By NICK GRABBE
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
AMHERST - The four elementary school principals told the School Committee Tuesday that they are not comfortable with cuts that have been proposed and want to avoid further reductions.
"As painful as these cuts are, they will allow us to continue programs," said Matt Behnke, principal of Wildwood School. But additional cuts that would result if the Amherst schools don't find more money to spend would "hit bone," he said.
The School Committee has identified $1 million in cuts to the elementary schools, including $582,997 from the closing of Mark's Meadow School. In addition, there are $210,341 in school-based cuts, mainly from a reduction of four classroom teachers, and $278,431 in central office reductions.
The reduction in teachers would raise the average class size from 19 to 20, said Michael Morris, principal of Crocker Farm School.
The principals want to save the equivalent of almost 10 positions that could be cut if voters reject a tax override March 23, if teachers decide not to give back negotiated salary increases, and if there is no unanticipated state aid.
These "second-tier" cuts would mostly affect struggling students. They include psychologist, special education, intervention and English Language Learners positions, as well as instructional technology.
"I can't think about what it would look like having those things missing," said Ray Sharick, principal of Fort River School.
Despite the cuts, the budget includes new money for preschools targeted at low-income students. School Committee member Steve Rivkin said Amherst should have been offering these preschools long ago, but asked if in a tough budget climate they are a higher priority than the at-risk positions.
The Regional School Committee also met Tuesday. Members looked at options for restoring physical education positions previously on the cut list, and discussed whether small increases in class size could save some elective courses that are on the chopping block.
Several members favored the option of cutting music to every other day in the Regional Middle School and finding $67,000 in additional cuts, in order to save phys ed. Rivkin said that most schools don't have music every day.
At the high school, classes currently average 21.6 students. If budgets are cut as much as administrators fear, that number would increase to 25.
Several members said they favored a smaller increase, if that meant saving some electives. On class size, "we don't want to break the dial, just turn it a little," said Chairman Farshid Hajir.
Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez cautioned the committee that small increases in class size wouldn't produce significant savings. He said he wouldn't want members to become so comfortable with this option that average class sizes of up to 30 adversely affect interaction between students and teachers.
Nick Grabbe can be reached at email@example.com.
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.