To the Editor: Watertown Strong Schools has spent a lot of time focused on understanding the state of Watertown Public Schools. We analyzed data, met with town leaders and residents, interviewed administrators, and surveyed teachers. What we have concluded and have worked to clearly and objectively explain, is that the schools are at a crisis point. If left unchecked and underfunded, the problems will continue to get worse.
While the Town Manager’s current education budget has made many positive steps and is larger than it has been in the past, it will not address class size in any meaningful way. We need additional funding to cover new mandated (required by law) and new core teaching staff at a minimum to address the problem. While we believe additional staff is needed in the areas of guidance, STEM, music, etc., our priority must be adding core classroom teachers.
Throughout our work to advocate for Watertown’s students we have heard many arguments against additional funding. I have been asked to respond to several of the more recent statements made. All of the information presented below is sourced from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Revenue.
Watertown spends less on education because we have fewer students to educate. This is not true. Watertown doesn't spend less on education because we have fewer students. When Watertown is compared to other towns with similar student enrollment (+/- 500 students) we are at the bottom in terms of spending. We spend 49% (including insurance and retirement) of our budget on education, while other towns with similar enrollments spend 67% on average.
Watertown has better student to teacher ratios than its neighbors. This statement is misleading. While true, one has to look deeper for a better understanding. Watertown has a much higher population of special education students than its neighbors (WPS 21.9% vs 19.4% in Newton vs 13.9% in Arlington vs 9.2% in Belmont). These special education students often have classes that are small and range in size anywhere from one to twelve students per teacher. When a town has this high of a population of students with disabilities, it skews the top line ratio and makes it look better than it is. Elementary class sizes right now are as high as 28 students per class.
Watertown spends more per pupil than its neighbors is also misleading. Again, while true, one has to go beyond the surface to get to the truth. Watertown spends 33.4% of its operating budget on special education, which is more costly and therefore drives up the total per pupil expenditure. This is much higher than its neighbors, again because of our unique student population and needs. Newton spends 25.2%, Arlington spends 22.5% and Belmont spends 21.8%. Because of this, Watertown looks better at a top line when compared to its neighbors.
Many of these issues are not obvious to those that have not been spending months looking at all of the information. I urge residents to weigh all of the information and make up their own mind. Go to watertownstrongschools.com and take a look at our documents. All of the data is objective and sourced. There are no smoke and mirrors. We are an independent group that is not on “anyone’s side”. We continue to advocate for all of the children of Watertown, special education and general education alike.
Alyson Morales Chandler Street