AMHERST — Art and technology teachers at the city’s three elementary schools, whose work weeks were reduced this school year, are seeing their positions restored to full-time in a $25.53 million school spending plan for fiscal year 2023.
The Amherst school board voted 4-0 on Tuesday, in the absence of member Irv Rhodes, to approve an elementary school budget of $1.14 million, 4.7% more than the 24-year budget. .39 million this year.
In doing so, however, the committee is asking the city for $25.11 million, which is $52,800 more than the $25.05 million budget for level services outlined by Superintendent Michael Morris and Douglas Slaughter, the the school’s chief financial officer, who complied with the direction of the finance committee to maintain a 2.7% increase.
The budget will also depend on $419,931 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds from the federal CARES Act, which is $26,400 more than Morris and Slaughter proposed to use in the budget. .
For members of the school committee, however, the restorations were essential, after hearing and reading feedback from parents, students and teachers on the negative impact caused by the reduction in art and technology education. to four days a week at Crocker Farm, Wildwood and Fort River schools, and reduce the integration of these subjects into the wider curriculum.
“It’s a no-brainer to add these positions,” said committee member Jennifer Shiao. “That’s a relatively small amount of money for a really big impact.”
Committee member Ben Herrington said he was not comfortable using only ESSER funds, likening it to adding a ladder to a cliff, due to its temporary nature. But Herrington also worried about what would happen if the budget was not approved by the city council.
“I’m more in favor of asking the city for more money to fund our arts and technology than shore it up with temporary money,” Herrington said.
A compromise that committee members could accept came from member Peter Demling, who suggested that two-thirds of the additional expenditure needed should come from the city and the rest from ESSER.
Still, Demling said he was uncomfortable with a strategy of not having a long-term plan for arts and technology.
“It really worries me what’s going to happen in a few years, without any plans,” Demling said,
Committee chair Allison McDonald also said she fears a future school committee meeting where more cuts will have to be made when the ESSER money runs out.
The budget then goes to City Manager Paul Bockelman so that it can be rolled into the city budget. Amherst’s full budget, including government, school, and library operations, must be passed by the city council.
Although there were also suggestions to add a psychologist and other stakeholders due to the impacts of the pandemic on children, committee members chose to focus on arts and technology.
“Restoring these full-time special teachers will allow art and technology teachers in every school to build the much-needed trust and relationship with our children that they deserve,” said mother Annaliese Kittrell.
Kittrell also said art helps build confidence in children like her daughter, Adela, 7. Adela addressed the school committee saying that art and technology are important to her because it “helps me be myself”.
Nicole Singer, an art teacher at Fort River, said teachers want to provide greater access to art and technology and create interdisciplinary and project-based learning, which can only be done if teachers have more time for a multifaceted, high-quality education.
Several written comments also came from advocates of art and technology studies.
“It’s not to say that our students desperately need consistency and support for the integration of arts and technology,” wrote Laura Melbin, parent of a sixth-grade student at Wildwood. “We have already lost some fabulous educators to budget cuts.”
“Art is such an important way for children to communicate,” wrote Allegra Clark, who will have kindergarten in Wildwood in the fall. “And in the trauma of the past two years, art offers an important outlet for healing.”