Financial Forum Draws Crowd

There is no gallery selected or the gallery was deleted.

Over 120 people attended the Community Financial Forum held at the RMHS Performing Arts Center on Thursday, September 1. The forum was called to help educate the public about the financial challenges facing the town government and school district in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. The intent of the forum was to give residents as much information as possible before the special election coming up on October 18, when voters will be asked if they approve a $7.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override. If the override passes, the average Reading homeowner with a house valued at just under $500,000 would see an additional tax increase of $829.

The forum started with a presentation about town finances by Town Manager Robert LeLacheur that was similar to what was presented in the Community Listening sessions this past spring. The presentation demonstrated that costs beyond the town’s control, such as health insurance, were the most significant causes of an expected gap between revenue and expenses. This gap is expected to be about $3 million in FY 2018. Subsequently, Superintendent of Schools John Doherty gave a presentation describing what initiatives the school district would undertake if an override is successful, and what cutbacks would be made if it is not.

Doherty began by reminding the crowd that $2 million would be needed to maintain a level services budget. Doherty then presented a plan for how additional funds 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. Other 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. When questioned as to why full-day kindergarten is not part of the plan, School Committee Chair Jeanne Borawski expressed that it was the intent to spread the effect of the additional funding across the district and share the impact with the greatest number of students.

In the town government portion of the budget, LeLacheur stated that about $1 million would be needed to maintain level services. Additional funds could be used to include a school resource officer, an additional fire fighter, more library staffing, staff retention, and other administrative functions.

Both Doherty and LeLacheur also showed what might happen if the override does not pass, mentioning 30 positions would be lost in the school department alone, mostly teachers. Doherty showed how the loss of those positions would increase class sizes in the elementary schools in several grade levels, and that program and class flexibility losses at the middle and high school level could potentially change graduation requirements.

Several residents asked questions and shared opinions about what was presented. Concern was expressed by some residents that funding for the schools needs to be maintained. Others expressed concern about management of public resources and an inability to afford the proposed increases. A few comments drew applause from both supporters and opponents of an override.

Several questions were also asked about the proposed senior tax relief that will be taken up at the special town meeting on September 12 that hopes to mitigate the impact of an override on those with fixed incomes.

The entire forum may be viewed here.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
, ,