With the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on the economy, Watertown School officials reduced their request to the Town for Fiscal Year 2021 by more than $1 million.
In March, when administrators of Watertown Public Schools first proposed a budget they built it on receiving a 5 percent increase, as was planned by the Town Manager in the fall. The Town budget is uncertain after the pandemic hit, but it is expected to be negatively impacted by both lower state aid and local option taxes on restaurants and hotels.
On Monday, Superintendent Dede Galdston presented the School Committee some reductions from the $52.96 million budget presented in March — a 5 percent increase. The new proposed budget is $51.93 million, up 2.9 percent from the last budget.
“This is our first effort to try to figure out what it is that we could adjust, find some savings in our budget, to help with the potential loss of revenue on the Town side,” Galdston said. “We are not completely sure about FY21, but this is a great first step.”
Town Council President Mark Sideris, who also sits on the School Committee, commended Galdston and her team for making cuts that don’t cost jobs.
“An important message we send is that other cities and towns around here are laying people off. We are trying to keep the people that teach our children and take care of our day-to-day needs at the School Department,” Sideris said.
School Committee member Lily Rayman-Read said that she believes the budget still shows a commitment to the staff and the Watertown school community.
“We are doing the best we can at this time and honor the work of these professionals who are working incredibly hard,” Rayman-Read said.
When making the decision about what to reduce, they looked at “the places farthest away from the instructional core,” Galdston said.
Some areas of major cuts come in the substitute teacher fund, which would be reduced by $234,000. She said the district has moved toward hiring building subs at each elementary school rather than bringing in subs each day. They could be useful, Galdston said, if schools have to operate differently when students return to campus and there are social distancing requirements.
Another $188,000 can be saved by not adding staff that had been planned when the district was going to get a 5 percent increase. That includes an additional eighth-grade teacher, as well as a 0.2 full time equivalent for drama at the high school. Galdston added that she believes the drama teacher will be able to add more drama classes, and the other classes that the teacher had can be reassigned.
The number of students going to Minuteman High School is lower than previous years, which will save the district $361,880. There is one student going to Medford Vocational Technical High School, which will add $18,000 to the budget.
“Minuteman ended up having more students from their member districts accepted, therefore several students in Watertown were waitlisted,” Galdston said. “I was pretty open with families about the career and technical education options we have at Watertown High School. Also, if they really wanted to have vocational program option they could also go to Medford. We had one person take advantage.”
More savings will be realized in transportation. Galdston said the $63,000 originally budgeted to bus Cunniff students to their temporary home at St. Jude’s School during construction will either be paid using other funds in the district, or absorbed by the construction budget. Also, a $37,700 lease of buses for student activities has been paid off, and last year the district purchased a pair of small buses that will reduce the athletic transportation costs by $12,000.
To see more details about the reductions in the document put together by school officials, click here.