Amherst Superintendent Maria Geryk says budget cuts would not increase class sizes

Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014
AMHERST — Superintendent Maria Geryk assured the Amherst Regional School Committee Tuesday night that even though the district faces a budget gap, class sizes will not be affected by cutting the equivalent of more than 12 full-time positions.

“Reductions are connected mainly to declining enrollment,” said Geryk. She also said the district is able to add new components, especially to address the needs of students struggling with emotional and psychological challenges. Under the proposed budget, the district would also spend more on professional development.

The biggest single saving in the nearly $30 million annual budget will be $130,000 by eliminating half a seventh-grade teaching team, or two teachers. The middle school would also save $11,400 by eliminating a world language instruction section. Projections for seventh grade enrollment for next year are 214 students, down from the current 242.

The district may also eliminate five paraprofessional jobs in the high school for a $90,000 saving. The high school would also lose teaching staff equivalent to 1.7 full-time positions for a savings of $110,000. According to school officials, sections of similar classes would be eliminated without reducing the number of programs or course offerings.

A custodial position currently vacant due to a retirement would be left unfilled for a further savings of $35,000.

The School Committee is being asked to approve an $89,000 expenditure for a program developed in Brookline called the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition.

Faye Brady, director of student services, told the committee that the Amherst schools would be the western Massachusetts pilot site for this program designed to support students who miss school. It will provide help both in terms of preparing students for planned absences as well as reintegrating students who have been out of school.

That item includes money to hire a clinical coordinator as well as a paraprofessional to not only assist students who are struggling with emotional and psychological issues, but also to serve as a liaison to their families.

Geryk is also asking the committee to approve $87,200 for professional development to help faculty adjust to what the budget document refers to “curricular shifts” possibly associated with a future change in the school schedule from a trimester to a semester model.

Kip Fonsh, chairman of the Amherst Regional School Committee, said that the board is likely to adopt the budget at its next meeting March 11.

“There has been a concerted and successful effort to allocate resources in a way to achieve the goals we have established as a committee,” said Fonsh. He added that adjustments in the proposed budget are in keeping with efforts to “help kids who are underachieving who we know can succeed.”

Committee member Trevor Baptiste said of the budget, “I see no glaring reason why it wouldn’t be passed.”

Fonsh praised Geryk saying, “I think the superintendent has done a good job in tight budget times.”