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School committees in Amherst approve budget with staff cuts  

The Amherst elementary schools faced a budget gap of more than $600,000, and the Amherst regional schools faced a budget gap of more than $1 million.

“We have to be fiscally responsible at the same time as creating a budget that supports the mission of our schools — at times that those two things are competing with each other,” Superintendent Maria Geryk said.

“We have created a budget which is in line with our commitments to the academic core, to visual arts, to music, health, wellness, social and emotional development of our children, and furthermore provides the resources to support our commitment to equity.”

The elementary school budget cuts are largely unchanged from recommendations Geryk made Feb. 5, and will have the greatest impact on “specials” teachers — who teach art, music, physical education and world languages — and paraprofessionals. In February, Geryk said she anticipated laying off staff and reducing hours in order to make the cuts but hoped to achieve most of the reductions through attrition.

The budget was controversial among parents, many of whom made impassioned pleas for the superintendent and the Amherst School Committee to find other ways to bridge the $656,303 budget gap that the district was facing.

Under the budget, the equivalent of half of a full-time position for an art teacher will be cut, one-third of a position for a music instructor will be cut, and one-third of a position for a physical education instructor will be cut. The Spanish program will be eliminated entirely, resulting in a reduction of the equivalent of one and a half full-time positions. These cuts are expected to save more than $155,000.

Geryk said the cuts will not result in reduced classroom instruction for students, and that the specials teachers will still have time for the activities they lead outside of the classroom.

Crocker Farm Elementary school will see the fewest reductions. There will be no cuts to the music and physical education instructors assigned to the school, and only the equivalent of 10 percent of an art teaching position will be cut. Wildwood Elementary School and Fort River Elementary School will both see reductions in the art, music and physical education instructors. At Wildwood, one classroom teacher will be cut due to declining enrolment.

The equivalent of 3.2 administrative positions, one guidance counselor and nine paraprofessionals will also be cut.

There also will be staff reductions in the middle and high schools. Geryk said that she will not know whether layoffs are necessary in the secondary schools until early April when she finds out what the level of natural attrition will be.

In the middle school, the technology elective will be eliminated and the equivalent of one full-time physical education teacher will be eliminated. As a result, physical education time will be reduced in the middle school. The reduction is expected to save more than $57,000.

Geryk said that in order to make up for the reduction in physical education time, her staff is looking for ways to make students more active throughout the day and between classes.

The greatest reductions will be at the high school, which will lose the equivalent of nearly five teaching positions. Additionally, one teaching position will be cut at the South East Campus, which serves special needs students, and more than three administrative positions will be cut.

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