Amherst support staff, teachers settle on contracts

AMHERST – Two staff contracts – one for teachers and the other for support staff – will be on the ballot for the Amherst School District election in March.

Under their new five-year agreement with the school board, the approximately 70 employees of the elementary and the middle school who are part of the Amherst Support Staff Association will get two additional paid holidays and five paid snow days. They are to make up for the fact that the hourly workers aren’t paid for snow days.

The ASSA contract will cost the district about $50,000 in pay and benefits in its first year.

After many months of negotiations, teachers and the school board recently reached a four-year agreement that includes teacher concessions on retirement payouts and health

insurance. Retirement payouts had been the chief obstacle to settlement, and they will be gradually phased into a 401(k)-like plan.

The teachers’ pact will cost the district about $400,000 a year for increases to salaries and benefits.

At the Jan. 10 public hearing to review the annual meeting warrant, school board members explained the contracts and other proposed spending including a $26 million operating budget.

Paul Prescott talked about savings of $50,000 to $100,000 a year through special education pilot programs that keep the students in the district rather than send them to expensive out-of-district placements.

“The more students we have, the more money we will save,” he said, and there will be more oversight and higher quality education.

The programs also will allow the middle school to accept tuition students from other districts, making it “a win-win situation,” Prescott said.

Also on the warrant is $550,000 for work on the septic system at Clark School. Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Kuzsma explained they want to replace the building’s three failing septic systems with one large one, build a new pumping station and reroute the drainage into the town’s system.

And the middle school has a plumbing problem, and the district is asking for $310,000 to replace two-thirds of the system with lead-free faucets and fittings.

The final article is $50,000 to add to the district’s capital reserve fund for educating students with disabilities.

The hearing was very sparcely attended, and no one asked questions.

The tax impact of all the warrant articles, including the budget, would be $1.12 per thousand, or $336 on a house valued at $300,000.

The next step is the district’s Deliberative Session, when voters can amend warrant articles, on Feb. 7, and voting will take place on March 13.