Hearing set on pared-down school budget

AMHERST – In an effort to keep taxpayers happy, Superintendent of Schools Mike Ananis has been steadily chipping away at the Amherst School District’s budget.

The proposed budget now meets the School Board and the Ways and Means Committee’s goal of keeping non-salary budget increases between 3 percent and 4 percent.

The proposed operating budget is $18,742,581 – up $690,026 from this year’s budget – for a 3.8 percent increase.

The $18.7 million budget maintains “an educationally sound student-to-teacher ratio,” while still addressing the needs and concerns of taxpayers, Ananis said.

Last year, voters vetoed the School District’s budget, forcing it to operate under a default budget.

Enrollment increases have led to several new positions being added to the budget: two elementary school teachers, a half-time middle school teacher, and a half-time reading teacher.

Another budgeting challenge is the loss of about $1.3 million in education aid from the state, said Amherst School Board Chairwoman Deborah Cort.

One of Ananis’ most substantial cuts was made to technology. The original technology request for the Amherst Middle School asked for more than $70,000 in new computer equipment. That’s been slashed by $60,000 in the latest version of the budget.

Still, $25,000 will be allotted to replace computers at the Wilkins School, allowing the district to stick to its goal of replacing one-third of the schools’ computer equipment each year, Cort said.

Several warrant articles are proposed for the ballot, none of which are bond related.

One calls for the equivalent of about $93,000 to bolster a Foreign Language Assistance Program grant, which funds the world language program at the Clark and Wilkins schools.

The program teaches elementary students French and Spanish and aims to establish a solid foundation for future language studies. The warrant article asks for $195,754 for the program, $102,716 of which will still be provided by the federal government.

The warrant will also ask for increases in salaries and benefits for members of the district’s support staff. The board was unable to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union, however, and the Amherst teachers will be working without a contract this coming fiscal year.

The board had offered teachers a one-year contract that included cost items such as $88 per night for chaperoning overnight camping trips, a 3.25 percent across-the-board salary increase, a step increase ranging from 1 to 3 percent depending upon eligibility, and a one-time stipend equal to 1 percent of base pay for senior union members no longer eligible for step increases.

In return, the board wanted concessions in the health-care insurance premium distribution that would require teachers to pay an additional 0.5 to 2.5 percent, depending on the type of plan and provider.

“We are disappointed an agreement could not be reached,” Cort said.

The teachers will maintain their health benefits, which are included in the operating budget, but will not receive any step increases or raises this year as a result of the impasse, Cort said.

The Amherst School District Deliberative Session will be held Feb. 2.

Lynn Tryba can be reached at 594-6402 or trybal@telegraph-nh.com.