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Cunniff Parents Fear Possible School Closing in Watertown

Cunniff Parents Fear Possible School Closing in Watertown

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Published by Laura Maas

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Published by: Laura Maas on Mar 25, 2011
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Cunniff parents fear possible school closing in Watertown
By Laura Paine / Staff Writer
 Wicked Local WatertownPosted Mar 22, 2011 @ 05:51 PMLast update Mar 23, 2011 @ 12:21 PM Watertown — Cunniff Elementary School parents are concerned and angry that the superintendentcould close their school due to lack of money.Following Superintendent Ann Koufman-Frederick’s fiscal 2012 budget scenario presentation to theSchool Committee on Monday, a Cunniff parent said it was like being stabbed in the heart when she readin the Watertown TAB last week that she might lose her school.Another parent, Fred Sullivan, said he doesn’t understand how the town can find money when there isa snowstorm but can’t find money when they are looking at the school budget.“If you do things the way you always do in the budget process you will come to the same conclusion:you don’t have any money,” he said at the meeting. “Let’s get money from other departments if that’swhat it takes. This is the most important thing.”Parents wanted to know how the school department intends to deal with increasing enrollment if theyclose an elementary school. One parent said she thought it was irresponsible for the department to makeassumptions about the funding they hope to get without having concrete numbers.“What is the incentive to stay in Watertown if you’re not going to be maintaining the quality of theeducation here,” she said. “To take away electives for seniors or juniors and take away all the things thatmake a child round and an adult, a responsible adult – it’s kind of an oxymoron. Why am I living inWatertown? Maybe I should just move.”Koufman-Frederick said that closing an elementary school is not desirable and not a definite. She saidthat in order to deal with a possible school closing in addition to rising enrollment, class sizes wouldincrease and other things would need to be moved around should the department face the worst-casescenario of a zero percent increase.“0 percent is a list of things we are costing out,” she said. “We have to cost anything out that we canthink of that might be a possibility.”School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said that when the Coolidge School was closed it feltterrible and that it is hard to lose the community that you love.“There is something at work here that makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “We want to find a badguy in this situation we are all in. There is not enough money and there won’t be enough even if we getthe circuit breaker. We are going to have to lay people off and change some things. We need to problemsolve together. This is a really difficult issue.”A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 28 at 7 p.m. at Watertown High School and witha vote on the budget expected to take place on April 4.Koufman-Frederick said that in order to maintain class sizes as enrollment continues to rise, another teacher would have to be hired and both the Lowell and Hosmer elementary schools would need anadditional kindergarten class.But the school department is staring at a $1.8 million deficit and the town is not getting $500,000 infederal aid this year that it has received in the past. It is still unclear how much local aid will be cut at thestate level. The School Committee is hoping to hear about whether or not they will receive the $400,000circuit breaker funds allotted in previous budget seasons by March 28.A two percent budget increase would give the school department about $34.1 million. A zero percentincrease would put the budget at $32.5 million, even lower than last year’s budget, as the schools will seedecreases in federal and state aid this year.If the school department does not receive additional money from the town over last year’s budget, thedepartment is looking at several options: Closing an elementary school; clustering grade levels;increasing class sizes in grades 1-5 to 30 students; eliminating middle school sports and reducing sportsat the high school; and cutting eight classroom teaching positions and 5.7 non-classroom teachers.Schools could also eliminate programs such as instrumental music at the elementary schools and cutback on the program at the middle school; have fewer electives at the high school and discontinue1

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