Letter: After 400 Days Of Negotations, School Committee Offers Cuts

Photo: Amherst Pelham Education Association

The following open letter to the Amherst Regional Public Schools community was posted on the Facebook page of the Amherst Pelham Education Association on February 26, 2023

Recently, it has been apparent that our school committees are dedicated to a message of austerity. APEA does not believe that our students or schools deserve less. We are fighting for an alternative. 

Yet, as a union, we have never actually proposed a gain for our members. We have proposed taking an effective loss, falling behind current rates of inflation, for 400+ days now. Our members make less than a living wage. We have seen programs and staff cut. Yet despite our efforts to turn out our own pockets to save our schools, they are saying our proposed sacrifices aren’t good enough and threatening our schools and our standards. 

Throughout our 400+ days of negotiations, the school committee has continued pushing forward expensive capital projects. Concerns about the costs and quality of these projects have not required mediation or threats of cuts to people and programs. As recently as their December 22 “state of the schools” presentation to the town council, they were claiming “after 3 years of flat funding requiring cuts to programs and services, this year’s budget maintains services.” Yet, two months later, they now say we are facing a fiscal cliff? 

On November 7, 2022, school committee member Peter Demling said, “I think we take it for granted the great state that we are in in terms of our frugal discipline over years” “Frugal discipline” is a nice way to say that the town has taken it for granted that ARPS pays less than a living wage in order to save the town money. The budget is balanced on educators’ poverty wages. We have so many coworkers forced to find second and third jobs to subsidize the failings of the school budget. 

It is unsustainable that the ~600 members of APEA can sacrifice enough to sustain four towns’ leaderships taking educators for granted and calling it “frugal discipline.”

But, Demling did not stop there in his November comments to the town manager. 

To quote- “and this is the key point here, the Amherst School Committee and the Regional School Committee that represents us in negotiations has no power or authority to set our budget amount. We have clear authority over how to spend our budget but at the Amherst level we can spend what’s approved by the Amherst Town Council based on your recommendation. School committee can ask and advocate for more and we have in the past unsuccessfully for much smaller amounts than a million.” 

His statement is an admission of: 

1- The school committee has been unsuccessful in advocating for the schools? 

2- The school committee has not even asked for the million dollars they’re now threatening to cut? 

Our union believes that our schools deserve better than what our School Committees’ ineffectiveness is offering. When they proposed losses, we have refused for over 400 days. When they refused to negotiate with us directly, we have brought members and allies to the budget meetings directly. Our union recently voted overwhelmingly to take action against their attempts to push austerity on our schools and now they threaten our students and schools with cuts?! No. Just no. 

Over 80% of us said we were not going to accept further losses in our schools, and that was before they threatened these recent cuts. We are not going back now. 

For more information, feel free to reach out to anyone in APEA. or reach out to me directly at restorethemiddleclass@gmail.com. I’m a para/parent in the ARPS system who will not accept less for my kids. 

Alex Lopez

Alex Lopez is a para-educator at Summit Academty and a parent with children in the Amherst public schools.

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