February 2016 Newsletter

Dear Watertown Strong Schools Supporter, Welcome to the first newsletter of 2016!  We plan to send out a monthly newsletter to keep you updated on our efforts and all things related to education in Watertown. For up to the minute information, please look to our website and Facebook page (links provided at the bottom of this newsletter).

2016 Goals/Initiatives WSS held a meeting of the leadership team at the end of January to discuss 2016 advocacy efforts.  We identified two areas that we wish to focus on and have set up a working group for each area.  These working groups will hold their first meetings to finalize 2016 goals in early March.

  • The Overcrowding/Class size working group will focus on advocating for short-, mid-, and long-term solutions to the physical space issues facing our district and causing overcrowding issues especially in our Elementary schools.  Class size is also an area of advocacy and is related to physical space solutions.
  • The Communications/Information Infrastructure working group will cover several areas of advocacy: improvement of school/parent/community communication; improvement of the district website to make it easier to find information; posting of draft School Committee and Sub Committee meeting minutes; a better parent information portal allowing parents to see student assessment information, grades, progress reports, teacher feedback, homework; etc.

Unofficial Meeting Minutes Because it is often difficult for parents and community members to attend all of the meetings they are interested in, and because “official minutes” are often not posted until up to a month later, it can be a challenge to stay up to date on everything.   Therefore, in an effort to keep the community as informed as possible, WSS has started taking “unofficial” meeting minutes, providing associated commentary and posting it to our website and Facebook page within 24hrs of the meeting.  We have received a lot of positive feedback from the community and plan to continue this practice.  See below for links to recent minutes.

2016 Volunteer Survey In early February, WSS sent out a survey looking for volunteers.  Thank you to everyone that filled out a survey and indicated their interest in becoming more involved with Watertown Strong Schools.  It was a great success!  The survey is still open to anyone interested.

School Start Times The Watertown Public Schools’ Wellness Committee is studying school start times in relation to the sleep needs of teens. The committee is seeking input from Watertown parents/guardians, students, and educators.  The parent survey was sent out on 2/24/16.  The Wellness Committee plans to report its findings at the May 2016 School Committee meeting. We encourage everyone to fill out the survey and provide your feedback.

Several WSS parents have joined together and started a local chapter of the national Start School Later organization.  If you are interested in joining or would like more information about healthy school hours, please visit the website. Check out the Superintendent's Notebook to hear Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, Superintendent, Elizabeth Kaplan, Lowell Principal, Laura Alderson Rotondo, Career and Technical Education Coordinator, and Magen Slesinger, FAPA Coordinator discuss STEAM initiatives in Watertown.

[embed]http://wcatv.org/vod/superintentents-notebook/[/embed]

Thank you,

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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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FY16 News! Proposed 6.8% Increase for Schools

Hello Watertown Strong Schools supporters, Budgets are a reflection of priorities, and we are proud that our Town Council has prioritized the educational needs of our students. Tonight the Town Council will have a public hearing and vote on the FY16 budget, which includes the 6.87% increase requested by the School Committee.

Please come to the Town Council meeting tonight, June 9th at 7:15pm to show your support for the school budget appropriation. The public hearing and FY16 budget vote are at the top of the agenda!

View the FY16 School Budget Presentation here (PDF).

Thank you,

WSS

Update: FY2015 budget process -recap

Dear friends and neighbors, The FY2015 budget process is over. We are taking stock of what we have achieved and planning for the future. For exact percentages or write ups of the final budget, please see the Tab, Watertown News, the Residents for Strong School's FB site, or Town documents.

We all worked together displaying our unwavering commitment to Watertown Public Schools. We took a substantial step forward and we've made new connections and relationships across town. Our town hasn't seen such a high level of engagement on the part of parents and other members of this community in many years. Whether you attended meetings, emailed and or called elected officials, displayed a lawn sign, signed up for the WSS updates list, or engaged on the Facebook page, you helped to make this happen. Thank you so much for your efforts!

While we may adjust our pace, we can't lose our momentum. We must continue this effort together. Our schools did not get the full budget that they asked for and this puts administrators in a difficult position, trying to figure out how to meet the needs of all kids. While we will be engaged in the future budget efforts, we must also work together to fill the gaps.

What can we (as a group) do? What do we (WSS) plan to do (please join us)?

  • Get involved in the Community Planning process. The Comprehensive Plan Forum is tonight June 18, 2014 @ 6:30pm at the Watertown Middle School Auditorium. Our School Committee Chairperson mentioned that schools and education received little attention in the plan and didn't earn a spot in the Table of Contents of the long document. Come and speak up. Child care provided.
  • We'd like to bring together Site Councils across the schools to understand the unique needs of each school better and brainstorm on how to meet the needs that have not be met through the budget process.
  • We have a new Business Manager, a new Director of Special Education, but we are losing key staff as well. We'd like to begin conversations with our new professionals and understand why we are losing some of our other folks.
  • The Town Council voted to conduct an external audit of the school system. We'd like to put to rest all accounting and budgeting problems from the past and focus on a strong process, tools, and systems moving forward. We want to be engaged and shine light into this process so that past mistakes never again impede WPS from obtaining the resources they need to educate Watertown's students.
  • The next School Committee meeting is Wed, June 25, 6pm – 8pm at the Watertown High School Lecture Hall. We expect to hear about how the schools will use the 2015 budget and what they won't be able to fund. We'd like to work with the Watertown Education Foundation to help identify donations and resources for some discrete, non-staff items. We'd also like to ask for community engagement so that we can fill in some of the gaps so that all Watertown children get the education they deserve, even when our local budget falls short. WEF, we are reaching out to you shortly!
  • We'll have a planning meeting in late August. If you have ideas, share them. Please stay engaged!

Lawn signs: Please save them for next year! Most people purchased signs, so hold on to them. If you prefer, we can hold onto them. You can drop them at 14 Center Street, front porch.

All the best,

Candace and the rest of WSS