Amherst Regional School Committee proposes new budget that lowers assessments for towns

Amherst Regional High School

Amherst Regional High School

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 04-26-2024 11:31 AM

AMHERST — The Amherst Regional School Committee agreed on Wednesday to a new budget proposal for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools next year that is nearly $500,000 less than a spending plan approved in March. The new budget means smaller 6% assessment increases for each of the four towns along with possible staff cuts.

The committee voted to support a $35.27 million budget for fiscal 2025 to fund staff and programs at the middle and high schools, even though this budget could mean some positions that work directly with students will be eliminated at the two schools, since it falls $481,335 short of the $35.75 million budget voted on last month. That budget, already $747,896 below providing the same level of services as this year at the regional schools, would have required 8.2% assessment increases for the four towns, or more than double the 4% guidance set by Amherst officials.

At a four-towns meeting April 20, Shutesbury and Leverett officials appealed for a 6% increase as the upper limit of what their towns could afford and support at annual Town Meeting. Those sessions are being held in both communities on Saturday.

Pelham officials, though, suggested adhering to a 4% increase for fiscal year 2025 and then having the more substantial increase come the following year, when all federal Elementary and Secondary Education Relief fund money is exhausted. But that would trigger a nearly 9% increase for each town’s assessment to support the schools in fiscal year 2026.

Under the 6% budget, Shutesbury’s assessment would rise by $83,268, from $1.56 million to $1.65 million, and Leverett’s by $82,459, from $1.54 million to $1.63 million. Pelham, which holds its annual Town Meeting on May 11, would see its assessment go up by $60,322, from $1.01 million to $1.07 million, while Amherst’s assessment would increase by $1.07 million, from $17.77 million to $18.8 million.

Three of the four towns have to approve their assessments for the budget to be enacted.

Shutesbury’s warrant includes a regional assessment embedded in the town’s operating budget, while Leverett has a separate article to consider the regional assessment increase beyond 4%.

The Regional School Committee originally adopted the 8.2% increase to the budget to ensure that 15 teachers and paraeducators at the schools wouldn’t be lost, as would have happened in a $34.81 million, including potential cuts to the world languages staff at the middle school and restorative justice coordinators at both buildings.

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Based on the slimmed down budget, about half of the positions originally contemplated for being cut would be back on the chopping block, though Interim Superintendent Douglas Slaughter didn’t present specifics about how these would be enacted during Wednesday’s meeting.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.