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,

Watertown Strong Schools [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]

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

Chairman’s Report, School Committee, May 5, 2014

As the Town budget process heads toward the finish line, I want to thank my fellow School Committee members, the Watertown Public Schools staff, the Town Hall staff, and the Town Council members, all of whom have engaged in various capacities in the fiscal conversation. In particular, the thoughtful public conversation driven by interest and concern from parents and community members has been very encouraging. Through the debate over numbers and data analysis, I find it useful to keep in mind the reason we are all having these conversations.  A budget represents the priorities of the person or entity that created it.  Building a budget begins with assumptions about some often-silent questions: What is my highest priority?  What are the things that will be deferred in deference to other priorities?  What philosophy underpins the choices that have led to the creation of that particular budget?  I emphasize the word choices, because that is what this process entails.

No one on this School Committee believes that we should ask for money for money’s sake.  We respect the challenge the FY15 School District budget presents to Town Hall. Our dual mandate as a School Committee is, first, to speak the truth about what our District needs, and then, second, to work within the constraints of the funding we receive to meet our students’ needs to the best of our ability.

At our last meeting, a mere month ago, the School Committee voted on a budget request to send to the Town Manager.  The budget was the result of months of painstaking number crunching, long work sessions, many of them public, and exacting analysis of budgets from years past. The result was our professional staff’s best estimate of student needs for FY15. The School District budget was built on a foundation of listing classroom needs down to the last glue stick.  For detail, I invite you to find information on the Watertown Public Schools website, and courtesy of the parents there is also useful information on the Watertown Strong Schools website.

Last Tuesday, the Town Manager revealed his budget at a Town Council meeting. On Friday, three days later, while the Superintendent was in a meeting with State Representatives Lawn and Hecht, she was notified that an additional out of district residential placement student had become Watertown’s responsibility, at an annual cost of $238,000 in tuition.  That means that three days after the Manager’s budget presentation, before the proposed budget has even been voted on by the Town Council, the School Department budget request is already ¼ million dollars in the red.  When I hear people say, “You have to get Special Education costs under control,” I don’t even know how to respond.

All school districts navigate through a thicket of regulations, some of them, but not all of them, related to Special Education.  To disregard any of these regulations would be wrong educationally, perilous legally, and ultimately punitive financially.  To quote our Special Education director: “I'd rather pay for good staffing that meets the needs of the students than pay for increased litigation and out-of-district placements because we don't have the proper staffing.”

The result of this budget pressure is perhaps similar to what happens when a restaurant plans to open.  There are regulations with which the restaurant must comply, from the building inspectors, from the health department, from the zoning board, etc.  Many of these regulations add cost to the budget, and are non-negotiable. A restaurant owner who is strapped for cash may then look to trim the budget in other ways, such as lowering the quality, size and variety of the food, decreasing the number and wages of staff, and letting needed repairs languish unaddressed.  In this metaphor, the customers are the students, and the meal they are consuming is the education they are receiving.  If the customer eats only occasionally at that restaurant, the harm is small.  But if that restaurant is the customer’s primary source of nutrition, if that restaurant represents to the customer the standard the world considers to be satisfactory, what is the effect?  A direct quote from a letter the School Committee received last week from a 2013 graduate of Watertown High School reads:  “The schools have been dealing with dwindling resources since my family moved here in 2008.  While I understand that the status quo is to allow the schools to continue to survive at their current semi-functional level, this status quo is incredibly destructive. No students in the school system are being served as well as they should be.”

An article in the Saturday NY Times Business section this last weekend discusses how to pick a town to move into.  Conventional wisdom lists good schools, value for housing price and distance of commute as the three top factors.  The article suggests an alternate way to assess the attractiveness of a town, based on the fit between the values of the community and your own, and describes some ways to research those values.  As always, schools are central to that research.  You will be hard pressed to find a single analysis of the desirability of a community anywhere that does not include an evaluation of the health of and town support for local schools.

Why is that?  I am not alone in believing that schools are a window into the values of a community.  Very few, if any, towns have unlimited financial resources.  They make choices on how to allocate their precious tax dollars based on community values.  I think this is worth repeating—towns make choices, based on community values, about how to allocate their tax dollars.

The budget discussion that Watertown is having is really a discussion of choices.  The School Committee and the School Administration have tried their best to provide a data-driven presentation of the needs of the school district.  After 5 years of diminishing services, the data show the increasing strain on teaching and learning caused by a lack of resources.

At the end of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, the Town Council President allowed a 15-minute public forum.  Many citizens expressed their wish to have the School budget increased above the Manager’s budget number. One speaker said he felt the schools were fine, and that the discussion was characterizing the Town Council as the bad guys and those in favor of increasing the school budget as the good guys. I want to go on record as saying that I do not characterize anyone on either side of this issue as bad or good.  What I will say is that we have a bad situation, which calls for us to work together toward a good solution.  This conversation is not about bad or good people.   I wish it were that simple and obvious.  It is not.  This is about choices and the differing priorities people place on these choices.   Precious tax dollars are meant to be used to fund the priorities of the citizens.  We have arrived at a fork in our road, and as a community we must choose which path to take.  We are selecting our municipal priorities. Where there is choice, there is opportunity.  Virtually all of the citizens of Watertown understand from their own life experiences the necessity of facing hard decisions, and they know that most of us cannot have everything we want.  They know that making one decision often necessitates adjusting another.  They are realists.  Let those of us honored to serve in public office not be less willing to face these difficult choices than those members of our community who have entrusted us with their votes.

Respectfully submitted, Eileen Hsu-Balzer Chair, Watertown School Committee

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.

Source

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,

WatertownStrongSchools

Update: New date for FY budget, TC at WPS, and budget sources for 2015 and beyond

Dear friends, 1. Last night the Town Council voted to delay the submission of the FY 2015 budget from April 22 to April 29, 2014 to allow for the continuation of dialogue and consideration of the proposed budget.

  • We’ve been told that Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald, School Committee Chair Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Town Manager Mike Driscoll, and others have had several long discussions about the budget.
  • Town Manager Driscoll has asked the schools to prioritize their “needs” for 2015. (i.e. prioritize line items such as classroom teachers, special education teachers, instructional assistants, guidance counselors, math curriculum etc.) and to highlight the one-time expenses versus ongoing costs.

2. Our Town Councilors are going to school! Hosmer Principal Robert Laroche hosted Susan Falkoff on April 15th. Kenny Woodland heads to the Hosmer today and Angie Kounelis and Principal Laroche are scheduled to talk. We hope there will be more visits, particularly for those who don’t currently have children in WPS.

3. Our meetings are continuing. We met with Vinnie Piccirilli on Monday night. We are meeting with Jean Fitzgerald today and we’ll meet with Mark Sideris tonight.

  • What do we talk about? We are trying to focus on: Where will we find the funding sources needed to hire the staff and secure the materials and curriculum for WPS for 2015 and beyond? Got any ideas?

4. Thank you to the Town Council Education Subcommittee for last night’s meeting where Councilors Dushku, Palomba, and Woodland, led the discussion of possible funding sources. In our Advocacy Platform (summary) we suggested a variety of line items for 2015 and new sources for 2016 and beyond. The Town plans to look into some of these possibilities. Below are line items in the town budget that we advocate using for 2015. Note, we are asking the town to shift priorities to fix the schools that have deteriorated on our watch. We are NOT advocating to take money from other departments:

Source

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 of this fund is generally spent per year, but more could be used, particularly in an emergency, such as faltering schools. 
Tax assessment overlay monies (which normally cover assessment appeals): $700,000–$1 million
Transfer from prepayment of the unfunded Pension Liability fund: 

Also, the debt could be paid off by 2022 or later, rather than 2019; The terms could change moving forward. We are paying this down aggressively, which we should do, if WPS hadn’t deteriorated.

$250,000
Council reserves: Normally used for union contract payments but this does exist. $1.4 million

 

What can you do? 

Get informed (using the info below) & speak out!

Online letter to Town Manager and Councilors: http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/take-action/

Call or write your own letter:  http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/act-now/

Send letters to your neighbors or businesses: http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/share-with-neighbors-template/

Get a sign:  WatertownStrongSchools@gmail.com

Come to meetings: Learn more at: http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/

Talk about your vision of Strong Community and

Watertown Public Schools!

Best wishes, Candace and the rest of Watertown Strong Schools

 

April 8th Update

Dear friends, At last night's meeting at the Town Hall, our School Committee voted in favor of the FY 2015 budget request. This budget request was carefully prepared by our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Directors in the WPS Central Administration, and Principals across our schools. All of Watertown's educational leaders, our School Committee members, and Watertown Strong Schools stand behind this budget request. Last night someone noted that last year's budget was too small and this year's seems high. The truth is, for too long, Watertown has been borrowing from our schools. Now, we are all standing together in support of the budget that our principals and teachers need to do their jobs. The bedrock of a Strong Community is Strong Schools.

  1. Our group, Watertown Strong Schools, pledges to work together with our Town Councilors, Town Manager and Auditor, our State and Federal Legislators, and local businesses in the effort to find the resources needed to fund the true cost of education in Watertown. We plan to continue to meet regularly with our leaders to build a strategy for 2015 and beyond.
  2. GIANT MEA CULPA: Our 344 letters to our Town Manager Mike Driscoll have not all gone through. They have gone to our Town Councilors. We have printed the letters to hand deliver and will also forward these letters to the Town Manager. We apologize for the confusion and have fixed the problem. If you’d like to send another letter, you may do so online or by emailing mdriscoll@watertown-ma.gov.
  3. From Marie (Our talented Live Blogger at https://www.facebook.com/watertownstrongschools): We are recruiting for our Watertown Strong Schools team to run/walk in the Watertown "Finish Strong" 5K run/walk on Saturday, April 19, 10am-noon. Please join us!  This run/walk is a community celebration of Watertown spirit, already has almost 1,000 participants, and is sponsored by the Watertown Police Supervisor's Association. The race is also a fundraiser and the WPSA will be making donations back to the Watertown community, including the schools. This is a great way for WSS to help support a community event. Post-race, family-friendly activities will occur at the Armenian Cultural Center. Details to come. https://racewire.com/register.php?id=3773 Reply to join the run or walk team and Marie Schick will be in touch about registration.
  4. Here’s our Op Ed if you haven’t seen it yet: http://watertown.wickedlocal.com/article/20140405/NEWS/140407323
  5. We still have a few signs left ($5 a piece to cover the cost). Contact us if you want one or know a business that wants one.

Thanks, Candace, Marie and Watertown Strong Schools

April 1, Update

Hi everyone,

Here's an update from Watertown Strong Schools:

1. Our next WSS community meeting is Saturday, April 5 at 3 pm at the Watertown Public Library. We'll present a Powerpoint explaining what the schools need, why Watertown is unique, how the situation in the schools has deteriorated, info on the 2015 budget request, and ideas for where we can find the resources the school needs. We'll have this presentation available on the website soon.

  • Please share this date with your networks of friends and neighbors, teachers, PTO and site council lists, families with special needs, English language learners, sports teams, cultural and religious groups. We'll also be reaching out to recent voters.

2. Monday, April 7th, is an important meeting. The full budget will be presented to the School Committee for a vote. This is the time for public comment. Eileen Hsu-Balzer, the chair of the School Committee, said that everyone who wants to speak will have a chance to have their say. Please, ask questions, talk to teachers and other parents, read the website, Facebook page or our document, come to a meeting and be ready to have your say. Who are you to speak up on the part of WPS? Who are you not to?

3. Our core group is working tirelessly to understand the ideas, concerns, and positions of our Town Councilors, who will ultimately vote for or against the WPS budget request.  This week we will meet with Steve Corbett, Cecelia Lenk, and Vinnie Piccirilli. We'll meet again with Mark Sideris and Susan Falkoff. Over the weekend we met with Aaron Dushku, Kenny Woodland, and talked with Angie Kounelis. We will continue all of these conversations.

  • Please note, we acknowledge that mistakes have been made with the school budget in the past. We have had business managers that left a legacy of problems with our finances.
  • This is sensitive, however, it must be said: There has been well documented and widely acknowledged dysfunction in Watertown, such that town and school leaders have not consistently worked together as stewards of our schools to strengthen and improve our school system. This is partly why we see the downward spiral at WPS right now. This can and should change.
  • We want a strong financial management system and staff at WPS. We think an internal audit is a fine idea. We need to rebuild faith and trust in the financial management of our schools. Failing to do so means that our schools will continue to decline.
  • We disagree that our children and students should pay the price for financial problems in the past. It is time to start fresh with the incredibly rich, transparent budget presented by our highly qualified team of educators including our Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, five Principals, and the rest of the Central Administration team.
  • Is the budget request higher than we want it to be? Yep. We explain in the financial situation in detail in our document. Suffice to say, we ALL let the situation get this way. Now, it is time to change our course, and turn the ship around. http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WatertownStrongSchoolsv3_26_14.pdf

4. Approximately 315 letters have been sent to our Mike Driscoll, our Town Manager, and our other Town Councilors. Let's keep those letters coming in so that everyone understands how much we care about WPS. Please, share the link and send the letters!

5. The WatertownStrongSchools signs are popping up on lawns and in store fronts all over town. Our real estate agents, cab company, Lexus dealership, barbers and hairdressers, electricity shops and restaurants, groceries, and service organizations are standing with us, supporting Watertown Public Schools. Quick, if you don't have a sign, there's still time. Send us a message at watertownstrongschools@gmail.com.

All the best,

Candace and the rest of WSS

March 29th, Update

Good morning! On this rainy Sunday, we invite you to join us today join us at the library today from 3-4 pm. We want to problem solve.~ Informational Community Meeting Sunday, March 30, 3pm Watertown Public Library, Raya Sterns room

We also invite you to dig into the WSS document. Get your coffee or tea, sit back, and find it here: http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WatertownStrongSchoolsv3_26_14.pdf

The opportunity cost of not engaging in this debate, or not funding schools adequately, is a failed public school system. Our children will suffer the consequences daily in the classroom and over the course of their lives if their parents, school and town leaders and other residents, do not stand up on their behalf. 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Town and school leaders, parents and teachers have given us great feedback on the document. Please, read the executive summary, a few chapters, or better, the full document. Several of our town leaders have promised to read it this weekend. If you haven't felt ready to join the discussion, you will after reading. Here are the chapter headings:

1.       What do WPS need to return to the schools we've all loved?

a.       Fully understand what WPS need: Reasonable class sizes and time on learning; curriculum opportunities; tiered instruction for all learners; infrastructure, materials and systems of support; and reforms to the business office.

2.       Why Watertown is uniquely complex

a.       We bet you did not know the full extent of Watertown’s demographic changes.

3.       The "dire" situation the schools are now in

a.       MCAS and SAT scores, participation in MassCore, drop-out rate, our teacher's quotes)

4.       Expenditure trends w/in WPS

a.       The devil is in the details.

5.        That WPS has received insufficient town, state, and federal funds

a.       Understand why we are in the situation we are in. All sources –town, state, federal, grants, fees and tuition—have come up short for our kids.

6.       Where to find funding for 2015 and other sources for 2016 and beyond

a.       We call for the town to make a solid commitment in 2015 and we believe the money is there. See where.

7.       The strong link between schools, economic development, and real estate prices

a.       We thank Hammond Realty and the Warren Group for this info. Did you know the incredibly strong link between investing in public education and real estate prices?

8.       Responses to arguments against adequate funding.

a.       Many of the positions that the WPS administration is asking for are key to ensuring that WPS is in compliance with federal requirements and state accreditation standards, reducing class sizes; or improving school safety and adding support for administrators and teachers. Many of these positions will provide tiered instruction that is instrumental in reducing the Special Education costs. The goal is to find the resources that will return Watertown schools to a budget and staffing scenario where our educators can carry out their mandate. 

 

All the best,

Candace and WSS

March 26th Update

Dear friends, parents, residents, town and local leaders, and other supporters of Watertown Schools,

Last night at the Town Council meeting, we entered the Watertown Strong Schools Platform Document  into the Public Record. We plan to use the data and information in this document in many forms (one pagers, quotes on our website, PPT etc.) to continue to advocate strongly for the financial resources to fund the 2015 WPS budget. This version of the document (the last we shall send by email) includes a full acknowledgement page where we thank everyone for their contributions.

We wish to thank many Watertown administrators, leaders, teachers, and families for contributing to this report in a variety of ways such as ongoing conversations, interviews, sharing data, responding to questions, participating in public meetings, attending Watertown Strong School’s meetings, and engaging in discussions on social media. In particular, we wish to thank the Watertown Public School system including Dr. Jean Fitzgerald, Darilyn Donovan, Arlene Shainker, Allison Levet, Allison Donovan, James Carter, Jason DelPorto, Elizabeth Kaplan, the 120 teachers, instructional assistants, guidance counselors, nurses, therapists, and other staff that completed our Teacher Survey. We would like to thank members of the School Committee including Eileen Hsu-Balzer, Guido Guidotti, John Portz, Mike Shepard, and Elizabeth Yusem, as well as Town Councilors, in particular Aaron Dushku, Susan Falkoff, Cecilia Leng, Mark Sideris, Tony Palomba, Vincent Piccirrili, and Ken Woodland. We owe a special thank you to Tom Tracey, the Town Auditor and Deborah King, Watertown Education Association President.

Our core group has contributed countless hours in this effort. Now, we are asking for your help.

1.       A sincere thank you to everyone who has participated in the Take Action Campaign to "Tell the Town Manager and the Town Council that you support additional funding for the Watertown Public Schools." We have 255 letters so far. Still, we need your help to get the word out.  We know that some Town Councilors will only pay attention to letters from their district, so please get the word out to your friends and neighbors http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/take-action/. You can download and print the letter to give to neighbors.

2.       Please help us get our signs out! Visit your neighbors and businesses and ask them to put up a sign. If you do 2 or 3 signs each, we are all set. We ask for a $5 contribution per sign to cover the costs of the sign. Contact us at this WatertownStrongSchools@gmail.com to arrange sign pick up.

3.       Come to the Public Library on Sunday at 3 pm and we’ll help you understand anything in this document that you have questions about. There is no question we won’t work hard to answer.

4.       Stay connected and help get your friends, neighbors, other teachers connected:

a.       Email: WatertownStrongSchools@gmail.com

b.      Website: WatertownStrongSchools.com

c.       FB at https://www.facebook.com/watertownstrongschools

5.       We are still waiting for the full 2015 budget to be posted. The conversation that we want to have is:

a.       "Where will we find the money that WPS needs to educate our children?"

b.      "What do we need to do?"

c.       "Who do we need to work with?"

d.      "Where is the money for 2015?"

e.      "How do we ensure that we have the resources needed for 2016 and beyond?"

All the best, Candace and our Core WSS members

 

March 24th Update

Hi everyone,

1. The next meeting of the next meeting of the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance is tonight at the High School. Someone should really set up a snack stand. Also, there may be an additional meeting on Wednesday if all business isn't finished tonight.

Monday, March 24, 6:30pm School Committee Budget & Finance Subcommittee Meeting Watertown High School, Lecture Hall 50 Columbia Street, Watertown

2. We have launched our Take Action Campaign to "Tell the  Town Manager and the Town Council that you support additional funding for the Watertown Public Schools." This was launched at 9 pm on Sunday night. By 5:30 am on Monday, 67 letters were submitted. Please share the website link, Facebook post, or an emails with your friends and colleagues. http://www.watertownstrongschools.com/take-action/.

3. Time is short, please help us get our signs out! Visit your neighbors and businesses and ask them to put up a sign. We ask for a $5 contribution per sign to cover the costs of the sign. Also, pick up signs from  Deb Neiman 6 Oliver Street  <debneiman@comcast.net>; Rebecca Grow 4 Gay Street <rebecca_grow@hms.harvard.edu> Marie Schick 12 Theurer Park <m@marieschick.com> or Candace Miller 197 Westminster watertownstrongschools@gmail.com. Please contact Marie, m@marieschick.com617-388-4501 to schedule pick up a stack from her or another WSS member to distribute.

4. Over the weekend:

  • On Saturday, we were at the Early Childhood Information Fair at WMS talking to parents.
  • We also spoke with US Congresswoman Katherine Clark at the Watertown Diner. A number of our Town Councilors were in attendance. Representative Clark talked about the IDEA legislation (http://idea.ed.gov/) and acknowledged that there is work to be done at the federal level to support states and towns that do a great job meeting the needs of disabled children, but do not have adequate resources. We'll keep in touch and send her our documents. She said she needs data to help support her efforts.
  • On Sunday we held our first informational meeting. We had representation from parents, parents of Watertown alumni, teachers, Town Councilors, and School Committee. We are working hard to move the conversation away from  "The Central Administration did..." "The School Committee did...." "The Town Councilors did...." and "The Town Manager did...." . We want the conversation to focus on:

"Where will we find the money that WPS needs to educate our children?"
"What do we need to do?"
"Who do we need to work with?"
"Where is the money for 2015?" "How do we ensure that we have the resources needed for 2016 and beyond?"

Please remember, you don't have to attend all meetings to be involved, just stay connected!

All the best, Candace and the rest of WSS

March 20th Update

A few folks have asked who Watertown Strong Schools are "for"? We are for all Watertown kids, whether in-district or out-of-district, special or general education, the high achievers, the middle 70%, the English Language Learners, the musicians and athletes, the artists and robotics kids, the students with behavioral and mental health challenges, the kids who feel lost, the math lovers and math haters, the students in Integrated Support, the students that never fail to do their homework, the tardy kids, the on-time kids, the 3rd or 4th generation Watertown kids, the students who joined our schools last week. The kids from low, middle, and high income families. Even the kids rooting for the Yankees. Our efforts are for all WPS students. We may talk data, but we are for Watertown kids.
1. The next meeting of the next meeting of the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance is tonight at the High School:

Thursday, March 20, 6:30pm School Committee Budget & Finance Subcommittee Meeting Watertown High School, Lecture Hall 50 Columbia Street, Watertown

2. We have launched our FB page https://www.facebook.com/watertownstrongschools. Of course we'll actively participate in Watertown Residents For Strong Schools page, but we'll post regularly to WSS. So far, we have 160+ likes. Please share the page or information from the page with your networks!

3. Signs can be picked up at 1) tonight's meeting 2) at the library on Sunday afternoon, 3) during "pick up" at some schools 4) at the Early Childhood Information Fair. We ask for a $5 contribution to cover the costs of the sign. Also, pick up signs from  Deb Neiman 6 Oliver Street  <debneiman@comcast.net>; Rebecca Grow 4 Gay Street <rebecca_grow@hms.harvard.edu> Marie Schick 12 Theurer Park <m@marieschick.com> or Candace Miller 197 Westminster watertownstrongschools@gmail.com. Please contact Marie, m@marieschick.com617-388-4501 to schedule pick up a stack from her or another WSS member to distribute.

4. On Saturday, we'll have a table at the Early Childhood Information Fair at WMS from 9:30-11:30http://www.ci.watertown.ma.us/DocumentCenter/View/14420

5. Also on Saturday, come and have coffee with US Congresswoman Katherine Clark from 10-12 at the Watertown Diner on North Beacon Street.
6. We will have an informational meeting on Sunday at 3pm at the library to help explain the budgeting process. We have been working night and day to understand it ourselves. If we can't answer a question, we can find the person/people who can.

Sunday, March 23, 3:00pm Watertown Strong Schools Informational Community Meeting Watertown Public Library 123 Main Street, Watertown

6. Our working group will still meet at 2 pm on Sunday!

You don't have to attend all meetings to be involved, just stay connected!

Update: March 18

wss_logo
We have more updates than we can fit into the work day, but for now, our SIGNS are ready for pick up. We ask for a $5 contribution to cover the costs of the sign. You may pick up a sign at the following locations. (*There will be more locations coming soon.*):

Please contact Marie, m@marieschick.com, to schedule: 1) a box pick up at Graphic Connections on Mt. Auburn St. OR 2) a smaller stack from her/WSSmember to distribute.

Last night's meeting: The Watertown Public Schools Subcommittee on Budget and Finance kicked off the next part of the budget process. Our Schools need adequate staff and materials to meet the needs of our 2,708 in district and 152 out-of-district students.  We are "on the edge" of compliance in special education and general education is suffering. It is time to get involved:

The next meeting of the Subcommittee on Budget and Finance is:

Thursday, March 20, 6:30pm School Committee Budget & Finance Subcommittee Meeting Watertown High School, Lecture Hall 50 Columbia Street, Watertown

We know, there is so much information and it is confusing. We will have an informational meeting on Sunday at the library to help explain the many pieces of the puzzle.

Sunday, March 23, 3:00pm Watertown Strong Schools Informational Community Meeting Watertown Public Library 123 Main Street, Watertown

You don't have to attend all meetings to be involved, just stay connected!

March 15th Update

Meetings This week we met with Kimo Carter (WMS principal), Susan Falkoff (Town Council), Cecilia Lenk (Town Council) and Tom Tracey (Town Auditor). Nearly all meetings were 1.5 to 2+ hours. We are tremendously grateful to everyone who has taken time to answer questions and engage in a deep dialogue on a range of issues important to the Town of Watertown and WPS. We have minutes from meetings that we can share.

We'll meet with Mark Sideris on Sunday at the Library at 3 pm.

Thank you to John Portz (School Committee), Aaron Dushku (TC), Tony Palomba (TC), and Vinnie Piccirilli (TC) who all have been answering our endless amount of questions via email etc.

Thank you also to Arlene Shainker, Interim Director of Student Services and Allison Levitt, ESL Curriculum Coordinator who have also answered many questions.

Moving forward

Our core group will meet on Sunday to work! We want help analyzing some of the Teacher Survey data, brainstorming all the folks in Watertown who we want to reach out to (businesses, religious groups, cultural groups, parents of preschoolers, non-parents), and a few more tasks.

By the end of next week, we will start organizing sessions to educate parents on the 1) what we are asking for 2) why Watertown is unique and complex 3) the situation in our schools 4) what we are asking for from the School Committee, WPS, Town Council, Town Manager and our State Legislators.

ALSO, there is a coffee with Congresswoman Katherine Clark from 10-12 at the Watertown Diner (212 North Beacon St.) on March 22nd. IF you'll be drinking coffee anyway, drink with Katherine. Let's make sure she understands Watertown Public Schools and what we need for our children to obtain a quality education.