Published in the October 29, 2015 edition


NORTH READING — School officials are keeping a close eye on costs associated with operating the secondary schools complex, Finance Director Michael Connelly told the School Committee last week.

Connelly said the school department recently turned on the heat at all five schools. He said the school department will be closely monitoring electricity, gas and utility costs in all five schools, especially the middle and high schools.

According to Connelly, the school department budgeted $150,000 for expenses to operate the wastewater treatment plant in fiscal year 2016. He said the funds are being used for utility expenses as well as for the plant’s engineer and operator.

“We are not seeing anything out of the ordinary that has occurred the past few months other than some routine pumping,” said Connelly.

School Committee member Jerry Venezia said school officials need to keep tabs on costs associated for operating the secondary schools as part of the school department’s budget for fiscal 2017. He said the areas that need to be watched closely are the wastewater treatment plant, landscaping, electricity and custodial expenses.

“I think we need to isolate those areas because those are additional costs we are incurring,” said Venezia.

Superintendent of Schools Jon Bernard expressed his support for Venezia’s request.

“We will be identifying those areas in our budget development process,” said Bernard.

Meal counts up at middle, high schools

Connelly said he was pleased to report the school department’s food service program loss for the first month of school was slightly less than what the school department budgeted in fiscal 2016.

According to Connelly, the meal counts at North Reading Middle School were up 30 percent. “It’s significant,” he said.

Additionally, Connelly said North Reading High School’s meal counts were up 16 percent, representing a 6 percent increase from last September.

“This is great news and it’s definitely a trend we are excited about,” said Connelly. “We will continue to monitor the food service program closely.”

At the elementary schools, Connelly said meal counts were “similar to last year.”

The food service program has been struggling for a number of years but the situation headed in a downward spiral the past couple of years due to regulations established by the state and federal government. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 set new nutrition standards for school districts and seeks to make school lunches healthier as part of an effort to curb childhood obesity. The state adopted similar regulations as well.

While the regulations seek to combat childhood obesity by serving healthier and more nutritious meals in school, a number of school districts experienced a decline in school lunch sales due the stringent regulations backed by the state and federal government. Those regulations have since been relaxed.

The food service program lost $40,779 in fiscal 2015, which is less than the $79,488 the school department lost in FY’14. In FY’13, the food service program lost $118,000.