Preliminary School Budget Has Small Surplus, Includes A Few New Positions

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The Watertown Public Schools budget forecast for Fiscal Year 2025 would provide the district with a small surplus.

The budget for the current school year is $57.58 million, and when adding the 3.5 percent increase budgeted by City Manager George Proakis (about $2 million) the budget for the 2024-25 school year will be $59.6 million, Superintendent Dede Galdston told the School Committee last week. That would provide a surplus of $75,138.

Most of the budget, about 85 percent, falls under personnel, said Lisa Gibbons, the district’s Director of Finance and Operations. Galdston said the figures are for a “level services budget.”

“It includes cost of living adjustment,” Galdston said. “It is a level service budget — what we need to fully function as school system in FY25.”

The budget also accounts for salary increases due to teachers moving up steps, and other items in the union contract. In FY25, the contract includes a guaranteed 2.5 percent increase, and the possibility for more.

“There is a possibility on day 93 (of the school year) of a one percent increase based on additional funds from the state as result of the Fair Share amendment,” Galdston said. “We won’t know until the summer.”

The 1 percent increase from the Fair Share funds have been calculated in the preliminary budget, Galdston said, and if they do not come through the budget will be adjusted.

Positions added after the start of FY24 (the current school year) have been added to the FY25, including: an instruction and equity data analyst, an administrative assistant, fourth grade teachers, building-based substitute teachers, a reading specialist, and a cultivation and recruitment specialist. An addition starting in FY25 is an increase in nursing staff.

The FY25 budget includes a 3.5 percent increase in discretionary budgets, which have not been increased in four years, Galdston said.

FY24 was the final year for the ESSER (Elementary & Secondary School Emergency Relief) grant, which was provided to help with recovery after the Pandemic. Some of the positions that had been funded by the ESSER grant in past years — English as a Second Language teachers and full time kindergarten instructional aides — will be paid for through the regular operating budget. This helps Watertown avoid the “ESSER Cliff,” Galdston said, where the positions funded by the grant are lost when the grant funds dry up.

Some of the biggest increases will be in special education, which is projected to be up $1.1 million due to a 5.4 percent increase in the tuition for out-of-district programs.

Utilities will be higher, too, Galdston said, but not as much as it could have been.

“The increase in utilities are not great as they could have been because of the beautiful net zero (energy) buildings,” said Galdston, who said the new energy efficient buildings with solar arrays are expected to save about $300,000.

The Superintendent will present the final budget to the School Committee in April. Before that, the School Committee’s Budget & Finance Subcommittee will hold budget hearings (agendas will be posted here). In May, the School Budget will be presented to the City Council, and will be part of the City of Watertown’s budget that will be adopted by the end of June.

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