Amherst Regional educators to hit streets Tuesday in million-dollar appeal to save positions

Amherst Regional High School.

Amherst Regional High School. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-11-2024 2:13 PM

AMHERST — Members of the union representing teachers, paraeducators and clerical staff for the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional schools will be appealing for more resources from various public and private sources for the proposed $34.81 million fiscal year 2025 school budget, as they also demand that the regional Regional School Committee vote down a spending plan that would eliminate 14 educator positions.

The Amherst Pelham Education Association is staging what it is calling Marching for Million Dollars before the School Committee meeting Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at the high school library, with members leaving at 4 p.m. from the main entrance to the high school and proceeding to three locations in town, including Amherst Town Hall, the Amherst College campus and the Jones Library.

At each stop, union members will outline their requests, such as suggesting town officials make a $1 million gift this year to the budget, asking college officials to tap a portion of the college endowment to support town public education, and calling on the library to be aware of the town spending on its looming expansion and renovation project.

The march comes as the union is urging the nine members of the regional committee to vote against the budget because of how it would affect student experiences at the Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle and High schools. Students in grades 7-12 from Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury attend those schools.

If the budget, $1.69 million below level services, is adopted as recommended by interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter, and approved by the Town Council and Town Meeting votes in Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett, there will be fewer counselors and restorative justice specialists, which the union argues are critical at a time when student mental health needs are soaring.

In addition, the union states that the budget guts the world language program at the middle school, meaning students will have less opportunity to take advanced classes in high school; consolidates high school departments, meaning more work for fewer educators; and reduces high school academic intervention classes, limiting coaching and support for already vulnerable students.

The union is also calling out what it sees as unnecessary spending, including on administration and contracted workers.

During a presentation to the School Committee March 6, Slaughter said the district is paying $705,000 for contracted service workers from a private company for educational service providers. These people bring a level of expertise and skills needed on a limited basis in the district, but he acknowledged that the district aims to limit their use due to the high cost. Still, Amherst and many other districts are facing a similar situation.

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The union contends that these positions are normally filled by public employees and that the fees being paid are enough to cover the average salary of about 10 teachers or counselors.

Slaughter outlined options for what the School Committee can do, but said a budget has to be in place 40 days before the first town meeting po aproving it, based on the four towns’ regional agreement. Budget assessments, or the amount each community is obligated to pay, need to be approved in three of the four communities for the budget to go into effect. 

“You’re going to have to pass a budget that balances and ties to the assessment amounts,” Slaughter said.

Amherst representative Jennifer Shiao and Leverett representative Tilman Wolf both suggested passing the budget as proposed, but to make every effort to get a one-time gift, from Amherst and the other towns, to get the schools through the 2024-2025 school year.

Amherst representative Bridget Hynes said the committee can’t be driven by the consequences of voting down the budget, because of the harms it will cause.

“Looking at this, I couldn’t in good conscience vote for this budget, the way it’s been presented tonight,” Hynes said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.