School Committee Sets Override Priorities

school committeeAt their August 29 meeting, the School Committee was given a presentation from Superintendent of Schools, Dr. John Doherty, revising the potential plan for additional funding to be provided if a proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Proposition 2 1/2 override passes at the October 18 election. The School Committee originally asked the Board of Selectmen to consider an override including just over $3.9 million for the Reading Public Schools. The Board of Selectmen voted at their August 16 meeting to propose an override totaling $7.5 million, the school portion of which would be $2.96 million. “We are now in a place of greater clarity after the Selectmen vote,” commented School Committee Chair Jeanne Borawski.

In his presentation, Superintendent Doherty reminded the committee that the district faces a $2 million structural deficit, the amount needed to maintain level services, in FY 2018. Doherty also cautioned again, as he did before the Selectmen, that a failed override would result in 30 lost positions in the district, mostly likely teachers. The committee discussed at length how to explain the impact of these possible cuts to the public. School Committee member Elaine Webb stressed the need to show direct effect on class sizes and program losses and commented that “If we don’t get information that people understand how they affect their children . . . we will lose.”

school committeeDoherty continued and showed how the remaining $960,000 could be used to enhance School District services, some of which have been cut in recent years. The largest amount of $360,000 would be used to help retain and attract staff. As anecdotal evidence, Doherty mentioned a teacher who left earlier this year for a similar position in another district for $9,000 more than they were earning in Reading. “We cannot compete with that,” Doherty lamented. Doherty also admitted that there are some teaching positions in the district that are not filled as the new school year starts this week, though he was careful not to describe these issues as a budgetary problem. Planned areas of expansion would be Curriculum Supervision Leadership, tutors for struggling students, Middle School Health Education, Special Education Leadership and additional teachers at RMHS for Advanced Placement classes and electives. Several of these areas were included in the previous plan but at reduced levels in this new plan.

The largest area eliminated from the School Committee’s original plan is full-day Wednesdays for Elementary students. Doherty commented that removing this big ticket item from the plan allows the district to accomplish several other goals. He compared the need for full-day Wednesdays to the hope for full-day kindergarten, since both are needs that must eventually be addressed. After the lengthy presentation, the committee voted 5-0 to endorse the new plan.

The information presented at this meeting will also be shared at the Community Financial Forum this Thursday at 7:00pm in the RMHS Performing Arts Center.

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