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.
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.