Construction could stretch Amherst Schools’ financial health

By Jason Hawk -

Five years free of financial hardship are forecasted for the Amherst Schools, assuming voters pass an operating levy renewal next year, according to a report sent this week to the state.

That health can be extended with the construction of a new school, treasurer Barbara Donohue told the board of education Monday.

Issue 21, which appears on the fall ballot, would extend the bond issue used to build Amherst Junior High out another 12 years. If it passes, a new Powers Elementary School will be built on South Lake Street where Harris Elementary stands today.

While no vote has been cast, it’s highly likely that the existing Powers building along with the former Shupe Elementary School would be demolished, which Donohue said would create “a good savings” to annual maintenance and utility costs.

Amherst Schools superintendent Steven Sayers said additional savings from more efficient heating, cooling, power, and staff-sharing would further extend “a period of stability” for the district.

He’s said Amherst stands to save $500,000 per year just by operating four buildings instead of five. That number hasn’t been factored into the five-year financial forecast.

“We’ve been relatively conservative,” Sayers said of the school system’s predictions.

Donohue also credited Amherst Teacher Association members with helping to control costs, notably through insurance concessions.

About 55 percent of the district’s costs are tied up in salaries and another 20 percent in benefits — which may sound high, but some districts run as high as 85 or 90 percent between the two.

Sayers said staff has helped cut back on day-to-day costs too, whether it’s making bus routes as efficient as possible or cutting back on paper use.

“It’s everybody doing their little part,” he said. “This is a collective mindset that we have across the district and our staff plays a big, big role.”

School board member Ron Yacobozzi said district workers will never reach a magic moment when they can stop striving to save money. There’s no room for complacency.

“It has to be done every time we spend money, making sure it’s spent the right way,” he said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk