Cunniff parents fear possible school closing in Watertown

By Laura Paine / Staff Writer Wicked Local Watertown Posted Mar 22, 2011 @ 05:51 PM Last update Mar 23, 2011 @ 12:21 PM Watertown — Cunniff Elementary School parents are concerned and angry that the superintendent could close their school due to lack of money. Following Superintendent Ann Koufman-Frederick’s fiscal 2012 budget scenario presentation to the School Committee on Monday, a Cunniff parent said it was like being stabbed in the heart when she read in 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 is a 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’s what it takes. This is the most important thing.” Parents wanted to know how the school department intends to deal with increasing enrollment if they close an elementary school. One parent said she thought it was irresponsible for the department to make assumptions 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 the education here,” she said. “To take away electives for seniors or juniors and take away all the things that make a child round and an adult, a responsible adult – it’s kind of an oxymoron. Why am I living in Watertown? Maybe I should just move.” Koufman-Frederick said that closing an elementary school is not desirable and not a definite. She said that in order to deal with a possible school closing in addition to rising enrollment, class sizes would increase and other things would need to be moved around should the department face the worst-case scenario 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 can think of that might be a possibility.” School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said that when the Coolidge School was closed it felt terrible 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 bad guy in this situation we are all in. There is not enough money and there won’t be enough even if we get the circuit breaker. We are going to have to lay people off and change some things. We need to problem solve 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 with a 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 an additional kindergarten class. But the school department is staring at 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. The School Committee is hoping to hear about whether or not they will receive the $400,000 circuit 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 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. If the school department does not receive additional money from the town over last year’s budget, the department 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 sports at 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 cut back on the program at the middle school; have fewer electives at the high school and discontinue


French; and increase the English Language Learners case load at the elementary schools and middle schools from 20 students to 30. The School Committee and school department are currently negotiating a contract with the teachers’ union, and School Committee Chairman Tony Paolillo 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 February. He also said that it was made clear to the teachers’ union that any additional raises would result in layoffs. “I am shocked and appalled that the school committee would suggest that teacher layoffs were discussed in negotiations,” Watertown Educators Association President Debra King said at the meeting. “That is absolutely not true. Not only would we not agree with layoffs, there is no need for layoffs. The contract does not constitute those kinds of numbers.” Copyright 2011 Watertown TAB. Some rights reserved


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