School Committee and Public Reject Proposed Regional Budget


Alex Lopez, a district parent, paraprofessional at Summit Academy and president of the APEA gives public comment at the Regional School Committee meeting on February 27, 2024. Photo: Amherst Media / YouTube

Report on the Meeting of the Regional School Committee, February 27, 2024

This meeting was held in hybrid format and was recorded. It can be viewed here.

William Sherr (Pelham—Acting Chair); Sarah Marshall, Jennifer Shiao, Bridget Hynes, and Debra Leonard (Amherst); Tilman Wolf (Leverett); Miguel Pinero (student representative). Irv Rhodes (Amherst) and Anna Heard (Shutesbury) participated remotely. Sarabess Kenney (Pelham) was absent.

Staff: Doug Slaughter (Interim School Superintendent)

There were 19 members of the public  in the audience and another 29 watching the livestream.

This meeting was devoted mostly to a public hearing on the budget, following a presentation of the proposed FY 2025 regional budget  by Interim Superintendent Doug Slaughter that included the elimination of two custodians, six high school teachers, four middle school teachers, four paraeducators, one clerical staff member, and reassignment of two high school professionals, for an elimination of 21 total positions. Slaughter noted that, although much of the information needed for the final budget is still unknown, the Regional School Committee must approve the proposal by its March 12 meeting because it must be approved at least 40 days before the first town meeting of the three other district towns (Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury). Leverett’s annual town meeting is scheduled for April 30.

Slaughter reported that the elimination of the positions is needed to balance the budget, despite the addition of  $177,000 from the Amherst operating budget and the use of the last $500,000 of the town’s COVID relief ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief)  funds, which must be spent by the fall of 2024. Slaughter said that 85% of the budget is personnel expenses, so that any reduction in the budget will necessitate cutting some staff positions. The district spends about $2 million a year for students attending charter schools, an amount that has held fairly steady.

Public Comment
The budget proposal received uniform disapproval from the teachers, students, parents, and school committee members. Several commenters decried the increase in expenses for administrators, while teachers were being cut. 

Georgia Malcom alleged that previous superintendent Mike Morris promoted several of “his friends” before he resigned in August. She also asserted that “[departed HR Director] Doreen Cunningham, a Black woman, was expected to follow the rules, but white administrators were not.”

Student Julian Hynes noted that administrative salaries in the budget increased by 28% even though enrollment has decreased. He suggested building canopy solar over the school parking lots to save $207,000 in yearly electricity costs, and asking Amherst College to pay for it. 

Several commenters pointed to increases in class sizes and the probable elimination of some electives due to  the proposed cuts in staffing. Teachers maintained that these cuts would especially impact the most vulnerable students, who sometimes stay in school primarily for the arts programs or need extra attention during class. Teacher Irene LaRoche noted that in her 20 years at the middle school, the number of teams has been reduced from eight to four, even though the enrollment has decreased far less than half. She said this reduction of four core positions has meant a 20% increase in class size. Because of the extra work, teachers have had to decrease their involvement in committees and extracurricular activities, and do much of their planning and assessment at home in the evenings. 

Teacher Claire Cocco) who is  the communications director for the Amherst Pelham Teachers Association (APEA), noted the increase in administrators over the past five years — and not just in the central office but across departments, including facilities, transportation, and IT. She argued that every added administrative position needs to be justified. She also suggested starting a campaign to attract students to the Amherst schools instead of charter schools to recoup the expense of paying for students who attend those schools. “Cutting programs and creating  larger classes won’t do that,” she said.

Alex Lopez, a parent, paraprofessional at Summit Academy, and president of the APEA, said that the  town prioritizes its credit ratings over children. He asked “What can we do to avoid these cuts?” He added that we must be honest with students and inform them that the people they rely on might not be there next year. 

Teacher Molly Cooksey said that the district needs to be more proactive in seeking alternative funding and that cutting teachers and paras is “not an option.” She said that many students are coming into the district for services, and that even though the total number of enrolled students is down, there is a greater need for services. She concluded by pointing out that “people assume that we’re adequately funded now, but we aren’t.”

Danielle Selzer, a teacher at the high school, said that she has witnessed massive budget cuts over the last 13 years, and that this is the second consecutive cut over $1M. She added that  “when elective classes are cut, students suffer, especially those who don’t learn in the usual pattern.”

Michelle Prindle, parent of an elementary school student with special needs and a middle school student who has suffered extreme bullying, said she doesn’t know where to turn. She is concerned about how her elementary school student will fare at the middle school, especially with staffing cuts.

Amber Cano Martin, a parent of two children, said that she is “unequivocally opposed to these cuts” and exhorted the school committee to vote “no” on this budget. She suggested looking to other sources for additional funding, perhaps UMass, Amherst College, or the town budget. She asked the school committee to “act like the house is on fire” and lamented that the Town Council is not listening to us.

Parent Allegra Clark, who graduated from ARHS in 2003, when the school was ranked number two in the state, fondly remembers the muffins offered daily by Ms. Courtney, the Home Economics teacher. That program has been discontinued, and the school is now ranked 99th in the state by U.S. News and World Report.

School Committee Refuses to Accept Proposed Budget
Jennifer Shiao asked when the school committee will have a chance to discuss the budget, since a vote must be taken at the next scheduled meeting (March 12) in order to comply with the need to approve it at least 40 days before April 30, when  Leverett’s Town Meeting will take place. This meeting was a public hearing, devoted to hearing what members of the public had to say. Irv Rhodes shared that concern, saying that the proposed budget contains “devastating” cuts. He called for an additional meeting, even though  it is unlikely that the district will have additional information in the next two weeks.

Bridget Hynes noted that the proposal involves cutting 10% of the teaching staff across the district. She wanted time to reexamine revenues and to find other means for balancing the budget outside of cutting teachers. She wondered how many of the problems of bullying at the middle school last year were due to an insufficient number of teachers for adequate supervision.

Shiao had questions about the increase in the administration budget. She acknowledged that this is a complex year due to several interim roles, but said that the administrative increases need to be justified.

None of the school committee members present wanted to vote on the budget proposal without having an in-depth discussion. Another meeting was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, March 6, at 6:30 p.m.. The time and place will be confirmed on the district’s BoardDocs page.

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1 thought on “School Committee and Public Reject Proposed Regional Budget

  1. But at least Amherst will soon have the fifth largest public library in Massachusetts and we are overachieving there because we have the 50th largest municipal population. Yay us! Priorities straight? YESSIR!

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