Beginning on Monday evening, the Reading School Committee and the Community will begin to hear presentations on the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget for FY12. A copy of the budget is located here. The School Committee will be discussing the budget over several nights. These meetings will consist of hearing presentations on the various cost centers, followed by deliberations and questions about each cost center. There will also be a public hearing on January 24 which will give the public the opportunity to discuss any aspect of the budget.
We encourage and welcome the public to attend these meetings. All meetings will begin at 7:30 p.m. and be held at the Reading Public Schools District Office, located at Reading Memorial High School near the RISE Pre-School. The dates are as follows:
- January 10-Overview and Administration Cost Center
- January 13-Regular Day and Special Education Cost Center
- January 20-Health Services, Athletics, Extra-Curricular, Technology and Maintenance
- January 24-Public Hearing on FY12 Budget
- January 31-School Committee Final Vote on FY12 Budget
As we approach fiscal year 2012, all indications show that public education in this country is at a critical crossroads. Cities and towns across the country struggle to find the revenues necessary to maintain core services including public education. While some believe that the deepest recession to have hit this country is nearing an end, federal and state revenues have been slow to recover and, therefore, resources are still significantly constrained. Districts across the country are struggling to find ways to better prepare our children for this ever-flattening global society that defines our world today. As a result of this struggle, it is no surprise that words like innovation and restructuring are now being used to describe what is needed in public education as we progress further into this 21st century.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is expected to face a $1.5 to $2.5 billion structural deficit next year. The federal stimulus funding that has been used to prop up falling state revenues is now expended and the proverbial funding cliff that federal officials warned us about in fiscal year 2009 lies ahead. The evaporation of this one-time revenue is expected to result in drastic cuts to the state budget and, while educational funding has been largely spared over the past two years, there are limited areas of the state budget to be cut and most agree that Chapter 70 funds will be reduced by 7% to 10% for fiscal year 2012. For Reading, that translates to a reduction of nearly one million dollars in education funding. With health insurance and other fixed costs rising, less local revenue is available for core services as well.
The challenge for our community and our school district will be to find ways to maintain the high quality services that our residents expect from the Town of Reading and Reading Public Schools. One of the primary responsibilities of the Superintendent is to develop a recommended budget request each year that represents what is necessary to provide a high quality educational experience for our children. In prosperous times, that budget would reflect the resources necessary to accomplish all of the district and school improvement goals aimed at maximizing student success for all students. In difficult times, the challenge is balancing what is necessary for achieving success with what is available.
Student performance has remained strong despite two years of little to no growth in funding for our schools. The school district has lost 28 positions in the last two years and, for the most part, we have been able to keep the impact away from the classroom as much as possible. However, our schools are feeling the strains of reduced staffing and reduced funding for materials, professional development, and technology. Fortunately, federal stimulus funding has helped to reduce that impact but that funding is nearing an end. But the real reason for our continued success in light of limited funding is the commitment of our staff to our students and our mission and the strong support of our parents and community organizations.
Most agree that surviving fiscal year 2012 will be a challenge but many are also optimistic about the future. This Fiscal Year 2012 Superintendent’s Recommended Budget was developed in consideration of the challenge but also of the optimism for the future. The Level Service budget helps us to understand what would be required in order to maintain the same level of high quality services we are currently providing to our students. To do so would require $1.0 million in additional funding from FY11 levels. We are confident that maintaining current services would allow our district to continue to foster the same level of student success we have seen in the past several years. Recognizing the optimism for the future, however, it is crucial that we do not dismantle the core structures that have led to our past successes. History shows that it takes years of re-building once those core structures are eliminated.
Recognizing that funding will be constrained in the next fiscal year, we have also developed a Level Funded budget that shows what cuts would need to be made should we face a third year of little to no funding increase. Projecting some of our major expenses for fiscal year 2012 is challenging at this point in the year as many of our contracts, including our five collective bargaining agreements, expire at the close of this year. We have tried to incorporate realistic assumptions to ensure that the funding that is available is able to fund core instructional services. In addition, we will look to shift some of our instructional expenses to the EduJobs funding being mindful that using non-recurring funds for recurring expenses is not sustainable.
While it will be a few months before we know for certain what level of state aid we will receive and what the increases in some of our major costs such as health insurance will be, the town’s revenue projections suggest that even level funding of budgets may not be possible in fiscal year 2012. In response to this possibility, we have also developed a list of reductions that would be necessary in the event that budgets would need to be cut by an additional 0.5% below fiscal year 2011 levels. This .5% reduction budget is the budget level that has been advised by the Reading Finance Committee. These cuts are far more costly to our district than those required to get to level funding. If budgets were reduced by 0.5% from fiscal year 2011 levels, for example, we would have to eliminate an additional $385,485 from our budgets; that is in addition to the $1 million that would be cut to get from level services to level funding. Those cuts would require significant personnel cuts and would result in less instructional support in our classrooms, higher class sizes across the district, and reductions to athletic programs. While we are hopeful that the revenue and expense pictures will improve and not require such reductions, we are prepared to implement the innovation and restructuring necessary to maintain our academic excellence.
As we developed the level funded and -0.5% reduced budgets, the priorities listed below were used to guide our decisions. As we developed these less than optimal budgets, it was our overarching goal to preserve the integrity, stability, quality, and culture of our school district. This priority list, which is in no particular order, was developed with input from administrators, directors, and feedback received during the Superintendent’s transition sessions with the community. These priorities provided the guidance necessary to make decisions which will sustain the core educational services necessary to continue to move our school district forward during these difficult economic times.
FY12 Budget Priority List (in no particular order)
- Protect low class sizes (18-22) in grades K-2 where possible
- Preserve the middle school interdisciplinary model
- Continue to support 21st Century learning initiatives throughout the district
- Sustain our PreK-12 technology infrastructure
- Maintain our school facilities while controlling the long term cost of operating those facilities
- Avoid elimination of any regular day programs (e.g. art, music, physical education, foreign language, etc.)
We will continue to use this blog and other venues to update you on the FY12 budget. If you have any questions or comments about the budget, please do not hesitate to contact the Superintendent’s Office at 781-944-5800, attend the School Committee Meetings, or email the Superintendent directly at email@example.com.