The following update summarizes the current status of the Reading Public School Department FY18 budget. As stated in the previous FY18 budget update in the February 12, 2017 Pathways Newsletter, the School Committee, Superintendent of Schools, and Director of Finance has been working collaboratively with the Finance Committee and Town Officials to move forward with a balanced budget for Town Meeting which restores the middle school teaching positions for next year. This balanced budget proposal consists of two parts.
The first part, which will be voted on at April Town Meeting, is to fund the $150,000 for the second phase of the science curriculum implementation this year (FY17). If approved at Town Meeting, the materials and supplies will be purchased this spring for the next school year. This funding will allow the district to then move forward in the next phase of the science curriculum implementation which is focusing on Grades K-2, 7-8, and 9-12.
The second part, proposed at the Finance Committee meeting last week by School Committee Chair Jeanne Borawski, Superintendent of Schools John Doherty, and Director of Finance Gail Dowd, addresses the remaining difference of $438,000 necessary to restore the 7.0 FTE middle school teachers. This proposal, which is outlined below, includes the additional use of cash reserves, a combination of holding back one time purchases in both the Municipal Budget and the School Department budget, as well as, salary savings in the school department through retirements and administrative turnover that have occurred since the budget was passed by the School Committee in late January. The details are as follows:
1. School Department requests an additional $100,000 of cash reserves be allocated to the School Department Budget.
2. School Committee budget will reduce the salaries total by $90,000 to account for savings now resulting from teacher retirements and administrative turnover at Joshua Eaton and the RISE Preschool. Since January, we have learned of some additional teacher retirements for next year, the current Joshua Eaton Principal resigning to work in another school district, and the retirement of the RISE Preschool Director. The combination of new hires for these positions could result in a savings of approximately $90,000.
3. School Committee budget will reduce $150,000 in FY18 purchases in technology replacement and in the building based budgets. While this will result in a significant decrease in technology replacement and building based purchases, our intent is to use any savings from this current fiscal year to offset some or all of these reductions by pre-purchasing these materials during the current fiscal year.
4. The remaining difference is $98,000, and the Town Manager has agreed to hold back $132,000 of purchases in the Municipal FY18 budget to offset this difference.
At the March 22nd Finance Committee meeting, the Finance Committee supported the above proposal and voted unanimously to recommend to Town Meeting the use of an additional $100,000 of cash reserves to be allocated to the School Department Budget.
It should be noted that although this creative and collaborative approach with School and Town Officials provides a temporary balance to the FY18 School Department budget, it is a one-time solution to what will be a very tight and difficult budget year. It perhaps should be noted as well that the FY18 School Department budget is still being reduced by nearly $1 million dollars (resulting in the loss of 10.9 FTE positions, including 6.4 classroom teachers, and tuition increases for RISE Preschool, Full Day Kindergarten, Extracurricular Activities, and Athletics). This one time solution may also make it impossible for the School Department to address within its budget any unanticipated, financial challenges during the school year such as an unanticipated special education out-of-district costs, additional staffing to address a critical school need, or long-term substitutes due to staff illness. It is possible that additional funding requests may be necessary in FY18.
We want to thank and recognize the tireless efforts and collaboration of the School Committee, Finance Committee, School Officials and Town Manager for working together to develop a plan to restore the middle school positions for next year. What has become evident during this several month budget process, both with Municipal and School Officials, is that there is growing interest and support for an override election in the next 14 months. Because this is clearly a revenue problem, it is understood that the challenge must be addressed through either an override or some other revenue-generating method, if the community wishes to sustain the current level of services in Reading. As we move forward however, we are both encouraged and grateful to see such a dedicated collaboration in our community to tackle these difficult issues. We look forward to working together as we all seek a longer term solution for our entire community.