School Committee Wraps Up FY25 Budget, Approves 2024-25 School Calendar

By Kendra FoleyChair, Watertown School Committee

It has been a busy month for the Watertown School Committee as we wrap up the FY25 budget process. In the last three meetings, our board has heard a number of important presentations, voted on policy changes, and celebrated major accomplishments. We have come to an agreement with Superintendent Galdston on a 4-year contract extension through 2028. Dr. Galdston has been an excellent leader for Watertown, bringing expertise, commitment and stability. We are thrilled to have her leading the Watertown Public Schools for another four years.

Watertown Schools to Add Music Teachers, Tutors & Field Trip Aid in FY25 Budget

Watertown’s school budget will increase by $2 million, and additions include music teachers, math and literacy tutors, English as a second language teachers, and financial assistance to help all students go on field trips and school trips. The 2024-25 Watertown Public Schools budget will increase by 3.5 percent from the current year, for a total budget of $59.599 million. City Manager George Proakis said the Watertown Public Schools will receive a 3.5 percent increase when he presented the preliminary budget in October. Superintendent Dede Galdston said the budget represents a level services budget, which maintains the services provided by the district the prior year. This includes salary increases, and additional positions to maintain services.

This Week: Short Term Rentals and School Budget Presentation

Watertown City Hall

Tuesday night, the City Council will consider the proposed rules for short term rentals, aka Airbnb or VRBO, in Watertown. On Monday, the School Committee will hear the Superintendent’s budget presentation for the 2024-25 school year. The City Council will hold a public hearing and vote on a zoning amendment about short term rentals (i.e. Airbnb and VRBO) in Watertown on Tuesday. In March the Planning Board supported the proposal which allows short term rentals with some restrictions, including that the homes or rooms in homes must be the owner’s primary residence, they can only be rented up to three months a year, and they will not be allowed in adjacent units in a multi-family home, such as half of a two family or an accessory (mother-in-law) unit. (Read more details here).

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

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.”

Schools Using COVID Grant to Help Make Up $1.3M Deficit

The Watertown Public Schools face a shortfall of $1.38 million for the next school year, but the gap will be narrowed by using some grant funds Watertown received for COVID relief. On Monday night, Superintendent Dede Galdston presented the district’s budget for Fiscal Year 2024. The Watertown Schools will have an operating budget of $57,583,829, which is an increase of $1.947,279 over FY 23, or 3.5 percent. To provide a “level services budget,” where the same educational experience and programs are provided, Galdston said there was a deficit of $1.38 million. Salaries account for about 80 percent of the budget, Galdston said, and the level services budget includes the raises for teachers in the recently approved contract, along with the step and lane change increases given for years working in the district and earning work-related college credits.

City Manager Gives Outlook on Watertown’s Budget, Philosophy on Contract Negotiations

Watertown City Manager George Proakis. This week, School officials announced an agreement on the Watertown teachers’ contract, but even when that is signed Watertown has six unions on the municipal side yet to be settled. This week, the City Manager revealed his philosophy when approaching these negotiations and how the City budget could impact the talks. He released a memo to the City Council outlining the contracts and the Watertown budget at Tuesday’s Council meeting. While making the budget, Proakis said he and his team are following the Council’s budget priorities, which include creating walkable neighborhoods and small business programs, improving infrastructure, using green vehicles, and upgrading parks and playgrounds.

Rising Special Education Costs Contribute to $1 Million Shortfall for FY24 Watertown School Budget

The Watertown Public Schools face a shortfall of around $1 million for the 2023-24 school year (Fiscal Year 2024), due in part to a large increase in the cost of special education. Monday night the School Committee heard the FY24 preliminary budget presentation from School administrators, who said the Watertown Public School’s level-services budget faces a significant deficit. This budget would provide the same level of services and programs available to students during the current school year, though it might require additional staff to provide the service due to increased enrollment in a certain grade or in a particular program, said Heidi Perkins, the WPS Director of Finance and Operations. The Watertown Schools will receive a 3.5 percent increase from the City over the FY23 budget, or $2.84 million, which would make the FY24 budget $55.64 million. The amount needed to cover a level-services budget is $58.47 million, as of Jan.