Reading Schools Weather Economy With Minimal Teacher Cuts
Superintendent Doherty credits the district's ability to weather the economy to good planning and cooperation with town government.
This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools.
While school districts across the state and country have trimmed teaching staff and ballooned class sizes to cope with tight budgets, Reading's public school district has weathered the turmoil with only limited cuts.
Superintendent John Doherty said, in the last two years, the district has cut only two teaching positions, and those would have been eliminated even in better fiscal times.
This year's fifth-grade class is smaller than those in the past, he said, which allowed the district to function with two fewer fifth-grade teachers. In better times, he said, the administration may have reassigned those teachers, but, in the current climate, they were an obvious place to cut.
The district has even reduced the student to teacher ratio at the elementary level while the middle school class size has only increased slightly—though Doherty's not worried about that.
"I think, at the middle school level, because of our middle school team structure, having slightly higher class sizes is not going to have an impact," Doherty said.
That doesn't mean the district has been unscathed.
"It's true that we haven't cut teaching staff other those two positions, but we've cut other stuff," Doherty said.
To make the budget work, Doherty said, the district eliminated 19 non-teachers, including janitorial staff, secretarial staff and two administrative positions.
While those choices haven't affected the district's student to teacher ratio, it has and will strain office resources, he said, both for in-house and community needs.
Doherty credited the district's relatively easy time in the economic downturn to forward-thinking policies and strong cooperation with town government. The district and the town recently cooperated to upgrade the infrastructure at public buildings—including some schools to—reduce energy costs.
The money the district has saved on reduced heating and energy costs, he said, have been applied to other areas of the budget and allowed him to preserve teaching and support positions.
"If we weren't working on that together, it wouldn't have happened," Doherty said.
The town and school system continue to work together, most recently applying for a state grant that will fund perhaps half the cost of replacing the windows and roof at Killam Elementary School as well as the windows at Birch Meadow.