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Watertown City School District facing difficult budget season during Common Core rollout

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Heading into its budget season, the Watertown City School District is in a difficult position.

Declining state aid, a dwindling fund balance and the state’s property tax cap all limit the district’s ability to make ends meet as expenses continue to grow each year, according to district Superintendent Terry N. Fralick.

And the new Common Core education standards are not helping.

“The financial support from the state is insufficient to really implement the Common Core to the extent that the state expects us to,” Mr. Fralick said.

The new standards require teachers to be outside of the classroom more often to attend professional training, and state aid is not sufficient to cover all the costs of new instructional materials called for by the standards.

“And that’s just the financial aspect,” Mr. Fralick said. “There’s a time aspect, too.”

According to Mr. Fralick, there is a net loss of instructional time in the district as a result of the new standards, which Mr. Fralick called “challenging but doable.”

It’s just that “the state is pushing us so fast. It’s overwhelming students and teachers and parents,” Mr. Fralick said.

The Watertown City School District Board of Education received an update on the district’s finances in October when the Watertown accounting firm Poulsen & Podvin CPA presented the results of an annual audit to board members.

According to the audit, the district spent $11 million in reserve fund balance during the 2012-13 fiscal year.

The district needs another $11 million to avoid a big tax increase next year but has only about $6 million left in its coffers, according to Mr. Fralick.

Michael R. Flick, a former board president and current board member, said the board in the past has navigated difficult budget seasons by bumping taxes up by a bearable amount, cutting expenses where possible, changing educational programs and spending down the fund balance a little at a time.

“You can’t tax your way out of this,” Mr. Fralick said. “You try to take a balanced approach.”

A restoration of state aid is what is really needed to return the district to solvency, Mr. Fralick said.

Board President Cynthia H. Bufalini said that state representatives are listening but that the board is waiting to see real action.

“The biggest thing I can say to you is, ‘We are not alone,’” Mrs. Bufalini said. “It’s difficult to say where we will be come this spring, but one thing I can tell you is that our constituent base has always been very supportive. ... I think the general population understands too.”

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