Amherst-Pelham school budget proposal up $495K to $32.66M despite trims

  • Amherst Regional High School

Staff Writer
Saturday, February 22, 2020

AMHERST — A $32.66 million budget for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools maintains most staff, existing class sizes and programs at the high school and middle school, while eliminating only a handful of teaching and instructional positions.

The budget, presented last week to the regional school committee by Superintendent Michael Morris, is $322,000 short of providing the identical level of services as the current budget.

“We’re in a position of trying to make this work with less funding,” Morris said.

Nevertheless, the budget includes several increases in spending, including $391,610 more for wages, such as step and cost-of-living adjustments, bringing payroll from $17.59 million to $17.99 million; and $415,793 more for expense accounts, primarily driven by health insurance, bringing those from $14.39 million to $14.81 million.

Morris said that specialized programs, such as the Family Center, the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition and restorative practices, will all continue intact, as will the variety of electives, after-school clubs and sports teams available to students.

The budget proposal is $494,533 or 1.5% higher than the current year’s $32.17 million budget. The four towns that make up the region, Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett, will be asked to approve the budget this spring, as well as an assessment formula that will calculate how much each community will have to pay.

The $322,000 in reductions comes mostly through a combination of $181,000 in budget adjustments and $139,000 in cuts.

The adjustments include removing $60,000 from the capital stabilization account that was included in the current budget for examining improvements to the high school track and athletic fields; $50,000 that is being used to repay retirement incentives; $41,000 related to turnover caused by staff retirements; and $30,000 set aside for teachers who request sabbaticals.

The cuts include $49,000 in professional development related to math curriculum and training support; $35,000 for a portion of a world language instructor; $25,000 for a paraeducator no longer needed due to enrollment at the high school; and $30,000 for reducing various administration staffing, supplies and contracted services.

In addition to the operating budget, Morris also included a $672,176 capital plan that calls for $425,000 to come from the budget, $200,000 to be paid for through appropriations from Community Preservation Act money in the four towns, and $47,176 to be funded from revolving funds.

Among the items that would be covered include $45,000 for a walk-in cooler and freezer at the high school, $50,000 for an improved HVAC system at Summit Academy, $200,000 for field renovations at the high school, $50,000 for renovating a former wood shop into a makerspace at the middle school, and $100,000 for air conditioner chiller replacements at the middle school.

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