Amherst Schools Budget Season
Public Hearings on Operating Budgets
Register in advance for these webinars: https://sau39.zoom.us
January 13, 2021
6 p.m. Souhegan Cooperative School Board
7 p.m. Amherst School Board
January 14, 2021
6 p.m. Mont Vernon School Board
February 1, 2021
7 p.m. Souhegan Cooperative School Board
February 2, 2021
7 p.m. Amherst School Board
February 3, 2021
6 p.m. Mont Vernon School Board
Amherst and Souhegan Cooperative School Budget Reviews
The Amherst School Board chaired by Elizabeth Kuzsma is reviewing Superintendent Adam Steel’s budget for FY 2021. The first proposed operating budget had an 8.2% increase. After careful review the board has brought the increase down to “about 6%” ($1,739,179) over last year’s budget. The operating budget is $30,725,496. The board will continue to rview the costs.
Two major building and renovation projects are expected to cost $96,000,000. Renovations for Amherst Middle School would cost about $31,000,000. The new elementary school would cost $66,038,000.
The Souhegan Cooperative School Board chaired by Pim Grondstra received Superintendent Adam Steel’s proposed operating budget of $19,352,970. The increase over last year’s budget is $975,563 (5.3%). Warrant articles for locker rooms, science labs and maintenance would be additional.
Public hearings are planned for January 13. You must register for these Zoom meetings in advance.
Amherst School Board
Budget Season Continues
To the editor:
There is just one final month left in the FY22 budget season and we’re coming close to determining what will go on the ballot for you in the spring. When budget season started there was a proposed increase of more than eight percent with a default increase greater than four percent. After months of discussions, meetings, and review, the overall proposed increase is now at about six percent, thanks in part to removal of duplicate entries and numbers coming into focus, such as a six percent max increase in health insurance costs compared to the original ten percent placeholder.
As a board, we have asked the administration continue to consider final cuts to help bring us more in line with this year’s default increase. Many factors went into this line of thinking, including class-size goals (teacher-student ratio), necessary facilities repairs, curriculum programs, and much more. Of course, the economic impacts of COVID-19 played a factor as well, so we are looking forward to seeing what final items are in the budget before we discuss and make a final recommendation Dec. 15.
Speaking of facilities and ballots, we unanimously voted in November to approve a facilities project recommended by the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee (JFAC). In short, we are supporting a two-building proposal that will see a new Clark-Wilkins Elementary and an entirely renovated Amherst Middle School. The entire project will cost approximately $96 million but will give Amherst schools a much-needed overhaul.
We recognize that the number is shocking when you first read it – we all had the same reaction you did the first time we heard about the JFAC recommendation. After review, however, we feel the project is desperately needed to allow Amherst’s schools to match their reputation around the state. Here are the facts we considered:
In our current buildings we are looking at an average of $1 million a year to keep things up and running. The mechanical systems alone run well into eight figures combined between the buildings to repair and replace.
We don’t have the space to meet our class-size goals, a target the board approved in 2018 to provide for smaller class sizes across all grade levels. The benefits of smaller classes, especially in K-3, were displayed by long-term studies in Tennessee (Project STAR) and Wisconsin (Project SAGE). Students in smaller class sizes had increased test scores, were more likely to graduate high school, and more likely to major in a STEM field of study in college. We cannot reach these goals and benefits with class sizes that are ranked in the top 10 in the state in most K-8 grade levels.
We looked at spreading two building projects out over the next 5-10 years but rising construction costs (conservatively estimated at four percent per year) and record-low bond rates made it clear that now was the time fiscally to run the concurrent projects. There are tens of millions to be saved by taking this approach.
Over the coming months you will be hearing a lot from JFAC, discussing the numbers, benefits, and projects in more detail.
Mont Vernon Tuition Agreement
Another bit of business headed for the ballot for your consideration is a five-year extension of our tuition agreement with Mont Vernon. After many discussions with Mont Vernon school board representatives, we changed the agreement from a complicated calculation based on the average number of kids at Amherst Middle School each quarter to a flat tuition payment per student based on the average cost-per-pupil from the previous two years. Then, the cost-per-pupil figure will be multiplied by the number of Mont Vernon students enrolled at AMS as of Oct. 1 in the specific school year. There is a 5.6% cap on any increase year-over-year to ease the tax burden in any one given year for Mont Vernon taxpayers.
This new formula will simplify a very complicated process for both districts while giving them solid figures at the beginning of each year in regard to what tuition will actually cost for that year. This erases the need for end-of-year reconciliation to give all taxpayers more transparency at budget time.
Lastly, we want to say another thank you to the students, parents, teachers, staff, and administration for their tremendous work this school year. With the holidays here, our buildings continue to be open for in-person learning for an overwhelming majority of students. Pick up a newspaper or watch a newscast and you’ll see that across the country schools are shutting their doors, many without the data to back up their decisions. We have several neighbors in New Hampshire that are doing part-time in-person learning and will now spend the next two months in full-remote mode. Students learn and grow better in the classroom, so kudos to everyone for making that option continue to work for our community. For those families who continue to choose remote learning, keep up the good work and let us know if there are improvements that can be made to make your students continue to feel like part of their school community.
We wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season.
Elizabeth Kuzsma, Chair
Tom Gauthier, Vice Chair