Amherst schools budget calls for 'staggering' cuts
Teacher union won't give up wage hikes
By NICK GRABBE - Hampshire Gazette
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
AMHERST - The Regional School Committee voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a budget with massive cuts, in response to drastic reductions in state aid.
Member Andrew Churchill said he wanted to "send a clear signal" to the Amherst-Pelham Education Association, in hopes the union will reconsider its decision not to agree to reopen its contract's wage provisions.
The contract provides teachers with a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase for the next fiscal year, with about half the teachers also getting 4 percent "step" increases. Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk announced the union's decision at Tuesday's School Committee meeting.
The $27.7 million regional school budget, as voted, is 1.2 percent lower than the current year's. The budget would require cuts of the equivalent of 17.66 positions at the high school, 8.2 of them teachers. The middle school cuts would be 9.4 positions, 8.4 of them teachers.
The regional cuts also include elimination of three full-time equivalents in the central office, cuts of three teams and an athletics fee hike at the high school, and giving up $115,250 for professional development. There are also cuts in supplies, books, equipment, and teacher substitutes.
The elementary schools face the loss of the equivalent of 16.55 full-time positions in school-based staff and 6.5 positions in the central office.
No one on the School Committee was happy with the cuts, which total 50 full-time equivalents at both the regional and elementary levels.
Irv Rhodes called them "devastating" and "unconscionable." Farshid Hajir called them "staggering" and said, "This is a sad day." Marianne Jorgensen, the only member to vote against the budget, called the budget "shocking" and "a severe altering of the programs of our schools."
Churchill said another reason to vote the budget Tuesday was to remove ambiguity. High School Principal Mark Jackson, who will speak to teachers after school today, said half of them are "hanging by their fingertips, wondering about their future." Many have rewritten their resumes and some have gotten other job offers, he said.
Administrators and the union have one more shot to come up with an alternative plan, Churchill said. The union should consider that "maybe we could make some concessions and have smaller class sizes and not get so many of our colleagues cut," he said.
Amherst Town Meeting will reconvene to vote on a budget June 15, and Pelham Town Meeting will reconvene June 13. Shutesbury and Leverett have already voted regional school budgets with a much less severe level of cuts.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.