Proposed Amherst school budget up 3.8 percent

AMHERST – The proposed 2004-05 operating budget for the Amherst School District would increase school spending 3.8 percent, the Amherst School Board told residents at Monday’s public hearing.

As a result of the way public education is funded in the state, the Amherst School District is expected to lose about $1.3 million in state aid, which has a direct impact on the tax rate. The proposed budget is approximately $18.7 million. This year’s budget is about $18.1 million.

If voters approve the budget, the school portion of the tax rate would increase by $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, adding $200 to the annual bill for a $200,000 home.

Of the approximately $690,000 increase over the 2003-04 budget, $332,000 comes from an increase in employee health insurance, as rates have increased by 18 percent.

The rest of the rise stems primarily from a $94,000 increase for new teachers – two new positions at Wilkins Elementary School, a half-time position at the Amherst Middle School, and a half-time reading teacher position that used to be funded by Title 1 – as well as an approximately $60,000 increase in technology.

If voters do not approve the proposed operating budget, as happened at the ballots last year, a default budget of $18.4 million would go into effect.

During the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, state Rep. Lee Slocum of Amherst spoke to a petition warrant article he helped spearhead that will ask voters if they want the ability to vote on the School Administrative Unit budget as a separate budget item.

Voters have not been able to do that in the past, but a new law passed this year would allow them to adopt the procedure.

The SAU budget funds the administration functions of the school district, including salaries and costs associated with the superintendent’s office.

Currently, a budget advisory committee and SAU 39’s three school boards – Amherst, Mont Vernon and Souhegan Cooperative – review the SAU budget. A public hearing is also held.

“We vote on everything else, why not vote on this as well,” Slocum said.

If adopted, the new budget procedure would go into effect for the 2005-06 budget, Slocum said.

School Board member Jim O’Mara asked Slocum to explain the particulars of how this would work at the polls, given that three school districts belong to SAU 39.

Slocum said he believed that each district would have to pass the article for the budget to be approved. If it didn’t pass “by a raw count of the number of votes,” it would go to a default budget, he said.

O’Mara asked the exact details of how such a system would work be provided to the School Board before deliberative session.

The School Board supports the concept of taxpayers having a say, but doesn’t want voters confused about the process, O’Mara said.

Deliberative session for the Amherst School District’s budget will take place Feb. 2 in the Souhegan High School auditorium at 7 p.m.

Lynn Tryba can be reached at 594-6402 or