Over the last several months, our community has been on a roller coaster ride with the FY12 budget process. On January 31st, the Reading School Committee voted a FY12 School Committee Budget that was 1.1% lower than the current fiscal year. This reduced budget is caused by a weak economy, reduced state aid to cities and towns, and rising health insurance costs. The 1.1% reduced budget, which equates to $385,000 less than the current fiscal year, has resulted in the following reductions/changes for next year:
- Elimination of 1.0 FTE Instructional Specialist
- Elimination of 1.0 FTE Special Education Secretary
- Elimination of .5 FTE Courier
- Elimination of 4.0 FTE Regular Education Paraeducators
- Reduction of $100,000 in per pupil expenses, resulting in a 17% reduction in classroom supplies and materials at each school for next year.
- An increase of $40 per student per sport in athletic user fees for next year.
As has been mentioned several times during the process, there were two unknowns when the budget was voted on by the School Committee, health insurance costs and state aid. When the entire town budget was being prepared in the fall, the assumption that was made was a 10% increase in health insurance and a 10% decrease in state aid. In February, the Town of Reading received word that health insurance would increase by 13.5% for next year. Because it is over the 10% that was budgeted for, both town and schools had to reduce their budgets further, which resulted in an additional $103,000 reduction to the School Committee approved budget. This budget would have resulted in the reduction of 2.4 FTE teachers at the elementary and high school level.
However, just before April vacation, we received the last piece of the financial revenue puzzle, which was the amount of state aid that the Town of Reading will receive next year for the FY12 budget. The good news is that the amount of state aid is more than the projected reduction of 10%. What this means is that the increase in health insurance will be offset by the amount of state aid that Reading will receive. This will allow to put back the $103,000 that was reduced in the budget resulting in the restoration of the 2.4 FTE teaching positions.
The final step in the process will begin this week, when Town Meeting votes on the Town and School Department budgets. The budget that Town Meeting will vote on will now be the budget that the School Committee approved on January 31st. Unfortunately, the other reductions that were listed above cannot be restored, which will put a greater strain on our existing resources.
It should be noted that this FY12 budget could have been much worse without the collaborative efforts between town and schools. About $1 million dollars in cash reserves is being used to balance the total town budget and there has been strong fiscal management over the last several years for both town and school budgets which has put Reading in a better situation than most communities. Without this collaboration, the budget reductions would have been worse and class sizes would have been much higher in some Grade 3, 4, and 5 classrooms and certain high school sections.
Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet. The economy is still sluggish and FY13 does not look promising. However, we will continue to find ways to develop new revenue sources and cost savings measures to weather the storm.
We appreciate your patience and support during this budget process. This is not a roller coaster ride that anyone wanted to endure, but we had no choice. Special thanks goes to the budget parents who have followed the process since November and have kept individual schools informed of the situation.