School Committee Continues Budget Discussions

Reading, MA — Before the School Committee continued its review of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget, student representative Smritha Srinivasan shared some student opinions on the new one-on-one laptop incentive to be implemented at Reading Memorial High School. Srinivasan shared that while in favor of giving students who may not have access to laptops to use, many were not in favor of ending the current “bring your own device” program and not being able to use their own laptops and other devices in school. “I have not yet met a student in any grade who is happy with this decision,” Srinivasan declared.

As the committee turned its attention to the budget, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Dr. Sarah Hardy shared some of the new initiatives in the $29,704,746 budget for regular day expenses. This represents an increase of $1,244,623 or 4.4% over FY 2022. This increase will fund a reduction of the tuition for full-day kindergarten from $4,450 to $3,000. It will also increase English language instruction by one full-time equivalent. Hardy explained that the increase would also fund a pilot program using teaching fellows in grade four classrooms at the Joshua Eaton and Killam Elementary Schools.

Chair Thomas Wise expressed concern over the impact on future years’ budgets of this year’s choices regarding full-day kindergarten. Wise shared his concern that while the reduction in tuition has little impact on the FY 2023 budget, there could be a potential $650,000 difference in the FY 2024 budget. The School Committee plans a deeper discussion of the plans for full-day kindergarten at its January 20 meeting.

Other initiatives funded in the FY 2024 proposed budget will be an academic support center at Reading Memorial High School (RMHS), a dual enrollment program with Endicott College, a Gateway to College program with North Shore Community College, and a computer science program at RMHS. “We do not want RMHS to be a one-size-fitsone-size-fits-fits one,” Hardy commented.

The Special Needs budget request is for $16,931,568, a 4.1% increase over FY 2022. The increase will fund new adjustment counselors at the elementary schools. These counselors will also serve as METCO coordinators in the schools. There is also a new social worker for the middle school REACH program, two secondary school adjustment counselors, and funding for an additional school nurse. Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Dr. Jennifer Sys added, “Special education . . . is embedded in everything we do.”

School Committee member Chuck Robinson questioned whether or not the number of adjustment counselors would be too many after the effects of COVID are past. Stys responded that she is anticipating long-term effects from COVID. She also stated that the need for additional counselors was beginning to be seen prior to the pandemic.

“It feels like we are filling in holes,” School Committee member Erin Gaffen stated. “I’m glad we are in a position to do this.”

The School Committee will hold its public hearing on the FY 2023 budget on January 20. The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 pm.

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