Proposed FY'25 Budget for Westwood Public Schools Touted as Less than Cost of Level Services (Updated)


Photo by Westwood Minute/Darlene Wong Cancell. Pictured is the Westwood Public Schools District Administration offices.

This Thursday, February 8th at 6:30 p.m., members of the public will have opportunity to comment on the proposed FY’25 Westwood Public Schools (WPS) budget, the first that Superintendent Timothy Piwowar has proposed since taking on his new position. The proposed operating budget of $56,763,603, together with a proposed capital budget of $1.017 million, is part of an overall increase of 3.69 percent. The operating budget in FY’24 budget was $54,743,565. Mr. Piwowar notes that the FY'25 proposed budget request amounts to less than the cost of a level services budget which would require an increase of 3.77 percent.

“As a district, we have a responsibility to engage in continuous improvement efforts, which means we cannot be content with simply maintaining level service programming,” states the Proposed FY’25 Budget Executive Summary that was prepared by Mr. Piwowar and members of the district administration. The summary continues, “At the same time, we must balance any changes in programming with our fiscal responsibility to the community, ensuring that our budget complements other municipal priorities while staying within Proposition 2 ½. In the proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget, we believe that we were able to successfully strike this balance,” it states.

In a presentation to Westwood School Committee in January, Superintendent Piwowar provided a chart showing that the 3.69 percent increase is consistent with typical budget growth rates in recent years, excluding years that included substantial tax revenue from University Station growth and last year’s significant increase in state aid.

In a budget where salaries account for 85 percent of the overall proposal, the savings in the superintendent’s proposed FY ’25 budget is accomplished in large part by redesigning and restructuring elementary schools’ “Specials” offerings and by administrative efficiencies resulting through the consolidation of the Deerfield and Hanlon elementary schools into Pine Hill elementary school.

Administrative expenses are reduced, for example, with the reduction of the positions of an elementary speech-language pathologist assistant, and elementary building-based substitute, an administrative assistant, a music teacher, and an art teacher.

However, a recent unexpected and significant increase in kindergarten enrollment means that despite the Pine Hill consolidation, no elementary general education teachers would be reduced. It is the redesign of the special instruction offerings which result in the reduction of 1.0 FTE (one Full Time Equivalent Employee) elementary music teacher position and 0.8 FTE  elementary art teacher. Music and Art are de-emphasized in grades 4 and 5 in favor of added curriculum in Digital Literacy/Computer Science (DLCS). The added DCLS specials require the addition of 1.0 FTE instructional technology coach. The new DCLS offering is said to be expected to include instruction on AI, collaborating online, responsible use, and learning to vet information and discern reliable sources.

Currently, elementary students of all grades each enjoy a day each week of Art, Music, Library, Physical Education (PE), and a fifth day of Specials comprised of one of the aforementioned Specials. In the proposed Specials schedule, extra days of Specials are revised as follows:

Grade K – No change. Specials each week include Art, Music, Library, PE, and an extra day of PE.

Grade 1 – Extra day of Specials in Art/PE becomes PE. This change is said to be based on community input regarding the need for physical activity at this grade level.

Grade 2 – Extra day of Specials in Art becomes DLCS.

Grade 3 – No change. Grade 3 is currently the only grade to have a DLCS Specials, which it retains.

Grade 4 – Extra day of Specials in Instrumental Music becomes DLCS. The general Music offering becomes a choice between general Music or Instrumental Music.

Grade 5 – Extra day of Specials in Chorus/Drama becomes DLCS. The general Music offering becomes Chorus/Drama.

In answer to School Committee Member Maya Plotkin’s question of what other districts are doing related to DCLS, Mr. Piwowar noted much of what other districts do is “opaque” but that this move puts Westwood Public Schools at the forefront of digital literacy. As DLCS is implemented in Westwood Public Schools, he said the district will seek out information from peers.

There are a number of other staffing changes in the proposed budget, but one which affects the entire district is the proposed addition of a 1.0 FTE Human Resources Director. Mr. Piwowar noted the district has experienced a large turnover, especially among support staff during the pandemic, and that it is a district priority to hire, develop, and retain a diverse staff that mirrors the student population. Coordination of employee hiring and development has so far fallen to the assistant superintendent’s office, he says, but creation of the human resources position will allow the assistant superintendent to return to a focus on teaching and learning.

Another notable staff addition at the high school would be the hiring of 1.0 FTE BRIDGE program teacher, who would support at-risk and high-need students with re-engagement in school. This position could potentially reduce special education referrals and out-of-district placements, and assist the district with keeping resources invested in Westwood Public Schools rather than out-of-district, suggested Mr. Piwowar.

At the middle school, a Library/Media Specialist (1.0 FTE) would be brought back, after having been eliminated in FY 2021.

Other proposed budget items that families of WPS students may notice include an approximate 3 percent increase bus fees, athletic fees, and preschool tuition. The superintendent signaled a new intention to increase such fees annually, in contrast to past practice of presenting student families with a surprisingly large hike in athletic fees only after many years of no increase.

According to the WPS proposed FY’25 budget, in a field of 30 of top Massachusetts high schools selected by Boston Magazine, Westwood sits in the middle for per pupil spending. Westwood’s per pupil spending of $20,500 is slightly lower than the mean of the schools on the list ($21,336) and is right around the median ($20,580). The state average per pupil expenditure is $19,062.

A public hearing before Westwood School Committee on the proposed Westwood Public Schools FY’25 budget will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 8th at Westwood High School in the Josepha Jowdy Little Theatre at 200 Nahatan Street in Westwood. The School Committee is scheduled to vote on whether it will approve the budget as presented later in Thursday’s meeting.

Updated 2/8/2024. A correction has been made to one digit of the reported dollar amount for the FY'25 budget, changing a "7" to a "6." This correction results in  an overall proposed budget dollar amount that is $100 less than originally reported. A clarification has been made that the resulting $56,763,603 is the proposed operating budget, and not the "overall" budget. The overall budget includes both the operating budget and capital budget. 

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The proposal to hire an FTE Human Resources director sounds like a good idea. Something needs to be done to address the chronic gaps in teacher coverage at the high school. All three of my children have experienced extended periods of time (weeks) when they were without a teacher. I would ask, "why are you still here?" at 8:30am and the response was that there was no teacher for the first block of the day, so class was cancelled/no one there to take attendence. In one recent case, a class was vacant for over a month before a person was finally hired to fill in for the last few weeks before February vacation.

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