November 23, 2014

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Levy’s passage saves Amherst Schools from cuts in services

AMHERST — Amherst Schools Superintendent Steve Sayers waited expectantly Tuesday night as the vote see-sawed back and forth.

Russell Marty, front left, special education teacher at Marion L. Steele High School, and Mark Skladan, choir director at the high school, look over early election results for Amherst Schools Issue 28 at the school library on Tuesday. In second row from left, is Amherst Junior High Prinicpal Ryan Coleman, Amherst Junior High teacher Lisa Schenk and volunteers Tammy and Kevin Lacey of Amherst. (CT photo by Steve Manheim.)

Finally, the results tipped in the district’s favor with 6,163 votes in favor, or 52 percent, to 5,673 votes against, or 48 percent, according to unofficial election results. The 4.9-mill operating levy will raise $2.8 million annually for the school district.

The passage wasn’t a foregone conclusion, and as late as 11:30 p.m., with 42 percent of the vote counted, the issue was being defeated. School officials sought the increase after a similar levy asking homeowners of a $100,000 home to pay $25.84 per month was defeated last year.

This year’s levy, Issue 28, asked homeowners to pay $12.50 a month for a period of five years. The money raised will be used for the district’s operating budget, cost of textbooks, teachers and school programs.

After $4 million in state funding cuts, the district reduced its operating budget by $4.5 million, cutting 30 staff members. Sayers had said the district would have had to make $1.5 million more in cuts, including increasing extracurricular and instruction fees and reducing transportation services, if the levy failed.

The passage of the levy will allow the district to maintain its operations, Sayers said.

“This levy was about protecting the current level of programs and services,” he said, adding that the money raised would not be used for new programs.

The school district has been campaigning since August to get voters to pass the levy, and Sayers credited volunteers for their hard work on the campaign. He also thanked those who went out to the polls.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “The first thing I’d like to do is thank our voters and community for their support. I also wanted to thank our staff. We’ve had an incredible amount of volunteers and staff that spent a tremendous amount of time with this campaign.”

Sayers said it is the job of the school district to notify the community of “what’s at stake,” but the community must decide how it wants its school district to operate. He said he understood why the votes were so close.

“I think any new tax issue is going to be a battle, there’s no question about that,” he said. “We’re in tough economic times.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.