FY 13 Budget Presentations Begin

I apologize for the long delay inbetween blog posts.  As you may or may not know, January begins the community presentations for the FY13 budget.  The first of several discussions will be on Monday, January 9th, at 7:30 p.m. in the School Committee Conference Room of the Reading Public School Administrative Offices.  You can access a copy of the Superintendent’s FY13 Recommended Budget here.

Described below is the opening message for this recommended budget.  Over the next month, the School Committee will hear the presentations for all of the different cost centers of the budget (Administration, Regular Day, Special Education, Other (Health Services, Athletics, Extra-curricular, District Technology), and Town/School Facilities.  The meeting dates for January are as follows:

January 9-Overview of Budget, Administration, Regular Day

January 19-Special Education, Other, Facilities

January 23-Public Hearing on FY13 budget

January 30-Final vote on FY13 budget

Once the School Committee votes on a budget, it will become the School Committee budget.  That budget is then submitted to the Town Manager who will develop a complete Town and School budget that he believes is affordable for the community with the resources that are available.  The Town Manager will then submit his budget (Town Government and Schools) to the Finance Committee who will review the budget during the month of March.  The Finance Committee advises Town Meeting on the budget and they will take a vote on each of the different areas of the budget.  The budget will then be presented to Town Meeting, who will vote on each area of the budget.  Town Meeting has the final authority on the budget.

I encourage you to attend the School Committee meetings and the Public Hearing and give your input on the budget.  I also encourage to read the budget book linked above which tells a story of the Reading Public Schools.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Superintendent’s Office at 781-944-5800 or by email john.doherty@reading.k12.ma.us.

Superintendent’s Budget Message for FY13

The last three fiscal years have been extremely challenging for the Reading Public Schools.  A reduction in state aid, coupled with rising in health insurance costs have led to stagnant school funding during FY10, FY11, and FY12.  During this time, the change to the school budget has been a net of 0% (0% in FY10, 1.1% increase in FY11 and a 1.1% decrease in FY12).  This overall lack of increased funding has resulted in the elimination of 34.8 FTE positions, primarily in the areas of secretary, paraeducator, and custodian support.  In addition to the staffing reductions, allocations for instructional supplies, curriculum, professional development and technology replacement have been significantly reduced with the school having to survive on a fraction of the funding that they have had years prior to FY10.  These reductions have created a strain on our support and instructional staff and a void in instructional supplies and technology replacement in our classrooms.  The reductions in instructional supplies and technology replacement in FY12 were meant as a one year budget reduction only to avoid reducing classroom teachers.  These reductions, while challenging, were strategically selected to avoid reductions to our teaching staff over the last three years.

We are at a point as a school district where we can no longer sustain reductions in personnel or supplies and expect to maintain a high quality school district that focuses on continuous improvement and innovation.  This FY13 budget is critical in that we must restore some of the reductions that were intended to be one year reductions.  We must also address some critical areas that have clearly been adversely impacting our students.  Other needs have surfaced as well.  Over the next few years, we will need to transition all of our curriculum areas to the Common Core of Learning, which is the newly approved Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.  As part of this transition, curriculum work and materials adoption will need to occur in mathematics, writing, and science.  In addition, common assessments will need to be developed in all subject areas and grade levels as part of the new Massachusetts Educator Evaluation system.

However, the most critical need in our school district is to address the overall behavioral health of our students.  Behavioral health refers to the social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of all students, including but not limited to students with mental health needs.  Behavioral health initiatives seek to both reduce problem behaviors, and to optimize positive and productive functioning.  The research clearly shows that when programs and policies to improve behavioral health are in place, academic achievement improves, students are more engaged in school, and negative behaviors decrease.

Last year, to begin a dialogue about these concerns, the Reading Public Schools hosted three showings of the documentary, Race to Nowhere, which focuses on the increasing stress and anxiety that our youth are facing in today’s society.  As a result of the community discussions from Race to Nowhere, a group of dedicated teachers, administrators, parents and the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse formed a Behavioral Health Task Force.  This group met throughout the summer and identified the behavioral health needs of the school district using a DESE Behavioral Health Assessment Tool.  From these results,  the task force developed a set of recommendations as to what our schools and our community can do to support students, reduce their anxiety, and help them become more emotionally ready to learn and thrive in this community.  Several of these recommendations have begun to be implemented while others will require additional resources.  In addition to the Behavioral Health Task Force Recommendations, our latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2011) showed some areas of concern, most notably in the number of students who are at emotional risk, and have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder, or other mental illnesses.  These students often show symptoms of chronic absenteeism, excessive tardiness and may have engaged in cutting, seriously considered suicide, made a plan about committing suicide, or attempted suicide.  These students require a level of clinical counseling, therapeutic, and programmatic support that we currently cannot provide.  Another area of concern exposed by the YRBS is the lack of a PreK-12 Health Education program.  These two areas will be a key focus of the FY13 budget.

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 Reading Public Schools while providing additional programs and services to address the needs expressed above.  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 such as now, the challenge is balancing what is necessary for achieving success with what resources are available.  We are hoping that this is a transition year where we can restore some of the resources lost in the previous three years, while addressing some current and future needs.

Student performance has remained strong despite three years of little to no growth in funding for our schools.  However, we are beginning to see the impact of the loss of curriculum, professional development, technology, and support staff over the last three years.  The school district has lost almost 35 positions over the last three years and, for the most part, we have been able to keep the impact away from the classroom as much as possible.  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 has been a challenge but many are also optimistic about the future.  This Fiscal Year 2013 Superintendent’s Recommended Budget was developed in consideration of the challenge but also of the optimism for the future.  The Superintendent’s Recommended Budget shows an increase of 2.9%, which allows our district to restore some of the support staff and instructional supplies while addressing some of the critical needs in behavioral health, health education, technology replacement, and professional development, and curriculum work.  Although this increase is above the 2% amount recommended at the Financial Forum, we feel that it would be disingenuous to not recommend a budget that addresses the critical needs in our school district.  This is not an increase that we take lightly, as a significant amount of deliberation occurred with administrators and staff on what we felt was needed to address the critical issues that face our students today while investing in their future.

As we developed our budget, the priorities listed below were used to guide our decisions.  It is 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 our administrators and is consistent with the strategic objectives and initiatives described in the Reading Public Schools Strategy for Improvement of Student Outcomes. The Superintendent’s FY13 Recommended Budget ensures sufficient resources to adequately support the following priority areas:

  • Behavioral Health of all of our students
  • Growth and development of our staff
  • Low class sizes (18-22) in grades K-2 where possible
  • Middle school interdisciplinary model
  • 21st Century learning initiatives
  • Technology infrastructure
  • Maintenance of our school facilities while controlling the long term cost of operating those facilities
  • Regular day programs (e.g. art, music, physical education, health education, foreign language)

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