Amherst College committed to partnership with schools, though talks ongoing

Amherst College quad.

Amherst College quad. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-13-2024 8:03 PM

AMHERST — Despite a number of appeals and meetings seeking financial support from Amherst College for the Amherst and regional public schools, both through official and unofficial channels, no arrangement has yet been reached.

Even so, both college and municipal officials say that a way forward is possible to ensure that needs are being met, with the current concern that the 6% increase in the fiscal year 2025 assessment for the Amherst-Pelham Regional schools for the four member towns is insufficient to maintain current services.

In the case of Amherst, the town’s assessment still has to rise by an additional $355,440 to get to an $18.8 million total that will go toward a $35.27 million budget. But that budget for the middle and high schools is short of meeting level services, with some cuts anticipated, though no specific positions have been announced.

“We recognize that the Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools are facing multiple complex challenges, and we are committed to being an effective strategic partner to the district,” Amherst College spokeswoman Caroline Hanna said.

Hanna points to the work being done by President Michael A. Elliott, who has been willing to have conversations with folks several times, such as during a rally led by the Amherst Pelham Education Association earlier this year that took protesters to the college.

“President Elliott and other leaders at Amherst College have met multiple times over the past 18 months with parents, union rep resentatives, elected officials, Sunrise Amherst, town staff, and other school administrators, all of whom have offered a variety of ideas about how to solve the issues,” Hanna said.

“Those conversations have explored potential partnerships and offers of meaningful financial support by the college. Unfortunately, as a result of administrative transitions within the district, those discussions have not yet yielded a plan that all parties agree on, despite everyone’s best intentions.”

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he understands part of the complication is funding for the regional schools, where Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelham also pay assessments for their secondary students, and the elementary school budget, which is keeping to the Town Council’s 4% financial guideline.

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“We will continue to pursue a reasonable agreement with the college,” Bockelman said.

The town manager said he believes that movement will occur when E. Xiomara Herman begins her tenure as superintendent on July 1.

The Regional School Committee has put together a subcommittee to meet with the college.

Smith College announced in mid-May that it would provide $500,000 to Northampton’s schools, spread over the next three years.

“Amherst College remains steadfastly committed to collaborating with ARPS to create a meaningful partnership that will help, we hope, address some of the district’s challenges, enhance the educational experience for all students, and support teachers in delivering high-quality education,” Hanna said.

“We very much look forward to collaborating with Dr. Herman when she arrives to support her priorities and the development of a strategic plan for the future.”