A Message from the Amherst School Board
January and February normally mark the finalization of the budget process, presenting it to the public and getting it ready for the ballot in March. After our public hearing presentation in mid-January, we are making two changes – one directed by the school board and one guided by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Voting Day Moved to Tuesday, June 8, 2021
First, you can postpone putting on your voting boots. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Chris Sununu signed Emergency Order 83 on January 22 that allowed towns to delay deliberative sessions and voting day until later this spring. Because of this, Amherst School Board’s annual deliberative session is scheduled for Tuesday, May 4, and voting day is Tuesday, June 8.
This decision was part of a community-wide initiative to postpone these important sessions for the town of Amherst, Amherst School District, Souhegan Cooperative School District, and Mont Vernon town and schools. By moving them back into spring, we will hopefully see a further reduction of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and an increase in the number of residents who are vaccinated. And we will now have options to move these events outside or to a different location in order to increase safety for all voters.
Bond for New Elementary School Construction and AMS Renovation Postponed to the 2022 Ballot
Next, when you go to the polls in June, you will notice a major change to the ballot based on our public hearing presentation. During the hearing, on January 13, we presented a proposal for a bond article asking for approximately $97 million to construct two major school projects – a new Clark-Wilkins Elementary that would span pre-K through fifth grade ($66 million) and a complete overhaul of Amherst Middle School for grades six through eight ($31 million).
These two projects were the result of nearly three years of work by the Joint Facilities Advisory Committee (JFAC). Made up of myriad community members, board members, and administration, the committee spent countless hours researching the history of our buildings, the current issues we face, and what our future needs are going to be. With their research complete and presented to the board, we asked for and you approved $150,000 on the 2020 ballot to hire an architectural firm to come up with solutions (with projected costs) for these schools. These two building projects are the results of this cumulative work.
After listening to presentations by JFAC in the fall of 2020, these two school projects were approved by the school board for the 2021 ballot. Over the following months, the board worked with JFAC to get ready for public hearing, deliberative, and voting day.
In the end, however, the board decided to delay presenting this article to voters in 2020. There are several reasons for the delay from 2021 to 2022, a decision approved by the board at our January 19 meeting. Keep in mind that this decision was not unanimous, representing the depth of our discussion and the difficulty of the decision we are making. Ultimately, our vote centered on these major items:
- With the economic impact of COVID-19, the board didn’t feel this was the year for a major, long-term construction project. We know families in town may be facing economic uncertainty and we did not want this project to be an unnecessary burden during these times.
- Engaging voters. At the time the decision was made, there were less than two months until election day. With limited options of reaching people face-to-face, we were not confident we could engage and properly inform every voter during that time period.
- COVID-19 restrictions. The annual deliberative session was going to feature major changes, further limiting our options to reach voters and provide information needed to make such a weighty decision.
These are just a few of the many reasons that led to the delay of this bond. But please do not be misled – Amherst School Board fully supports these construction projects and the plan is to place them on the 2022 ballot. We will partner with JFAC and use the next 13 months to fully engage voters by running a first-class project website, producing collateral to explain the project and the tax impact, and meeting face-to-face with individual and groups across the town. We support this project fully, but next year, not this year.
Elizabeth Kuzsma, Chair
Tom Gauthier, Vice Chair