Amherst school budget restores arts programs
AMHERST — The mood was upbeat and the meeting was short Tuesday as the Amherst School Committee unanimously approved a nearly $22.5 million budget that restores cuts to the arts and physical education made in previous years and expands access to pre-school.
Also Tuesday, the board voted 4-1 to have Amherst remain a school choice district.
Chairwoman Katherine Appy said after the meeting, “We’ve worked really hard and we’ve created a budget that is sustainable and responsible and I’m thrilled about the integrated arts model that is coming next year ... I really think that we have built a model that is going to move us toward meeting the needs of all kids.”
Committee member Amilcar Shabazz also praised the way the budget has “built back in support for the arts.”
The budget, which represents a 2.2 percent increase over this year’s spending plan, now goes to Town Meeting for final approval. Michael Morris, the director of assessment and evaluation for the district, said administrators and teachers are going to continue discussions on how to use the additional support to “integrate the arts into the fabric of our schools.”
Committee member Kathleen Traphagen said she is pleased that the budget adds support for the arts. Bringing the so-called specials teachers back to full time “will have a lot of different benefits in terms of the ability to integrate arts, music and movement into the regular school classrooms,” she said.
“This is why I ran for the School Committee, now I’ll have to look for other priorities and I have plenty,” she said. Among those will be to see how the schools can develop “strategies to support advanced learners” who have “the capacity to work above grade level.”
Traphagen said the provisions to provide more vouchers for full-day preschool “is going to be wonderful for working families.”
Committee member Rick Hood said after the meeting, “It’s the first time since I’ve been on the committee for four years that we are able to pass a budget that we really feel good about, that isn’t cutting but adding ... I’m really happy that we’ll be able to not just restore what we took away last year but restore it in an even better way than it was done before.”
Shabazz was the lone dissenter on the school choice vote. “I’m not seeing what the benefits are of this particular program for our children within the town of Amherst,” he said.
He expressed concern that bringing pupils in from other towns is a burden on the district. “I don’t really know that the financial benefits outweigh the additional strain on our faculty, on our resources and on our buildings,” Shabazz added.
Sean Mangano, the assistant director of finance, told the committee that the school choice program will bring in an estimated $195,000 into the district in the current fiscal year and $210,000 next year. The costs are “minimal,” he said, and are mostly for additional supplies.
Mangano anticipates being able to open up school choice slots in Grades 4 and 6 in addition to kindergarten, and still keep class sizes at 20 students or less.