Regional School Budget
Superintendent Mike Morris, School Finance Director Doug Slaughter, and School Committee Chair Alison MacDonald presented the proposed FY 2021 Regional School Budget to the Town Council and Finance Committee at a public hearing on June 8. The meeting was conducted as a Zoom webcast and was recorded for possible future broadcast. The Powerpoint presentation can be found here.
Morris stated that the primary aim for the coming year was to be open for as many students as possible. The State is still developing fall guidelines for schools, so exact costs cannot be known at this time. What is known is that all towns will need to recreate schools and reset education in response to conditions created by the pandemic
Slaughter presented the proposed budget, which is slightly below level funding from FY 2020. Amherst’s share is $16,404,120 out of a total budget of $32,145,531. Forty-five percent of the assessment is by the statutory assessment method over a five-year average. If the budget must be amended during the year, all towns whose assessment would increase must approve the change.
Services are level funded, but most capital projects have been cut from the proposal. Only a walk-in cooler for the high school for $25,000, District COVID needs (extra cleaning, supplies, and barriers) at $75,000, and removal of an outdated modular unit at the high school for $15,000 are included as new capital spending. There is no reduction in teaching staff or programs, but the District will be cautious about hiring. Non-union staff are getting a 2 percent cost of living (COLA) raise. Because the budget was frozen, with the exception of COVID expenses, on March 13 when the school closed, there is some money left over to pay out-of-district tuition for next year. Also, the District received $238,000 from the CARES act.
The District sent a questionnaire to all families regarding options for school opening in the fall. So far they have received over 700 responses. No one is happy about any of the options, but the schools must follow CDC and state guidelines. Morris does not see any way that secondary schools students will be in school for a full day in the fall. Whether sports, afterschool programs, or clubs are offered depends on public health guidelines. In fact, without substantial state and federal funding, no schools will be able to meet CDC guidelines for opening.
Unused buildings cannot be used to allow more students to attend classes because each building used must have a nurse and administrator present. The proposed budget also does not contain money for substitute teachers, though there might be an increased need for substitutes if teachers are not allowed to work when they are ill.
There were no questions from the public. The hearing adjourned at 7:35.
Town One-Month Budget
In a second public hearing, Town Finance Director Sean Mangano, Comptroller Sonia Aldrich, and Town Manager Paul Bockelman then reviewed the one-month town budget, which was presented at the Council meeting two weeks earlier.
This budget will be incorporated into the 12-month budget for FY 2021, which will be presented at a public hearing on July 13. The amount of state aid that the town will receive is still not known.
Aldrich said that because revenues for 2020 were better than expected, the 2020 shortfall will be less than anticipated. Any extra funds will go into free cash, but the final totals won’t be known until July or August.
The new budget contains a two percent COLA raise for nonunion employees. If there is a big budget deficit, Aldrich says that furloughs work better than withholding raises to balance the shortfall.
Finance Committee member Marylou Theilman asked if the Town would sponsor summer camps this summer. Bockelman said that the state guidelines are so onerous as to make the camps unsatisfactory and expensive. The Town will not be opening the summer camps this summer.
There was no public comment.
The hearing adjourned at 8:10 p.m.