At our June 28 meeting, the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously to restore the art and technology educator positions at all three elementary schools to full time, through funding from the school’s budget. You can read about the background of this issue in my March 29 blog post (Amherst School Committee restores art and technology specials teachers for FY23 budget – but how?) and my April 27 blog post (A “rounding error” sized problem with no solution).
To recap: The School Committee came up with a compromise solution for the $79,200 needed to restore the six 0.8 FTE (full time equivalent) positions to 1.0 each – use ESSER funds (COVID relief funds for schools) for one-third of the amount, and request more money from the town of Amherst for two-thirds of the amount.
On June 13, the Amherst Town Council did not approve the additional funds to cover these positions. (You can watch this portion of the Town Council meeting here.)
At the June 28 School Committee meeting, Superintendent Mike Morris said that he sees the value in restoring the positions to full time. He suggested using funds in “the back of the budget,” i.e. the Control Account, to cover the amount needed for these positions. The Control Account is a budget line item where funds are reserved for expenses that are unknown at the time the budget is developed. Morris indicated that there are always funds for “one teacher and two paras” in the Control Account, in case extra staffing is needed, beyond what was planned for. Earlier in the meeting, he had presented an update on kindergarten registration, which indicated that fewer kindergarten sections would be needed than originally anticipated, resulting in a cost savings.
Morris said “My thinking [on these positions] has evolved as more data has come to me.” He did indicate that pulling the needed funds from the Control Account is a risk, but that it’s a risk worth taking for this year.
It is unknown if the positions will be able to be funded the following year (23-24 academic year) or future years. When the new elementary school building opens (expected fall 2026), the district expects to see operational savings, which would change our financial picture.
I am very happy and grateful that these six positions (one art teacher and one technology teacher, at each of our three elementary schools) will be restored to full time for this year. This is the right thing for our students, who need art and technology now more than ever, in addition to the strong relationships formed between full-time educators and students. And it’s the right thing for our staff, who deserve our respect and commitment to full-time jobs. This was a stressful and lengthy process, and I wish we could have gotten here sooner, but I’m glad we got here in the end!