To the Editor, After attending the Special Town Council meeting on 4/29, I was heartened and disappointed at the same time. I was pleased to see concerned parents and citizens packing the Council Chamber, pouring into and filling up the hallway to show support for increased funding for Watertown Public Schools. I was encouraged to hear so many residents addressing the town during the public forum.
I was very disappointed by the Town Manager’s proposed FY15 budget. The funding proposed for the schools is needed, but is clearly insufficient. The budget will not address the need for more teachers in any meaningful way, nor will it address our overcrowded classrooms. In this proposed budget, the increase in the town appropriation will be largely consumed by the cost of existing contracts, preventing the hiring of desperately needed new staff. While the parents and citizens of Watertown understand the dire situation of our schools, many of our town leaders are choosing to ignore data and facts.
The Town Manger repeatedly described the town’s excellent financial position and the AAA bond rating. But our financial rating cannot be Watertown’s ultimate goal. It is a means to helping us reach our shared vision of a strong community. Watertown needs to adjust its priorities and make the quality of Watertown Schools one of the key pieces of the Town’s vision going forward. Watertown is ranked last or next to last in how much we allocate to education as a percent of total expenditures when compared to towns with similar school enrollment and populations (49% on education in Watertown compared to the average of 67% for towns with similar enrollment and populations). We cannot continue to prioritize our town’s bond rating over quality education.
Residents without children in schools should still be deeply invested in Watertown schools. Public schools are the cornerstone of strong communities, uniting past and future generations and neighborhoods. The reputation of public schools matter too. Across Massachusetts, the majority of towns with the largest increase in home sales in the first quarter of 2014 had high ranking schools. Despite our location and great town, real estate agents say that new buyers pass over Watertown in search of towns with reputations for strong schools. For most people, a house is the largest retirement asset and its value could be protected by demanding strong schools. Research conclusively demonstrates that strong public schools drive economic development. Investments in schools are rewarded in the housing market. Schools are one of the best economic investments our community can make. Public education provides economic benefits to everyone in the community, not just students.
I call on our town leaders to do more than give lip service to supporting strong schools by sending the budget back to the manager to increase education funding. Real progress must be made. The budget, as it stands, does little to address the serious problems outlined by our Superintendent and Principals.
Alyson Morales 21 Chandler St. Watertown, MA