By NICK GRABBE
Friday, February 12, 2010
AMHERST - In a compromise, the Regional School Committee voted Tuesday to recommend that a $950,000 budget gap in the secondary schools be filled by the four member towns through overrides or other sources of money.
Amherst's share of that amount would be about $741,000, and Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham would have to pay about $70,000 each. These calculations assume that state aid will decline by 5 percent.
On Monday, the Amherst School Committee voted to request that the elementary schools be allocated $400,000 on the March 23 Proposition 2½ override. The Select Board is meeting today to decide the amount of the override and whether to make it a lump sum, or give voters a choice of programs to support with higher taxes.
Member Steve Rivkin estimated a regional schools' budget shortfall of $800,000. He said that more cuts were possible because of declining enrollment, asserting that the high school could save money by adopting a semester schedule.
"We need to be as frugal as possible," he said.
Committee member Catherine Sanderson agreed, saying that the Select Board had imposed an "artificial deadline" that does not provide enough time for consideration of cuts or changes in basic assumptions.
Member Irv Rhodes said the committee can't be confident that state aid cuts won't be more than 5 percent. "I detest making a decision based on financial quicksand," he said.
Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez said the $800,000 number was too low, noting that the regional schools have borne the greatest burden of cuts. He said it is "dangerous" to start "penny-pinching."
Member Andy Churchill said he favored recommending the filling of a $1.1 million budget shortfall. He said such a figure is not extravagent, and some of the money could come from reserves as well as the override.
"Investing in education is part of the Amherst brand," he said. If cuts are too severe, Amherst could be at a "tipping point," he said.
Rivkin's motion for a $800,000 figure failed on a 6-3 vote. A compromise of $950,000 passed 8-0, with Sanderson abstaining.
There is a long list of possible cuts at the regional middle and high schools, ranked by priority for restoration if more money is available. Principal Mark Jackson said that over the past week, cuts in elective courses have moved to a greater priority and academics have moved to a lower priority.
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.