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.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thoughts on School Spending

One of the issues that has been raised over the last few weeks on my blog is the appropriate balance between size of school, quality of learning, and cost effectiveness. As a School Committee member, and as a parent of three kids, and as a tax payer, I care a lot about what goes on in the schools and how we get the "biggest bang for our buck." That's one of the reasons I like to look at data ... if we are choosing to spend a lot of money on a given program, we should make sure that we are getting benefits out of that program in terms of educational outcomes (and yes, I'd like to see measurable outcomes, not just anecdotal reports regarding people's beliefs about that program). That's one of the reasons I've pushed so hard on School Committee for actual data that demonstrates the effectiveness (or perhaps ineffectiveness) of what we are doing.

In service of that goal, I ran some numbers this weeked on spending at each of the four elementary schools, based on the 2007-2008 budget as a function of the number of students at each school (why did I use that budget, instead of the current budget is a good question -- more on that later in this entry). Because the schools are really different in terms of the percentage of kids with special needs and the percentage of English Language Learners, I didn't include any of the costs associated with Special Education OR Bilingual Teaching. But I added up all of the costs for all of the other budgets in each of the following categories: art, music, PE, reading instruction, teachers, computers, supplies, library, guidance, psychology, custodial, and adminstative. Then, I divided by the number of kids in each school that year to get a sense of what are per pupil costs are (again, ignoring special ed and bilingual teaching). Here is the data:

Fort River: $5,105 (with 478 students)
Wildwood: $5,495 (with 418 students)
Marks Meadow: $6,302 (with 185 students)
Crocker Farm: $7,171 (with 255 students)

These numbers seem very striking to me ... because they mean that the per-pupil expenditure varies by basically $2,000 as a function of school. And I don't think this is fair (OK, maybe I'm biased -- my kids go to Fort River). Now, why are these expenses so different? One issue seems clearly the size of the school -- our two largest schools are the two cheapest per student, and that makes a lot of sense (e.g., the cost for music instruction and library is pretty similar at all four schools, and yet FR has more than twice as many kids as MM). I've made this point on this blog before (small schools are inherently cost-ineffective, although they can and do have many other special qualities). Another issue that seems clearly to influence the amount spent per student is the income level of parents at that school -- the school with the most kids on free/reduced lunch BY FAR is Crocker Farm. In turn, it seems likely to me that those kids may need more help (including smaller classes, more reading instruction, more school supplies, etc.) than those at many of the other schools. Again, solving the issue of the massive inequity in our schools in terms of income might well lead to more equitable per pupil spending at our schools.

In addition to looking at numbers in terms of costs per pupil, I also looked at class sizes per school (another way of calculating equity). These numbers also look very different by school (some of these have been reported in earlier posts, but I'm repeating them here for ease of comparison). Fort River has the largest class size average (19.7), with a range of 17 to 25. Wildwood has the next largest class size average (19.3), with a range of 17 to 22. Marks Meadow has the third largest class size average (19.1), with a range of 16 to 25. And Crocker Farm has the smallest class size average (17.7), with a range of 15 to 22. These massive variations in class size (again, from 15 to 25 across the four schools and seven grades) would be much easier to even out with either of the pairing plans OR three schools (simply because more classrooms at a given grade level in a given school lets you even out the numbers better). This is frankly why all three of the plans now being discussed (closing MM, pairing CF/FR and MM/WW, creating three K to 4 schools and a 5/6 school) achieve SOME cost savings (about 7 classrooms, or $350,000).

I also want to emphasize the importance of taking a long-term look at the budget situation, and not simply making choices that will only temporarily solve a problem. For example, in 2007 and 2008, Town Meeting spent $300,000 (because it was a capital expense) buying two portables for Marks Meadow. That is a lot of money ... and obviously it was done to be able to provide more flexibility to Marks Meadow so that kids at that school didn't end up with super-large classes, required . However, if you look at the enrollment projections for MM for next year (180 students), we only need 9 classrooms (and there are 10 classrooms in MM, plus the two portables, which apparently we do not even need). This is why we need to focus on what the enrollment projections are -- so that we don't make expensive decisions (like buying two portables!) that really don't help us manage enrollments in a cost-effective way.

So, what are these projections? For next year, we project 1309 kids in k to 6. This changes slightly (1300 in 2010, 1288 in 2011, 1307 in 2012, and 1359 in 2013). So, we could have as many as 50 extra kids in our schools (over next year's projections) in four years. However, I'd say two factors make me think this is not very likely (this is my opinion, just to be clear).

1. These projections were developed PRIOR to the start of the Chinese Charter School, which is now enrolling about 10 Amherst kids per year (so, it is pretty likely that we might be high by as many as 70 kids).

2. Both U Mass and Amherst College now have virtual hiring freezes, as they attempt to solve budget crises they are facing. In turn, this means they won't be hiring as many young professors/staff/graduate students as they expected (and these people are the most likely to have kids who attend our schools).

So, what's my conclusion? It seems to me (again, this is an opinion here) that we could easily fit our projected enrollments into three buildings for the next five years (and maybe longer). Again, there might well be reasons why some parents/teachers would want to keep four schools open, but in terms of the "will our kids fit" and "will class sizes be massive" questions, the answers to me seem clear ("yes" to the first, "no" to the second).

Now back to my earlier point about why I ran the numbers using the 2007-2008 budget, and not the current 2008-2009 budget. The reason is that the School Committee apparently asked (this was before I was on the SC) for a more stream-lined version of the budget, which is what we now receive/review. This means that expenditure by school isn't reported ... which I think is a problem. I've therefore asked that we return to at least providing the option of a full budget (including line by line items by school) to those School Committee members who would like to see this level of information. I also think it would be important to calculate these by schools numbers each year, and over time, so that we can make sure that the kids at the different schools are having as equitable an experience as possible.

28 comments:

Neil said...

Students enrolled by grade by school for the last 10 years plus a projection going forward 5 more might be helpful for long term planning. Cost is driving the evaluation process but planning should too. I don't have a sense of how far out one would plan; 5? 10?

If demand is going to exceed current capacity in three elementary schools in the next five years then being able to return to four schools or planning for the growth of the three should be taken into account.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Good point, Neil! I would also like to see some long-term thought put into this decision. It is my understanding that both Wildwood and Fort River are scheduled for renovations. So, if the short-term projection is for a lower enrollment but the long-term projection is for a later increase in enrollments, one idea might be to add expansions on to both Fort River and Wildwood (if we do move to a three school model). Plus, we do have those portables which could be moved to another school in town.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the Amherst Public Schools make certain the students enrolled live in Amherst.......I hear stories about students at the elementary and secondary levels that attend our schools without living here or through school choice. Many districts require a copy of an electric bill, lease, purchase and sale agreement and more upon the registration of a student. I think the taxpayers are paying for many kids that aren't Amherst residents.......... Please look into it........

Anonymous said...

IF there is residency fraud, I think it is more likely folks falsely maintaining residency instead of false registration at enrollment.

For example, a woman gets a priority Section 8 to live at the women-only 99 Bridge Street and then uses that Section 8 to rent a house in B'town. As her home address is not released to anyone because she is a victim of domestic violence, there is no way that the school could ever know she has done this.

Another example, a working family owned a condo in Amherst or is renting in town. They move out to B'Town or South Hadley but don't tell the schools that they have done that (and the person living at their old address is kind enough to forward mail to them).

Or, they rent out their "starter" house and actually live in a more expensive house elsewhere. As they still own the first house, exactly what paperwork could the school request that they (as owners) don't have?

Ed said...

There are two other aspects of this.

First, if the costs of the enrichment programs are fixed, i.e. one music teacher per school, one librarian per school, etc, then there is the issue of resources here.

To keep the numbers simple, lets say School A has 100 pupils and School B has 1000 -- the music teacher in School A has TEN TIMES as much time to spend with each student as a similar teacher in School B does.

It thus is not only cost per student but - if the resources are fixed - each student in the larger school has a smaller portion of the professional's time.

Second, there are fixed costs and economy of scale independent of number of students. For example, it costs as much to shovel a sidewalk housing 10 students as it does to shovel the same sized sidewalk for a school with 1000. Principals, nurses, secretaries and the like are on the same pay scale regardless of the school's size.

The advantage of school consolidation is these costs get spread over more students.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Quick response here to the assorted questions:

1. Neil: we can't actually project longer than 5 years ... because they are based on birth rates! So, we look at how many babies are born (birth certificates) and then count five years ahead to when those kids would start kindergarten. So, we are more accurate (likely) in predicting how many HS students (because we can predict that based on kindergarteners), but we can't predict pregnancies! But yes, we should consider long-term growth potential, which is why (as Alison notes), a key thing is that two of our schools are due to be renovated -- which could/would get rid of some weird things in those schools (e.g., half-walls) that reduce the number of kids that can fit in those schools.

2. I completely agree that we need to make sure only Amherst kids are in the Amherst schools ... I actually know a family that was "discovered" and then their child was not allowed to attend the school the next year ... but if there are others, I think that should be brought to the attention of the superintendent and/or the School Committee chairs. And I agree with the second anonymous post that it is likely NOT fraud at enrollment, but rather something like owning/renting out a house in Amherst but living elsewhere, etc.

3. Ed makes my point very well -- it is just inefficient to have very small schools (for things like having to pay separate music teachers, librarians, etc.) when they service fewer kids. But it also leads to inequities in terms of class size, because small changes can lead to big changes in class sizes when you can't distribute those numbers across multiple classes. So, if you add four or five more kids at a given grade in Marks Meadow, those kids all move to one class (which may mean then needing to split that grade into two classes, and thus hiring a new teacher). But at the larger schools (WW, FR), if you add 4 or 5 kids at a given grade, those kids are distributed between 3 or 4 different classes, and each class only adds 1 or 2 kids. That's another reason why consolidation tends to make financial sense.

Stefan Petrucha said...

In terms of studies and research I’ve found two publications that shed additional light on school size, performance and cost-effectiveness. They define the “ideal upper limit” of elementary K-6 school size as 150 students.

The first is the 2002 Knowledge Works Foundation publication:
Dollars & Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools
The complete study can be found at:
http://www.kwfdn.org/resource_library/_resources/dollars_sense.pdf
(Though you have to register, for free, to gain access)

The follow-up, from 2005, Dollars & SENSE II: Lessons from Good, Cost-Effective Small Schools can be found at:
(http://www.kwfdn.org/resource_library/_resources/dollars_sense2.pdf)

A summation of D&S I can be found at
http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/dollars-and-sense
The summary says, in part, “The study obliterates the arguments that we hear from large school defenders about the “economies of scale.” According to Dollars & Sense, small schools cost less to build and operate on a broad variety of measures. The study provides ample data, references and statistical analysis to back it up.”

Again, the actual study defines the ideal upper limits of small schools as 150 students for K-6 Elementary Schools. It concludes, in part: “Many people know intuitively that small schools work best for children and teachers, but now there is research to prove it. Unfortunately, many communities have already lost their good, small schools because they could not argue successfully against educators and policy-makers determined to implement “economies of scale” through consolidation. Now, it is clear that there are significant diseconomies in large facilities, and that they do not create the best schools in which to nurture or educate children. It is important to preserve good small schools, limit school size, and reconfigure narrow-span large schools to achieve smaller schools within schools. Best of all, this report indicates that creating facilities for small schools can be done cost effectively, and that in fact, the cost of large schools is higher considering their negative outcomes.”

The report has a wealth of data indicating that the smaller school size can actually be more cost-effective even as compared to schools considered “reasonably sized” (maxing out at 500 students).

2005’s Dollars & SENSE II includes cost-saving techniques being used across the country and concludes in part -- “The schools that have the best chance to improve students’ academic achievement – good small schools such as the ones in this report – are actually affordable.”

We may not be there in Amherst as far as cost-effectiveness goes, but apparently these things can be accomplished. I think both these publications deserve a good look.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Stefan:

As I'm sure you can imagine, the studies on school size and achievement are very difficult to interpret because none of these studies are true experiments (given that one can't randomly assign students/families to schools of particular sizes). I've read a lot of this literature, and I've talked to colleagues in economics who study this issue, and the big problem with making interpretations is that rural schools tend to be small, and urban schools tend to be large. And people who live in rural versus urban areas obviously differ from each other.

I know that you've successfully found research that shows small school sizes are associated with better achievement. But in all honesty, this research is very mixed. Here's an example of a recent study that provides an alternative view:

School Size: A Review of the Literature.
http://www.eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery
Overbay, Amy
(Research Watch. Evaluation and Research Department. Wake County Schools. , Feb 12, 2003)

Many discussions of school size tend to concentrate on secondary sources, such as other literature reviews. Although this review does examine some secondary sources, it focuses on empirical research. Recent research suggests that smaller schools may be linked to improved attendance and participation in school activities. Some studies claim that smaller schools may also be associated with higher achievement, although other studies indicate that school size does not have a significant impact on student performance and cite other variables such as district and school affluence as more reliable predictors of achievement. In fact, some studies suggest that students in more affluent districts may benefit from larger schools. Given the lack of consensus in the field over these issues, as well as practical issues related to rapid growth, limited funds, and the cost-effectiveness of smaller schools, many administrators and policy makers may prefer to pursue alternative reforms. It may be possible to achieve the desired student outcomes by reorganizing school populations, or by creating smaller learning communities within existing facilities. [Author's abstract] 14p.
ERIC NO: ED477129;

This study points to the benefits of small class size (more possible if we achieve cost savings by closing MM and thus reducing administrative costs), and to redistricting to reduce concentrations of poverty (also possible if we close MM and then redistrict).

A parent in the district also forwarded me a recent article from the New York Times on education, which notes that the Bill Gates Foundation invested money in creating small schools, but has been disappointed that these efforts haven't been effective (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/opinion/25kristof.html?emc=eta1). Here's the key quote: “Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way,” he acknowledges. Small schools succeeded when the principal was able to change teachers, curriculum and culture, but smaller size by itself proved disappointing. “In most cases,” he says, “we fell short.”

I also want to note that you've repeatedly stated (on this blog and others) that I haven't found a cite for my "diminishing returns of small schools" idea. There are many, but for ease, here's one (http://ericdigests.org/1998-2/size.htm). I've pasted the key section below:

IS THERE AN OPTIMAL SCHOOL SIZE?
Despite widespread agreement that the scale of most schools is too large, prescriptions for ideal size vary. Fowler, Howley, and others consider the potential for curricular adequacy to be reached at 400 students. Meier defines small schools as enrolling 300 to 400 students. Lee and Smith conclude that high school students learn best when enrollment is between 600 and 900. A joint policy statement issued by the Carnegie Foundation and the National Association of Secondary School Principals recommended that high schools break into units of no more than 600 students.
None recommend fewer than 300 or more than 900 students. Howley (1996) suggests that "the most suitable size is likely to vary from place to place," with a community's relative poverty or affluence being a major factor. Small schools clearly provide an achievement advantage for impoverished students, while affluent students may fare better in larger schools.

Again, the key thing here (from my perspective) is "NONE RECOMMEND FEWER THAN 300 STUDENTS."

This is not to say that there isn't research saying that small schools are good, or that small schools can be cost effective. It is to say that this research is FAR from conclusive and not necessarily relevant to Amherst (where we don't have elementary schools that are 800+ in size, aren't in a high poverty, urban area, etc.).

Anonymous said...

Hi Catherine,

I think the Bill Gates experiment (a real experiment) only tested size of HIGH School. I may be wrong. But if correct, I don't think the study could be used to judge the effects of size on elementary schools. Apples to oranges.

Abbie

Migdalor Guy said...

Playing "small school study" tag is pointless. People could go on citing contradicting studies ad infinitum. For me, the question is not whether or not small schools work, or what the optimum size is, or even if small schools are cost effective. The simple, plain , unvarnished truth is - as a school, MM works! Why would any school district want to eliminate a school or a program that works? Sounds like shooting one's self in the foot!

In all this talk about efficiencies, costs per student (and I seriously question the methodology used by Ms. Sanderson to determine cost per student) and trying to preserve good programs for all the district's students (a goal with which I have no objections, but I believe Ms. Sanderson has fallen into a common logical fallacy - fair and equality are not the same thing. Sometimes, inequalities are necessary to maintain overall fairness) I think an important point is being missed. One does not take the drastic step of cutting off a limb or removing an organ to preserve a life until it is the last resort (even if it is a preemptive action.) That the idea of simply closing a successful, working school is so nonchalantly bandied about demonstrates a cavalier attitude and a follish willingness to part with an arm or a leg before the doctors have told you there is no other option. There ARE other options, and they are simply being ignored in a reckless attempt to put a band-aid on a problem which requires much more in depth study.

Migdalor Guy said...

Inefficiency is not the point here. We are talking about the education of our children. We had 8 years of a government trying to convince us that schools needed to be more efficient. I don't give a darn about their efficiency-I give a darn about their quality, and whether the schools are successful. By every measure one can use, Mark's Meadow is a successful school.
Everyone says we have to bite the bullet and make hard choices. Perhaps this is true. However, I do not believe all the choices are being presented. I fail to see how closing a successful and beloved school is the best and only option available to meet current financial issues.

While realistically, planning might only work 5 years out or so, one should always strive to plan much further down the road. If previous generations had done that kind of planning, we might not be in all the trouble we are today, with a dying planet, failing infrastructure, and a broken financial system.

If we fail to dream, then we simply fail.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Migdalor Guy:

I can show you how I did the calculations -- it was just adding up each budget line and dividing by the number of kids ... that seems like the right approach to me, but if you have another suggestion, please send it along and I'll redo the numbers -- or send you the numbers and you can calculate them as you'd like. That is a serious offer -- just let me know.

In terms of school size -- Marks Meadow clearly works for some families. Again, it is not working well for other families (those families have been in touch with me and others to express their concerns, which they may or may not be able to vocalize in the MM community). But the more important issue is how do you suggest we solve the budget crisis? I have NEVER said that closing MM is the only way -- there are positively, definitely other ways, and we are all going to hear about them on the 10th. We can, for example, get rid of instrumental music in all the schools. That would save about $200,000. We then need to find another $500,000 to $700,000 to cut. We could cut some teachers and have larger class sizes. We could cut all art, and save about $200,000. We could add bus fees, and increase some revenue. So, there are many, many ways we can find extra money ... and I'd love to hear your suggestions (and other people's suggestions) for how.

My blog has stated that I think in looking at all the numbers and all the options, closing MM is the best way I see to maintain what we love about the Amherst schools (to me, that includes art, instrumental music, small classes, free buses). For you, there might well be other cuts that you think make more sense. Again, I am glad to hear your ideas -- but I'd like ideas, not just statements about drastic cuts, cutting off a leg, etc. I have to actually vote on a budget -- tell me what cuts you'd like me to choose!

Stefan Petrucha said...

Hi Catherine -

Sorry, didn't realize you were posting as "anonymous" over at the PGG blog. I'll reproduce my response here.

The NYT article you quote refers to High Schools, not elementary. The graph prior to your excerpt spells this out: “For example, the Gates Foundation made a major push for smaller high schools in the United States, often helping to pay for the creation of small schools within larger buildings.”

Two crucial points on your cite for the “diminishing returns” theory. First, it also mentions only high schools by name. The words elementary or K-6, don’t appear.

More importantly, while the cite does indeed say "none recommended fewer than 300 students” the cite does NOT say that quality of education gets worse at those numbers, which is what a “diminishing return” would be.

You say this is one of many cites -- do you have one that actually discusses a diminishing return, either specifically or in principle?

The studies I’ve looked at overwhelmingly support the small school model and make no bones about it. I strongly suggest anyone interested read the incredibly detailed “The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools” at the URL from my previous post, which discusses small schools, specifically elementary, in both and urban and a rural setting.

Best -

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Stefan:

Three quick points -

1. Your link on school size is NOT a scientific, peer-reviewed
journal article, which is the gold standard. The link is to a website ran by a design firm that specializes in -- building small schools! And then there is a 44 page report that is written to promote an agenda. When I'm looking for research, I'm looking for studies that have been tested empirically, and for results that have been validated by experts. So, I frankly find those more convincing (and the data that relies on such techniques is decidedly more mixed).

2. As I said in my earlier post, the key thing to remember is that the studies on education and achievement are very hard to conduct well -- they are messy because MANY things influence achievement (including class size, location, parent education, etc.). So, I am not surprised that MM kids do well -- they are the children of U Mass faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates! Is it surprising that these kids care about learning and education? Not so much. And I'd venture to bet that many of those kids would do very well in WW or any other school for that matter.

3. Even if one was convinced that small schools are the best educationally (and I'm not, but I believe you are), what do you propose we do to keep MM? Again, even if we agree 100% that the very, very best education money can provide is in a school with 180 students ... that still doesn't solve the significant budget crisis that we do have. So, again, tell me what you would cut to allow MM to stay open. Find me half a million (this won't be enough, but it would be a very good start) things that we can cut. Instrumental music is about $200,000, and art is another $200,000. But would that be worth it? Maybe so? I'm not convinced -- I am pretty sure we could find research on the benefits of music on learning (and again, in a real fairness sense, would it be fair to cut music and art from all kids in Amherst to allow 13% to attend the educationally most beneficial school?). Again, these are hard questions -- and I think ultimately, you and I have different answers (not right versus wrong, just different views/priorities).

One last thing -- I posted a response on the MM blog using my NAME -- have you noticed that I'm pretty comfortable signing my name to things? So, I went to look and see what you had quoted (saying I was "anonymous") and there is some long cut from my blog -- but clearly identified as such -- by Marks Meadow Mom (or something like that). Just FYI.

Stefan Petrucha said...

Hi Catherine --

1. “Your link on school size is NOT a scientific, peer-reviewed..”

Your statement is misleading – The link you refer to is a REVIEW of the publication, not the publication itself – the review is indeed from a website run by a design firm (which arguably would earn more profit by building larger schools).

The PDF link I supplied is to the publication itself. Your claim that it is written to promote an agenda is an assumption – it supports its conclusions with exhaustive data from the peer reviewed journal articles you refer to as the gold standard. The chief sponsor is Knowledge Works Foundation, Ohio’s largest public education philanthropy.

I strongly urge you and anyone else to actually read the publication before dismissing it – it offers a wealth of data and interesting suggestions for cost effectiveness. Contempt prior to investigation helps no one.

2. “As I said in my earlier post, the key thing to remember is that the studies on education and achievement are very hard to conduct well…”

What you say is true, but what you say is not everything that is true. The fact that such a study is difficult, doesn’t mean those difficulties haven’t been overcome. It’s easy to dismiss them in a swath without closer inspection. The more I read, the more I find that the conclusions about the small school are well-founded and based of scores of studies from rural, suburban and urban environments.

“I'd venture to bet that many of those kids would do very well in WW or any other school for that matter.”

We’re all fond of data that agrees with our inclinations, but when it comes down to comparing the fact that MM kids do well, you prefer to “venture to bet.” Not saying you’re wrong, but the ease with which you move to betting when it supports your conclusions belies your desire for hard data.

3. Even if one was convinced that small schools are the best educationally (and I'm not, but I believe you are), what do you propose we do to keep MM?

I kept an open mind when I started looking at the data, but the wealth of information has convinced me that keeping the numbers low in all our schools is the best for the entire community. The few cites you’ve referenced either seem like outliers or don’t say what you indicated they would.

However, from the beginning I’ve never said there were no situations where closing MM isn’t advisable. If keeping MM meant eliminating all arts & music AND charging bus fees, I’d be in favor of closing. Beyond that, to know where the actual line is where we should or shouldn’t close, I’d need to know the actual choices.

To that end, before deciding…

I propose we wait to see what the numbers are.
I propose we find out what the $500k in cuts the preliminary budget has in place, which keeps the four schools, entails.
I propose we look at increasing the students attending MM to its current capacity of 230 students, so that *all* our schools are in the optimal school size range – possibly making MM a K-5 school. This would also provide an alternative mode for the much-needed redistricting of Amherst.
I propose if the budget numbers aren’t as dire as you insist they will be, that we wait on such an extreme decision until our new Superintendent is in place, more time is allowed for community discussion and additional proposals, and we have a better idea what the economy will be like next year.
To keep the discussion accurate, I propose we stop adding the savings from firing the teachers to the savings from firing the administration and staff at MM. While we may lose 6-7 teachers throughout the district for half the $700k figure you quote, the actual savings for closing the school itself are more like $350k. You’ve pointed out earlier that we generally lose 6-7 posts through attrition – I propose we find out which posts will be lost through attrition before we decide the best way to compensate for them.


Lastly, while you have posted some responses on the MM blog using your name, the post I responded to was logged under ANONYMOUS (the header at the top of the post) – it begins “Anonymous said:” Your name doesn’t appear anywhere in the post.

That said, I certainly didn’t mean to imply you were uncomfortable using your name, and apologize if it came across that way. Since there were a few posts using Anonymous as their log-in, I wasn’t totally certain who I was talking to until I saw the same entry at your blog. While I disagree with some of your arguments, your use of data and the prematurity of your conclusions, I’d never accuse you of hiding!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Stefan:

I have two comments:

1. I have read the report - it is not peer-reviewed, it did not appear in a journal, it is not considered a research study (if someone did that report and tried to get tenure/promoted, it wouldn't be helpful). Reports can be written and published by anyone, including educational philanthrophic organizations. You can find reports RIGHT NOW that say evolution is only a theory and shouldn't be taught in schools, gay people shouldn't adopt kids, and so on. I'm not saying that there isn't evidence saying small schools can be good ... I'm saying that virtually all published papers in peer-reviewed journals acknowledge that may factors contribute to achievement (including class size and concentration of poverty), and that the research community is by no means settled on "small schools are best."

I am aware that the Bill Gates study looked at high schools -- the point of that, however, is that he spend A LOT of money to empirically test whether small high schools would be better, because he, and many, assumed they would be. And he was wrong. That doesn't mean that small elementary schools would not be shown to be better IF THEY WERE EMPIRICALLY TESTED ... but that study hasn't been done in the same rigorous, valid way that the Gates foundation has now done with high schools. You are convinced small schools are better. I am not. Most would say the jury is out -- and certainly most would say the jury is out if you are talking about "large" schools the size of WW and FR (less than 500 students).

2. I'm quoting you here: "If keeping MM meant eliminating all arts & music AND charging bus fees, I’d be in favor of closing."

GREAT! I certainly am not in favor of closing MM just for fun ... it would be to save what I see as essential in our schools, and actually you and I seem to agree that art/music/bus fees would take priority over four schools! That is wonderful news.

I promise to vote strongly and stridently to save MM as long as a budget comes in that allows us to maintain art, free buses, and instrumental music (and reasonable class sizes, OK?). I look forward to an interesting and enlightening evening on the 10th.

Stefan Petrucha said...

Hi Catherine!

1. I didn't say the publication was peer-reviewed, I said, "it supports its conclusions with exhaustive data from the peer reviewed journals." I remain disappointed you dismiss it prima facie and hope others won't be so quick to judge.

Quoting you: "I am aware that the Bill Gates study looked at high schools -- "

a) That's not how you originally presented the data and b) one can easily see where the effects of school size would be different for already socialized high schoolers than they would be for elementary school students. I'd even suspect the effect would be less for 5-6 graders than K-4. Point being, bless Bill Gates, but it's apples and oranges.

2. I've said I'm willing to close MM nearly as often as I've asked you to back up that "diminished returns" theory!

"I certainly am not in favor of closing MM just for fun ..."

Never thought so.

"I promise to vote strongly and stridently to save MM as long as a budget comes in that allows us to maintain art, free buses, and instrumental music (and reasonable class sizes, OK?)."

OK. I'll leave the question of what constitutes "reasonable" and what happens if A&M have to be cut a little bit -- for a later date.

Pax.

Mary May said...

I have read with interest (and frustration) the many comments that have appeared on this blog and on the PGG blog on the Mark's Meadow Website. So far I have resisted the temptation to add my two cents worth, but when I read statements that imply all the elementary schools have a full time music teacher and thus, the smaller school gets more, I feel I must respond. First of all, Mark's Meadow School does not have a full time music teacher and never has (at least in the last 24 years). Since that person is me, I can speak with accuracy. The position has always been divided between MM and other schools. At times it was MM and WW or MM and FR and currently it is MM and Pelham. It is the only school in Amherst where there is not a full time music teacher.

My second point focuses around the per pupil expenditures done by Catherine. As she states, she added up the expenses for all of the programs, which I expect includes teacher salaries, and divided them by the number of students. This seems to be a bit misleading in that the salaries for more experienced teachers are going to be considerably higher. For example, I am a veteran teacher with a Master's Degree+45 credits. So it will look like MM pays more for music than say, WW because the teacher there is new (3rd year)with a Bachelor's Degree. If we were to switch salaries, it would affect the cost per student...MM would go down and WW would go up. When a school has many veteran teachers who are at the top of the scale, the cost per student will look to be higher. I didn't see any acknowledgement of this in the price per student analysis in Catherine's blog.

Also, if MM is forced to close, the experienced teachers will be placed in other schools and the less experienced teachers will be losing their jobs. Won't this make the cost per pupil higher at the other schools?

Like many folks, I would hate to see the permanent closing of a school that I love. I also understand that we are in tumultous times in the budget dept. What I truly hope is that the school board members will not make decisions until the FACTS are known. Closing MM might look like the easiest way out. The easiest way is not necessarily the best way.

I am absolutely in favor of redistricting. I think it needs to be done for many reasons. I would hate to see the closing of MM be set up as the way to force redistricting. I'd rather have it be a process that is well planned.

As far as suggestions, I will repeat two that I have publicly stated at meetings. One, I think we should strongly consider school of choice and fill up Mark's Meadow School. This could potentially increase the size to 240 students. Secondly, I think the district should strongly consider early retirement incentives. If positions are cut it will be the newest and often the less costly teachers that are affected. The district will then have to pay unemployment. If some of the veteran teachers were able to retire (with an incentive) the district would be able to save the younger teachers, generally with the lower salaries and it would not have to pay unemployment costs. For one veteran teacher at the top of the scale, you could keep two younger teachers at the lower end of the scale.

And finally, I do appreciate all the time and energy folks are putting in to solving our crises. This is not easy terrain for anyone...parents, teachers, kids, staff, administrators and school board members.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Mary May:

Thanks for your comments - and I'm sure reading this has been frustrating at times, and I'm really sorry about that. Let me just make a few points in regards to your suggestions in the spirit of dialogue:

1. We certainly pay experienced teachers more ... and so these numbers would not have any way of taking that into account (e.g., if some MM teachers are more experienced, those teachers are paid more, but that presumably is true at all the schools -- I imagine all have some higher paid/more experienced, and some have lower paid/less experienced). However, remember that in ANY of the cost savings plans (including keeping all four schools open), we would be cutting the newer, least experienced teachers first ... so you are right that we are not going to save as much in ANY of the plans as if we were losing more experienced teachers, but again, that is true equally whether we close MM, keep four schools and have larger class sizes, or go to either of the pairing models. We also would NOT have to pay unemployment if we let teachers know earlier enough this year that they are not being renewed (this is for the newer teachers without tenure) -- which frankly feels lousy to me, but that is actually legally.

2. I've been in meetings in which the idea of early incentives for retirements in discussed ... and there is not unanimous support from a budget perspective for this. I do think it potentially is a good idea, but some of the budget people believe that what often happens in this case is that younger teachers are hired to replace the retirees -- and these teachers are more likely to want family health benefits, etc., which then ends up as basically a wash. Again, this is what I've been told -- I do not know how likely/common this is.

3. In terms of School Choice -- I think this is a bad idea, as do some administrators, for several reasons. One of these is that you can't LEGALLY choose which kids you take -- and in some cases, you can take kids who have expensive special needs, which then can be a real drain on administrator/teacher time and energy. Another issue is that once you take a child, you have that child for the duration of their time in the schools. So, let's say Marks Meadow has 4 openings in kindergarten -- instead of a kindergarten of 18 kids, we push to take four School Choice kids, and that moves us to 22 kids (not an ideal size, but plausible). Then let's say the next year, four additional kids move to the MM districts for the 1st grade ... you then have 28 kids in 1st grade, which is really large. You then might need to hire an extra teacher -- which then means that you are getting $20,000 in School Choice money (4 X $5,000), and you have hired an additional teacher (which will definitely cost more than $20,000)! Third, to have School Choice work, you have to open the slots early -- like in April/May. But at a place like MM -- because we just don't know enrollments early enough -- it would be VERY hard to predict how many spaces there would be in a given grade (because many MM enrollments happen in July/August). Finally, some people believe that taking School Choice is wrong -- because it is taking money out of another district, which then hurts that district. So, there are others (and I personally find this point less compelling than the earlier ones I've mentioned) who believe that it is morally wrong to take funds from other districts, because we know the hit that it brings on our own. I've heard all of these points expressed by principals, teachers, and School Committee members in our district.

4. I absolutely agree that redistricting is needed -- I've talked about that issue directly in an earlier post. But I don't think it is right to redistrict anyone UNTIL we have made a decision about whether it is fiscally possible to keep MM open (and for more than just a year or two). Let's say we decide to redistrict this year and move kids around (this would include moving kids at ALL the schools in some way). Then, let's say that in a year or two, it becomes increasingly clear that we just can't keep MM open (the numbers drop as projected, we pay more to Charter Schools, the budget gap increases even more -- as it is projected to do). Then, if we close MM, we'd have to redistrict AGAIN, which means that the younger kids could move to three different schools during their elementary school years (e.g., I could easily imagine a kid who goes to FR now gets redistricted to MM, then moves to WW when the redistricting occurs). That is why it is really important to NOT make a decision about how best to redistrict (and yes, I think there is fairly widespread support for this within the School Committee and the school leadership) until we have a sense of realistically whether we can sustain MM for at least the next 5 years. That is my opinion -- just to be clear -- but I think moving kids three times in three to five years is wrong.

Thanks for adding to the dialogue - - please let me know if you have other thoughts/ideas/questions/
suggestions!

Mary May said...

Catherine, thanks for your response. I realize there are experienced teachers at all of the schools, but I just wanted to point out that it does, in fact affect per pupil cost. We don't know for a fact that it really DOES balance out equally at all the schools. I suppose one might assume that, but it really isn't clear unless one looks at the average salary per school. Plus, if you're looking at individual programs (like art, music, pe etc) where there is one teacher per program, it clearly affects the cost per pupil for that subject area.

Secondly, I'm well aware of the various pros and cons of School Choice. Philosophically, I disagree with it for the very reason you listed...taking money from other towns. However, I teach (and live) in Pelham where it has been happening for several years now. Matter of fact, we have/have had kids who have chosen to leave Amherst (WW and FR and I think CF, interestingly, no one from MM) to come to Pelham. Amherst is already paying fees to other towns for School Choice. Though ideally, I think it's a bad idea, if other districts offer it, we may be short sighted not to consider it. Clearly, Mark's Meadow's numbers are always fluctuating...we rarely know the exact number of kids until school begins, and actually, sometimes AFTER school begins. But I'm not sure that it's reason enough to completely eliminate this as an option. Also, I am aware that it's done on a lottery basis, that kids stay for the rest of their elementary tenure and yes, some kids come with special needs. However, if a student comes with a one/one para it is my understanding that the sending town is responsible for funding the para. Yes, school choice can be complicated, but clearly, it was the option that allowed Pelham school to remain open as a 7 classroom school with no mixed grades. Even with all of it's complexities, I believe it is still worth considering. It might be worth talking with the Pelham Principal before completely dismissing the idea.

As far as reducing the teaching staff, my understanding is that this year, there are not enough retirees to cover the anticipated positions cut. (This information was given to me by a current administrator.) In previous years we have had several retirees but I was told recently that this is not the case this year. Assuming that information is correct, we would be losing teachers who are already on staff and who already have health insurance. If there were enough retirees to balance out the number of cut positions, yes, I can see that hiring younger teachers with families could be costly due to health insurance. Do you have the actual number of teachers on the elementary level who have declared they are retiring? It doesn't seem to me that there will be much hiring going on, thus the worry of costly health insurance becomes less of an issue.

Frankly, I'm shocked to find out that the district wouldn't have to pay unemployment for teachers who have taught less than three years. It's difficult to believe that's legal...and it certainly doesn't seem very compassionate! However, if there aren't enough retirees, isn't it likely that folks with tenure status might have to be laid off?

On a more encouraging note, in the Boston Globe (today) on the front page there's an article entitled "Stimulus bill would give state $11 billion." I don't think we should give up yet......it may not be the worst case scenario, and if so, we could actually take some time to consider regionalizing, redistricting, possibly having K-5 schools with the 6th going to the middle school etc. I think what has been most frustrating to folks (families, teachers etc) is the sense of urgency that something has to happen instantly. Changes like these really deserve time and just maybe, the Fed. stimuls package could give us that time. One can only hope!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, Mary May:

Thanks again for the issues you raise -- I have not heard any numbers on expected retirements on any level, so yes, that seems like information that will be useful as we plan ahead. Two quick things:

1. From what I've heard, School Choice works very well in Pelham because their numbers are very predictable -- they have great stability in that district, so it is no big deal for them to slot in a couple School Choice kids each year/per grade. In contrast, the MM population, as you well know, is much, much more changing, making it very hard to predict enrollment. So, it would be a huge gamble to take School Choice kids at one grade to fill out a class (this would likely be done for grades in which there were two small classes), only to find that the enrollment numbers for that grade then became VERY high in August -- but then there would be nothing to do, because those kids would have already been accepted, and we couldn't possibly move to 3 classes per grade at MM due to space. Again, those kids in that grade could conceivably have very large classes for that year, and for some time after. I think School Choice works in Pelham because of the stability it provides -- and I think it would work much less well financially in MM. Also, I know that special needs kids come with paras (and extra $$ for that), but administrators have told me that it is the TIME that then is incurred -- with meetings with parents, team members, etc. -- that can be very draining.

2. In terms of bigger options -- I definitely think moving 6th grade to the middle school is an option that has been/will be considered ... but if we do that, we'd then have to pay OUT OF THE ELEMENTARY BUDGET for middle school principal/nurse/music teacher/custodian/librarian. So, if we move 200 kids (6th graders) to the MS, we would reduce the number of kids in all schools, and it would seem even more likely (to me) that we would then close MM (because the other schools already have more kids in 6th grade in all then are at MM in total). And we just couldn't then pay the equivalent of a 5th principal (because we would have to pay a third of a number of MS positions).

Regionalization is certainly being discussed, but from what I hear, the Pehlam/Leverett/Shutesbury communities really don't want to lose their elementary schools, and I think it is unlikely that this will occur any time soon.

We have an immediate budget crisis this year, but our projections (again, the FCCC report is very clear on this) are that the budget crisis will continue for some time (again, this is in part because our charter school tuition dollars are increasing year by year). So, we do need to think long-term, which I'm really trying to do.

Mary May said...

Catherine, thank you for your willingness to really check out how many folks are retiring. Before anyone can accurately say how much money would be saved by various options, one has to look at all of the cost factors and this certainly seems like it would be one of them.

I understand your point about school of choice working well in Pelham because of the stability of numbers. That is definitely not the case at MM. However, I'm also aware that Pelham doesn't fill any of the classes right to the max just in case someone does move in. So, say we had K-5 at MM (two of each classroom) and we aimed for 20 per class. This would give us a cushion of 4 more kids per grade level to reach the ideal level of 22 kids per class It's not as predictable as Pelham, but also, you have the ability to pick and choose which grade levels you would offer school choice. If both first grades are up to capacity, you wouldn't offer slots in that grade level. That's what Pelham has done. (Interestingly, we just had a school of choice student enter two weeks ago in 1st grade!)

I'm not sure my point was clear about redistricting, regionalizing etc. Yes, I'm aware that Shutesbury and Leverett don't seem interested in joining Amherst on the elementary level (I bet Pelham would) but in a year or two we all may be forced to do it anyway....at least the governor seems to be heading in that direction. So, my point is, I believe there are several things that need to be considered and yes, some of them may involve closing MM. But, I'd like us to hold on (and it seems like there MAY be a glimmer of hope from the FEDS to make that possible) and really think through the options that make the most sense with a new superintendent and a less rushed time line. To uproot the system by closing a school in time for September 09 seems way too rushed for most folks. That's not to say that the school shouldn't ever be closed and we shouldn't resdistrict, but it seems like the urgency of budget has been driving the pace here. If there is some budget relief, wouldn't it be prudent to take a reasonable amount of time, to be clear about what the actual savings would be (with real numbers) and to have the guidance of a new Supt. to help orchestrate it all?

Also, if your assumption is that by adding 200 kids to the middle school, you would have to add a new principal, music etc, wouldn't that be true by adding kids to each elementary school? Won't we need additional time in the various subject areas? If you add 100 kids to a building, there clearly will be more services needed.....therefore, it's unlikely that we would save one full teacher for each special (art, music, pe, comp. etc) or for guidance, secretarial, custodial etc. All of the needs in the building will increase if more kids are added. Perhaps we really wouldn't be saving as much as anticipated.

Finally, I think it's very difficult for anyone to actually make a clear decision until we see the actual cuts. On your various blogs, I have consistently seen "music, art and bus fees" but to my knowledge, the elementary principals have been meeting regularly to determine exactly what cuts will occur. Until that list is public, we really don't know what exactly will be axed. I think it's only fair to wait until that list comes out before things are listed publicly as definite cuts. The statement "If we don't close MM, all kids will lose music, art and have to pay bus fees" may or may not be true. We really don't know that yet. Until the list is made public, it really is just speculation.

I guess my main request is to slow down the process so that it can be done thoughtfully and not haphazardly. If the Federal money DOES come through, which we should know in a few weeks, it seems like we should make our goal NOT to move anyone anywhere until Sept. 2010. Like you, I don't want to see kids (or teachers for that matter) moved several times. That's why I would suggest holding off until we have a Supt. on board and until we really have a clear sense of any regionaliztion plan. I am confident, as a town, we could come up with a decent, cost effective plan that folks could buy in to if we take the proper amount of time. You may remember, on the Reconfiguring Schools Committee last year, we discussed how to approach presenting these options to parents and teachers. At that time, I remember the committee agreed it would have to be a carefully planned process. It feels like what is happening now is exactly the opposite of what we said we'd do!

Anonymous said...

STEFAN PETRUCHA posting here, but Google won't accept my password for some reason!

Anyway, I'd like to point out that Catherine's numbers don't take into account the fact that UMASS pays for the utilities and upkeep of MM -- including heat and electric.

The preliminary school budget puts total utilities at $583k for FY10 -- a considerable sum.

Given a projected total of 1122 non-MM students next year, that adds about $519 to the per students costs for the other three schools (1122 divided by $583k) -- a significant increase.

I don't know what other factors should or shouldn't be taken into account, but this alone brings the numbers much closer.

For instance, using Catherine's original numbers this puts WW at $6014 per student vs MM at $6014 versus MM at $6302, not a huge difference considering the school size disparity.

Let's make sure we've got all those details included!

Best -

Anonymous said...

Stefan P. again

Oops! Typo: "For instance, using Catherine's original numbers this puts WW at $6014 per student vs MM at $6014 versus MM at $6302, not a huge difference considering the school size disparity."

There's an extra "vs MM at $6014" in there. The sentence should read:

For instance, using Catherine's original numbers this puts WW at $6014 per student vs MM at $6302, not a huge difference considering the school size disparity.

See what happens if you do things too quickly!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Two quick things:

Mary May: Sorry for not being clearer about the impact of 6th grade going to the MS. The issue is NOT that we would have to add a principal to the MS if we moved 6th grade there (we definitely would not have the financial resources to do this; they already have 2 assistant principals, so everyone would just have more kids under their watch) -- the issue is that we would have to, in fairness, PAY some portion of those salaries (because 6th graders are still on the ELEMENTARY SCHOOL budget). Same goes for custodians, music teachers, etc. And in turn, if 6th grade goes to the MS, I still see NO WAY we could keep MM open (it would increase our administrative budget much more so already because of what we'd have to pay then to cover those kids at the MS). And of course, the only way you get 2 classes per grade at MM is by moving the 6th grade to the MS. Remember, if we move 6th grade to the MS, ALL of the schools would reduce in numbers, making it even more likely that one would want to save money on adminstrators (again, in my opinion) by closing MM. It would just make no sense (to me) to then have all the schools reduced in number and maintain four schools and four principal salaries PLUS the MS expenses we would then have to cover. It would increase our per pupil expenses dramatically, and in a way that I don't think would yield benefits on a day to day basis to children.

For me -- and this is totally just my opinion -- I want things closest to kids to be prioritized. For me, that is small class sizes, music, art, etc. It just isn't four schools, with more money going to the administrative structures that maintain those schools. I certainly understand that others will disagree with this view.

Also, although the lists aren't public yet in terms of cuts, nor have they been finalized, when you review the budget (this is public information), it is very, very clear that cuts of 1/2 a million plus aren't possible without impacting things people really care about -- there just isn't that much excess that hasn't already been cut. Principals have described to me that the cuts they are anticipating making would "make the schools unrecognizable." I believe it is very, very likely that instrumental music would be one of the first cuts made (that and the Chinese language program at WW, which then would end that grant and our likelihood of bringing world language to all the elementary schools). Those are the two most obvious places to save money: there are limits on ways to save money, since you can't cut many classroom teachers (without having class sizes of 30+) and you can't cut three of the four principals and you can't stop paying health insurance and you can't stop providing buses (or I guess you COULD do this one, but I think it would be a BAD idea) and so on. Now, cutting those two things saves some money, but not enough --meaning other cuts would have to happen.

We could certainly decide -- as a committee, as a community -- that it was more important to us to keep MM open next year while we ponder options, wait for the new superintendent, etc. than to keep whatever programs (which again, would almost certainly be things like art, music, etc.). Some people feel this way. Other people feel differently -- they feel that losing those things would be devastating to their kids (even losing them for one year), that teachers would obviously not wait around for a year while we decide what to do (and hence our fine music and art teachers -- such as Mary May! -- would retire or move to other districts), and that the budget projections of continuing gaps make the reality of closing MM a certainty (it is just a matter of when - 2009, 2010, 2011?).

I agree with your view that having community input is important ... and I asked for community forums to be held throughout January, and was told that we couldn't, since the budgets weren't finalized. I have also asked for a specific redistricting plan to be produced, so that people could SEE where their child would go to school, so we would know how many kids would be impacted, and so we would understand the make-up of each of the districts (race, class). It is frustrating to me to not have that information yet -- and I hope it will be produced soon (February for the budget stuff, POSSIBLY March for the redistricting stuff). My understanding is that there will be some PTO forums in late February/early March with the budget numbers as we best understand them now (for the various plans that are going to move forward), and I do think there will be opportunity then to have teachers/parents/community members weigh in. Hey, I'm all about communication, yes?!?

One more point -- I think we, as a community, need to really think about what we value in our schools. For me, I value small classes, art, music, and WORLD LANGUAGE in elementary school. I'd sacrifice a lot of other things to get those, and yes, that includes closing an elementary school. Again, others in the community may value having four elementary schools, or keeping a small elementary school open, more than any or all of the things on my list. But what we can't do -- what is irresponsible to do -- is to pretend that resources and money are limitless. Keeping MM open has financial costs to our district. That is the reality. They may be costs that we are very willing to pay, but they are still costs, meaning that the money involved in keeping MM open (even if it is "just" $300,000 or $400,000) is money we can't use for other things. Maybe we should consider closing MM and using that money saved to pay for UNIVERSAL preschool for all low income students in Amherst, so that we get all kids ready to start school on a more level playing field. Maybe we should consider using the money we would save by closing MM on summer school or afterschool programs that are free for all kids who need them. I am not proposing that I'd make the decision to spent our budget this way, but I do think we should just be aware that there are choices -- I am fine if others disagree with the choices I'd make ... but I think it is silly and irresponsible to pretend that we aren't making financial choices in creating budgets (and that is true regardless of how much money comes from Obama, regionalization, etc.).

Stefan: I am completely confused by your calculations -- please clarify. I have pasted below what you wrote, which seems to apply (but I imagine I'm wrong here) that adding more children to each of the other three buildings would add extra utilities? I can't imagine that we need more light or heat in a building with more kids ... right?

"The preliminary school budget puts total utilities at $583k for FY10 -- a considerable sum.

Given a projected total of 1122 non-MM students next year, that adds about $519 to the per students costs for the other three schools (1122 divided by $583k) -- a significant increase."

OK, so can you just clarify what you meant here? How does that utility cost get divided by kid/school?

Anonymous said...

Abbie says:

Boston Globe has posted projected local aid cuts (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/specials/012909_local_aid_cuts/), it has Amherst's cut at $2,866,106. That's a lot of money!!

Anonymous said...

Catherine:

Stefan here. Your original computations were done in service of determining the cost effectiveness of our current four schools. Therefore, those calculations should include what we, as a community, pay for each student, in each school, yes?

Since we don’t pay for utilities at MM but do in the other schools, I don’t see how that shouldn’t be a factor in calculating a cost comparison.

To expand my answer and hopefully address your questions and confusion -- The total utility budget for FY10 is $583k. That’s for the three schools.

Not having the individual utility budgets for each school, my figure of $519 cost/student does assume the three are roughly equal.

Again, this is an assumption, and may not be the case – a larger school such as WW may be more cost efficient in terms of heating than the smaller CF, or if CF’s boiler is more energy efficient, it may again even out. (If there’s a HUGE discrepancy, that should really be looked into).

Regardless, this is money we don’t spend per pupil at Mark’s Meadow.

Secondly, I presented this as an addendum to your initial figures of cost per student – which as elsewhere mentioned may be including Title 1 teachers that we don’t pay for (MM has one). If we're comparing the cost of the schools per pupil, we should be comparing the cost of the schools per pupil.

But if we want to project what would happen if MM were closed and those students moved elsewhere...

While heating might remain the same, cooling and electricity certainly wouldn’t. The use of fans and other cooling devices would increase with more bodies. More students using more computers, eating more, etc. etc.

Likewise, the cost of heating/lighting the temporary classrooms, currently paid by UMass, would add to the utilities if they were moved. So indeed, utility costs would increase if the population increased.

So perhaps the question becomes, why not make more use of a facility which has an excellent academic record and wonderful diversity, AND you get utilities and maintenance for free? MM is not up to capacity. If it housed the 230 students it currently has the space for, what would the cost per student be then?

Migdalor Guy said...

So it appears NoHo is facing some of the same issues and questions of closing small schools for cost savings. This aricle by a NoHo teacher that is in today's Feb 2 Gazzette says more eloquently than anything else I have seen why keeping small schools is worth it. I strongly urge Catherine and her blog readers to read it:

Keeping our schools small is worth a large effort