Your kid might have a tighter squeeze inside the classroom next year, as the schools’ staffing pattern switches to the way it was two years ago, with many elementary school classrooms shifting from 18-20 students to a range of 20-25.
How they did it
· Fiscal 2008 projected budget — $32.1 million (a 9.8 percent increase from last fiscal year)
· Adjustments to reduce the budget
— Reductions in personnel ($978,564)
— Reduction in technology ($150,000)
— Reduction in materials ($50,000)
— Expected savings ($315,000)
— Increase in fees ($50,000)
· Fiscal 2008 approved budget — $30.6 million (a 4.5 percent increase)
Your kid might have a tighter squeeze inside the classroom next year.
Their computers might be a little outdated as well.
Superintendent of Schools Steven Hiersche said the schools’ staffing pattern would soon be a throwback to the way it was two years ago, with many elementary school classrooms shifting from 18-20 students to a range of 20-25 due to a reduction in teachers to make fiscal ends meet.
School Committee Chairman Tony Paolillo said upcoming structural changes such as outsourcing for maintenance, using per-day substitutes and involving parent volunteers for school libraries will help set up savings for the long term.
“It’s not fun to put together a budget when you have so many cuts,” he said. “But these cuts are not just cuts. These cuts reflect a change in philosophy.”
But resorting to cuts in the classroom was a difficult decision to make.
“It got to that point because you can only go so far,” Paolillo said. “A big cost to us is personnel … and there were not enough retirements in place. We couldn’t cut things like materials, technology and maintenance any further.”
“This has been a labor-intensive budget,” Hiersche said. “It’s about making systematic changes in the way we do things from an economical standpoint.”
As for changes in technology? That will have to wait a while.
Money slated for equipment upgrades — new computers, etc. — has also taken a slice this year in order to support ever-growing special education costs.
Budget cuts this fiscal season have led to the reduction of six teachers at the elementary level and a handful of professional staff in order to agree with the town on an appropriate budget increase.
The schools initially proposed a budget hike of close to 10 percent over fiscal 2007. But school officials whittled that down to a 4.5 percent increase, or a total of $30.6 million. Changes to the design of health plans helped, because teacher salaries make up more than 70 percent of the budget.
Some of the other staff cuts include newly retired positions — secretary, electrician, library assistant, custodian and reading teacher — that Hiersche plans to keep vacant.
The district’s technology director will be replaced by new efforts from Hiersche himself and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Ann Koufman. Pink slips have also been given to 10 building substitutes, library aides, a nurse, clerks and maintenance staff to foster savings down the road.
To help balance a deficit in the current fiscal year, thanks to increased special education costs, out-of-district transportation and a rise in utility bills, Town Council members unanimously approved to transfer $179,930 from their funds to the School Department’s Education Appropriation Fund.
Staff increases for fiscal 2008 include hiring of two autism teachers, bringing the total to four within the district.
Improving the autism program is crucial for Watertown, said Hiersche, as patterns show a growing trend of more students within the autism spectrum.
The new budget will factor in $116,000 for the new teachers and training. The hope is to keep as many kids within the district as possible, since it costs close to $83,000 to send a child to a special needs school out of Watertown. A total of $60,000 would also be used for new K-5 math texts, and another $20,000 for preschool support at the Hosmer Elementary School.
In what the schools are calling “set-aside funds,” $300,000 would be waiting in the wings for any anticipated special education costs this coming year. Any money remaining would shift to support the technology budget.
This summer, $100,000 would be expended in the classroom for speedier Internet access. Paolillo said Hiersche is looking to work with vendors such as Dell to get reduced costs for new computers.
On Tuesday, councilors questioned the effects these cuts would make on the average family and their children.
“What can parents expect?” asked District B Councilor Jonathan Hecht.
Hiersche said when it comes to their education and school time, priorities have been put in the right place to still maintain all the elements in the classroom, regardless of class size, when it comes to cuts.
“Arts, music, drama, physical education … it’s all still there,” he said.