School Committee Begins Budget Review

Reading, MA — After a brief overview of the entire Fiscal Year 2023 budget by both Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski and Director of Finance Susan Bottan, the pair shared the proposed budgets for the administration, district-wide, and facilities cost centers, as well as the five-year plan for capital improvements with the School Committee. The School Department is proposing a $51,783,363 budget which is a $2,087,365 increase over FY 2022. This amount is 4.2% over the FY 2022 budget. These numbers represent the amounts recommended by the Finance Committee.

Three overriding priorities from the district improvement plan were used in determining how to allocate the increased funding. These priorities are: improving academic outcomes, supporting the social and emotional needs of students, and streamlining operational systems to increase efficiency. Milaschewski shared several items added to his recommended budget that reflect these priorities.

To support academic outcomes for students, Milaschewski recommends a reduction in tuition for the full-day kindergarten from $4,450 to $3,000. Milaschewski stated that this is the first step toward tuition-free full-day kindergarten. Milaschewski also recommends the addition of an English language staff and the use of a teaching fellow program at Joshua Eaton Elementary and Killam Elementary Schools to support class sizes in the fourth grade.

Milaschewski’s budget includes an academic support center, a new computer science introductory course, dual enrollment courses with Endicott College, and a Gateway to College program with North Shore Community College at Reading Memorial High School (RMHS).

To support social and emotional learning, Milaschewski proposes an adjustment counselor at the elementary level who will also serve as a METCO coordinator, a social worker for the middle school REACH program, an increase of two adjustment counselors at the secondary level, and an additional school nurse. He also proposes that increasing the data specialist by .4 full-time equivalents and reallocating o funds to professional development will aid the goal of streamlining district systems. Bottan shared that the new investments in district priorities are budgeted for $871,150. 

“What we have outlined here will have a significant impact on the day-to-day experience for our students,” Milaschewski proclaimed.

Bottan continued to share recommendations for the three cost centers under consideration for the meeting. The recommendation is for a budget of $1,303,760 for the administrative cost center. This is a $24,793 increase. This cost center includes central office staff, supplies, and other costs such as legal counsel.

A budget of $2,157,444 is recommended for the district-wide cost center. This cost center covers athletics, extra-curricular activities, health services, and the technology department. School Committee member Erin Gaffen expressed concern over the reported 50% drop in participation in extra-curricular activities at RMHS post-COVID. Member Shawn Brandt also expressed concern that the use of revolving funds to offset costs may have to be reconsidered in future budgets. The committee’s student representative offered that the reason for the decrease in participation could be that students grew tired of the virtual nature of these activities during the shutdown. Bottan also reported that RMHS drama director Natalie Cuhna “has the goal to build back the drama program” over the next year.

School Committee member Carla Nazzaro questioned the increase of $26,000 for transportation services, given the district’s support to the transportation company during the COVID shutdown. Chair Thomas Wise shared the concern, noting that this occurs when there is only one company bidding on a contract.

The facilities budget is recommended for $1,620,845. This is an increase of 2.7% or $42,641 over FY 2022. The budget includes an increase in the cost of cleaning services for RMHS and Coolidge Middle School.

The School Committee will continue its budget process next Thursday, January 13, reviewing the regular day and special education cost centers. The committee adjourned at 8:30 pm.

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