Amherst, Regional School Committees face budget gaps for next year
The Amherst and the Regional School Committees will face big shortfalls when they start reviewing spending and revenues for the next fiscal year.
Preliminary numbers show a $700,000 gap in the elementary budget and a $1 million gap in the regional plan for the budget cycle that begins next July, according to Finance Director Robert Detweiler. He will present the latest numbers to the Regional School Committee at its meeting next Tuesday, starting at 7 p.m. in the Amherst Regional High School library.
“It’s bleak,” he told members of the committee’s budget subcommittee Wednesday. “There are big gaps we’re going to have to address next year.”
At the same time, the numbers are “squishy,” Detweiler said, because it is early in the process and many things are unknown. “But they give you a ballpark view of where we stand.”
The Amherst elementary school budget is $21.5 million this year. Based on known costs and estimates of revenues, that spending would increase by $1.1 million next year, or 5.3 percent. But if the School Committee abides by the Select Board’s guideline of a 2 percent increase, it would have to find cuts or increased revenues totaling $700,000, Detweiler said.
That gap will be reduced by the amount of money Amherst will receive for educating children who live in other towns under school choice this year, he said. That number will be known in about a week, and could be as high as $200,000, he said.
Detweiler attributed some of the rise in costs to a $100,000 increase in out-of-district placements for special education students, and a one-time increase in health insurance for retirees.
The regional school budget, covering grades 7 to 12, is $28.5 million this year and is shared with Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury. Anticipated expenses for next year are up by 5 percent or $1.4 million, including $400,000 extra for out-of-district special education placements, he said.
The spending target is a 3 percent increase in Amherst’s regional school assessment. Based on that guideline, the budget gap is $1 million, Detweiler said.
On Jan. 24, 2013, Gov. Deval Patrick is expected to announce his proposal for state aid to schools for next year. That marks the beginning of the committees’ budget deliberation, with Town Meetings ultimately voting on budgets next spring.
Detweiler said he’s not optimistic about state aid. “It’s not going to be great,” he said.
“Conceivably, it could be level-funded, to look on the bright side,” said Kip Fonsh, chairman of the Regional School Committee.