Layoffs loom for Amherst-Pelham schools in new academic year

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/4/2021 8:10:39 PM

AMHERST – At least 16 staff positions in the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools could be eliminated in the next school year based on the initial version of the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“What we’re proposing is we’re spending less money next year than we are this year,” Superintendent Michael Morris told the regional school committee this week. A public hearing on the budget takes place Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

With instructions from the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee to reduce a so-called “level services” budget by $1 million, Morris said real cuts, in employees and programs, will have to be made in advance of the 2021-2022 academic year. The proposed cuts would affect the middle school and high school.

This year’s regional budget for the regional schools that serve students in Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury is $32.15 million. The figure would have to rise to $33.01 million to maintain the existing classes and staffing levels. With a $1 million cut, though, the budget would drop to $32.01 million – even as salaries for teachers are projected to rise by $713,699, or 4.2%, from $16.94 million to $17.66 million.

Whether teaching positions would be lost amidst the cuts is uncertain. Morris said he doesn’t want to undo the work done to make the staff more racially and ethnically diverse, and that there are other costs to consider in laying off teachers. But he indicated that the district office, administrative office and professional and paraprofessional staff would lose positions.

In all scenarios in the preliminary budget, there likely would be an increase in the size of classes at the middle and high schools and fewer electives for students.

Peter Demling, an Amherst representative on the regional committee, said the district has to be careful with cuts as what is removed may never come back.

“This is not a level of reduction I’m comfortable with,” Demling said.

He added that the town’s public schools have been a magnet for families.

Morris said he is also anticipating that the fiscal year difficulty will be compounded by how assessments are calculated for each of the member towns.

On Saturday, a “four towns” meeting will bring municipal leaders in Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury together to discuss the appropriate formula for how to divvy up the school spending.

In almost all the models, based on a town’s ability to pay, or wealth, and rolling enrollment averages, Pelham wlll end up paying a signficantly higher percentage, while Shutesbury and Leverett would see assessments fall.

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


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