Amherst School District’s $24.33M budget moves forward after quick hearing with no public comment

AMHERST – While officials and taxpayers alike strive to keep annual budget increases as low as they possibly can, the 20 or so residents at last week’s public hearing on the Amherst School District’s proposed warrant for fiscal 2015 got a look at a fairly uncommon bottom line on this proposed operating budget: It’s actually less than that of the current operating budget.

The proposed $24.33 million package, which represents a decrease of about $31,000 over the fiscal 2014 budget, was one of three articles brought before residents Jan. 15.

As a result, no one rose to question or comment on the budget, nor did the other two articles – the proposed appropriation of $332,000 to fund year two of the district’s two-year agreement with the Amherst Education Association and a $50,000 request to establish a capital reserve fund for educating students with disabilities – draw any comment.

The articles will be aired again at the district’s Deliberative Session, scheduled for 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 1, at Souhegan High School.

Voters will cast ballots for these and all other town and school articles, along with candidates for open board seats, on Tuesday, March 11.

This year two School Board seats are up for election, both of them three-year terms currently held by Amy Facey and Paul Prescott.

The Amherst School District governs the Clark and Wilkins elementary schools and Amherst Middle School.

The board’s streamlined presentation process and the lack of public comments kept the length of the hearing to just 39 minutes – six minutes shorter than the Souhegan Cooperative School District hearing that preceded it Jan. 15.

The budget and other proposals also have the blessing of the school district’s Ways and Means Committee, which voted unanimously to recommend the passage of all three.

Should the proposed budget be voted down, the district would revert to the default budget, which is set at $23.97 million, about $360,000 less than the proposed budget.

As for property tax impact, if the three articles are approved, taxes would rise 32 cents per $1,000 valuation, or about $105 more per year for a home assessed at $330,000.

The school board noted although the proposed operating budget is less than the current one, a decrease in revenue forces an 8 cents per $1,000 of valuation tax increase for the coming year. Passage of the Amherst Education Association agreement would account for an increase of 21 cents per $1,000 valuation, or just less than $70 for a $330,000 home.

School Board Chairwoman Peg Bennett noted that the teachers contract includes no cost of living raises for this year, only a step increase for teachers not at the top of the scale.

Teachers would receive a 1.5 percent salary increase in fiscal 2015, she added.

She said, and the Ways and Means committee agreed, that the agreement is fair for students, teachers and taxpayers alike.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashua