Update: Town Manager Driscoll is building the budget. Will the Needs of WPS be met?

“Schools are one of the best possible economic investments our community can make.

Public education provides economic benefits to everyone in the community...”

Quick Review:

After  years of underfunding (see slides 20-25), in March 2014, the School Committee (SC) voted in favor of the WPS FY2015 Budget of $42,861,507 (which is $6.1 million over FY 2014.)

Last week, the Town Council voted to delay the Town Manager’s (TM) submission of the FY 2015 budget to April 29, 2014. In his public comments, TM Driscoll asked the Superintendent to prioritize the list of school “needs”.

Since last Tuesday:

  • TM Driscoll, Superintendent Fitzgerald, SC Chair Hsu-Balzer, and Council President Sideris have been discussing the budget.
  •  Superintendent Fitzgerald is working with WPS Principals to determine whether the budget can be reduced (e.g. hiring below the budgeted average salary, what items can be cut etc.)
  • However, in building the budget, WPS Principals were only allowed to include what their school “needed” so it is difficult to say what can be removed.

WPS FY2015 Budget, in considering priorities, we understand that:

  • WPS must meet contractual obligations (for salaries and other services)
  • One-time costs (or costs that will not be incurred for another 3+ years such as math curriculum) are easier to meet than recurring costs
  •  Mandated costs, (i.e. special education, English language, and adaptive physical education teachers) are required costs
  •  We believe the at-risk items in the FY2015 budget are the non-mandated, reoccurring costs essential to quality schools, teaching, and learning. These include general education teachers, specials curriculum teachers, guidance and push counselors, behavioral supports, and instructional assistantsSee slide 11 in our PPT for these positions.

All of these positions and costs must be in the 2015 budget and beyond to repair WPS. Watertown is in a strong financial position (see our Q&A). Repairing our schools requires a realignment of Watertown’s priorities and generating new revenue. We can do this.  WPS Leaders and Principals identified staff and materials essential to student performance, mental health, and school satisfaction; ensuring safe schools; improving test scores and Watertown’s reputation; and building a stronger community. See our Platform Document.

As the Manager builds the budget, we are developing the Watertown Strong Schools vision to ensure the all investments improve WPS.The vision includes:

  • From WPS: Stronger financial management and accountability with a new business manager; improved, more transparent financial processes; and better tracking of efforts with evaluation of key results
  • From our School Committee: Strengthened capacity around best practices in financial management and budget oversight, policy formulation, identifying needs, measuring district performance, and evaluation of key efforts
  • Clear roles and responsibilities for WPS, SC, TC and Town Manager’s office
  • Greater parental and resident involvement, etc. Have an idea? Contribute to the vision!

The time to act is now. The second grader struggling to read cannot wait years, the 7th grader with behavioral problems needs supports today, and the high school junior diligently building her future needs daily opportunities to become confident and competitive in today’s workplace. See our Op Ed.

Again possible sources, for FY2015, see our PPT for sources for 2016 and beyond.


Amount Available for 2015

Savings that we didn’t know we’d have when the Town Manager first released the 2015 budget.

The Massachusetts Group Insurance Commission rates: 1% increase rather than the budgeted 6%. $700,000 (5% of $14 million) (TM's original budget allocated 6% to this line item, but there was only a 1% increase)
Additional Chapter 70 money allocated by the state. $400,000

Line items from other sources that could be allocated to education if the political will to strengthen the schools exists.

The Stabilization Fund in Capital Improvement Projects $500,000–$2 million
Capital expenditures could be 5%, or 6% of operating budget (not 7.5 –8%) until the schools are in decent shape  $1 - $2 million
The Unreserved Fund Balance: ($9 million)•     Based on the Budget and Policy Guidelines, we allocate 10% of expenditures to this fund. Most other towns allocate 2% or 3%. We can change this with a vote by the TC. Other towns with Aa3 bond ratings also allocate 2-3%. $2 m is generally spent per year, but more could be spent. 
Tax assessment overlay monies (which normally cover assessment appeals): $700,000–$1 million
Transfer from prepayment of the unfunded Pension Liability fund:•     The debt can be paid off by 2022, rather than 2019; also terms could change moving forward. We are paying this down aggressively, which we should do, if we WPS hadn’t deteriorated. $250,000
Council reserves: Normally used for union contract payments but this does exist. $1.4 million

Have questions? Contact us at WatertownStrongSchools@gmail.com or https://www.facebook.com/watertownstrongschools.

Thank you,