At the January 10 meeting of the Amherst School Committee, Superintendent Michael Morris shared reasons for considering delaying moving 6th graders to the middle school until 2026. The current plan is for Amherst students to attend 6th grade in the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS) building beginning this fall (2023).
The three buckets of reasons Morris gave for considering this change now are:
- Fewer students than expected. The number of K-6 students in Amherst is lower than was expected when the plan to move 6th graders to the middle school was first developed. As a result of this lower enrollment, we will have three fewer sections (classrooms) in the three elementary schools in the next academic year than the current year (one fewer in Crocker Farm, two fewer in Wildwood, no change in Fort River). Thus the issue with lack of space at our elementary schools will not be as dire as expected.
- We are projected to have a budget deficit of around $800,000 for FY24 (fiscal year ending 6/30/24). While we anticipated a deficit, we did not expect it to be this high.
- The complexity of running, essentially, a fourth elementary school in Amherst. Because the Amherst Regional Middle School is a regional school that does not include 6th grade, the Amherst 6th graders would, in essence, attend a separate school located in the ARMS building. We recently received confirmation from DESE (the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) that we would need to operate a fourth elementary school, which comes with staffing and financial complexity.
The School Committee heard information on this topic at the January 10 meeting, but we did not discuss it in detail or deliberate on it, because it was not on our posted agenda for the meeting. The plan is for the superintendent to come back to the committee at our next meeting, which will be January 24, with more information including maps and budget implications.
To be clear, the district and the School Committee are still committed to moving 6th grade to the middle school; it is a question of WHEN not IF.
If you would like to share your input on this topic with the Amherst School Committee, you can email all committee members at AmherstSchoolCommittee@arps.org.