Reading Massachusetts Education

Reading School Budget Process

"I think sorta the bottom line here is... the finance committee is not in the job of deciding how a school department should be run, that's really up to you.. but the finance committee is in the job of understanding how you're running the department and, because of the two different approaches in budgeting, we feel like we understand the town side pretty well 'cause it's a bottom up process.

We see every tiny piece at the bottom and we can build right up to the top and really understand it. Your process is very much a top down process where we see big numbers at the top and keep have to ask more and more questions and drilling down further and further to get this information. So it's not always obvious to us what the different things are. It's obvious to you 'cause you live that life but it's not obvious to us. I served for for three years as a liason to the school department and there's plenty of things I still didn't understand.

I think what this really cries out for is some kind of a more standard presentation of the budget numbers to those who are not in the loop so that people who are new, and, when this finance committee turns over, can pick up documents and understand things and you don't have to go talk to former finance committee chairman who, seven years ago, remembered a conversation. That's not good to rely on. You really have to have any logical group of people to be able to pick up documents and understand what's going on. And I think it would be really helpful if the information presented was a little bit more in common so that we could all sorta make those judgments."

--Bob leLacheur, Finance Committee member (speaking to School Superintendent Harutunian), Reading Finance Comittee Meeting, 11/14/02 - Finance Committee School Budget Questions and Concerns [.mp3 audio, 8.81 MB] - the leLacheur quote begins at around 20:18 and ends at 21:40.

A confusing, top-down budget process provides excellent opportunities for unethical administrators to hide, shelter or "lose" public funds. An impartial, independent, outside audit of the Reading School Department is long overdue.


Reading Advocate: Look to other ways to balance budget by Thomas J. Ryan / Guest Columnist
Thursday, April 3, 2003

Recent articles and letters predict the usual devastating effects on services if the override fails. Some claim that the 'naysayers' offer no positive alternatives to the override.

Either these persons have short memories, or they choose to ignore history. Two years ago, I offered several solutions to the 'crisis', which 'existed' then and which some say exists today.

The usual rhetoric contends that, if the override fails, the average home value will drop 'tens of thousands of dollars' in value. In the last two years, with failed overrides and exclusions and CPA defeat, the average assessed value of single family homes increased $75,000 - a 26 percent increase in value.

Here are some of the solutions I recommend, some of which I have made in the past, to no avail:

Health insurance for town employees. Why not have employees pick up more of the cost? Currently the insurance cost is about $6,285,714, with the town paying 70 percent, roughly $4,400,000, and the employees paying 30 percent, $1,885,714. A 50-50 split would save the town $1,257,143. Of course, a 100 percent employee pay program would save the town over $6,000,000 that would pay for police, fire, teachers, library, etc.

How would the employees feel about the increases? Most of them don't live in town now.

Eliminate professional development programs. The town has cut most of them, but the school side persists in keeping its perks: Among them, tuition reimbursement, sick pay buyback, vacation buyback which costs about $317,773 annually.

If these professionals want to take a course, let them pay for it themselves (like I did last year, even though as an assessor I qualified for a reimbursement from the town of $300 in tuition and mileage).

Eliminate all crossing guards, at a cost of about $100,000 per year. What is wrong with parents volunteering 30 minutes a day at the various schools?

All of the above, totaling $6,703,487, may require negotiations. In the meantime, consider [debt] exclusions, which will pay for certain items but will not be permanent increases in the levy limit.

For instance, revisit the road repair program: Exclude a certain amount of money for five years, then address the issue again. Will the state pay more? If not, continue for another five years. At least the money will be earmarked for the roads.

I would support such a program, because the current override proposal mentions roads, but that money isn't guaranteed for the roads after the first year.

In fiscal 2003, the levy limit increased $992,493, roughly 3.15 percent over fiscal 2002. Next year it will be probably over $1,000,000. When you give pay increases that amount to 3.5 percent, when the tax limit increases by 3.15 percent, it is obvious that there is trouble.

Of course, there is always a voluntary pay freeze for one year, which would save the town over $1,000,000.

My suggestion is to vote 'non' for the override, and look to other options noted above, which would cost the taxpayers less than the projected annual $561 increase in taxes. (Add the recent exclusions, and the total is an additional $961 annually, a 23.5 percent increase.)"

Thomas J. Ryan is chairman of the N.O. (No Override) Committee.


SBA Final Audit Procedures, Nov. 2001 - When a school construction project is completed, this final audit process determines what of the final costs of construction will be considered reimburseable by the State. Sometimes the State determines that certain expenses submitted for the project do not meet these requirements and will not be reimburseable. It is imperative that communities be mindful of these Final Audit Procedures when they are planning projects. Otherwise, a community could be "surprised" years later with reduced funding, as occurred recently with $130,000 for Reading's Parker Middle School Project (Advocate 01/09/03).


An important change made in the early days of Superintendent Harutunian's administration was to reconfigure the categories and line items of the school budget in the name of “reorganization.” This made it (and still makes it) difficult (if not, impossible) to compare his budgets to those of prior administrations.

How convenient.

To this day, people closely involved with Reading financial issues (members of Reading's own Finance Committee!) still do not understand the budgeting and accounting method(s) used by the Harutunian-era school department.

Harutunian also made an arrangment (Spring, 1996) in which Reading’s Treasurer Beth Klepeis and Town Accountant Richard Foley would, working directly for the Superintendent, provide business services to the Reading school Department under titles of Finance Director and Town Accountant. In the name of “efficiency,” however, this appears to have placed people who should have been part of the “checks and balances” on the School Department -- the Town Treasurer and Accountant -- under the control of and answerable to the School Superintendent (see page 8, Harutunian 1996 Reorganization Plan, Frank Gorgone letter).

Under Harutunian, the Reading Schools' accountability to the public has diminished while their funding has markedly increased. Throwing funds at the School Department has not been a solution: the "need" and greed of Reading school administration has only increased over the last eight years. Where does all the money go? How are public funds actually being spent? No one really knows, save for the administrator(s) and school officials running the show.

Data Shows 78% increase in ten years

"Once again School Superintendent Harutunian predicts dire consequences if he doesn't get his 7.6 % school budget increase of an additional $2.1 million for the fiscal 2004 school budget. Every year, the citizens of Reading are treated to the traditional "doom and gloom" scenario -- more money or damaging cuts -- holding the education of Reading's children hostage. Amidst continuing accusations of shamefully low funding, a brief review of the previous ten years of school budgets is in order.


School Year - Budget* - % increase - K-12 Enrollment - Staff

1994 - $15.3 - 6.6% - 3757
1995 - $16.8 - 9.6% - 3843
1996 - $18.2 - 8.0% - 3957 - 421
1997 - $19.6 - 7.8% - 4052 - 451
1998 - $21.4 - 8.7% - 4119 - 472
1999 - $23.2 - 8.8% - 4161 - 490
2000 - $24.9 - 7.4% - 4194 - 510
2001 - $26.4 - 5.7% - 4212 - 516
2002 - $27.0 - 2.5% - 4237 - 520
2003 - $27.3 - 0.9% - 4234 - 514
2004 - $29.4 - 7.6% - 4242 - 514^

^ projected budget and projected enrollment increase

Since the 1994 school year, school spending has risen $12 million for an increase of only 477 students -- a 78% budget increase for a 12.7% rise in students. Since 1996, 93 staff members have been added for an increase in enrollment of only 277 students. This school overspending is why the town (of Reading) is in trouble.

Have you had an average household income increase of 6.7% yearly for the last ten years? The Reading School Department has! And in 2002, while crying poor boy to the community and laying off classroom teachers, Dr. Harutunian and the school committee gave over $100,000 worth of merit pay, vacation buyback, and equity pay. What hypocrisy as they continue to mislead the uninformed citizens!

It is time to stop the Superintendent's "tradition" of runaway spending, of adopting expensive, unproven curriculum, and emphasis on bigger and newer structures at the expense of common sense and adequate building maintenance.
Every Reading household must prioritize and live within its means and so should the Reading Schools. The proposed override of $4.5 million ($3.1 million for the schools, $1.4 million for the roads and town) will add $562 yearly taxes to the average $355,000 assessed home. If your house is assessed for more, you get to pay more!

Remember, after this override will come more taxes for the two elementary school building projects ($16.1 million), the new high school project ($54 million) and the water treatment plant ($13.8 million), just to mention some of the upcoming big time spending projects.

Remember an override is a tax increase forever. Vote NO to the override on April 8 and vote to elect knowledgeable, fiscally responsible school committee candidates.

Dr. Robert L. Mandell,
Lowell St."

-from a 04/03/03 Reading Advocate letter comparing a decade of increasing Reading School Budgets with staffing and enrollment levels


11/14/02 - The Town Manager Speaks, School Committee Members Griset, Dahl Respond [.mp3 audio, 1.99 MB]

11/14/02 - Selectmen Gail Woods Speaks, Willam Griset, Chairman of the Reading School Committee Responds [.mp3 audio, 3.16 MB]

11/14/02 - Harutunian Speaks, leLacheur Responds [.mp3 audio, 154 KB] - "as a Fin Com member, I want to understand.. as a parent, I'll talk to you outside." Nervous laughter? Committee members who also have children in the schools often find themselves in a difficult position when trying to hold the Superintendent accountable. Though rarely talked about, "retribution" is a constant concern for parents who dare to question some school administrators. Many concerned parents, frightened and intimidated, remain silent.


Listen to Town Treasurer Beth Klepeis' current "take" on how Reading should hope to finance the new school, the Barrows renovation and proposed $54.9 million Reading Memorial High School demolition/renovation/addition (Klepeis 08/04/03 School Committee .mp3 audio, 3.09 MB).


Stories to share? Contact the Informed Residents of Reading at


School Administrators: Vacation Buy Backs / Bonuses: Town Meeting Article (Town Manager Hechenbleikner / School Superintendent Harutunian Memo, 02/26/03)

Moody's drops town rating. Reading Advocate, 01/09/03 [.pdf, 58.2 KB]

Massachusetts Association of School Committee's Journal, Winter / Spring 1997, Fundamentals of School Finance [.pdf, 285 KB]

Budget Parents - an example of a group created to give parents and citizens the illusion of representation in the budget process. In-depth questioning of Reading School Budget issues is not encouraged and serious, probing questions are quickly marginalized, evaded and / or suppressed (see the Delphi Technique).