School Committee Approves $42.7 Million Budget

By a vote of 5-1, the School Committee voted to approve a $42.7 million balanced budget on January 22. The budget includes the cutting of three elementary school teachers, seven middle school teachers, two games on each level of every sport and a reduction in the number of vacation cleanings for the high school. The middle school teachers cuts would reduce the number of periods per day for middle school students, causing sixth grade students to have half the number of english language arts classes in sixth grade and the no foreign language in grades seven and eight.

The meeting opened with a public hearing about the budget during which several speakers urged the committee to find a different way to balance the budget other than the middle school foreign language program. Several committee members bemoaned the budget as inadequate and “bad.” “It (this budget) will hurt kids.” commented committee member Jeanne Borawski. “I hate to support these cuts.” committee member Linda Snow Dockser shared. “Nobody designed Proposition 2 1/2 in a way that a community that is 98% (sic) residential would not pass an override for fifteen years.” committee member Elaine Webb lamented.

Committee member Nicholas Boivin suggested a plan that would eliminate the school business assistant, cut the data coach, reduce the building-based budgets by ten percent, and reduce the athletics budget by almost $200,000 in order to save the middle school model. While she appreciated Boivin’s attempt, Borawski pointed out that the committee could not know what the impacts or domino effects of this last-minute change would be. “Athletic families and students would not be given a time to advocate for their program.” Borawski continued. Referencing that elementary schools and the high school had experienced cuts over the last five years, Borawski continued, “We need to make cuts equitably, this would hit the high school again.” Chair Chuck Robinson declared, “We can’t keep doing this. We can’t pit program versus program.” Robinson also remembered that he was the one who was trying to find ways to save the program last year. The committee voted down the proposal by a vote of 1-5.

Boivin also floated the idea of voting an unbalanced budget. “This feels like a band-aid. We will be back here with the same conversation next year.” Committee member Sherri VandenAkker stated. Finance committee member Paula Perry urged a vote on a balanced budget, “For the school committee not to vote a balanced budget would be disingenuous.”

By a vote of 5-1, the committee also voted to recommend an override amount of $2.436 million in additional expenses to the board of selectmen. Boivin was the only dissenting vote. The budget additions are highlighted by the restoration of six high school teachers, seven middle school teachers, three elementary teachers, and one elementary tutor. It also includes salary adjustments to aid in the attraction of new teachers and retention of current teachers.

It adds two districtwide curriculum coordinators for grades kindergarten through grade eight. If an override were to pass, the budget restructures several administrative positions to help make the district more efficient in its work. The plan calls for an assistant principal for each elementary school, adding two positions and adapting the three team chair roles that currently serve the five schools. The plan also includes the final installment to implement the new science curriculum, an additional computer technician, and a payroll/human resources accountant. It restores the current cleaning and maintenance schedule for the high school and returns the two additional games for each high school athletics team that were eliminated from the balanced budget.

Doherty stated that these budget additions would bring class sizes in grade three to five back to suggested levels, sustain the middle school model which has been effective for over thirty years, and strengthen interventions with students who are struggling. “These are things we have been talking about for a long time.” Webb explained. “This is a list of the things we need. It is not a wish list.”

The selectmen will decide whether or not to place a Proposition 2 1/2 override on the April 3 ballot at its January 30 meeting. It will also decide on the amount for both the municipal budget override request and the school department budget override request at that meeting. Based on the results of that meeting, the school committee will discuss its priority list at its February 5 meeting.

The School Committee also voted 5-1 to approve the schedule and process for hiring a new principal for the Reading Memorial High School. The committee adjourned at 10:48 PM.

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