School Budget Has Funds for Elementary Foreign Language Classes, None for Shrinking Class Sizes

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The budget presented to the Watertown School Committee Monday night calls for adding more than 20 new positions, including staff to start teaching foreign language at the elementary schools, but it did not have any funds to reduce class sizes in the elementary schools.

The total request for Fiscal Year 2017 to the Town Manager and Town Council is $44.149 million, an increase of $2.69 million over the Fiscal 2016 request (the current school year). That is a 6.51 percent increase.

The Foreign Language in the Elementary School, or FLES, program is one of the biggest additions. Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald said the district would hire three teachers to begin teaching kindergartners a foreign language (likely Spanish).

The program would expand by one grade each year until it reaches K-12, so the budget for Fiscal 2018 already calls for two more FLES teachers.

Town Councilor Michael Dattoli said he was glad to see the foreign language in the budget but wondered how the schools would fit it into the already crowded schools.

Fitzgerald said that won’t be a problem.

“The instruction will be done in the classroom,” Fitzgerald said. “It will not be in a  separate space.”

Cunniff School parent James Cairns said he did not see any money earmarked for reducing class sizes next fall. All three elementary schools have seen high class sizes at certain grades, particularly at Cunniff.

School Committee Chairman John Portz said that would have to be dealt with differently.

“You’re right, the budget does not include money for space issues,” Portz said. “If we have to do that, I anticipate we will go to the Town Council for additional money.”

While the budget is 6.51 percent more than last year, it would only be 5.55 percent higher if the $375,000 in one-time funds provided by the town in Fiscal 2016 was included in the calculation, said Director of Business Services Charles Kellner.

School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she believes the money should be included in the calculation.

“Every year we need textbooks. We have more students every year,” Hsu-Balzer said. “When you call it one-time it implies it is a special thing, but it is part of basic education.”

Special education expenses have been a problem in prior years for Watertown. The district is required by state and federal law to educate students living in town, no matter when they move into town or how much it costs. A few years ago, four students move into town around the same time and required special education services that cost $600,000 total.

Kellner said the district has taken steps to be able to deal with unexpected increases, including working with the town to create a Special Education Stabilization fund. The town put $750,000 into the account two years ago. Last year, Kellner said, the district did not need more from the town for the stabilization fund and in Fiscal 2017 he again anticipates the Watertown Schools will not need more money.

Part of that expectation is due to the fact that Kellner expects to carry over $806,000 in state money from Fiscal 2016 from the Special Education Circuit Breaker which districts receive when they have high-cost special education cases (but not until the following fiscal year).

Kellner also warned that the district will lose nearly $500,000 in grants from Fiscal 2016. A big chunk, $150,000, is from the MOVA Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance given to Watertown in the aftermath of the Shootout and Lockdown and the Boston Marathon Bombing. Another $200,000+ that the district received from a Federal physical education grant will not be awarded in Fiscal 2017.

The budget was presented Tuesday, but will be voted on by the School Committee on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Watertown High School Library. The school budget will then be incorporated into the Town budget, which Town Manager Michael Driscoll will present to the Town Council at the April 26 meeting in Town Hall at 7:15 p.m.

The district has a total of 20.25 full-time equivalent positions requested in the budget. Many are part-time positions. Besides the three FLES teachers, the other requests include:

For the District:

  • Elementary Math & Science Coordinator
  • Special education coordinator
  • Early Childhood Director
  • music teacher
  • integrated music teacher
  • adaptive art teacher
  • Elementary registrar
  • IT Technician
  • Clerical
  • Attendance officer
  • Nurse
  • Out-of-district special education coordinator
  • 2 Reading specialists

At Watertown High School:

  • Engineering teacher
  • Math lab aide
  • PE and dance teacher
  • Spanish teacher
  • Journalism teacher
  • Guidance counselor
  • Special education teacher
  • Adjustment conselor
  • Fitness center monitor

At Watertown Middle School

  • Maker Space assistant
  • Speech/language pathologist

At Cunniff Elementary School:

  • Special education teacher

At Hosmer Elementary School

  • Intervention specialist/ESL teacher

At Lowell Elementary School

  • ESL Teacher

At Early Steps Preschool

  • 2 instructional assistants
  • Teacher
  • Occupational therapy assistant
  • speech/language support

6 thoughts on “School Budget Has Funds for Elementary Foreign Language Classes, None for Shrinking Class Sizes

  1. I’m enthused to hear that the Watertown Public Schools will be teaching foreign languages in elementary schools…. Young children can learn languages much quicker.. the younger the better as they will pick up the ability to think in the second language….

  2. Foreign language in the elementary schools is a luxury. This is misplaced money in lieu of other more pressing district needs. Jean Fitzgerald has been trying to exit Watertown for 3 years and this is just a fancy resume line item for her.

    • This is about teaching children to become global citizens. In 2013, the School Committee expressed support for this initiative and a Task Force was created to visit other schools with similar models.

  3. I agree with Fred, with all the new housing being built in town there will be a large increase in students within the next 3 to 5 years. That is the problem that needs to be addressed first.

  4. This is absolutely the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard!! Especially after the meeting between the Superintendent, members of the school committee and 4th grade parents of the Cunniff just LAST NIGHT. We have children that do NOT have a classroom. They travel from art room to music room to overcrowded unsafe classroom every day, dragging their school supplies behind them. Most appalling is we heard over and over last night, that we have to “find” money to fix this problem. Are you kidding me?? I don’t need for my child to speak a foreign language ( proper English would be great). I need for them to have a desk, a chair and a classroom to learn in. You can learn a foreign language on line at no charge. New Fire station, new Police station, new Library( an empty one on orchard st.), new Town Yard,but we can’t accommodate our children’s education ?? Your priorities are disgusting.

  5. As I said, implementing foreign language as a course of study in the elementary schools is a juicy little line item for the superintendent’s resume. That’s it folks. If you want to be a “global citizen,” take the kids to Arax Market or Sevan Bakery on a weekly basis. Let the schools, for once, concentrate their efforts on the core academics and dispense with the fluff. If you have a child in the WPS, you know what I’m talking about here.

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