Funding for arts and technology teachers in Amherst Town Council’s hands

  • Children board buses Tuesday at Wildwood School in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/29/2022 12:52:52 PM
Modified: 4/29/2022 12:51:25 PM

AMHERST — Bringing arts and technology teachers back to full-time positions at the town’s three elementary schools next fall will depend on the Town Council increasing school spending beyond what will be recommended by the town manager.

With a $25.53 million budget request approved in March by the Amherst School Committee, or $52,800 higher than guidelines set by the Finance Committee, school officials this week learned in a memo from Town Manager Paul Bockelman that he will not include that extra money when he presents a fiscal year 2023 municipal spending plan to councilors on Monday.

That means the restoration of art and technology instruction to five days a week at Crocker Farm, Wildwood and Fort River schools, and ensuring those subjects are integrated into the larger curriculum, could be in jeopardy, and will depend on the Town Council successfully overriding Bockelman’s recommendation.

School Committee member Peter Demling said the committee’s request for additional spending should remain intact, even if it violates the town-established guidelines.

“It’s the Town Council’s job to fund that if they think it’s a reasonable request,” Demling said.

But Demling also said he was disappointed that Bockelman sent a memo to Superintendent Michael Morris that the full request will not be supported, and described that as not engaging in good faith, despite the school committee being “altar boys of staying within guidance and experiencing very painful cuts.” 

“Now we want to go over a hair, and we’re getting absolutely pure pushback without discussion,” Demling said. “On principle, I can’t accept that.”

School Committee member Jennifer Shiao proposed that the committee reduce the extra funding being sought from the town, with an additional $31,000 expect to come to the town in chapter 70 state aid for schools. That idea was not supported by her colleagues.

“I even feel more so that we’re passing the buck to the Town Council,” Shiao said. “We’re unable to come up with a solution and are passing it on to another elected body to make a decision.”

Originally, the plan was to couple the added spending in the budget with $26,400 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) money from the federal CARES Act, though that portion being directed to arts and technogy teachers will now be covered by extra revenue the schools are receiving.

While the schools could use more ESSER funds to build the budget, Morris said he fears that doing so could lead to a situation where more significant cuts happen in future years. “I do have real concerns,” Morris said.

Chairwoman Allison McDonald said she would not be in favor of reopening the budget, and that the committee should encourage the Town Council to increase school spending via a two-thirds vote.

Similar to previous meetings, the oral and written comments from community members and teachers demonstrated support for the school committee’s position.

Nicole Singer, an art teacher at Fort River, said the committee should turn to ESSER funds if the town won’t provide the extra funding.

"Our students deserve high-quality art and tech for the upcoming school year," Singer said.

Victoria Munroe, a first grade teacher at Fort River, said that having full-time arts and technology teachers is critical for collaboration among staff.

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

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