Watertown Strong Schools Op-Ed

Our Op Ed was recently posted to the Wicked Local Section of the TAB. You can read it in it's entirety here or on the Tab Wicked Local site. Posted Apr. 5, 2014 @ 9:49 pm to the Tab Online

Prioritize and fund Watertown Public Schools

WATERTOWN

Watertown Public Schools began a downward spiral during the 2008 financial crisis. We are now at a tipping point. Over the last 6 weeks, The WPS administration has carefully explained the staffing and resources needed to stop this trajectory. 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.

Watertown Strong Schools—a collaborative of parents, residents, and business owners—strongly support the WPS Administration in their urgent request. This budget represents essential resources that will enable WPS to return to adequate staffing levels and purchase the vital curriculum and materials needed for a quality education.

We have examined the town budget in detail with town officials and believe that resources exist to meet the needs for 2015 while maintaining all the town services we rely upon. We urge our Town Councilors and Manager to support the budget request. We are committed to working with our town leaders to identify resources for 2015 and beyond. We know that we must work through a legacy of problems with the finances in WPS and mistrust between school and town officials. Our schools need both strong financial management and effective coordination among town, school, and community leaders. Moving forward, our children should not pay the price for past financial problems or mistrust.

Watertown is uniquely complex. Our students are diverse: 1 in 10 students utilize the English Language Learner Program. The percentage of students from low income families has nearly doubled in the last decade. WPS has experienced growth in students with developmental delay, emotional problems; health problems, and autism. Watertown has one of the largest populations of children with special needs in the state. Consequently, WPS must spend more on special education than nearly every other town. So, while our average per pupil expenditure looks similar to surrounding towns, we spend significantly less per pupil on general education.

This budget squeeze has put WPS in an untenable situation. We are out of compliance for some special education students, while in general education, we see increasing class sizes, inadequate support services, and a lack of curriculum materials. MCAS performance is worsening, while districts across Massachusetts are improving. Watertown’s graduation rate, once around 90%, is stagnant around 85%. Our SAT scores in reading and writing are lower than the state average. Furthermore, Watertown has higher superintendent, principal, and teacher turnover than the state average.

We applaud the town’s strong financial management; however the school budget has failed to meet the needs for years. Although town funding for WPS has increased, federal and state grants have decreased, thus the budget has never kept pace with costs. Watertown spends less total revenue on education than nearly every other town in Massachusetts, including towns with a comparable total and student population. Most towns allocate 55%-65% of revenue to the school system, while Watertown allocates 45% including insurance and retirement costs. Moving forward, investing in WPS is financially responsible because it will yield financial benefits for students throughout their career and for Watertown. Research conclusively demonstrates that strong public schools drives economic development and investments in schools are rewarded in the housing market.

Finally, we ask Watertown residents to participate fully over the coming weeks as the School Committee and Town Council vote on FY2015 budgets. We ask residents to attend public meetings, read our platform document, write to town leaders, and learn more at WatertownStrongSchools.com.

Sincerely,

Watertown Strong Schools