School Budget “Frost” Likely


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Spending restrictions are expected to be instituted in the Amherst elementary school district in the coming weeks, according to comments made by Superintendent Michael Morris at the Amherst School Committee meeting on January 24.

At the previous committee meeting on January 10, Morris shared an initial budget deficit projection for next year of $800,000. This, combined with the expiration of Covid-relief funds in September 2024 that have been used to supplement the budget has led Morris to describe the next three budget cycles as a “fiscal cliff.” 

In an attempt to “make the fiscal cliff into a fiscal hill,” Morris told the committee that he is considering a “frost” on district spending for the remainder of the school year. Describing it as “not freezing the budget but trying to reduce spending except for core essential instruction and other activities,” Morris said it is intended to preserve funds in order to ease future fiscal hardship. What this will mean in terms of resources for educators and services for students was not outlined.

The budget “frost” discussion came after a discussion of the FY23 Quarter 2 Budget Report. In delivering the report, Finance Director Doug Slaughter described the current year’s budget as “proceeding as expected,” although he highlighted three areas of concern. 

District-wide Special Education, one of the larger line items in the budget with an appropriation of $490,797 this year, was 77.1% ($384,178) spent or encumbered at the halfway point. 

An Indy review of year-end budget reports showed that the district-wide special education line has gone over budget each year since 2019. In FY19, the original appropriation was overspent by $106,781 (220%), in FY20 by $159,930 (181%), in FY21 by $654,663 (588%), and in FY22 by $234,707 (159%). Prior to 2019, these lines were under or close to what was budgeted. The line item includes payments for contracted services and special education tuition.

Two other areas that Slaughter said merit close monitoring are Facilities and English Language Education (ELL). Facilities expenses were at 92.5% of the budgeted $133,814; reasons for this were not specified. ELL spending was at 123.3%, or $5,149 more than the $22,363 budgeted for the year. Slaughter attributed this to a far-higher-than-expected need for translation services.

The complete FY24 budget with recommended additions and reductions will be presented on February 16 and a public hearing is provisionally scheduled for March 2. 

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