Watertown Board of Education: Superintendent’s  Budget, Strategic Plan Highlighted at Meeting

WATERTOWN — The Board of Education, meeting on Monday, February 10, reviewed the strategic plan update for 2020, the superintendent’s recommended budget for 2020-2021 and the 2020-2021 proposed school year calendar.

Before the presentations, Superintendent Dr. Rydell Harrison gave his recommendations and report. He announced that Shawn Stanco was appointed to the position of head football coach for Watertown High School, effective for the 2020-2021 school year, at a contractual stipend of $5,280.

Dr. Harrison began his presentation with his district improvement plan mid-year update. His improvement plan was presented in three categories: Vision of a Watertown Graduate, Strategic Plan 2022 and continuous improvement.

Dr. Harrison reviewed each category which included objectives, evidence of progress and next steps.

According to Dr. Harrison’s presentation, “the Vision of a Watertown Graduate specifies the cognitive, personal and interpersonal competencies that students should have when they graduate from Watertown High School.”

The Strategic Plan 2022 includes the idea of putting three pieces together: Watertown Cares, Watertown Learns and Watertown Leads.

He showed a priority timeline from 2019 to 2022 and the focuses that the school district would like to highlight, including a focus on support, climate, students, staff, partners and families.

Many of Dr. Harrison’s plans note the introduction or continuation of programs and models including school success plans; scientific research based interventions; iReady, an interactive online learning environment; the Devereux Students Strengths Assessment; RULER, an evidence-based approach for integrating social and emotional learning; and instructional rounds, a process to improve learning.

Dr. Harrison reviewed the continuous improvement category which includes priorities and proposed totals for facilities, systems and operations, and budgets and resources.

The proposed cost of completed and in progress projects for facilities includes buildings, fixtures, furniture, equipment and site.

The proposed cost of completed projects is $165,046 and the proposed cost of in progress projects is $176,508.

He reviewed the priorities for systems and operations and budget and resources.

He presented the board with the proposed 2020-2021 school district budget. He said the focus areas of the budget are support, climate, students and systems and operations.

The budget priorities were to hire three SRBI coordinators, renew the iReady subscription, purchase a primary resource for math, hire three armed security officers, hire a physical education/health teacher and a family and consumer science teacher for WHS and hire a network coordinator.

The district improvement plan budget priorities proposed total is $529,093. 

The proposed budget for 2020- 2021 total is $46,841,590. Last year’s budget was $45,547,288 and the percent increase is 2.84.

Federal funds make up two percent of the budget and state funds make up 26 percent of the budget.

The majority of the proposed budget, 72 percent, would come from the town’s general fund, which totals $35,098,058.

According to Dr. Harrison, “these projections represent conservative estimates to ensure we are fiscally responsible with taxpayer funds.”

He reviewed the fixed costs, variable costs and district improvement plan and items attributed to those costs. 

Fixed costs included salaries and benefits, which was the largest part of the proposed budget; transportation and utilities. 

Variable costs included outplacements, special education programming and special education personnel. 

The district improvement plan includes the focus areas of the budget including support, climate, students and systems and operations.

Dr. Harrison showed the board changes in demographics. He said that in the last 10 years, there have been some significant increases including needs for free/reduced lunch which increased from 15.4 percent to 36.7 percent.

English learners increased from 1.8 percent to 4.4 percent and students with disabilities increased from 10.8 percent to 14.7 percent.

Dr. Harrison ended his presentation with the overall budget, trends and questions from the board. Board members will spend the next two weeks reviewing the budget and potentially propose any changes before it is voted on. 

Overall, the board had positive feedback about the budget. They asked about the increase of special education teachers and the decrease of some paraprofessionals that were reviewed in the presentation.

The board also discussed the programs of interest and the potential use of the WHS kitchen.

Board member Robert Makowski said that although he believes new programs would be beneficial, he would like to ensure that the district has a strong foundation and meets the needs of the students before expanding any programs.

Dr. Harrison said that within the week, the proposed budget and strategic plan update will be on the Board of Education website.

Lisa Fekete, director of curriculum and instruction, presented the 2020-2021 proposed school year calendar.

She met and collaborated with many members of the district to create the best version of the calendar.

Ms. Fekete said a main priority was professional learning days, adding that there are a mix of early dismissals and late openings on those days.

She said that she looked at attendance data to see which times were more effective, but a priority was to minimize late openings.

Ms. Fekete showed that the proposed first day of school for students in kindergarten to grade nine would be Thursday, August 27. Students in grades 10 to 12 will start on Friday, August 28.

She said that with this calendar, the district would get out earlier. The last day of school would be Wednesday, June 9.

The board approved the proposed 2020-2021 school year calendar.

The board next approved a field trip to West Springfield, Mass., from Wednesday, April 8 to Saturday, April 11 for approximately 28 WHS students at the request of Krisl Beres, teacher at Swift Middle School.

The students are members of the FIRST Robotics Team and will participate in the New England District Championship Competition. 

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