WATERTOWN — The Board of Education, meeting Monday, January 10, congratulated Polk Elementary School students selected by Jody Field, art teacher, as the artists of the month.

Fifth grade student Mary Andrade Gutierrez was selected as the December artist, fifth grade student Rubi Del Rio-Perez as the November artist, fourth grade student Shane Peck in October, and fifth grade student Janelle Napp in September.

The students’ artwork was featured in the school’s main hallway.

In her report, Superintendent Dr. Alison Villanueva announced that the manufacturing certification program will start soon and invited students to participate.

Test kits and N95 masks have arrived in the school district and distribution information will be shared with parents.

The superintendent added that a virtual town hall for all employees would take place later in the week to review adjusted Covid-19 policies and answer questions.

Dr. Villanueva asked the board if there were questions from a presentation of Building Level Budget Priorities during an education board meeting held December 13, 2021.

The board appreciated that the information was given by the principals and building officials who were familiar with the situation but had no other questions regarding that information.

Another presentation, given during the January meeting, covered district level budget priorities specific to special education and student services.

Director of Student Services Amy Sjovall started by reviewing data and the plan for the next three to five years.

Total percentage of students identified as having an Individualized Education Program, with trends increasing in the state and in Watertown. “This is a phenomenon happening across the state, not just in town.”

The numbers include any student that received special education services in both public and parochial schools in Watertown.

There are currently 447 students identified as having an IEP or 17 percent of the population, with the 2021-2022 budget planned to accommodate 13 percent.

Ms. Sjovall pointed out that costs are volatile given that the expenses associated with one student can be significant and this area of education is underfunded.

There are 38 students in an outplacement program and 13 students attending parent choice programs such as magnet or tech schools, for which the district is financially responsible.

A continuum of services presented during the meeting demonstrated how the school district seeks to support students, moving from least to most restrictive, with eight categories. Watertown’s ability to support students ends at the fifth category, with a semi-self-contained program. 

A fully contained program within a school building, or the sixth category, and a program in a free-standing location, or the seventh category, come before an outplacement program.

The five-year program goals are to strengthen services, have quality programs available to students in district to prevent outplacement, bring students currently outplaced in higher-cost programs back to the district, and to reduce reliance on contracted services.

Ms. Sjovall outlined budget items that would be needed, including an additional life skills classroom and special education teacher at Watertown High School.

Additional budget items could add a special education teacher to expand existing social emotional learning program at Swift Middle School and WHS, adding a sixth category of service at these schools, and obtaining the Wilson Reading Training and Materials.

Adding two board certified behavior analysts was another budget item, one in the elementary schools to allow the district to expand behavior supports and the other analysts, and the other to support older students in Swift and WHS given the increased needs of students in the Life Skills programming.

A special education coordinator would support increased regulations at the early childhood and transition levels.

Dr. Villanueva said she would love to have all of these budget items but that may not be realistic; the plan might be five to 10 years out but it is important to address the needs now in order to avoid increased expenses that might be incurred by a delay.

Ms. Sjovall noted that the items are ranked by priority so that they might be implemented in part if not budgeted as a whole.

The board expressed support for addressing the budget suggestions, agreeing that the cost of delay would be great.

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