Amherst council to schools: Find extra $53K for arts, tech teachers in $25M budget

  • Amherst Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 6/14/2022 8:47:11 PM

AMHERST — If the arts and technology teachers at Amherst’s three elementary schools are to be restored to full-time positions this fall, school officials will have to find the money within a budget that is smaller than requested.

The Town Council voted 9-4 Monday to approve the operating budget — which when combined with the previously approved regional schools assessment of $17.17 million and the capital budget of $7.29 million, adds up to an $89.9 million budget as proposed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman, for all town, school and library services for fiscal year 2023.

The approval effectively nixes a request from the Amherst School Committee to add $52,800 to the elementary school budget that would have taken education spending beyond the $25.05 million, or 2.7% increase, recommended by the Finance Committee.

At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said she could not support the $25.11 million request from the School Committee, observing that the financial guidelines issued in the fall are tough on all departments, and that no services were being lost in the schools as a result of the vote.

“We have really big problems to fund and really hard decisions to make,” Hanneke said.

School Committee members came up with a plan to combine the extra town spending with $26,400 additional in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money from the federal CARES Act, bringing that spending up to $419,931. In doing so, the committee would reverse this year’s cut of art and technology instruction to four days per week at Crocker Farm, Wildwood and Fort River elementary schools, and allow better integration of those subjects into the larger curriculum, as well as keep teachers from potentially departing for full-time jobs in other districts.

The four councilors who supported the added school spending were At Large Councilor Ellisha Walker, District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, District 4 Councilor Anika Lopes and District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

Pam said it was unnecessary to create an impression that there was a power struggle between the town and schools, and that councilors should relent, and would be making a mistake to not provide the schools what they requested.

“I support full funding of arts and technology in the budget,” Pam said. “I am protesting this situation and I wish, in fact, we could vote this money for the School Committee.”

Walker said she felt similarly to Pam, and that the request didn’t seem out of line. Walker said there should be a way to make sure that schools are getting what they need.

The School Committee had heard from parents, students and teachers about the importance of restoring hours to art and technology teachers, and in making the request went beyond what had been proposed in the initial budget by Superintendent Michael Morris and Douglas Slaughter, the school finance chief.

The Finance Committee, in its report to the Town Council, suggested that the money could be found elsewhere by the school: “This relatively small request could be addressed by the School Department within the budget as proposed by the Town Manager.”

Meanwhile, Amherst’s town operating budget covers the creation of two new departments: the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service; and an office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as four new firefighters through use of American Rescue Plan Act money.

The capital plan approved includes a $1.5 million ladder truck for the Fire Department and, for $350,000, a new HVAC system and gym floor, to replace a floor that has buckled, at Crocker Farm School.

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