Unofficial Minutes: Budget & Finance Subcommittee Meeting on 03/14/2016 – Key Points and Commentary

Note:  These are not official minutes. 

Subcommittee members: Jean Fitzgerald, Superintendent; Charles Kellner, Director of Business Services; John Portz, Chair; Guido Guidotti; Candace Miller

Attendees in the audience: Mark Sideris (TC president and SC member), Kendra Foley (SC), Eileen Hsu-Balzer (SC), Liz Yusem (SC), Kate Coyne (WSS), Alyson Morales (WSS), David Stokes (WSS), Craig Hardimon (HR Director), Toni Carlson (K-12 Educational Technology and Library Coordinator), Laura Alderson-Rotondo (CTE Coordinator), Meg Slesinger (K-12 Fine And Performing Arts Coordinator), Adam Silverberg (World Languages Coordinator), Donna Ruseckas (Director of Wellness and Extended Services), Kimo Carter (WMS Principal), Elizabeth Kaplan (Lowell School Principal), Mena Ciarlone (Cunniff School Principal), Bob LaRoche (Hosmer School Principal), April Romano (Early Childhood Coordinator), and Mike Shepard.

FY17 Budget – New Initiatives

Dr. Fitzgerald began by introducing the 5 new initiatives:  (1) the new WMS MakerSpace (not quite a Fab Lab…), (2) the expansion of the 1-to-1 ChromeBook program to the WHS 9th and 10th grades, (3) the expansion of Project Lead the Way (engineering) at WHS, (4) reinstatement of the Music program to what it was before the Great Recession in 2008-9, and (5) the new Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program.

WMS MakerSpace

The new MakerSpace at the Middle School will require 1 Instructional Aide (IA) that will help with student and teacher support in the MakerSpace.  It will be a central location for learning, likely in the WMS Library Loft.  Toni Carlson talked about the fact that there are lots of middle school MakerSpace models from which to take the best ideas as the MakerSpace comes together.  The purpose of the MakerSpace is to give students the (guided) opportunity to create/design/engineer through the manipulation of numerous materials.  Kimo Carter noted that the first project would be to design the MakerSpace (possibly through a survey/poll of students through Advisory).  Candice Miller asked if there would be an impact to the science curriculum (and if so, what); Kimo answered “yes and no”.  His answer said that the impact to the science curriculum would not necessarily raise the MCAS (2.0) scores, since the test is focused on the “what” of science, and the WMS science curriculum is focused on the “why” and “how” of science.  But, the MakerSpace will allow for integration into the curriculum of more authentic and more inquiry-based learning.

The FY17 Budget includes $19,650 for equipment and materials (consumables) for this WMS MakerSpace; the District is already looking for grants to help defray the costs.  Eileen Hsu-Balzer commented that the IA is key to the success of the space; she noted that the presentations that she saw at WHS about the FabLab were not science-based, but demonstrated powerful learning in non-science areas.

Expansion of the 1-to-1 ChromeBook program for 9th and 10th Graders

The current 8th graders were the first students to have a ChromeBook assigned to each student (1-to-1).  The District wants them to continue, which is why the program is expanding to 9th grade next year.  The plan then considers that the 8th grade will already have the machines from this year (although they’ll need a few more, based on the difference in size between this year’s 8th graders and next year’s).  And, the choice was to expand to 10th grade.  Toni Carlson mentioned that in FY18, the District might choose to expand to the 7th, 11th, and 12th grades.

All three grades will be able to take the ChromeBooks home with them next year.  The District is pursuing comprehensive insurance for the machines (covering theft, loss, and damage – including water and screen), for which the student/family will be responsible:  they’ll have to sign a contract and pay the insurance premium (Dr. Fitzgerald suggested that it might only cost $30 for the school year).

Toni discussed that the 9th and 10th grades were selected because the WHS teachers are ready and eager for the opportunity to use these new tools in their classrooms.  She said that many teachers are already using Google Classrooms, one of the many Google Apps for Education that have been in the District for the last 4 years.  Lots of Professional Development will be required (as discussed in the movie, “Most Likely To Succeed”), that will lead to positive teaching changes.

The FY17 Budget includes $122,500 for this initiative.  Required infrastructure upgrades and improvements are included separately, under the IT department portion of the budget.  The life expectancy of the computers is 3 years (although the District is expecting to get 4-5 years out of each machine).  Also, students will have the option to use their own computer (whether or not it is a ChromeBook), but they will only have access through the “public” portion of the Wi-Fi, not the “private” portion (which has fewer, only-authorized devices owned by the District on it).

Toni also added that WHS would be adding a “Student HelpDesk” class to the Course of Studies.  It is based on the Burlington (MA) model, where students will be helping other students and teachers with computer problems.  She also expects that teacher experts will emerge and begin to coach other teachers by AY17-18.

Expansion of the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Engineering program

This year (FY16), WHS introduced the PLTW Engineering program with a single, foundational Principles of Engineering I course.  Next year, WPS is proposing to add 2 additional courses, Principles of Engineering II and a specialized course, Digital Electronics.  There is additional 1 FTE required in FY17, a teacher with a physics-based background.  Laura Alderson-Rotondo is the CTE Coordinator and teaches the Principles of Engineering I course this year.  She mentioned that although there are 9 total courses available in the non-profit’s curriculum, WHS would only expect students to complete 3-4 courses in total (however, I did not catch how many courses WHS might actually offer).  The cost of the Engineering “pathway” from PLTW is $3000/year, which allows access to all 9 of the courses and their curriculum materials, and a rather robust online support community for teachers.

From the website, the description for this program starts:  “PLTW Engineering is more than just another high school engineering program.  It is about applying engineering, science, math, and technology to solve complex, open-ended problems in a real-world context.  Students focus on the process of defining and solving a problem, not on getting the "right" answer.  They learn how to apply STEM knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to make the world a better place through innovation.”

The FY17 Budget includes $37,500 for laptops that will run AutoDesk Inventor, which is a CAD (computer-aided design) software program.

Reinstatement of Music

The FY17 Budget includes 1.0 FTE, which will actually bring 2 current half-time teachers up to full-time.  Meg Slesinger, the Fine and Performing Arts (FAPA) Coordinator, explained that the 1.0 FTE will have significant rippling effects throughout the District.  It will eliminate inequities across the Elementary Schools in the Music Instruction program.  WMS, with some schedule changes, will be able to offer 4 specials to every student each year, and add more interdisciplinary projects (remember that the “A” in STEAM is for Arts…).  Meg’s vision for WPS is to have every student music literate by their entrance to WMS, so that more advanced music and arts instruction can be provided.

Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program

Adam Silverberg, the World Languages Coordinator, discussed the cost breakdown (see handout) for FY17, which is the first year of the program.  The program, which will start with the Pre-K/K classes in Year 1, will add 30 minutes of Spanish instruction 5 times per week.  Some of the first year (or two) will require curriculum development and professional development.  The FLES program has been presented at School Committee meetings over the past year, in preparation for this budget cycle.

Special Education

The Superintendent and Mr. Kellner gave an update of Special Education costs for FY16 and expected, budgeted FY17 costs.  Mr. Kellner noted that these costs could change, both for FY16 and FY17, and usually do.

There was some mention about the Special Education Stabilization Fund that the Town Council created and seeded.  Ms. Hsu-Balzer requested that the Administration continue to reach out to Mr. Tracy to hammer out the use cases and procedures required to use those monies, before the School Department needs to use them.

FY17 Major Budget Offsets

The breakdown was provided as a handout and was discussed.

Of note are the following items:

·       The Foundation Reserve Grant 2015-16 is a $250,000 one-time appropriation from the Commonwealth, thanks to Watertown’s State Representatives Jon Hecht and John Lawn and State Senator Will Brownsberger.  The money can be used at any time, but Mr. Kellner said that he looked for large-ticket, one-time costs that would help spend that money in the upcoming FY17.

·       Some discussion was had around the 94-142 Grant from the Commonwealth and the Circuit Breaker reimbursement.  Mr. Kellner mentioned that the 70% reimbursement rate was the conservative number that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) recommended.

·       Under “Community Education”, Mr. Kellner reminded the Subcommittee that he uses that revolving account to pay for some of the Utilities cost.  Historically, it had been static at $135,000 each year with no increase, but under a new agreement with the Town Auditor, that amount had been increased by 3%, which represented an adjustment based on the cost of living.

Commentary

As I sat in the Budget and Finance Subcommittee meeting, it dawned on me that what we really need the School Administration to do and the School Committee to require is actual project plans for initiatives.  Working in IT for the last 20+ years has taught me to use one model (which might not be right for the schools, but it would be a place to start) – project plans that, at their barest bones, define scope, schedule, and budget

To be fair, Jean did have the corresponding Curriculum Coordinators provide scope and, to a lesser degree, both schedule and budget during last week’s meeting.  However, the handouts were insufficiently detailed; and the narratives from the Coordinators did not lay out what step(s) would come next – the broader context.  For parents that were not in the room, this WSS unofficial version of the minutes and/or the video of the meeting are their only (incomplete) reference materials.  The Administration should present a singular all-encompassing plan for each initiative; and, if the scope (and preliminary schedule) for each new initiative was presented at, say, Curriculum Subcommittee meetings in during the winter, that would give parents (and officials) time to digest, ask questions, and be ready for the budget discussion in the spring (and there should be budget documents for each initiative, identifying total costs – both one-time and recurring – and likely funding sources).

I don’t like discussing an already limited version of any initiative, because I always want to know what is being left out, what is pushed until later, what ended up on the “cutting room floor”, and why.  Sometimes it is good to dream big, and talk publicly about those big dreams, even if there is not enough money to pull them off – it makes others think beyond the boundaries as well, and pushes them to be creative with funding and other operational hurdles.  I think that WSS was able to help achieve that creativity with the rest of the Town 2 years ago.  We have another opportunity now with the new High School and overcrowding problem.

I also want to see a bigger picture.  Where will this District be in 5 years?  How do the initiatives that we discussed at the meeting make strides to get us there?  How will we know that we got to where we were heading?  We regularly hear about 3 important objectives that the Superintendent has in place now, separate from but related to the District’s 3 goals:  (1) increase and promote STEAM in our schools; (2) increase the Global Competencies of our students; and, (3) with regard to literacy, ensure that by the 3rd consecutive year a student has been enrolled in WPS that they can read at grade level.  These are good, important objectives.  What I am missing is the list of all the initiatives that will get us there (and the measurements by which we will know we are making progress), laid out comprehensively year-by-year, rather than being fed to us bit-by-bit each year.  It is difficult for people to feel forward progress is being made if it is never described to them in a way that they can see the progress.  In addition, planning for staff and funding sources sometimes requires more than just the year’s look-ahead.

The FAPA initiative has a compelling story that Meg told well – one with a vision behind it, a clearly articulated SMART goal, and some small steps to create large rippled effects in the coming year.  Certainly there has been lots of thought and planning that went into it.  The PLTW Engineering program, the 1-to-1 ChromeBook initiative, and the FLES program are already laid out, I think, but I think there is more to share, possibly in a different way.  For example, where can I see what the next step(s) for these initiatives are that the District will undertake in FY18, FY19, and FY20?  And at what cost(s), since these are all multi-year initiatives (can we really call any of them “new”, if they are all extensions, expansions, or reinstatements of current or former initiatives)?  For the record, I want to say that I think all the intiatives for FY17 are fantastic, and I am behind them 110%; I just wish that there were better communication about the projects’ details and vision to the parents of the District, so that they can rally behind the forward thinking of the Faculty and Administration and support the incredible learning that is planned for WPS in FY17.

 

Written by:  David Stokes

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

Unofficial Minutes: Town Council Budget & Fiscal Oversight Committee 2/29/15 – Key Points and Commentary

Note: These are not official minutes.

Committee members and others at the table: Vincent Piccirilli (Chair), Angie Kounellis (Vice Chair), Ken Woodland (Secretary), Mike Driscoll (Town Manager), Tom Tracy (Auditor/Assistant Town Manager for Finance), Town Treasurer, Dr. Jean Fitzgerald (WPS Superintendent), and Charles Kellner (WPS Business Manager).

Attendees in the audience: Mark Sideris (TC president), John Portz (SC Chair), Kendra Foley (SC Vice Chair), Eileen Hsu-Balzer (SC), Liz Yusem (SC), Julie Cotton (WSS), Rebecca Grow (WSS), Alyson Morales (WSS), and David Stokes (WSS).

This meeting was held to discuss the Watertown Public School (WPS) FY 2017-2021 Capital Improvement Program (CIP). There was also discussion of previous fiscal years’ spending going back to FY13.

FY13-FY16 CIP

Tom Tracy, Auditor/Assistant Town Manager for Finance, discussed School Department Active Capital Projects Funds As of 2/29/16, which was presented as a handout.  This document outlined capital project budgets, expenditures and available funds.  According to the document, total funds available from FY13-16 Capital projects total $447,128.42. There were some questions about these available balances.  Were some projects not completed, were some diverted to other projects, is some of the information incorrect? Mr. Kellner, WPS business manager, will investigate further and report back to Mr. Tracy his findings. Some of the projects are from before Mr. Kellner joined WPS (summer 2014).

FY17 CIP

The following is an overview of $858,600 in capital projects slated for FY17.

Cunniff ($45K)

-   Replace classroom furniture $10K

-   Replace carpet in main office and room 155 $5K

-   Replace Cove mid section doors $30K

Hosmer ($76.6K)

-   Update building furniture $20K

-   Replace Emergency Alarm Panel $22.5K

-   Effervescence Cleaning (walkway to auditorium) $14K

-   Replace Stucco Spandrels $20K

Lowell ($195K)

-   Replace and update classroom furniture $15K

-   Install A/C in Main Office & Nurse Area $18K

-   Replace building carpet $122K (project will continue into FY18 $97K)

-   Repair windows $40K

Middle School ($122.5K)

-   Replace and update classroom furniture $17.5K

-   Renovate Science Lab equipment $75K

-   Replace exterior lighting and timing system $15K

-   Renovate Kitchen area into classroom $15K

Note: Middle School MSBA Window replacement project is slated for FY18. The town’s portion is projected to be $1.54M. The loan order for the full amount ($3M) will have to be authorized by the Town prior to July 1, 2016 as part of the MSBA process.

High School ($79.3K)

-   Replace classroom furniture $20K

-   Repoint brick near teachers’ cafeteria & auditorium $59.3K

Phillips School ($7.5K)

-   Furniture/Equipment/Furnishings $7.5K

District ($332.7K)

-   Replace Maintenance vehicle $45K

-   Update Food service equipment $19.2K

-   More Cameras/District Audit $11K

-   Centralized ID system $6K

-   Design Sub-Division of Early Steps Space $10K

-   Intercom/Bell Systems – System wide $36.1K

-   School Technology $200K

FY17-21 CIP

The total projected expenditures for all schools FY17 - FY’21 are as follows:

CUNNIFF— $166,200

HOSMER— $1,817,600

LOWELL— $421,000

MIDDLE SCHOOL— $4,943,700 ($3M of this is for new windows and a subsidy is being sought through the Mass School Building Authority to offset these costs by nearly half)

HIGH SCHOOL— $778,800

PHILLIPS SCHOOL -- $279,500

DISTRICT -- $1,351,200

TOTAL – 9,758,000

District Physical Space Discussion

Councilor Piccirilli asked the schools about a 5-year plan to address space issues.

School overcrowding was discussed. Superintendent Fitzgerald responded to a question about available space by saying that all schools are currently at full capacity. She is looking at different options for meeting overcrowding concerns and said that “nothing is off the table” in terms of potential options. There is already an RFP in progress.

The middle school and high school are at capacity like the rest of the schools, though Superintendent Fitzgerald mentioned the possibility of scheduling classrooms “100% of the time”. That means some teachers would have to leave their classrooms for a time while another teacher and class used it, and that doesn’t leave a space for those teachers to use during that time. She also mentioned that some non-classroom spaces such as hallways are being used as learning and studying spaces by students.

Councilor Kounelis asked about the possibility of offsetting school overcrowding in the lower grades by shifting 8th graders to the high school and 5th graders to the middle school. She said this option was suggested years ago but never done. Superintendent Fitzgerald said this is no longer a possibility due to the current size of the student body. It could be a consideration in the future if Watertown was able to build a new high school, which could be made big enough to accommodate more students.

There was a discussion concerning new development and needing data from the town indicating how many are likely to house families with children. The Town Manager stated that the town has tracked how many children reside in the different apartment complexes and has passed that information on to the schools.  He is looking into the most recent information and will pass it along.  Councilor Piccirilli stated that 40% of the new development is 2BR units, while 60% are 1BRs or studios.  It was also stated that the Bell Apartment have some 3BR units. The question was raised, what is the total number of units those percentages should be applied to?  That information was not immediately available. Councilor Woodland suggested that overcrowding — the 4th grade at the Cunniff— might be due to an unusually large number of 4th graders in that part of town and not to an increase in enrollment from new housing developments bringing in more families. Superintendent Fitzgerald said that it just happened that many of the new students entering the Cunniff this year were from housing developments and happened to be in 4th grade.

In the audience, Eileen Hsu-Balzer, School Committee member, added that it was not just “kids’ bodies” in classroom spaces, but curriculum and specialists, and that combining groups of kids into a single room while doing different lessons simultaneously would be disruptive and not conducive for learning.

Also in the audience, Elizabeth Yusem, School Committee member, mentioned modular classrooms, but felt they were “not a good solution” because of the projected cost to lease them. She suggested that the Master Plan study for which an RFP is in progress, should help determine the best option for the students.

The discussion moved back to the need for a long-term plan.  The current debt exclusion override will expire in 2018.  Watertown needs a plan before it expires, because if we are accepted into the MSBA program for a new high school a new debt exclusion override will be needed.  The town seems eager to work with the schools on a plan. Superintendent Fitzgerald is currently working on the SOI for the high school and will work on the RFP once the SOI is complete.

Stamatakis Playground

Councilor Piccirilli mentioned the Stamatakis Playground (the smaller playground used by the preschool at the Hosmer School). $640k had been donated and $56k has been allotted for resurfacing the playground area, converting it from wood chips to a blue rubberized surface. Mr. Kellner said this was an “open item” because it had not been done yet, but was investigating as he could not find a record of the $56k. He said that to his knowledge, there was “no capital money left” for that project. He suggested that there may be other monies available that could be repurposed for this project. It was also suggested that the money for the Stamatakis Playground may be tied up in the nearly $448k from FY13-FY16 overage. Mr. Kellner said that the playground was “not listed at all” in the paperwork he inherited when taking his position in 2014.

A design firm did a pro-bono design of the playground that incorporated a bike path around the structure, but because of liability for drainage issues, they did not release the design to bid.

School Committee member, Eileen Hsu-Balzer asked about the ownership of the playground and who it is that maintains the other playgrounds in town. It seems that most are under the purview of the Recreation Department, but Stamatakis and one or two others belong to the School Department. She suggested it might be best to have all of the playgrounds belong to a single department. School Committee member Kendra Foley also agreed with this. She also suggested the Watertown Commission on Disability may be able to help, as the playground was designed to be accessible to children with special needs.

Town Manager Mike Driscoll expressed agreement with the idea that the town take over the playground.

In the audience, Town Council President Mark Sideris made a recommendation that Town Manager Driscoll and Superintendent Fitzgerald further discuss this matter.

Commentary

It is a bit disconcerting that there is nearly a half a million dollars in pending capital improvement projects, some dating back to FY13.  We hope that some are simple accounting errors and that the matter is able to be resolved in a timely fashion and that pending projects will be completed quickly.  We assume that having a vacant facilities manager position makes these issues even more challenging.

We are encouraged by the town’s strong interest in working with the school department to work on a plan to solve the district’s physical space issues.  We feel that both sides are motivated to solve the issue.  While we understand that central administration is currently understaffed due to several vacant positions, and that getting a well written SOI is a priority, we are concerned that the timeline for the Master Plan RFP may not yield results in time to solve short term space issues this coming Fall.  We have learned since this meeting that the SOI is expected to be finished and voted on at a School Committee meeting on 3/14.  We hope that as the RFP becomes a priority and is worked on, other short-term solutions can be explored in parallel, so that at least a short-term plan can be ready for the start of the new school year.

Minutes written by: Julie Cotton and Alyson Morales

Unofficial Minutes: Budget & Finance Subcommittee 2/11/16-Key Points and Commentary

Buildings & Grounds Agenda Note: These are not official minutes.

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

Attendees in the audience: Mark Sideris (TC president), Kendra Foley (SC), Eileen Hsu-Balzer (SC), Liz Yusem (SC), Kate Coyne (WSS), Alyson Morales (WSS), David Stokes (WSS), and Ilana Mainelli.

FY16 Update

Charles Kellner, Business Manager, discussed the FY16 School Operating Budget, Summary Report by Object Code as of 1/25/16 which was provided as a handout.  The report detailed the following by object code: FY16 revised budget, Expenses, Encumbrances,  Expenses + Encumbrances, Projections through 6/30/16 and the variance.  As of 1/25/16, the school operating budget is expected to have an excess of $1.031M.  This amount is subject to change as we finish out the school year.  It is expected that whatever excess money remains at the end of the budget period would be carried over into the circuit breaker account. One of the causes for the excess is due to grant monies being allocated differently.  In the past some salaries were paid out of the grant.  This year, some tuitions were paid via the grant.  The object code line item for "Tuition Non-Public", represented the largest projected overage with $906,768.  This object code is largely, if not entirely, made up of out-of-district private special education tuition.  While some tuition object codes held overages, some salary line items were in the negative.

Minuteman

The Superintendent gave an update on discussions that have been had with the Town Manager.  The decision whether to become member of the Minuteman district or to continue as a non-member town is a Town decision. Minuteman just got approved for a state grant to build a new high school in Lincoln. Member towns will have to pay a portion of the capital costs to build the new high school.  The Superintendent and Town Manager decided that it was premature to decide whether or not to become a member town as seven towns are deciding whether to stay as members or leave. Once the towns have had their town meetings, the Superintendent and Town Manager will restart their discussions on the pros and cons of becoming a member town.  If some towns decide to leave, the remaining towns will have a larger share of capital costs to pay.  John Portz referred to a recent Boston Globe article on the topic. The Superintendent mentioned a few other schools as an alternative to Minuteman that were available to Watertown students: Waltham and Keefe in Framingham. Watertown currently sends 63 students to Minuteman.  Ilana Mainelli, a parent, raised her concerns about Watertown students being able to attend Minuteman after the upcoming Freshman class starts in Fall 2016 due to changes to Chapter 74 rules that would make it so that Minuteman must take all of its in-district students first, regardless of qualifications before taking any out-of-district students.  The Superintendent stated that this was just the beginning of the conversation.

FY17 Budget Process

The budget calendar was provided as a handout and was discussed. The following are upcoming meeting dates:

  • 2/29/16 - WPS presents Capital Improvement Plan to the Council's subcommittee on Budget & Fiscal Oversight
  • 3/3/16 - Move-ahead costs and new positions
  • 3/7/16 - Regular Monthly School Committee Meeting
  • 3/14/16 - Special Education, new initiatives, and other non-salary drivers
  • 3/21/16 - Draft Budget Summary, Grants and Revolving accounts (Budget offsets)
  • 3/26/16 - Budget & Finance Recommend Budget for Public Hearing at Full School Committee Meeting

Candace Miller suggested that the district look at creating a 3 to 5 year plan to be worked on after the current budget process is done.  The plan would be intended to outline a vision for the district and the associated costs.  John Portz mentioned that this is something the town has been asking for for several years.   There was some discussion from the audience concerning the plan, both in favor and opposed.  Some issues of concern that were brought up included: needing the town to provide additional information regarding the number of students to expect from new development; what financial model would be used; whether it was appropriate to have central administration develop such a plan; and that the town is satsified with the way the budget process went last year and that there may not be a need for a 3 to 5yr plan. In the end, no decision regarding a 3 to 5 year plan was made.

Commentary 

I think that suggesting the district work on creating a 3 to 5 year plan once the budget process is finished is an important part of the planning process.  Many districts develop plans to guide them as they work to improve their district.  Such a plan, will allow the district to lay out it's vision, the steps needed to achieve that vision and provide the associated costs. One important part of being able to forecast that vision is being able to project student enrollment. NESDEC (New England School Development Council) presented an enrollment forecast through 2025 at the January School Committee meeting. Several in the room suggested that the forecast was inaccurate. If that is the case, is a new professional study that includes a deeper analysis needed if we can't do it in-house?  Developing a solid enrollment forecast is very important to planning for the future, as it is a key factor in future needs for space, staff, etc. Other important factors in developing the plan would be outlining a plan for future programming needs and projecting the costs associated with those initiatives such as: additional STEAM programming, FLES (Foreign Language in Elementary Schools), additional Fab Labs, etc.  Another theme of those opposed to creating a 3 to 5yr plan is that it would be inaccurate, things change, there could be an unexpected spike in students, unknowns around the impact of new development in town, etc.  My argument would be that no forecast is ever 100% accurate, as nobody can predict the future.  A forecast is an educated guess based on informed assumptions.  The fact that we can't predict enrollment or other factors with 100% certainty should not be an obstacle to stating assumptions and making and developing an informed projection.  The plan can be fluid and can change as conditions and priorities change.  If we don't move forward with this, how do we plan for future programming, staff and space needs?  I hope that this issue will be revisited and that Watertown chooses to create a 3 to 5 year plan as both a way to communicate the district's vision to the community as well as to use it as an important tool in the planning process.

Written by: Alyson Morales

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