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

[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]