Arts and technology cuts coming to Amherst elementary schools

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

Staff Writer
Monday, April 05, 2021

AMHERST — Art and technology teachers at Amherst’s three elementary schools will work fewer days each week beginning in the fall, a reduction with the biggest impact on education in the proposed fiscal year 2022 elementary school budget.

The $24.39 million plan that will be delivered to Town Manager Paul Bockelman by April 1, and which is subject to a public hearing by the Amherst School Committee on March 30, cuts the art and technology teachers to four days per week of instruction at Crocker Farm, Wildwood and Fort River schools.

The $75,000 in combined savings is part of a series of adjustments, totaling $372,000 in reductions, that keeps the budget in line with Finance Committee recommendations that the increase in town funding not rise by more than 2%, meaning the budget can only go up by $474,000 from this year’s $23.91 million budget.

Though students will still have 40 minutes per week of art and technology classes at each school, they won’t be able to do bigger projects that cross disciplines.

“It will reduce the level of integration,” Superintendent Michael Morris told the committee.

Arts integration is an initiative the schools launched in the fall of 2014.

Committee member Peter Demling said arts integration is one of the elements of Amherst education that he doesn’t want to lose, and suggested that the committee take a principled stand to keep the $75,000 in the budget.

“It’s kind of an existential moment, I think,” Demling said.

Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald said she appreciates that Morris didn’t touch most of the budget. But she is concerned that the arts and technology integration is the “special sauce” that makes elementary schools appealing to families because of the way projects and programs are integrated into the curriculum.

“It’s really disappointing to see those go away,” McDonald said.

Other members of the committee indicated they might support trying to preserve the existing arts and technology programs.

Other cuts, which will have less of an impact, include one elementary school classroom teacher at $65,000, due to lower enrollment projections, and a special education teacher, also for $65,000, at Fort River that was a temporary hire.

School finance director Douglas Slaughter cautioned committee members that the budget is not sustainable due to the $700,000 from the school choice account applied to it.

Morris said the budget plan is trying to maintain programming as close as possible to what existed pre-pandemic, including keeping instrumental music intact.