Belchertown Public Schools Superintendent Brian Cameron, far right, reviews the reductions in the Department’s fiscal year 2025 budget during the April 10 public hearing.
Reminder Publishing photo by Laura Mason

BELCHERTOWN — During the April 10 public hearing, Belchertown residents raised multiple concerns about the student impact of the reduced positions proposed in the School Committee’s fiscal year 2025 budget.

Belchertown Public Schools’ final FY25 requested budget to the town is $33.1 million, Superintendent Brian Cameron stated during a presentation at the meeting. He explained that this request was a $1.3 million reduction from a level-service budget, which would cost $34.4 million.

While the School Department initially asked for a level-service budget in December 2023, the requested increase was not realistic due to the town’s $1.3 million deficit, Cameron said. As a result, the requested budget includes multiple cuts to meet a lower percent increase.

One significant cut is the elimination of 17.5 staff positions, Cameron said. Within the impacted positions, two teachers, a paraprofessional and a custodian will be cut from Belchertown High School while six teachers will be cut and one reduced at Jabish Brook Middle School. One teacher each will be cut from Chestnut Hill Community School and Swift River Elementary School. Lastly, a clerk from the central office will be cut in addition to 4.5 paraprofessionals at Cold Spring School, according to Cameron’s presentation.

Although services’ availability will be impacted, none will be cut completely, Cameron emphasized.

Additionally, the final budget request includes tentative totals for unemployment costs. Other impacts to the schools include elevated class sizes at the middle and high school, higher possibilities of scheduling conflicts for high school classes and increased fees, he said.

Cameron ended his presentation by highlighting several areas of need across the school, such as instructional resources, fire safety and the health curriculum.

“We still have a lot of needs and I don’t want to forget that,” he said.

During the meeting’s public comment period, teachers, students and residents stepped forward to speak out about the reductions within the requested FY25 budget. While some community members acknowledged the challenging fiscal situation for the town and department, many urged the School Committee to reconsider the budget’s reductions.

Swift River Elementary physical education teacher Casey Kibbe argued that the reduction of physical education teachers, three in total across three schools, would negatively impact the School Department’s ability to meet its strategic initiatives. She referenced goal five, which aims to prepare students “to foster internal and external confidence, appropriately manage stress and anxiety, and increase feelings of empowerment and self-advocacy.”

Kibbe explained that her classes teach students how to appreciate their bodies and be more confident. As a result, cutting student’s physical education time from 90 minutes to 45 minutes a week was working against the department’s fifth goal, she stated. Furthermore, Kibbe argued that 45 minutes a week is below the national recommendations for student’s exercise.

Belchertown Band Boosters President Sarah Hartmann raised a similar point. While Hartmann attended the hearing to discuss the reduced general music position at Jabish Brook, she stated that she was “floored” to learn during Cameron’s presentation that six core teachers at Jabish Brook were being reduced.

Likewise, other residents questioned why so many teachers were cut and whether any administrative positions were considered for reduction as well.

Due to the nature of a public comment period, School Committee members were unable to respond to resident’s questions, School Committee Chair Heidi Gutekenst explained. However, she stated that members were taking note of residents’ questions and would respond at the next meeting.

After public comment, Gutekenst encouraged residents to continue to email their questions and concerns to School Committee members before the committee votes on the budget during its April 23 meeting. To give committee members the greatest chance of reviewing the messages, she stated that residents should email before the morning of the meeting.

Gutekenst also highlighted that residents can rewatch the April 10 budget hearing on Belchertown Community TV, which is available at belchertown.vids.io.