Amherst school budget would restore full-time art, music and physical education teachers

Last modified: Saturday, March 01, 2014
AMHERST — Art, music and physical education teachers whose hours have been cut in recent years will be brought back to full time next year, if the School Committee approves the $22.5 million budget proposed by the superintendent.

This is a departure from previous years in which cuts have been the norm. “We will have no reductions to staff which is a wonderfully remarkable thing and it’s the first time in many, many years,” Superintendent Maria Geryk told the School Committee Tuesday night.

The committee heard a recommendation from Geryk against bringing orchestra instruction back to third grade and band to fourth grade even though the amount of money the town is making available to the schools would allow the expanded music program. Her proposed budget of $22,482,907 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 is $100,000 below the 2.7 percent increase over this year’s spending that the town would allow the schools.

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Geryk said adding a grade for each of those music programs would cost about $75,000 but she fears that even though the money is available next year, it might not be sustainable.

“We are taking a somewhat conservative approach,” Geryk said. “We could add some wonderful things back in but we want to be cautiously optimistic that the financial support of the schools” continues.

School Committee member Kathleen Traphagen agreed. “I would love for there to be third-grade string and fourth-grade band, like there was in the past, but if you are not clear that you can sustain it for many years it doesn’t make sense to just do it for the one,” she said.

Committee Chairwoman Katherine Appy said she is glad the budget takes a long-term approach to considering future costs even though it forgoes $100,000 the schools could be spending next year.

Based on Tuesday’s discussion, Geryk said she anticipates the School Committee will vote March 18 to approve proposed budget without changes.

Geryk said Michael Morris, director of assessment and evaluation for the district, has been working with arts and physical education teachers at all the schools on integrating what they do more fully into other areas of study. “We are creating a model of integration, which is teaching academic content through the arts,” said Geryk.

Morris also presented a detailed explanation of other increases in next year’s budget. They include $57,000 in additional spending on full-day preschool, $20,000 in vouchers to provide access to after-school programming and $39,000 to support teachers in curriculum planning.