School Committee Approves $54 Million Budget

Reading, MA — By a vote of 5-0, the School Committee approved the Superintendent’s Recommended Fiscal Year 2024 Budget of $54,006,623 on Thursday night. The vote came after two weeks of presentations on the cost centers at the beginning of the month and a lightly attended public hearing last week. School Committee member Thomas Wise, who initially had concerns regarding the sustainability of the new elementary assistant principal positions and how those additions to the budget might affect the plan to move towards full-day kindergarten, commented that after going over the numbers with Director of Finance Susan Bottan he is “very confident that we are in very good shape to follow through with the [full-day kindergarten] plan.” 

Wise also noted that Bottan has plans to establish a stabilization fund which could provide funds in the future if there are any unanticipated expenses for out-of-district placements.

The budget now becomes the School Committee’s Recommended Fiscal Year 2024 Budget and will be forwarded to the Town Manager. The Finance Committee will begin its review of the School Committee’s recommended budget starting on March 1. It will become final only after a vote at Annual Town Meeting in April.

Catherine Franzetti, District Food Services Director, reported to the School Committee on progress in her department. She shared that it is her responsibility to be a part of the process of developing students as lifelong healthy eaters. 

“Healthy eating habits lead to strong, healthy learners,” Franzetti added.

Franzetti oversees a $1.6 million budget with thirty-nine staff. She has been working on diversifying the menu at each level of the district adding locally sourced vegetables and foods and expanding gluten-free and vegetarian options. Combined, the district serves just under 2,000 lunches a day and expanded breakfast options for students.

Franzetti noted that all open positions in her department would be filled as of February 13. All managers are ServeSafe certified and have been involved in monthly meetings and professional development. A composting program has been initiated at Birch Meadow Elementary School, which Franzetti hopes to expand to all the schools by the end of the year.

In addition, a new point-of-sale system and an expanded freezer at Coolidge Middle School have been implemented, which holds USDA commodity items for the entire district.

Franzetti plans to add another serving line at Coolidge and better use of space at all the schools to help reduce the time students spend in line waiting for food. She is also looking to standardize some recipes across the district. Growing stations to produce high-volume, commonly-used vegetables may also be a future activity at the schools.

School Committee chair Shawn Brant complemented Franzetti, who began her role in Reading this year. “It is absurd the number of steps forward [you have made] in just a few months,” Brandt shared.

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Milaschewski updated the committee on progress towards his goals as his mid-year formative review will need to be completed in February. Milaschewski reported that his first goal, a district strategic plan, will be presented in draft form to the committee at its next meeting and is fully on track to be completed on time.

For his second goal of innovations in a whole list of areas, Milaschewski has chosen to focus on two: innovation pathways at the high school and secondary school scheduling. He has been creating plans regarding other issues, such as elementary school music and math pathways at the middle school level, which he will share in coming meetings.

Milaschewski’s third goal is the principals’ coaching, development, and support. Partnerships have been developed for one-on-one coaching with mentors from Salem State University, assistant principals have been added to the FY 2024 budget, instructional leadership teams have been implemented, and level-specific teaching and learning meetings have occurred throughout the school year. 

Milaschewski also meets weekly one-on-one with each principal. He shared that this has helped him “have a better pulse on individual school needs.” He has also encouraged open lines of communication for principals with the rest of the administrative team.

Brandt asked how the new assistant principals will be supported once they are hired next year. He also asked how the principals will be coached to utilize the new roles effectively. Milaschewski shared that both of these are issues to which he is already giving thought. Brandt reminded the committee that their individual reviews are due on February 3, and discussion of the formative review will be on the agenda for February 9.

The School Committee adjourned at 8:35pm.

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