My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

School Reorganization Update

Given the high rate of community interest in the potential school reorganization plans, I am describing the latest numbers ran by the schools in terms of the current option for next year (but this model does NOT include the projected cuts that would have to occur) as well as the three other plans (pair CF/FR, MM/WW; close MM; CF/FR/MM K to 4, WW 5-6). The group will be meeting tomorrow night to discuss these options (this group includes all the principals, plus teachers and parents from each of the schools, and administrators), and I'll blog more after that meeting. But for now, here are the numbers:

Current FY10 projection without cuts
Crocker (16) 268 kids
K (3) 15.7
1 (3) 15.3
2 (2) 15.0
3 (2) 17.5
4 (2) 18.0
5 (2) 21.5
6 (2) 15.5

Fort River (23) 441 kids
K (3) 19.0
1 (3) 17.0
2 (3) 18.3
3 (3) 21.3
4 (3) 20.3
5 (4) 18.8
6 (4) 19.5

Mark's Meadow (9) 180
K (1) 24.0
1 (1) 23.0
2 (2) 17.0
3 (1) 21.0
4 (1) 19.0
5 (1) 25.0
6 (2 ) 17.0

Wildwood (22) 413 kids
K (3) 19.3
1 (3) 17.3
2 (4) 17.3
3 (3) 21.3
4 (3)18.3
5 (3) 19.7
6 (3) 18.7

70 classrooms

Here's the key data: we don't know the cuts/cost savings with this configuration (to be determined soon, but there would be cuts); there is a pretty big range of class sizes; the schools look VERY different in terms of equity (range of kids on free/reduced lunch is from 22% in Wildwood to 54% in Crocker); and there are a number of educational pros and cons (least distruptive to families -- no one has 2 kids in 2 schools; minimizes transitions, meaning that staff know kids and families for up to 7 years; maximizes cross-age activities; maintains the idea of "neighborhood" schools; maintains inequities in class sizes, with some large classes at MM and some small classes at CF; perhaps most importantly, it is unclear what cuts will look like.

Here's what closing Marks Meadow would look like:

Crocker (16) 347 kids
K (3) 20.7
1 (2) 21.5
2 (2) 20.9
3 (2) 23.0
4 (2) 21.4
5 (3) 22.4
6 (2) 22.1

Fort River (22) 478 kids
K (3) 20.6
1 (3) 21.5
2 (3) 20.9
3 (3) 23.0
4 (3) 21.4
5 (3) 22.4
6 (4) 22.1

Wildwood (22) 477 kids
K (3) 20.6
1 (3) 21.5
2 (4) 20.9
3 (3) 23.0
4 (3) 21.4
5 (3) 22.4
6 (3) 22.1

60 classrooms (total)

Here's the key data: requires redistricting all schools (can't just divide MM kids/families into three schools, so other kids/families would have to be moved); this plan would save 10 teacher salaries PLUS the salaries of an administrative team (principal, office staff, nurse, etc.) which would total $825,000; this plan would leave us with an average class size of 20.6 to 21.5 in K to 2, and 21.4 to 23.0 in 3 to 6 (slightly larger than the current projection, but of course that projection doesn't include ANY cuts); this plan has many of the same advantages of our current K to 6 system (least distruptive to families -- no one has 2 kids in 2 schools; minimizes transitions, meaning that staff know kids and families for up to 7 years; maximizes cross-age activities; maintains the idea of "neighborhood" schools); this plan could improve equity in the schools by including some redistricting; this plan includes more equitable class sizes; this plan is logistically hard (it redistricting all schools); this plan has larger average class sizes, and more kids per school; this plan has an extra burden on MM families; closing a school is traumatic; if we leave the UMass building, we won't be able to get it back later.

Here's what the pairing plan (K to 2, 3 to 6 schools: CF/FR, MM/WW) would look like:

Crocker (14) 286 kids
K (5) 20.8
1 (5) 19.4
2 (4) 21.3

Fort River (21) 423 kids
3 (5) 19.8
4 (5) 19.4
5 (6) 19.7
6 (5) 21.8

Mark's Meadow (13) 260
K (4) 20.5
1 (4) 18.8
2 (5) 20.6

Wildwood (16) 333 kids
3 (4) 21.3
4 (4) 18.5
5 (4) 21
6 (4) 22.5

64 classrooms total

Here's the key information: this plan assumes can find another classroom at MM (perhaps by moving a "special" to auditorium) OR could have only K-1 at MM and 2-6 at WW; this plan would save 6 teacher salaries (at an estimated savings of $324,000); this plan would lead to class sizes of (K-2) 18.8 - 21.3 and (3-6) 18.5 - 22.5; this plan would have a more equitable distribution of kids on free/reduced lunch (26% in the MM-WW schools, 37% in the CF-FR schools); this plan could have some educational benefits (age-appropriate focus in each schools; maximizes opportunities for grade-level collaboration by teachers; maximizes opportunities for special grouping of kids based on ELL or special needs); this plan creates more equitable and smaller class sizes; this plan is easily understandable in terms of redistricting (e.g., families already know which district they are in); this plan creates a new configuration of neighborhood schools -- North and South; this plan creates one additional transition, with a large number of peers going together; this plan has the staff knowing kids, families for fewer years per school; this plan limits cross-age activities; it is possible that this plan would lead to staggered start times given bus schedules, and it is not clear how the bus schedules would work (e.g., would kids stay on one bus for two drop-offs at different schools, or would two buses go through each neighborhood).

Here's what the 3 K-4s, 1 5-6 (in Wildwood) plan:

Crocker (17) 312 kids
K (4) 18.6
1 (4) 17.2
2 (3) 16.7
3 (3) 20.4
4 (3) 19.0

Fort River (21) 384 kids
K (4) 18.6
1 (4) 17.2
2 (5) 16.7
3 (4) 20.4
4 (4) 19.0

Mark's Meadow (11) 201
K (2) 18.6
1 (2) 17.2
2 (3) 16.7
3 (2) 20.4
4 (2) 19.0

Wildwood (18) 401 kids
5 (9) 22.4
6 (9) 22.1

67 classrooms total

Here's the key information about this plan: it involves redistricting all schools (and assumes distributing WW K-4 classes evenly across other three schools); this plan saves 3 teacher salaries ($162,000 -- ALTHOUGH I DO NOT THINK THESE NUMBERS WERE RAN CORRECTLY -- IF YOU MAINTAIN SAME CLASS SIZES THAT WE HAVE IN THE PAIRING MODEL, YOU ACTUALLY SAVE AT LEAST FOUR TEACHERS, POSSIBLY MORE); this plan creates class sizes in (K-4) 16.7 - 20.4 and (5-6) 22.1 - 22.4; this plan could target range through redistricting; this plan has complete equity 5-6; this plan creates age-appropriate focus; this plan creates 5/6 and 7/8 middle school complex; for Amherst kids; this plan creates more opportunities for grade-level collaboration by teachers and more opportunities for special grouping of kids by ELL/special education; this plan creates more equitable class sizes (and very nice sizes for K-4); this plan could improve equity through redistricting; this plan requires redistricting all schools; this plan creates one additional transition; this plan involves the staff knowing kids/families for fewer years; this plan limits cross-age activities; this plan creates a particular burden on WW families; it is possible that this plan would lead to staggered start times given issues in busing.

OK, so there are the big options ... in looking at the choices, it seems pretty clear to me that closing Marks Meadow is the best option -- it would save a lot of money at a time in which money is in short supply, and thus preserve the educational experience for ALL kids. Although I understand that closing a school is hard, the Marks Meadow kids could move together (or largely together) to a new school (likely Wildwood?), and other kids would also have to move as part of the redistricting (and my own kids, who now go to Fort River, would potentially move to another school). It may be possible for us to scrape by next year with larger classes, more fees (I hear rumor of fees for taking the BUS), elimination of orchestra/band, etc., but I just don't think that is the answer. In fact, if we can find $100,000 in the budget, we can add (based on a world language grant) either Chinese or Spanish to ALL the elementary schools, so our kids would have exposure to another language (like the Wildwood kids ONLY now have) from K to 6. That seems like a great plus that would benefit all kids.

Stay tuned to see how the discussion goes tomorrow night ... I'll certainly keep you posted.


Alison Donta-Venman said...

Catherine, thanks for taking the data to a larger audience. When I got the spreadsheet I was surprised by a few things:
--the originally-proposed school pairing model apparently has a lot more kids in MM than it currently houses...and we have been hearing for years that MM is overcrowded. So that doesn't make sense to me, especially if that is going to be accomplished by moving a special into the auditorium.
--why was it stated, "if we move out of the building, we cannot get it back" with respect to MM? Has UMass officially stated that?
--the cost closing for MM does not appear to include the savings for custodial staff, building maintenance, and/or heating/lighting the building. Do the schools pay for all that or does UMass? If the schools do, those savings should be added to the total savings for this model.
--I was surprised at how little money would be saved by moving the 5/6 to WW...given the relatively small savings for a disruption of so many kids, I hope this option will be off the table.
--I was similarly surprised by the fact that the savings for the school pairing model is less than the originally-stated budget shortfall of at least $600K. If that model would not solve the budget problem, why was it put forward as THE solution originally?
--What other cuts would be needed in either the pairing model or the 5/6 to WW model to reach the necessary cost savings?

Overall, with seeing only the data we have been given, I would have to agree with you, Catherine, that closing MM seems to be the most rational solution. I am anxiously awaiting the information on what our current configuration of schools would look like (on paper)once the necessary cuts have been made. The whole question of elementary school regionalization has, in my mind, complicated things so I really want to see what that model will look like.

Anonymous said...

Alison -- thanks for the quick response to my blog -- here are the answers to your questions:

1. I agree that the pairing model is very tricky because we just don't have the space at MM for that many kids (and going K to 1 at that school seems crazy).

2. U Mass will get the building back if we leave it -- so we couldn't get it back. However, enrollment projections show a flat line (even some decreasing) AND those numbers don't take into account the new Chinese Charter School (the projections were done before that school opened) -- we are losing about 12 kids a year now, and when they are fully up to 7 grades, that will likely be a loss of 80 to 100 kids each year from Amherst. Again, I don't think the numbers are such that we need MM now or in the foreseeable future (remembering that moving 6th graders to the MS would help if/when numbers got too big).

3. The cost savings are rough -- and yes, all costs associated with closing a school as well as the other options should get more accurate if/when we pursue one of these options in a real way.

4. The numbers on the 5/6 pairing model that were presented are WRONG -- you save exactly the same number as in the pairing option. So, yes, I think this still needs to be on the table! Updated (more accurate) numbers will be given at the next SC meeting.

5. I agree that the pairing option doesn't give us the cost savings we need. NOR does the three K-4s, one 5-6 frankly. Maybe the cuts would be better than if we keep four K to 6s, but given projected budget gaps in the future, this is still a short-term solution (and do we want to pair and then have to close MM in a year or so, making huge transitions for many kids once again?).

6. The principals and superintendents are running the numbers now on what cuts would have to be made in our current system ... those will be presented, I believe, at the February 10th SC meeting. And yes, ultimately we will need to compare what our four schools will look like in the face of those cuts to what we could save with one of the three options.

Anonymous said...

Once again, thanks Catherine for your great blog and the information it provides.

Just two quickies:

1) did you include the two mobile class rooms in the number of class rooms resulting from closing MM?

2) Unless there is an agreement btwn the Amherst school system and UMass that we get to use MM forever, then I think the argument of "not getting it back" is weak. Without this kind of agreement UMass potentially could ask for the building back in 10 years (or whatever). More dorms anyone?


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie -- sorry to take so long to get back to you ... but the total number of classrooms we have available for next year in all four schools is 72 (that includes 16 in CF, 23 in FR, 22 in WW, and 9 in MM PLUS the two portables). The projections for next year are that we need 70 classrooms, but if we close MM, we would actually need only 60 or 61 (depending on class size). And we have 63, IF you move the two portables at MM to Crocker Farm. I'm going to do a longer blog entry on this as well.

Anonymous said...

Catherine: Just to set the record straight there are 12 classrooms available at Mark's Meadow. 10 original classrooms and 2 portables. Capacity for 240 students assuming 20 per class. Still a small school by national standards. Currently there are 190 students at MM give or take a few students who have just joined MM school or left because a parent has completed their graduate studies at UMass. And there is no way of knowing until August how many children will be moving into North Village (graduate housing) and subsequently how many students will move into the MM District. Last year MM sent 7 Kindergarten students to FR most of which opted back to MM for the 2008-2009 school year. MM also educates between 25 to 30 students each year from other schools in the district, who choose MM for its small school learning system. Please correct your assumptions for redistricting or proposals for closing MM.