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Declining Enrollment Affects Budget, Faculty In Amherst Schools

The Amherst School Board is presenting a lower budget this year with faculty cuts.

Declining enrollment and increases in retirement and health insurance costs have created a lower, and more controversial, budget in the Amherst School District.

The Amherst School Board presented their $24,278,572 proposed budget in a public hearing on Wednesday, which is .25 percent less ($61,172) than the budget passed for this year. The default budget has been calculated at $23,940,012 should the proposed budget fail to pass.

The lower budget is in response to an increase in mandated costs shifted down to schools, including retirement and health care. The proposed budget had to work around a $243,950 increase in NH Retirement costs and a $135,978 increase in health insurance costs.

Board members also worked to contend with declining enrollment in the school district, with 98 fewer students projected for next year. This includes an increase in class sizes from 20-22 students in grades 3-8 and cutting 14.1 professional and support staff in their proposed budget.

“The state has shifted enormous retirement costs for the third year running,” said Board Chairwoman Peg Bennet. She added that not increasing class sizes would be fiscally irresponsible, and the decision to cut staff was carefully considered.

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This has been met with friction from the Amherst Education Association, who believe that these changes will negatively affect student learning in the school district. The local teacher’s union and the board was also unable to reach an agreement on a new contract for teachers, which expires at the end of June.

AEA president Larry Ballard said that the board needs to put more consideration into the effects of larger classes with less staff.

“You should strongly consider being able to walk back that decision,” he said. “I would hate to see an educational decision made primarily by fiscal reasons over the welfare of our students."

The Amherst School District Ways & Means Committee supported the board’s budget, citing that they have gone through every spending item thoroughly.

“This is a solid budget that maintains the quality of our education while protecting the taxpayer,” said Committee Chairman Mark Vincent.

Local Joe January 14, 2013 at 07:16 PM
I agree with Mr. Yakovakis. Please allow our students to have the excellent education they need and deserve.
Brenda Silva Gonzalez January 14, 2013 at 08:35 PM
In a tanking economy, with enrollment going down and costs going up, you cannot keep the status quo! There has to be cutbacks! And cuts in any area will be felt by all, including, unfortunately, the students! But you cannot have it all. And you cannot keep raising taxes! The very people relied upon for revenue, who's income is stagnant or decreasing, will move. Like any thriving household you do not spend what you do not have and you need to make conservative judgements about the upcoming year. We have to strike a balance. And the success of your child does not rest with the school entirely. If your child is not getting what they need out of the school then it is YOU that needs to supplement their education, not the 'system'! We need to conserve!
Tony Yakovakis January 15, 2013 at 02:27 PM
Brenda, maybe you need to read more carefully. I said nothing about raising taxes. Also DON'T assume that myself or other parents out there are not taking an active role in our childrens education. Good schools are the #1 criteria looked at when families choose where to raise their children. So if you want to attract people ( taxpayers ) to this community, than the schools are even more important.
Jim Farrow January 20, 2013 at 04:34 PM
As mentioned above, schools are one of the top criteria when a new family is looking to relocate, so why then do Hollis and Bedford continue to raise their average home price, have more new home sales and continue to attract more new families to their communities, it's the schools. Amherst is not performing, schools and taxes go hand in hand, if the education is going backwards and the taxes are going up, then what would be the attraction to this community? Enrollemnt is down, as a result costs must come down, the unions cannot continue to get whatever they want for their teachers, this system is bankrupting the country and we cannot afford to have it bankrupt the community. The teachers in this country are getting a free pass, the unions protect them, they need to be tested just like the kids are in order to know how they are performing. Tenure is not a reason for keeping a teacher, peformance is. I support the school board and their recommendations for a leaner meaner staff in K-8 Our BOS should be looking at the school boards and taking notes about how to lower cost and return money to the taxpayer.
scone March 12, 2013 at 01:24 PM
If you keep raising taxes through the roof, you are driving out people who are not rich, particularly young people with children, and older people on a fixed income. Bedford and Hollis have chosen to create what amounts to a private enclave for the 1%, and frankly I would hate to see Amherst copy their example.

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