we can go to the stabilization fund because we will be in extraordinary times,” Fitzgerald said. “If we don’t do that, then we are already in extraordinary times.”

The rest of the money would be spent to meet one of the School Committee’s top goals and a popular item amount parents – reducing class sizes. Fitzgerald said she believes she can hire five or six teachers with the remaining $347,000.

Committee members all supported both budget additions, but some worried about how the Town Council would view the request.

School Committee Vice Chairman Michael Shepard said the money for teachers is needed.

“We can’t let our kids sit in crowded classes any longer,” Shepard said.

School Committee member John Portz, however, said it could be a tough sell. The Town Council expressed their concern that they did not have enough information at the presentation of the School Budget on Tuesday, and Portz said it could be hard to ask for more money

“From what we saw (Tuesday) if we go forward for the $347,000 (for more teachers) we will need to provide a lot more information,” Portz said. “The special education money is an easy package.”

The budget does not go far enough even with the $1 million, said School Committee member Julie McMahon. She wanted to see the entire $6 million increase approved which Fitzgerald said is needed to bring the schools back to the level before the economic downturn.

“It’s frustrating because we are already taking a step back so we can ask for a little more money,” McMahon said.

McMahon notes that schools have been underfunded for five years, and current plans to increase funds will take another three years to get back to pre-recession levels.

“Eight years is more than half of their education (in Watertown),” McMahon said.

Parents too expressed their frustrations at Thursday’s School Committee meeting. Alyson Morales said she wants to see more than 5 or 6 teachers hired to reduce class sizes.

Candace Miller said she wanted to see the full request funded and if that required a Proposition 2 1/2 override the School Committee should have started considering that well before early June.

The additional budget request must be made in an amendment to the Town Manager’s budget. It can be made by Town Manager Michael Driscoll or by one of the Town Councilors. The money cannot simply be added to the budget, but instead money must come from somewhere else in the town budget.

The Town Council will discuss the budget on Tuesday, June 10 at 7:15 p.m. in Town Hall.

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