READING — The Reading School committee held the public hearing on the proposed $51.7 million budget late last week, but no one showed up. The result: a three-minute public hearing with only one comment from a member of the finance committee who was meeting in conjunction with the School Com. for the budget session.
That left plenty of time for a nearly two-hour discussion of full-day kindergarten.
The committee heard a lengthy explanation from School Com. President Tom Wise on a full-day childcare study he did with seven options for moving forward on their goal of providing full-time, no-cost kindergarten in Reading. All options (except doing nothing) have eliminated the choice of half-day kindergarten which is currently chosen by only 15% of parents. Just before COVID, more than 90% of parents were paying for full-day kindergarten, with the rest choosing the half-day program at no cost.
At the end of the session, the committee voted unanimously on a motion by Wise to focus for now on the option called the three-year high needs model which Superintendent of Schools Tom Milaschewski says will provide a vehicle for discussion on the way forward.
This option would reduce the cost of a full day from the current second-highest in the state ($4,500) to $3,600 in the first year, $2,650 in fiscal 2024, and $1,450 in the first year. 2025. A new free full-time kindergarten category would be added. to encompass all remaining students classified as having high needs by the state.
The fee reduction would be at least partially achieved by using money from the current year kindergarten revolving fund in fiscal year 2023 and the remainder in fiscal year 2024.