The Watertown Schools will lose several positions in the 2017-18 school year as school officials look to control the increasing costs, but classes will still be under the class-size guidelines in the elementary schools.
Interim Superintendent John Brackett presented the budget to the School Committee Monday night. The total budget would be $45.71 million, which is 5 percent above the current year’s budget. It comes in more than $700,000 below the requests from principals and department heads.
Interim Business Manager Mary DeLai said that four percent of the increase comes from staff salary and compensation. In order to add some positions and programs school officials
“We had just over $400,000 for (new staff and programs) and just over $2 million in requests for what we felt was important,” DeLai said. “What we needed to do is figure out how to be creative.”
One of the top priorities for parents and teachers is keeping class sizes on the small side in the elementary schools – 20 or under in the lower grades and 22 or under in upper elementary grades.
“The commitment Watertown has made to class sizes for outside eyes, like mine, are commendable,” Brackett said. “The Class size in Watertown are among the smallest class sizes in the state.”
Brackett added that enrollment projects show the number of students at each school will be about equal to this year. Lowell is projected to have 17 more students, Hosmer six more and Cunniff would have three more under the current projection.
The elementary classroom staffing will change a bit, with one teacher slated to be added at Cunniff Elementary School, while Hosmer School would lose two teachers.
One Hosmer parent said there has been talk among parents who are concerned to hear about cuts in the number of teachers at the school.
School Committee member Kendra Foley, whose children attend Hosmer, said she too has some worries about the budget.
“With any type of change there are challenges. I personally struggled with the changes,” Foley said. “Going from 31 to 29 teachers is very difficult. Education is important and these are our children. I believe the administration is working hard on equity across the district and class sizes at Hosmer are well within the guidelines.”
Hosmer Principal Robert LaRoche made one more plea to maintain the 31 teachers, arguing that Hosmer has more than its share of high needs students – special education, students who do not speak English as their first language and students from low-income households.
“I ask you to consider the percentage of high needs students at Homser, it is much larger than other (elementary) schools and higher than the middle school and the high school,” LaRoche said. “The number of students enrolled did not reduce, therefore I am asking for the staff not to reduce.”
The budget does include some new positions, but they are for teachers and others who impact more than one classroom:
- an elementary FLES (foreign language in elementary schools) teacher
- an elementary math specialist
- a district data and assessment specialist
- a music teacher who will teach at the high school, Cunniff, Hosmer and Lowell
Some staff will also be restructured, particularly in the special education department. The budget calls for cutting 11.9 full-time equivalent (FTE) support staff but the district would add a new program – integrated support program – at Lowell to support students with social emotional disabilities. Two teachers will be added for that program. The budget also includes another four additional special ed teachers – two at the high school, one at the middle school and one at Lowell.
Along with class sizes, the budget also puts an emphasis on professional development and maintaining a strong special education program. An addition to the budget that fits these goals is elementary literacy instructional materials and professional development
Another additions for the budget includes Chromebooks for 11th-graders. Chromebooks for the sixth and 12th grades will be paid for through staff and program reductions, along with textbooks, technology upgrades and professional development.
Members of the School Committee said that more technology does not necessarily mean better education. Brackett agreed and said technology support teachers will show how they can use the Chromebooks and other technology most effectively.
The School Committee thanked Brackett and DeLai for the detailed budget book, which is more than 200 pages long (see it here). It includes current data, information from past years and future projections.
Former School Committee member Michael Shepard said last year’s school budget was praised for being concise and focused. He warned that sometimes presenting too much information allows for “cherry picking” data to support someone’s point of view.
The School Committee will meet Thursday night at 6 p.m. to take a final vote on the 2017-18 School Budget. The meeting will be in Town Hall.