The Town Council passed a budget Tuesday night that includes a $290,000 boost for special education costs, but not the $1 million requested last week by the School Committee or the amount requested by the Superintendent in April.
The money from the amendment brings the total education budget to $39.232 million, an increase of $2.557 million. Also approved were two one-time curriculum fundings of $210,000 in Fiscal 2014 and $750,000 in Fiscal 2015. The total increase is a 9.59 percent increase over Fiscal 2014, said Town Manager Michael Driscoll.
The amendment fell short of the $1 million requested by the School Committee last week ($640,000 for special education and $360,000 to reduce class sizes). It also was well bellow the $6.18 million, 16.87 percent increase requested by school administrators.
Driscoll also noted that there is $350,000 in a State Senate bill that could come to Watertown if approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor. That would bring the total to the $640,000 sought by school officials.
Town Councilors could have tried to add to the School budget by taking away from other funds, but no councilor proposed such changes.
The other department budgets remained largely untouched. The Council approved amendments to increase salaries for members of the Town Hall Associates SEIU Local 888 who signed a contract with the town for Fiscal 2014-16. The $217,639 came from the Town Council Reserve.
Another amendment took $325,291 and returned it to the Town Council Reserve. The money was earmarked for salary increases for the Fire Department, but a contract was not settled so they were not spent in Fiscal 2014.
Councilor Tony Palomba said he thinks the dollars were there to increase the education budget but not the will of the council. He noted that the Town Council reserve had $1.2 million and there is $6.14 million in the Free Cash reserve.
While he wanted to add more to the education budget, Councilor Aaron Dushku said he also saw other departments that could use more money and some, such as the Police and Fire departments, have found grant money to increase staffing.
Councilors said they hope to continue to increase funds for the schools in future years. Driscoll has already committed to increasing the school budget by 5 percent a year from Fiscal 2016 to 2018.
They also thanked the parents who were active this year pushing them to find more funds for other departments.