Maria Geryk: Amherst superintendent clarifies budget plan
AMHERST — For the past several years, declining revenue, reductions in grant funding, and increasing legacy costs and mandates made developing budgets a painful challenge. Each year we held out hope that “things will get better next year,” but the hard truth is that there is a new fiscal reality that cannot be ignored. Another hard truth is that the needs of our students have changed dramatically over the years, and we are not seeing the achievement results all of our children deserve.
It would be fiscally irresponsible not to take the necessary steps to reduce per pupil costs, but it would be ethically irresponsible not to address the needs of our changing student population. As superintendent and educational leader of our districts, balancing those responsibilities is the most important and difficult part of my job.
Since the public hearing on the FY2014 Amherst School District budget, there has been a great deal of community discussion regarding the outlined additions and cuts. While community engagement is admirable and essential, it is important that the conversation be based on accurate information. To that end I want to clarify some points.
There is a misconception that a new full-time administrator is being added to central office.
This is simply not true. The only new district-level position being added is a Steps to Success Liaison who will work with income-eligible families as part of a comprehensive achievement program. This is not an administrative position, but it is listed under the central office budget since it serves all schools.
The students who will benefit from Steps to Success represent the fastest-growing segment of our population and have historically been underserved, which makes this position essential. We must take tangible steps to address inequities within our schools, otherwise we are only paying lip service to this commitment.
Another misconception is that the proposed cuts to classes and changes in how specials are scheduled are due only to the funding gap. The reality is more complex. The decline in enrollments over the past several years means that class sizes can be maintained at educationally sound levels with fewer staff — a trend that is also being seen in many schools across the state. It is natural not to want to cut positions, particularly since we are fortunate to have such a strong, dedicated faculty and staff in our district. Those impacted are our colleagues and friends, but it is the superintendent’s role to make decisions that are both fiscally and educationally sound, no matter how hard they may be. It is fiscally irresponsible to ask the town to provide funding above our allocation when we have not reduced costs directly related to the enrollment decline.
Finally, there is a misconception that the district has too many administrators and that cuts to administration will have no impact on students. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The number of administrators across the three districts has been reduced 14 percent from 28 in 2002-2003 to the 24 that are budgeted for in 2013-2014. During the same period, government mandates increased significantly due to measures both well-known, such as the No Child Left Behind law, as well as many that are less visible. Meeting these demands has been challenging and, like the hard-working teachers in the classrooms, administrators are taking on new responsibilities every day. Their work has a direct impact on classrooms.
Administrators lead the work in curriculum alignment, professional development, teacher evaluation, fiscal oversight, regulatory compliance, community outreach and much more. Every compliance requirement and reporting task they handle is a responsibility taken away from teachers so they can concentrate on their direct work with students.
I greatly appreciate the interest parents and other community members take in our schools. We are all better because of it. I would ask that we assume only the best intentions on all of our parts, and that we move together through this process knowing that our only priority is providing the best possible educational experience for all of our children.
Additional budget information is available at www.arps.org.
Maria Geryk is superintendent of the Amherst Regional School district.