Watertown superintendent: No budget increase could close elementary school

By Laura Paine / Staff Writer Wicked Local Watertown Posted Mar 15, 2011 @ 01:29 PM Last update Mar 15, 2011 @ 02:26 PM WATERTOWN — If the Watertown Public Schools do not receive an increase over last year’s budget, Superintendent Ann Koufman-Frederick said she will be forced to consider closing an elementary school, eliminating middle school sports and maximizing class sizes. During the Budget and Finance subcommittee Monday night, Koufman-Frederick presented four preliminary budget scenarios but focused on the implications of a two-percent increase or—in the worstcase scenario—a zero-percent increase. A two percent increase would give the school department about $34.1 million. A zero percent increase would put the budget at $32.5 million, even lower than last year’s budget, as the schools will see decreases in federal and state aid this year. The School Committee and school department are currently negotiating a contract with the teachers’ union, and last week chairman Tony Palillo said the possibility of a tight budget was why the committee had yet to vote on the contract, which was approved by the union in Feburary. “It’s because of the potential educational impact of these budget scenarios, and current fiscal uncertainty, that the School Committee has deferred a vote on the Memorandum of Agreement with the teachers’ union.” But at Monday’s meeting, committee member John Portz said the contract was not the only factor in this year’s budget. "[The contract] is an important issue in the picture, but the picture is beyond that. There are a lot of other pieces to [the budget] as well," Portz said. In the event the school department does not receive additional money from the town over last year’s budget, the department is looking at the possibility of closing an elementary school; clustering grade levels; increasing class sizes in grades 1-5 to 30 students; eliminating middle school sports and reducing sports at the high school; and cutting eight classroom teaching positions and 5.7 non-classroom teachers. “We’re not talking about educationally sound here,” Koufman-Frederick said. Schools would also be subject to reducing and eliminating programming, such as instrumental music at the elementary schools and cutting back on the program at the middle school; having fewer electives at the high school and discontinuing French; and increasing the English Language Learners case load at the elementary schools and middle schools from 20 students to 30. “Everybody knows once you eliminate the program it’s difficult to get it back,” School Committee member John Portz said. The school department currently faces a $1.8 million deficit and the town is not getting $500,000 in federal aid this year that it has received in the past. It is still unclear how much local aid will be cut at the state level and whether or not towns will receive the $400,000 circuit breaker funds allotted in previous budget seasons. Koufman-Frederick said she is still hopeful that the department will be able to work with a “preserve & sustain” budget in which the town gives the schools an increase of 8.71 percent over the prior year’s budget. That would not only cover the increase in teacher’s salaries as stipulated by the proposed teacher’s contract but allow the schools to maintain their programming and staff levels. “We will do whatever we have to do,” Koufman-Frederick said. “The kids are going to show up on September 6 and we are going to take care of them the best we can.” The School Committee will meet on March 21 for a more in-depth presentation at 7 p.m. in the high school lecture hall, 50 Columbia St. A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 28 and with a vote on the budget expected to take place on April 4. Copyright 2011 Watertown TAB. Some rights reserved

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