Reading, MA — On the recommendations of METCO Director Kurtis Martin and Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milachewski, the School Committee voted 6-0 to approve the expansion of the METCO program by forty students in the coming 2022-23 school year. As a result of the vote, a $260,000 expansion award will be awarded to the district to help defray costs associated with the expansion.
Martin explained the advantages of the expansion, including greater exposure to diversity for students, a more even distribution of METCO students across the system and across grade levels, a greater ability for students to establish “life-long” relationships, a dedicated middle school bus, and additional late-day busses for middle and high school students. Martin explained that he would seek to place new students in grades 2-10 with the goal of ten METCO students in each graduating class. Martin shared that only one METCO student is in this year’s graduating class. “I do not want that to happen again,” Martin stated.
Martin also shared other program improvements he has implemented, such as social outings for families in Reading and in Boston, late buses for middle and high school students, a bus ride app that allows Boston parents to track where their child’s school bus is located, improved bus routes, and approved visits to Historically Black Colleges and Universities planned for the spring. School Committee chair Thomas Wise praised the plan and Martin’s impact on the program in the few months since being hired in August. “[There has been a] monumental shift in a positive direction in a very short period of time.” Wise proclaimed.
Milachewski led a pre-budget discussion regarding the Fiscal Year 2023 budget process. In his presentation, Milachewski outlined two plans for universal full-day kindergarten (FDK) in Reading. The first, called the “glide plan” would reduce FDK tuition over four years, gradually absorbing the cost into the operating budget each year. This plan would require an additional $385,000 in funding from a source outside the Finance Committee recommended appropriation for the School Department in 2023. By 2026, FDK would be fully funded in the operating budget.
The second plan calls for a one-time cash infusion of $1,833,000 from an additional source in FY 2023 that would be used for universal FDK in the 2022-2023 school year and would continue to fund the program until fully absorbed by the operating budget. School Committee member Shawn Brandt expressed enthusiasm for both plans. “Both options are a momentous step forward.” Brandt proclaimed.
Milachewski added that he has heard from the community that FDK is a priority for many residents. School Committee member Erin Gaffen agreed, “[Not having full-day kindergarten] is a tremendous equity issue.” She also said that she believes that waiting to fully fund FDK until 2026 “is way too long to make this happen.”
Reading Memorial High School, (RMHS) Director of Counseling Lynna Williams presented statistics regarding college admissions to the committee. Williams shared that 80% of the class of 2021 is enrolled in a four-year college this year. This is down from 2019 levels of four-year attendance, which Williams attributed to pandemic issues and is consistent across the country. Just under six percent of 2021 RMHS graduates attend a two-year college, with 2.76% in a preparatory or technical school and 11.5% in the workforce or in a gap-year program. Williams extolled the virtues of gap year programs that help bridge students to their college educations and noted that there would be a gap year fair coming in January.
Williams also added a report regarding the new Project Wayfinder curriculum being utilized in students’ freshman and sophomore years. Freshmen explore “Belonging,” seeking to answer the question, “who I am.” Sophomores look at “Finding Purpose,” answering “how I fit in.” Grades eleven and twelve focus on post-high school plans.
Human Resources Director Michelle Roach gave a quarterly personnel update. There have been 190 new hires in the district since July 1, and there are currently thirty-four open positions. She cited the continued issue of the lack of substitute teachers, noting that pay rates have been raised to make these positions more competitive with surrounding districts.
Director of Finance Susan Bottan reported in her quarterly update that she currently projects a $193,000 budget balance at this time, though cautioned that this could change as the year progresses. Most of the projected balance is due to personnel savings; $ 158,000 of that is in special education. Bottan also has made an extensive review of the student activity accounts and will be making recommendations to the committee after the first of the year.
The School Committee was treated to a short concert by the RMHS Select Chorus; it voted 5-0 to approve the town’s energy reduction plan, which the Select Board has already approved, and Wise and Brandt were appointed to the American Rescue Plan Act committee. The School Committee also reviewed the 2022-2023 school year calendar.
The School Committee adjourned at 11:10 pm.