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Amherst regional school budget shows $923,000 gap; meeting Saturday

“To be candid, this level of structural change will not come without some wrenching moments,” she told the Regional School Committee Tuesday. “This is going to be hard.”

The proposed $29 million spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1, up $523,000 from the current year, includes significant increases in assessments to some of the four towns in the regional school district.

Officials from the four towns will meet Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Regional Middle School library to discuss the budget.

Geryk attributed the shortfall in part to an anticipated reduction in state support in real dollars. Gov. Deval Patrick will announce his proposal for the state budget Jan. 25, and sometime this spring towns will get a better sense of how much money to expect.

Budget-makers are also coping with an end to federal stimulus funds, grant reductions, higher labor costs and increased expenses for retired teachers and students who attend charter schools, Geryk said.

She presented the committee with a plan to reduce the budget gap by eliminating 9.3 positions in the secondary schools next year.

Some teachers who retire after this year will not be replaced, and some programs will be eliminated because of an anticipated decline in enrollment, Geryk said.

She will identify another $400,000 in cuts later, and the committee will address the budget again Feb. 12.

“We’ll be making some hard decisions over the next month,” she said.

Here are the projected assessment increases to towns after the $923,000 in cuts have been made: Amherst, $412,000 or 3 percent; Pelham, $53,000 or 4.4 percent; Leverett, $101,000 or 7.8 percent; and Shutesbury, $58,000 or 4.07 percent.

While regular education accounted for 35 percent of the regional budget 10 years ago, next year it is due to comprise only 28 percent. Meanwhile, special education has gone from 18 to 21 percent of the budget.

Geryk is due to present the Amherst elementary budget proposal to the Amherst School Committee next Tuesday.

“This is an important moment in time for school districts,” she said. “It’s time to step back and look at schools through a new lens.

“It’s imperative to address current gaps and needs, but we have to maintain an eye on the future. We can’t be in a position each year where we continue to cut, and we need a longer-term plan. We have live within a new fiscal reality, and we have to be conscious and deliberate in our decisions.”

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