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Dear friends and neighbors,
At our meeting on March 5, 2018, the School Committee voted unanimously to endorse the $4.15 million proposition 2 ½ override ballot question Reading voters will see on April 3rd. It is essential that our town pass this override if we want to continue to offer the same quality of education that has traditionally defined our public schools.
Over the past five years, the costs of providing a high quality education for all students in Reading has grown at a pace that far exceeds our revenues. Costs such as health insurance for our employees and federally mandated special education services are growing faster than the state mandated property tax cap of 2.5%. At the same time, we are beginning to see a decrease in federal aid to schools and minimal increases in state aid. The resulting budget gap has forced us to make cuts in the Reading Public School Department budget every year for the past five years. While we are proud of the creativity and efficiency in our budget management, it has become clear that we are at a tipping point. There are no more expenses to be cut that would not negatively impact student achievement.
If the override passes, we will be able to hire back 5 high school teaching positions that we have had to cut over the past three years. This will reduce and stabilize class sizes and offer our high school students better access to important electives, including Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Our high school athletes will continue to enjoy the same amount of playing time in their various sports that they do today. We will be able to continue to offer our highly successful Middle School Model, which includes two blocks of English Language Arts instruction in 6th grade, and foreign language study in 7th and 8th grade. At all five of our elementary schools, we will be able to continue to offer optimal, equitable class sizes for our youngest learners. Finally, we will be able to make important investments in updated curriculum, teacher supports, and technology upgrades.
If the override fails, high school class sizes will remain too large, and our high school students will continue to struggle to access electives and Advanced Placement courses. Our student athletes will see a reduction in the number of games they play each season. Our Middle School students will see a significant decrease in the amount of reading and writing instruction they receive in 6th grade, and will no longer be able to study Spanish or French in 7th and 8th grade. We will see larger elementary class sizes, in some cases exceeding School Committee guidelines. Finally, we will be unable to update our curriculum and technology at the pace we must to ensure every student has access to the best possible educational environment.
We are enormously grateful for the support this community has always provided to our public school system and we do not take making this request lightly. Part of our obligation to our community is to be honest about the cost of providing the kind of education that has traditionally defined Reading schools. We hope you join us in voting Yes on April 3rd, so that Reading students will continue to access the high quality education that Reading has always offered.
The Reading School Committee
Submitted by Chuck Robinson, Chair