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Amherst's proposed school budget would raise district taxes 4.9%

The owner of a $100,000 home in the Amherst School District would pay $97 more in school taxes next year if the district's proposed 2011-12 budget holds to form.

In discussing next year's spending plan, School Board members worked Tuesday with a 4.9 percent tax rate increase for 2011-12. That, combined with about $201,000 in cuts, would balance the budget under the working proposal that was outlined.

A combination of retirements and reduced need would allow the district to shave a few positions, Superintendent Laura Chabe said, including two teacher assistants, one teacher's aide, half a science position and half a custodial position.

Other cuts proposed by the district include trimming spending on supplies and combining the seventh-grade and eighth-grade modified sports teams.

"We all have to recognize that everything needs to be discussed," the superintendent said.

Some $800,000 in reserve funds also would be used to help offset a 10 percent decrease in state aid next year, which initially left the district facing a deficit surpassing $1.5 million.

Although next year's $47.29 million spending plan is tentatively balanced, board members would like to see the tax rate increase lowered, if possible.

David Stocking cited this year's projected $1.1 million surplus, along with a larger surplus in 2009-10, as reasons to consider lowering spending estimates.

Paul Steimle proposed that, if there indeed are surplus funds, spending freezes on some supply lines be lifted so that teachers could replenish some of the items they've done without over the past couple of years.

Board President William Blanford agreed, adding that any move be weighed against lowering taxpayer expense.

"We're not trying to control the number of paper towels, but at some point, this spending impacts kids," he said.

At the same time, future budgetary problems have to be considered, board members concurred. As things stand, Amherst will be $3.75 million short in 2012-13 and $6.04 million short in 2013-14, due to rising contractual and retirement costs as well as expiring temporary revenues.

To that end, board members discussed the possibility of providing busing to fewer students in the future. Amherst currently buses high school students within 1.5 miles of school, middle schools within a mile and all elementary schools.

But business administrator Melanie Conley said that savings could be had by adopting state requirements of three miles, two miles and one mile, respectively. Any such action would require voter approval and therefore couldn't be implemented by next year. The district has budgeted about $2.1 million for transportation in 2011-12.

The district has about a month to adopt a budget. During that time, Chabe and Conley have been asked to provide more details on possible surpluses this year and how those funds could be use in the future.