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Added funds for arts education considered in Amherst elementary budget

The Amherst elementary schools are poised to undergo what Superintendent Maria Geryk terms a “huge model change” thanks to a budget that will allow increased spending on the arts.

If approved, changes in staffing for next year will include moving specialists who teach art, music and physical education from part-time to full-time, giving them more consistent contact with students.

This will pave the way for a model that fully integrates the arts into academic content.

The budget proposal, at $22,482,907, is about $100,000 below the target amount set by the town’s Finance Committee. “I think that’s the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Geryk, explaining that schools are contemplating building projects, “so we have to be thoughtful about what we are asking the community to pay for.”

“I’m thrilled at the experience of looking at a budget and not being worried about cutting staff or cutting programs,” said School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Appy.

Committee member Kathleen Traphagen wondered if the schools should consider spending more money to restore stringed instrument instruction that was moved from the third to the fourth grades.

“We did get rid of a year of music instruction for our children but if we can be in a position to bring that back we should look at that,” she said.

Overall, Traphagen said, she is “excited to see the commitment to the arts” in the new budget. “It provides more ways for children to be engaged and belong to the school community.” She said that art, music and physical education teachers are the ones who get to know children through their whole schooling. “They see the children grow up, they see them in the context of their families, because they know the siblings, too,” she said.

Besides putting an additional $139,000 into the arts, the new budget also provides $87,000 for what it calls “equity.”

Most of that money will go to vouchers that will expand preschool offerings from half-day to full-day.

The new budget also provides an additional $78,000 for professional development in areas such as supporting anti-bullying initiatives and allowing additional time for collaboration in math and English.

Geryk said the positive budget outlook is due in part to a contract with teachers under which they received a 1 percent pay raise this year. Also, there was no increase in health insurance costs this year.

Appy said she was gratified that “we are finally looking at a budget that reflects all the long-term planning that the administration and School Committee has been doing. We are now able to shift from cuts to be able to allow the arts to come back.”

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