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Watertown City Schools superintendent details $450,000 staff cuts

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The Watertown City School District will be down eight staff members next year.

Superintendent Terry N. Fralick announced $450,000 in staff cuts for next year at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

“Instead of doing one very drastic cut for the 2014-15 school year, we decided to do it in phases,” he said.

At the March 26 Board of Education meeting, he said the district might have to cut $1 million in staff and programs when preparing the budget next year when the fund balance is depleted. He announced at the meeting in early April that he would be breaking up those cuts over a two-year period to soften the blow of the layoffs.

Mr. Fralick detailed the cuts:

n A high school art position.

n A high school math position through retirement.

n A social studies teacher going on special assignment won’t be replaced. Mr. Fralick said the position may be restored the following year, depending on retirements.

n An elementary teacher through resignation, most likely at H.T. Wiley Intermediate.

n Two Building and Grounds positions.

n A clerical position through retirement.

n The assistant principal position split between H.T. Wiley Intermediate and North Elementary now filled by an intern.

An additional $26,000 worth of budget items, including a truck, will not be replaced in next year’s spending plan.

“It’s another painful budget cycle,” Board President Michael R. Flick said. “It’s been three years in a row.”

He and Mr. Fralick agreed it was not going to get easier.

“We’re grabbing what we can,” Mr. Flick said after the meeting. “If we can realize some of those cuts through retirement, obviously we’re going to do those first.”

He said the district tried to balance which departments saw cuts.

“We tried to do a balanced approach to this and not have one program bear the brunt,” he said.

According to a fund-balance worksheet provided at a Board of Education meeting in late March, the district expected to have $3,308,932 in the undesignated fund balance for the 2013-14 school year. Although the unreserved fund balance is expected to increase to $10.3 million by the beginning of July 2014, the district expected to spend $15 million to keep the tax levy down. That would leave the district $4.7 million in debt.

Board member Cynthia H. Bufalini said that while she understood why the art position was cut, it would affect the students who are passionate about the subject.

“That’s the way it is,” she said. “It seems like the arts are always the first to go. It’s too bad.”

Watertown Education Association President Dianne H. Loonan saw firsthand how the cuts affected the teachers. She said the staff handled the news professionally.

“Our Board of Education has been forced to make some difficult decisions,” Ms. Loonan said. “Unfortunately, cuts do affect our students. The same is true for any position cut because it might affect student behavior; it might affect how curriculum is taught, class sizes.”

Mr. Fralick said class sizes aren’t going to be affected too much next year, but he worries about the year after.

“It’s discouraging that we cut so many positions over the past four years,” he said. “Now we’re in another situation where we’re in phase one of a million-dollar cutback for staff.”

The district had to eliminate 55 positions a few years ago. According to a recent budget presentation, the district still has 45 fewer employees than it did in March 2009.

“We are rapidly approaching fiscal insolvency, and just behind that is educational insolvency,” he said.

He supports the state’s notion that students need to be ready for college and careers. However, he said, schools are going to need more financial support to make it happen.

“I worry about our students,” he said. “I worry about their hope for the future.”

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