Amherst school superintendent describes proposed budget cuts
AMHERST — The equivalent of 12.6 full-time positions will be cut from the Amherst Regional schools to help bridge a budget gap of more than $900,000 under Superintendent Maria Geryk’s proposed budget for the 2013-2014 school year.
The cuts, which could affect 21 separate positions, have been spread across academics and electives at Amherst Regional High School, but at the middle school they will only affect physical education and technology. Geryk did not detail how the reductions would be achieved or how many layoffs may be required.
In addition to the cuts, the proposal also calls for the addition of a Steps-to-Success liaison to work with income-eligible families, and additional funding for summer scheduling support, which would cost slightly more than $57,000 and $12,000, respectively.
In order to make up the budget short fall, Geryk also expects to use approximately $100,000 in reserve funds, prepay $117,000 in retirement incentives and $100,000 in summer tuition for special needs students from a surplus that the school system has for the current year. In total, the staff cuts are expected to save more than $650,000.
Geryk said that the cuts are in line with changes in enrollment — which has declined by almost 500 students in the past 10 years — and would not result in larger class sizes or a reduction in offerings in the high school. The middle school would see the complete elimination of technology as an elective course, and the use of technology would instead be integrated into the curriculum of other subjects.
The middle school would also see the reduction in the amount of time spent on physical education, and the loss of a physical education teacher, which is expected to save the district slightly more than $57,000. The decline in physical education was a source of concern for several members of the committee.
Committee member Michael DeChiara said that the reduction in physical education time was “a little surprising slash concerning” in light of the school committee’s prior discussions of student health. “We’re just setting the kids up for being not physical and not incorporating that stuff,” he said. “It just is troubling that we’re reducing it even further. I would say there’s not very much to begin with in middle school.”
The high school would see the bulk of the reductions, losing the equivalent of three and one-third academic teaching positions, and slightly more than one and a half elective teaching positions. The South East Campus, which serves special needs students, would also see the reduction of one teaching position.
The budget also calls for several administrative cuts — the equivalent of 3.2 positions, and a part-time bus driver. Geryk emphasized that, like teachers, the administrative staff for the district has seen reductions over the last five years. She said that while the number of students has declined, the reporting and tracking demands that state and federal requirements place on administrators have increased dramatically over the last decade.
Geryk said that the reductions are aimed at creating a budget that is sustainable in the long term.
“We don’t want to be in a position where every year we are faced with cuts,” Geryk said. “We want to be able to be much more strategic and over time create a system that supports what we value, supports our students, and allows us to be fiscally responsible.”