Regular Day and Special Education Budgets are Focus of School Committee

Reading, MA — The School Committee turned its focus to the Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year 2021 Budget for Regular Day expenses and for Special Education expenses on January 16. At 57.4% of the total recommended budget, Regular Day covers most classroom teaching and learning as well as many of the expenses necessary to operate the schools. Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Christine Kelley presented the proposal for Regular Day of $27,764,274 which is a $748,602 increase over FY2020 or 2.8%. Included in the increase are COLA increases for teachers and staff, year two of the new Social Studies curriculum implementation, the need for new Algebra I curriculum, and exploration of new grade 7-12 Foreign Language (now referred to as “World Language”) curriculum.

Of the total regular day budget, $26,196,578 is for salaries, $24,564,914 of which is for “professional” salaries. Kelley continued to explain that the current Algebra I curriculum is being phased out by the publisher and will no longer be supported. The current World Language curriculum is dated and needs to be replaced to align with current trends and standards. The budget also reflects an additional offset of $65,000 from increased full-day kindergarten tuition.

Director of Student Services Jennifer Stys presented the $15,995,850 recommended Special Education budget which is a $772,212 or 5.1% increase over the FY2020 budget. Stys reported that the increase adds 1.6 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) positions to the budget, most of which were added this year, but is now in the budget. There are 727 students in the district with Individual Education Plans (IEP) in the district. Already this year there have been 145 initial evaluations of students. Currently, there are fifty-nine students placed out-of-district. “All disability types are served,” Stys affirmed. 

Drivers of the budget continue to be the needs of the students and continued compliance monitoring. School Committee member Jeanne Borawski inquired as to why the budget numbers have increased when the numbers of students with IEP’s and out-of-district placements are down. Stys responded reminding the committee that, while placements are down, tuition at the out-of-district schools is up, in some cases significantly. There are also changes in student needs, which require greater services, adding to costs. “Although the number of students don’t add up, there are a lot of other factors,” Stys added. Stys did indicate that she is seeking to reduce legal services, and thus expenses, through greater communication with parents, hopefully reducing the number of official hearings that are needed. “We can spend that money on teaching and learning,” Stys suggested.

School Committee member Thomas Wise asked about the increase in the extended year budget. Director of Finance Gail Dowd answered that the greater amount reflected what was actually spent this year, as it was under-budgeted in the FY2020 budget. There also has been an increase in the number of IEP’s calling for the program. Stys concluded her presentation stating, “This budget is very thoughtful and data-driven.”

The School Committee will hold a discussion regarding the budget, along with a public hearing, on Thursday, January 23 at 7:00 pm in the RMHS Library. The committee adjourned at 9:15 pm.

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