Unofficial Minutes: Budget and Finance meeting 3/3/2016 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are not official minutes

Subcommittee members: Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, Superintendent; Charles Kellner, Business Manager; John Portz, Chair; Guido Guidotti

Attendees in the audience: Mark Sideris (TC president), Kendra Foley (SC), Eileen Hsu-Balzer (SC), Liz Yusem (SC), Vincent Piccirilli (TC), Aaron Dushku (TC), Tom Tracy (Auditor/Assistant Town Manager for Finance), Kate Coyne (WSS), Alyson Morales (WSS), David Stokes (WSS), Mike Shepard

Move Ahead Costs

Charles Kellner, Business Manager, discussed the School Operations Personnel Budget by Object Code as of 2/26/16, which was provided as a handout.  This document outlined the FY17 costs associated with moving forward with CURRENT staff (new positions discussed below are not included).  These costs are projected to represent an increase of 5.47% ($1,760,858) over the personnel costs in the revised FY16 budget. 

The two line items showing the largest growth are: Professional Salaries, which includes anticipated step changes (longevity), and is projected to increase by 3.18% ($726,640); and Set Aside, which includes the anticipated salary increases associated with the upcoming Teacher’s contract negotiations and costs associated with lane changes (level of education), which is expected to increase by $942,143.  

There were also increases included for substitute teachers as those line items were under budgeted in FY16.  The total projected increase for the two substitute line items is $239,680, an increase of 82.4% over those items in the revised FY16 budget.

Mr. Kellner stated that personnel costs represent 75-80% of the school budget.

New Positions

Dr. Jean Fitzgerald discussed the Administration’s FY17 Budget Staffing, Recommendations by Key Focus Area document that was provided as a handout.  The handout outlined 20.3 FTE positions being requested for FY17 by key focus area with a projected cost of $1,141,406, along with 14.0 FTEs planned for FY18 (no cost was provided for FY18 positions).

Academic Programs

In the area of Academic programs, 9.3 FTEs are being requested in FY17.  Several positions in this group are listed as District positions (Coordinators, Music, and Art teachers).  This past year our K-5 Elementary Coordinator was replaced with a K-8 Literacy Coordinator, as Watertown focuses on improvement in the area of reading. In FY17, an Elementary Math & Science Coordinator is being requested to complement the Literacy Coordinator.  The Garden Coordinator position, which was in the past funded through grants, is now being brought into the budget, but because it is not a professional teaching position, it is listed as an hourly position.  District level Music and Art positions (.6 FTE Integrated Music Teacher, .4 FTE Music Teacher, and .1 FTE Adaptive Art teacher) are being added to bring Watertown back to earlier levels, but we still aren’t quite there yet.  Three Foreign Language Elementary Teachers are being requested for the FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools) initiative that was discussed at the February School Committee meeting and will be addressed in more detail at the next Budget and Finance meeting. The high school is projected to get 2.2 FTEs: an Engineering teacher to expand the Project Lead the Way courses and potentially teach some Physics classes, .2 FTE Math Lab Support Assistant, .6 FTE PE and Dance teacher, and .4 FTE Spanish teacher.  The Social Studies teacher that was planned for FY17, was pushed off to FY18 due to budget constraints.  The middle school is slated to get a Maker Space Assistant, which hints towards new initiatives that will be discussed at the next Budget and Finance Meeting.

Student Support Programs

There are several District positions listed.  These positions were made “district” positions rather than having them assigned to specific schools in order to allow for flexibility as needs change within the schools.  District positions include .5 FTE Nurse, .1 FTE Out of District Coordinator, 1.0 FTE Special Education Coordinator, and 2.0 FTE Reading Specialists.

There were several positions, totaling 1.9 FTEs, associated with the Early Steps Integrated Preschool being requested for FY17.  These new positions include .2 FTE Early Childhood Director in order to bring the position to full time, two .5 FTE Instructional Assistants, a .5 FTE Early Steps teacher, a .1 FTE Occupational Therapy Assistant, and .1 FTE Speech/Language Support. There is currently a waitlist for the Early Steps Integrated Preschool and the program is currently at capacity at the Hosmer.  Watertown is required by law to offer programs to children aged 3 and older with special needs. In an effort to accommodate those on the waitlist and comply with state law, an Early Steps Integrated Preschool classroom will be added at the Phillips School. This new classroom will not alleviate any of the space issues at the Hosmer, but is intended to handle the expansion of the program due to growing need.  The district is planning to turn this large single classroom into two during the summer of 2017 to further expand the capacity of the Early Steps Integrated Preschool. Because this is an integrated program, there will be a mixture of special needs and non-special needs students. The costs associated with the new positions is expected to be partially offset by the tuition paid by non-special needs students attending the integrated preschool.

There are several student support positions slated to be provided to all of the schools. The Cunniff is projected to get a .5 FTE Special Education teacher. The Hosmer will receive a .4 FTE Intervention Specialist and a .5 FTE ESL teacher. The Lowell will get a 1.0 FTE ESL teacher and the middle school will receive a .5 FTE for Speech/Language support. The high school will receive a Fitness Center monitor which will be paid hourly, a .5 FTE Guidance Counselor, 1.0 FTE Special Education teacher, and a .4 FTE Adjustment Counselor.

Ancillary Services

A .5 FTE District Elementary Registrar position is being added and will be located within the Central Administration at the Phillips building.  This will relieve staff at the individual schools and will improve safety, by having the function centralized. A .25 FTE District IT position will increase the existing staff to .75 FTE. This IT position was cut in previous years and this request will begin to restore the position.  A District Attendance Officer that will be paid via stipend is also being requested. The Hosmer will receive 1.0 FTE Administrative Assistant/Door Monitor. This new position is necessary for safety reasons as there are multiple entrances to the Hosmer lobby. The Administrative Assistant/Door Monitor will work during school hours and will help with administrative work in addition to performing Door Monitor duties.

FY18 Planned Positions

Several District positions are planned for FY18 including a .5 FTE Attendance Officer, .5 FTE Nurse, and 2.0 FTEs for Reading.  The Hosmer is requesting a 1.0 FTE custodian.  As the technology initiatives are expanding, 2.0 FTE Digital Learning Instructional Specialists/Coaches are being requested.  Several positions were also listed for the high school including 1.0 FTE PUSH Instructional Assistant, .4 FTE Behavior Specialist, .4 FTE PE and Dance teacher, .6 Clerical position, .6 FTE ISP Coordinator, .2 FTE Journalism teacher, 1.0 FTE Science teacher, .6 FTE Social Studies teacher, and 1.0 FTE Special Education teacher.

Questions from the Audience

Kendra Foley (SC) asked about adding online registration for athletics and fees in general.  This is not in the budget for this year, but Mr Kellner would like this to happen soon.  The Town is currently looking into online systems and the schools will wait for the town to make its decision to ensure that any system chosen will be compatible with what the town chooses or potentially use one system. 

Liz Yusum (SC) asked about the SOI for the High School and how the new staff requests relate to the vision for the new high school. Mr. Kellner stated that the MSBA process and analysis is more focused on appropriately funding building maintenance rather than curriculum and staff funding.  In the FY17 budget, maintenance is being appropriately funded.

Eileen Hsu-Balzer (SC) asked if we need to anticipate that we may have more to do from the NEASC Accreditation process. Dr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Kellner will be meeting with them soon and will know more then.

David Stokes (WSS) asked about the Digital Learning Instructional Specialists/Coaches positions being asked for in FY18.  He questioned how pushing those positions into FY18 would affect the Digital Learning initiatives that are currently going on and are planned for expansion in FY17.  Dr. Fitzgerald admitted that she would like to fund them in FY17, but stated budget constraints, but that she will look into it further. 

Aaron Dushku (TC) asked about the Journalism teacher position being pushed into FY18.  He mentioned that the current Journalism program is great and that the current volunteer that works on the school newspapers is funding a lot of the supplies himself.  Dr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Kellner were unaware of this, and stated that they would look into it.

Alyson Morales (WSS) asked about the potential of adding additional Computer Science teachers.  Dr. Fitzgerald acknowledged that she would like to add more, but again was constrained by the budget.

Guido Guidotti (B&F subcommittee member) asked if Dr. Fitzgerald feels comfortable letting some of key positions be pushed into FY18. Dr. Fitzgerald stated that she would love all these positions for this year but cited budget constraints.

Tom Tracy (Auditor/Assistant Town Manager for Finance) asked which positions are current staff taking on additional roles vs. which are new positions that will have health insurance implications.  Mr. Kellner said that he would provide Mr. Tracy with the relevant information.

Updated Meeting Schedule

- 3/14:  WHS Library at 6pm School Committee meeting to vote for SOI. 6:45pm Budget and Finance meeting covering Special Education, new initiatives and other non-salary drivers.

- 3/21: Cancelled due to joint School Committee and Town Council meeting at 6:30pm at Town Hall in the Council Chambers to receive the report on the outside audit.

- 3/28: WHS Library at 6pm. Budget and Finance meeting covering a draft budget summary, grants and revolving accounts (budget offsets), and recommend budget for public hearing to full School Committee.

4/4: Full School Committee meeting with public hearing on the FY17 budget.

Commentary

It is great to see the new positions being requested, especially those that are rebuilding what was lost in past years such as Music and Arts.  The new Elementary Foreign Language teachers, the WHS engineering position and the WMS Maker Space Assistant hint towards some exciting new initiatives and expansion of current initiatives.  As the Superintendent lamented, we would love to see some Computer Science teachers added across grade levels (Elementary, Middle and High School).  The district is working on STEAM initiatives and we hope to see Computer Science included in those initiatives K-12 in the future. 

David Stokes brought up a good point regarding the Digital Learning Instructional Specialists/Coaches.  While we understand that there are budget constraints, if we are expanding our digital learning initiatives such as the 8th grade 1:1 Chromebook Initiative, started in FY16, into FY17 by increasing the grades participating, can we really wait to add these positions until FY18? Should we consider bringing at least one of these positions into the FY17 request?  In addition to the budget constraints, we suspect that the district’s current space issues also constrain our ability to add staff and programs.  We look forward to the district putting out the RFP for a Master Plan in order to find short- and long-term solutions to address our space issues so that we can fulfill more of our staff and programming needs in the future.

So far, during the FY17 budgeting process we have identified the costs associated with moving forward with current staff ($1,760,858) and new positions ($1,141,406), which total $2,902,264.  The next few Budget & Finance meetings will outline other costs such as Special Education and non-salary drivers such as energy costs, etc.  Other revenue such as grant funding, revolving funds and other budget offsets will also be discussed at future meetings.  As it stands now, not factoring any additional revenue that may come to light in future meetings, these new costs ($2,902,264) constitute a 7.0% increase over the FY16 revised budget.  This increase could grow or shrink as we learn more over the next few Budget & Finance meetings.

 

Minutes written by: Kate Coyne and Alyson Morales