Amherst finance committee approves city manager’s $90 million spending plan

AMHERST — Amherst’s finance committee approves the city manager’s proposed budget of $89.9 million for fiscal year 2023, leaving in limbo additional funds sought by the Amherst school board to reinstate teachers in arts and technology from elementary schools to full-time positions.

Last week, the committee voted 5-0, joined by its three resident members, to recommend City Manager Paul Bockelman’s spending plan to the full city council, even though that plan excludes $52,800 from the city’s budget. ‘elementary School.

The $25.53 million budget request approved in March by the Amherst school board exceeds the guidelines set by the finance committee, but was made in such a way that, in combination with $26,400 from the Federal CARES Act emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools, arts, and technology teachers will return to full-time, rather than staying at 80 percent.

Restoring art and technology instruction to five days a week at Crocker Farm, Wildwood and Fort River schools ensures these subjects are better integrated into the wider curriculum, school board and teachers say and staff who advocated it.

At least nine of the city council’s 13 members, by a two-thirds majority, could choose to override the chief executive’s recommendation and back increased school spending.

But the advisers who sit on the finance committee are not advocating that.

Council chairwoman Lynn Griesemer said the school board and school officials must decide how to spend the money on the schools, but she argues that if it’s a priority, the money can be found elsewhere. in the school budget.

“We gave them guidelines, and they came back with something above the guidelines,” Griesemer said. “It sets a precedent that in the years of the council, which are short, we have not seen. If we start doing it now, there is no end.

In a tight budget world that could come in years to come, District 1 Councilwoman Cathy Schoen said she couldn’t afford the extra expense. “Exceeding the amount right now doesn’t make sense to me,” Schoen said.

Schoen said she strongly supports having full-time arts and technology, but schools could do it without the extra money.

Resident member Matt Holloway said $54,000 is a surprisingly uncontroversial amount and could be found in the school budget. “That number to me, doesn’t indicate a big structural problem to me,” Holloway said.

“I don’t think this is an area where we should overrule the city manager’s recommendation,” Holloway said.

Resident Member Bob Hegner said he was confident Superintendent Michael Morris would come up with a plan. “I think the superintendent can find the funds in the city manager’s budget,” Hegner said.

Resident member Bernie Kubiak also said the money would have to be found in the school budget and the finance committee could take a wait-and-see approach. “I appreciate the advocacy some people have shown,” Kubiak said.

District 3 Councilwoman Dorothy Pam spoke out in favor of the extra money, despite not being on the finance committee, and suggested the school committee’s request was reasonable. “I don’t think you empower an out-of-control school committee,” Pam said.

Pam said the finance committee should make a strong statement in support of educators. “I think the budget should include five days of funding for art and technology,” Pam said.

District 1 Councilwoman Michele Miller wondered if the debate over the extra money being demanded was partly a power struggle that isn’t talked about publicly, and if there was an elephant in the room, or a underlying problem, which manifests the controversy.

“The request, to me, has more symbolism than anything else,” Miller said.

Griesemer pointed to discussions of the Budget Coordinating Group, which brings together the city, schools and library to discuss budget issues. At that time, it was agreed that an additional $300,000 would be used to start the Equity, Safety and Service Community Responder Program, although this would be new spending on the side of the city which would not be carried out in the same way for the schools and the library.

But Griesemer said CRESS, as an alternative to the police, will benefit the whole community, including schools and children.

“For me, those are the guidelines and that’s where we are,” Griesemer said. “If they want to fight well, I’m ready.”

Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]