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A call to rethink proposed school cuts

Editor’s note: The following letter was written by a group of parents with children in the Amherst schools, including Kristen Lynch (Fort River), Sarah Cohen (Crocker Farm), Carol Ross (Wildwood), and signed by 233 other parents, guardians and community members.

As parents, guardians and community members, we are deeply concerned about the budget cuts presented by Superintendent Maria Geryk to the School Committee meeting Feb. 5. We believe that the proposed plan does not reflect the mission of the Amherst Public Schools to “keep children in the forefront.”

On behalf of all Amherst Elementary School students we ask the School Committee to do the following:

•Do not cut teachers, guidance counselors or paraprofessionals on the front line. Do not cut art, music, or physical education teachers (otherwise known as “specials”) or their hours. While we understand that cutbacks must come from somewhere, we firmly believe that they are coming from the wrong place. Specials, guidance counselors and paraprofessionals are not luxuries; they cannot be reduced without serious, deep and pervasive negative effects on all students. The benefits of “specials” to academic learning have been well documented and are obvious across all socio-economic levels. The “specials” teachers currently assigned to each school are an important part of each school’s community, and they know each and every child.

The proposed reductions in “specials” teachers’ work time and the requirement that “specials” teachers instruct classes in different schools will reduce their connection to individual schools and their students. This will also give them significantly less time for out-of-class projects, curricular preparation and collaboration with the classroom teachers and student support staff in each school.

• More of the budget cuts should come from the central office. We ask the superintendent to demonstrate that painful budget cuts will be shared at all levels of the system, not disproportionately at the classroom level. Since the 2010-2011 school year, the number of central administration personnel serving the elementary schools has increased by more than one fifth (22 percent, 1.5 full-time equivalent positions). Also, the superintendent has proposed adding yet another 1.0 FTE position in the central administration for next year.

The town’s expenses for central administration are growing faster than the costs for the elementary schools overall. Amherst’s general fund expenses for the elementary schools for next school year are projected to increase by 2 percent over this year. However, the general fund costs for the central administration are projected to grow by 25 percent, with most of the increase coming from salary expenses.

The suggested “next steps” in the superintendent’s budget proposal include ways to maximize efficiency among teachers and teaching support staff. At a time when teachers in the district are already “doing more with less” this budget seems to ask these same teachers to “do even more with less,” in some cases much less.

These next steps fail to mention the need for administrative efficiency, consolidation or accountability.

We firmly believe that savings will be better realized and the negative effects on students will be minimized by cutting some of the new central office positions that have been added in the past few years, and consolidating others. We are not willing to settle for anything less.

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