Amherst regional school budget would eliminate 14 positions, including 2 teachers, 5 paras


Staff Writer

Published: 03-31-2023 8:34 PM

AMHERST — About $1.16 million in staff reductions, including cutting two classroom teachers at the middle school and five paraeducators at the regional schools, are included in the budget proposal the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee is bringing to the four member towns.

The committee voted unanimously on March 21 in favor of a $33.7 million fiscal 2024 spending plan and related funding assessments for which Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury will be responsible.

“This is not a balanced budget,” Superintendent Michael Morris said. “This is a budget balanced based on short-term money that won’t reappear.”

But Morris told the committee it is the preferred plan, even though it will mean starting the next budget year in the red.

“I think this is the best budget we can come up with... and I think (there are) real concerns about future health of the district,” Morris said.

The budget will have to be approved by the Amherst Town Council and annual Town Meeting sessions in Shutesbury, Pelham and Leverett this spring.

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Under the plan, developed by Douglas Slaughter, the school’s finance director, 14.44 full-time equivalents will be cut, removing many positions that have been funded by temporary Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund money.

“It is a significant number of reductions in staff that are doing a variety of different roles,” Slaughter said.

Part of the proposed cuts, including the two teachers at the middle school, who make up half a team, is enrollment driven. That will leave two teams for teaching both the 7th and 8th grades, which are estimated to have 380 to 390 students in the fall, or slightly less than 200 in each grade.

“The short story is the size of our middle school is getting smaller,” Slaughter said.

Based on the current 7th grade 186 students and 2½ teams, 18.6 was the average class size. With just two teams, the average class size would rise to 23.25 as those students move to 8th grade in the fall, Morris said.

Morris said the district will try to look at retirements and other ways to retain current staff, such as vacant positions, but he anticipates that pink slips will have to be given to some educators.

“There will be people whose positions are reduced or removed completely,” Morris said.

The budget also brings a change to the middle school leadership model, where there has been a principal and two teachers on special assignment who provide leadership.

“It’s a very expensive model,” Morris said. “This would return to having a principal and an assistant principal.”

The latest budget is based on Amherst officials allowing the assessment to go up by 3%, rather than constraining it to 2.5%. Slaughter said this means an additional $89,000 from Amherst, and an additional $9,000 from Shutesbury. Leverett and Pelham, though, which are already capped at a 4% increase based on guardrails in place through an alternative assessment method, would not contribute more. That assessment method must be adopted unanimously by the towns and signed off by the state’s education commissioner.

All of the extra money is going to the budget’s contingency and reserve section, which has gone up by $98,000 to account for the possibility of a successful negotiations on a new contract with the Amherst Pelham Education Association, rather than reducing the cuts outlined in budget. Slaughter said the feeling is that it’s premature to try to stave off those reductions.

“We thought it would be the best place to put that in order to accommodate whatever final adjustments may be necessary relative to contract resolution,” Slaughter said.

Slaughter’s presentation showed spending would have to be at $34.86 million to provide level services, an increase of $1.69 million, or 5.1%, over this year’s $33.17 million budget.

Accounting for state aid, various reimbursements and school choice money, $21.88 million in assessments will be spread among the four regional towns.

Under this plan, Amherst would pay a $17.77 million assessment, which is $517,214, or 3% higher than this year’s $17.25 million. Shutesbury would see the smallest increase, at 0.89%, or $13,781, moving its assessment from $1.55 million to $1.56 million.

Both Pelham and Leverett would see 4% increases. Pelham’s assessment would go up by $38,668, from $966,706 to $1.01 million, while Leverett’s would increase by $59,264, from $1.48 million to $1.54 million.