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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

February 24, 2009, Regional Meeting

This meeting largely consisted of a reivew of the proposed budget for 2009-2010. This proposal included preparing budgets (as we saw for the elementary school budget) at three levels: Tier 1 (which is the "best case" scenario and still cuts 1.4 million from level services), Tier 2 (a "medium case" scenario, which cuts 1,773,151 from level services), and Tier 3 (a "worst case" scenario, which cuts 2,217,839 from level services). Let me say at the outset that I don't believe we'll get to Level 3, but Level 1 seems intolerable already.

So, here is what is cut in Level 1:

At the district level, many staff positions (three secretaries in the central office, an administrator) plus professional development funds and professional leave funds (among other smaller cuts).

At the middle school level, 2 positions in world languages (meaning that world language would only start in 8th grade EXCEPT FOR 7TH GRADERS WHO HAD BEEN TAKING CHINESE AND HENCE COULD CONTINUE WITH THAT LANGUAGE, and only Spanish and French would be offered in 8th grade), the librarian (meaning that the middle school library would be staffed only be a library paraprofessional), a guidance counselor, a health/PE teacher, and four teaching positions (meaning we would have one fewer "team" of teachers).

At the high school level, 6.5 positions would be cut among faculty (it is not clear what these cuts would have impact in terms of classes), an assistant principal, the preschool/child study program, and some athletics (the ski team would be cut, plus freshmen football, JV ice hockey, JV ultimate frisbee, JV volleyball, plus some assistant coaching positions). These cuts in faculty would mean that all students would have 2 study halls a year (meaning 2 of their 15 classes would be study halls).

Here is what is cut in Tier 2:
  • 3.5 faculty positions at the high school (not clear what these would be)
  • 2.6 faculty positions at the middle school (meaning no world languages at all)
  • more professional development

Here is what is cut at Tier 3:
  • 3.0 faculty positions at the high school (again, not clear what this would be)
  • 5.0 faculty positions at the middle school (again, not clear what this would be)

We then heard questions from the School Committee and from parents/students/community members in the audience. I'm not going to go through all of these questions, but do want to point out a few of particular note.

First, I raised the issue of what would the cost savings be of putting the Amherst 6th graders in the middle school. I have not seen these numbers, but my understanding is that if you put the 6th graders in the middle school, the Amherst elementary budget would then pick up some (1/3, since they would be 1/3 of the kids in the building) of the administrative budget. So, the Amherst elementary budget would pay for 1/3 of the nurse, assistant principals, principal, custodian, librarian, music teacher, etc. Now, if this could happen, I imagine it would save maybe $100,000 or so. And since the savings of cutting all 7th grade language is $118,000, I think it is possible that moving the 6th graders into the building would allow 7th grade language to continue. We are going to get numbers on this for the next meeting -- however, there seemed to be resistance to this idea from many board members (especially those from Leverett/Shutesbury/Pelham, whose 6th graders would not come to the middle school early). Again, this may or may not be a workable idea for many reasons, but I think having the numbers on what this plan would bring into the middle school would at least allow a more informed decisions (e.g., maybe parents of kids from those towns would prefer to have 7th graders get to take a language)?

Second, Kathleen Anderson asked about teachers turning down raises, which would go into effect on July 1st -- and this would be a tremendous cost savings (perhaps as much as 1.2 million dollars). This is obviously a very appealing plan to many parents ... but in all honesty, my feelings about this are mixed. On the one hand, I do think this is a really bad economy, and thus terms agreed to in better times are now having unintended consequences. I know I'm not getting a raise this year (faculty at Amherst College will receive NO raises), nor will my husband (who works for the state), and certainly other towns have frozen salaries for their workers. Thus, it does seem like teachers/staff should at least consider whether this is a way to go (to save jobs of their colleagues in our schools). On the other hand, although I was NOT on the School Committee when this package was signed (and thus I truly don't know whether raises of this magnitude were appropriate in terms of their future impact on our budget), I also believe that these raises were negotiated in good faith, and that we should live up to the promises we made to our teachers/staff about what they would be getting paid (particularly because these raises were negotiated as part of an agreement for all teachers to receive evaluations every three years). I also believe we'd like Amherst to be known as a good place to work for teachers -- so that we can continue to attract great people who want to teach in our district (thus, I'm OK with being a town that pays well!). So, I'm frankly pretty mixed about how I feel about this idea -- it would certainly be nice to have these extra funds (and they certainly would make a difference in our very lean budget), but I also question whether balancing our budget by taking money from teachers/staff is the right way to go (certainly we also need to be thinking about how we are spending the money we do have VERY carefully to see what other cuts could be made).

Third, we heard comments from parents/teachers/students/community members about the importance of world languages. Let me start with the facts on the language enrollments: in the middle school, 167 students take Spanish, 143 take French, 56 take Latin, 43 take Chinese, 20 take German, and 17 take Russian (this is combining the numbers of kids in 7th and 8th grade in these classes). We heard passionate pleas about how we should not make decisions about what classes to teach based only on enrollments, but I also think that it is irresponsible in the time of tight budgets to ignore the enrollment numbers. And these numbers suggest to me that cutting German and Russian at the middle school level just makes sense -- I don't see how we can offer these languages when the per student cost is so high. On the other hand, I really think we should be offering language starting in 7th grade (I actually think we should be offering language starting earlier than 7th grade). I'd be entirely in favor of offering a choice of 2 or 3 languages in middle school, and then allowing students to broaden to take other languages (or continue with their original language choice) in high school.

Fourth, I raised a question that I continue to hear from high school parents about whether we should move to a semester from a trimester system. In the current budget cut scenario, all stuents will be forced to take two study halls (meaning two of their 15 classes per year will be study halls, and 13 would be regular classes). But if we moved to a 7-period a day system, they could take 13 classes per year and one study hall (which would be the same number of classes, but a reduction by 50% in the number of study halls). This may seem like a small difference -- but in the trimester system, 12% of their year is spent in study halls, whereas it drops to 7% in a semester system. I also wonder if a semester system would better allow our students to take advantage of taking college courses, which could help reduce some enrollment pressures/class sizes. To me, this schedule change at least seems like something that should be considered.

Finally, I haven't talked much about what classes would be cut at the high school level, because frankly those decisions haven't been made/proposed. But I do think we should very carefully consider enrollment decisions and what our "core mission is" when choosing what to cut. I'd like to know how many students are in various classes at various levels and across disciplines (e.g., math, science, English, social studies, arts, language, etc.). In tough budget times, having information on the number of kids effected seems important, and I believe enrollment should be a factor that is considered in what is cut. I hope we can get some of these numbers at the next Regional School Committee Meeting.


Anonymous said...

Asking anyone to give up negotiated raises isn't quite fair but worth a shot.

Also, have we been paying for a freshman football team we don't even have?

Neil said...

Asking teachers to concede negotiated raises is indeed a tricky question but they might decide it is in their own best interest to do so.

The state of the economy is such that prices of the things we buy such as food and energy are currently in a deflationary spiral (declining). In past years, prices were rising faster than wages. Now prices are falling and wages are flat or increasing marginally. Even without a raise, we have more buying power (...although admittedly, becuase we are unsure about the future, we squirrel it away to buy food later if necessary.)

ALL OTHER COST CUTTING FIRST, you might find that teachers would give up half of their negotiated raise to keep other teachers on staff.

Is "freshman football" 8th grade team or JV?

Anonymous said...

School football starts in HS, 9th grade since "freshmen" don't exist in Amherst. Most sports have 9th grade, JV and Varsity teams if they have enough players. I don't think we have had enough players for 3 football teams for a couple of years. They certainly didn't play any games. With kids paying up to $190 per season it is hard to imagine this doesn't pay for itself. Especially since in most other towns they pay nothing and have much better athletic facilities/programs. But I guess that's a totally different topic to branch off onto and best left alone for now.

Anonymous said...

No, I agree. We are paying more for our sports teams through fees than other schools in our conference. Last night the administrators also told us that in addition to cutting those particular sports, they would also be raising fees and cutting down on the number of travel games our teams will play.

Cathy C said...

Last night’s SC meeting was again frustrating. (Why do I go?)

I had attended Glenda Cresto’s brown bag lunch budget presentation on Monday and my husband went to Mark Jackson’s presentation before break. They both had prepared powerpoints to illustrate their difficult conclusions with numbers and facts. Exactly the kind of information you were asking for as a committee. Most of the same questions were asked and ANSWERED by the principals. So, why the lack of information last night? The numbers were the same, did the justifications change? Was it just the superintendent’s job to bring it forward and she didn’t know the answers? The format just baffled me. I guess writing down the questions defused some of the public emotion, but to me it seemed dishonest or at least fishy. I REALLY think that the SC deserves a FULL presentation (if necessary in closed session), one that has already been prepared and presented to parents. I will be interested to see if and when questions are answered and if they are in line with the information I received. (And I apologize for making all sorts of frustrated & confused faces at you Catherine.)

Neil said...

Accomplishment in extra-curricular activity such as athletics can be an important aspect of college admissions.

The families of students who participate in these programs have made monetary contributions to fund the activities.

I would think that this level of commitment made by the families would have earned some extra consideration when it comes time to make cuts.

Alison said...

Cathy makes a great point. Take the middle school language question, for example. The administration had to know that eliminating language at the 7th grade level (and potentially at the 8th grade level the following year as Elaine Brighty astutely pointed out might happen) would raise many questions. Instead of deferring answers, why didn't they do their homework ahead of time?

One person asked, "how many other area schools offer world languages at the middle school level?" The only answer I heard (from someone in the front row--I don't know who it was) was "very few."

Well, today I did my homework. I looked at other area schools that are either regional schools like ours (Frontier and Pioneer) or K-12 schools (Belchertown, Granby, South Hadley, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton). Guess what? Next year Amherst will be the only regional school NOT to offer some sort of language instruction in the 7th grade (no, I did not count that special section of Chinese that will apparently only be open to Wildwood students). Among all eight of the local districts, five offer language at the seventh grade level while three offer it at the 8th grade level.

Was this information too much to have available to the public and the School Committee before such an important decision is being made?! No wonder public trust is so low and public frustration is so high!

Neil said...

"they would also be raising fees and cutting down on the number of travel games our teams will play."

We lose two games for every away game we cut because no opponent will want to assume the travel cost year after year. My guess is that we limit playing teams outside our conference games. It looks like we are losing teams and games.

I would ask the athletic department administrators to keep the focus on student participation opportunities and therefore, not cut teams.

Neil said...

Many years ago (ARHS'78) language instruction started in 7th grade at ARJHS. It included French, Spanish and German. The building was new and the listening/speaking lab was a part of instruction.

Japanese and Chinese were not taught in scholastic setting but maybe we have better reasons to do so now. Certainly, they are taught in many colleges.

The argument for foreign language instruction as early as seventh grade (and maybe even earlier) is a strong argument. The breadth of choices is where the costs begin to mount.

Alison said...

Neil, your point is well-taken. In my research, I noticed that the vast majority of other districts limited their middle school language participation to French and/or Spanish (I think there was one that offered Latin too...some of this wasn't completely clear on the school web sites). ARMS could definitely move toward that model instead of eliminating all languages at the seventh grade level (again, not counting the special Chinese for Wildwood graduates).

Jan said...

As a former College Admissions Dean, Independent School College Advisor and now Private college counselor I feel compelled to post-something I do not do often.

With a son in grade five who lives for sports and who is Special Ed student therefore sports provides his self esteem and friends, I would hate to see any athletic cuts made without careful thought. However the number of students whose college admission is implacted by athletic prowess each year although important for those students is small-dare a say a handful. (I do smile at elementary athletic events wathcing parents who clearly think their budding athlete will be playing for USC some day when the reality is that the number of students recruited each year versus the number of Varisty athletes at a school is a VERY small percentage) Having said that anyone reading this who is concerned that their student be a serious candidate for admission to competitive colleges should be concerned about the language cuts. Students who can not begin language study in 7th or 8th grade most likely will not be able to continue language study at the AP level. Competitive colleges look at the number of AP classes (many Ivies asking this right on their application) and if one were to start in grade nine in level I there is not time to advance through levels 1-4 leading to a fifth year of AP. Amherst Regional is resting on its reputation and this reputation is fading fast. I am a realist and recognize that the sitution is serious and that cuts need to be made. I am curious that I have heard an outcry about elemantary instrumental music but have not heard a similar outcry about language. Tonight is the Middle School information meeting for grade six will be interesting to hear how this is presented in that forum. Maybe cut the number of languages (my daughter was born in China and was hoping to take the language) however it would be better to have her in Spanish or French than no language at all.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

I totally agree with letting High School student course enrollments determine be the primary (not only) factor in which elective classes will be offered in a given year.

I do not agree with using the same logic for world languages. I'm sure I would feel differently if I had any reason to believe kids chose languages based on anything other than field trips (Quebec/Montreal) or what their friends were taking!

Even so, is it really logical, in 2009, to be offering French and German, but no Arabic language? Or is French worthwhile for the places other than Candada and France that it's spoken, and do our French classes teach it that way? And surely Latin as a foundation is still worthwhile, even if it isn't the first thing kids think to take! Wouldn't keeping a language like Chinese also help address the different learning styles different kids bring to the table? This seems like one of the topics that needs some out of the box thinking and serious discussion between the language teachers.

Alison said...

Jan makes an excellent point about college preparation. Not only in how schools look at how many AP classes a student has taken, but even whether or not they have taken a language and for how many years.

We are fortunate to live near five nationally-acclaimed institutions of higher education. An examination of their Common Data Sets illustrates what their respective offices of admission consider to be the required/recommended number of units of various subjects an applicant should have taken. Just looking at foreign language and visual/performing arts, we have:

--Amherst: language: 4, arts: none
--Smith: language: 3, arts: none
--Mount Holyoke: language: 3-4, arts: none
--Hampshire: language: 4 recommended, 3 required, arts: none
--UMass: language: 2 required, arts: none

Now I will be the first to defend our various performing arts programs (I currently have kids in the FR orchestra, ARMS chorus, and ARMS band), but if our school system is modeled on excellence and in preparing our students for serious post-secondary study, why is world language being eliminated (seventh grade) or reduced (Russian/German) if the very schools our children hope to attend require/recommend many years of study in this subject area? Jan is right...there was much uproar about the elimination of instrumental music at the elementary level (I was just as upset as others) but if you look at what our kids need to get into top schools, it is not visual/performing is world language (along with the subjects that are usually considered core--English, math, science, social studies/history)!

Neil said...

Jan has some interesting insights on the value of athletic, and I presume other extra-curricular activities, in the college admission process that I don't have.

I don't see our athletic and other extra-curricular programs as being a ticket to college, I see them as beneficial in the way Jan describes, as a means for a student to explore and pursue other interests, and as a learning opportunity for life lessons. As such, I favor participation in many rather than few extra-curricular activities and I don't think its wise for parents or students to pin their hopes for college admissions or college financing on their student's athletic skills. That said, I've always believed a full plate of extra curricular activities on a student's application, and maybe even some extraordinary abilities, fundamental to their education or extra-curricular, made a student a more attractive candidate, especially if they had plans to pursue some of those interests in college.

I don't want my main point to be lost: I would ask athletic department administrators to keep the focus on student participation opportunities and therefore not cut teams. By cutting teams we are saying that you can participate only if you're good enough already and that runs counter to some basic educational philosophy. Participation is important to these kids, and important enough to their families that they pay participation fees not collected by other activities. They've earned some extra consideration for that level of commitment.

Emily said...

The idea that Amherst regional schools don't routinely offer at least Spanish language instruction at the elementary level--let alone the middle school level (!)--is very surprising, and is the one factor that makes me hesitate when I think about sending my daughter to the schools here. It's closed-minded, it goes against the stated values of the town, it will hurt our kids' chances in the global economy. The idea that I'll have received a better language education in my very crappy public junior high in NYC than my kids might in Amherst? Unthinkable. I hope.

Anonymous said...

Once again the topic of moving the 6th grade to the MS is on the table. The rationale appears to be related to dollars. It might be useful to know the numbers, in terms of anticipated savings, such a decision would bring (emphasis on the word anticipated), but I hope we'd also have other information to consider before making that decision.
For instance, what do the several dozen staff members (clasroom teachers, SPED teachers, counselors, therapeutic teachers, etc.) who work with our 6th graders think of the idea? If they have objections/reservations, what are they? Do parents of our present 5th graders have objections/reservations about this idea? If so, what are they?
It seems that much of what I've read on this blog about the reasons for moving the 6th grade to MS relates to dollars,
perceived benefits to the MS community, etc. but I haven't read much at all about the benefits
awaiting the 6th graders, their parents, or their teachers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Thanks to all for the comments -- some of which answered questions others had (and in some cases, questions I didn't know how to answer).

Anonymous and Neil: I believe the teachers/staff understand they have the option to give up raises ... and I imagine if they think this is a good idea, they will come forward. And I agree with Neil -- I think we should also demonstrate that we are doing whatever we can to cut costs BEFORE even considering asking them to do this, as part of our end of the bargain.

Anonymous: I am hoping to get numbers on suggested fees, cuts, and cost savings associated with various changes to athletics teams for the next meeting. We should at least be able to see what we are saving where.

Cathy: I of course share your frustration. Last night was a nightmare. First, the SC should get the budgets at least 24 hours ahead of time so we can be prepared with questions. Second, it is silly to have a meeting in which NO questions can be answered. I think it was a rough week for many in the adminstrative offices -- and they just didn't feel ready with all the answers/justifications for proposed cuts (particularly in the face of some uncertainty of the final numbers), and perhaps we should have cancelled the meeting. I will do everything I can to make sure the next meeting -- March 10th -- goes better. Sorry!

Neil: I agree that athletics can help with admissions, but we should see what the fees are -- also seems reasonable for athletes to have to pay some of the costs, yes?

Alison: I agree with your frustration, and I appreciate your efforts to find that information. I'll try to do some searching on that myself (and do a whole blog entry on the topic of MS language).

Neil/Alison: Good point about the issue of really cutting two games per year. Also agree that offering SOME language in 7th makes sense -- but 6 frankly seems not necessary. My MS offered French or Spanish. I wonder about offering these two, and maybe Latin or Chinese ONLY?

Jan: I fully agree that 7th grade language seems essential to prepare kids for AP language by 12th. This is my top priority for the MS.

Alisa: I think it is not just a question of which languages are popular among kids ... it is also that many parents like their kids to take a language they can HELP them with (and as one who has taken Latin/French/Spanish, I'd be more likely to push my kids to do those than German/Russian/Chinese). That's NOT a bad motivation! I also think it is a question of how do you HIRE teachers ... I'm going to bet there are many teachers who can do MS French/Spanish (I believe the SAME person now teaches MS French and Spanish). But I bet there are fewer MS teachers who teach Arabic and Russian, for example.

Alison: Thanks again for the research -- and yes, I'd agree that languages are MORE essential than many of the arts/tech options (especially when we have two charter schools that specialize in those subjects). I will likely do a new blog entry just on this!

Neil: I echo your belief that allowing as many students to participate in athletics (even the non-varsity/college-asipring athletes) as possible seems good -- and frankly healthy in this day of rising concerns about diabetes, obesity, etc.

Emily: For literally $100,000 in the elementary budget next year, we could fund Spanish OR Chinese in each of the four elementary schools next year. That would be the TOTAL cost of adding world language K to 6 ... which we could easily, easily do if we would make the decision to close MM. You know where I stand ... but I can't even get this information presented at a SC meeting (although I've asked repeatedly).

Anonymous: Well, I'm the mother of a 5th grader, so I'm also responding in that role! First, most 6th grades across the country are in a MS, not an elementary school. Many education leaders believe this is a better idea, BECAUSE children change to the larger school before they hit puberty (typically), not WHILE they are in the midst of these other changes. Superintendent Jere Hochman was a big proponent of this, and each of the Superintendent candidates we interviewed is in a district with 6th grade in the MS. Second, it would benefit the 6th graders to be in a school in which parents are more invested -- this is good not just for the 7th/8th graders, but also for the 6th graders, because parent involvement would be greater (right now, parents/kids arrive and adjust for a year, then face HS, so the incentive to really get involved is just lower).

Anonymous said...

I appreciate the fact that you bring to the discussion your own perceptions as a mother of a 5th grader. I hope you will help create a process that includes the perceptions of all parents of 5th graders (and 4th, and 3rd...) before a decision is made.
Regarding the point about adding the 6th grade making the MS a place where parents are more invested, I'm not so sure. My experience, having had 2 children go through MS, is that it is an environment where the kid culture says the peer group is what is most important. What parents think and feel is, at best, secondary and, at worst,is to be aggressively rejected. Are 6th graders in an elementary school immune from this? No, but do we have to accelerate the process?

Anonymous said...

I just have a question about the world language and instrumental music debate. Should we focus more on the basic classroom needs (like teacher aids, PARAs, teacher trainings, etc) or should we cut those needs to continue to provide for the language and instruments? To me, it seems like teaching the kids the basics, in a high quality environment is much more important than having the other options. I have huge value for the other options, don't get me wrong. I just see that having the regular class time, top quality, is far more important to ALL children.

I can just see it now, we cut teachers aids and PARA staff next year (or anytime) and the teachers are then struggling more to keep up with there required teachings and all the various needs of the children in their class. At the same time, these kids are being pulled out once a week in the middle of their day for instruments. This is hard enough now, but to manage this with less classroom support too and keep up with teaching the required info?
I am not a teacher, but this sounds like too much to me!

I am not saying this as being against either of these options, I love both services, but when I look at the budget cuts and see teacher support staff cut, that scares me more than cutting music or languages.

Neil said...

When we lose an employee in business, we want to learn from it becuase replacement costs are expensive and there is usually a few nuggets worth learning. One of the ways we do that is for a trusted party (senior HR or board member) to meet with the outgoing person and encourage them to be open and thorough about their experience. The point is to learn about the obstacles they faced, things they were unable to accomplish and what they'd change if they had more time. It sounds like the school board did this with Jere. If so, I'm really glad to hear it.

Thanks for your feedback on our comments today and just about every other thread too. It's a lot of work. I hope its worth it for you. It certainly is for me.

Ed said...

Three questions on languages:

First, how well are we doing with the teaching of English grammar? While we can feel good about how many years of how many languages the kids have taken, they aren't going to really understand anything unless they first understand their OWN language.

Second, there is a theory that in order to learn a language, you have to learn it before puberty. So the argument is that the ideal time to start foreign languages is in the elementary grades...

Third, as to the French/Spanish option, I would suggest French for both purposes of promoting diversity and for long term benefit.

A: French and Spanish are both corrupted Latin and essentially similar with just different words. If you know one, the other isn't that hard to learn - as compared to English v. Russian v. Manderin v. Greek.

B: The priniciple of a "foreign" language is that your students aren't already speaking it at home. It is to expose you to people and cultures that are "foreign" to you, i.e. not the kid you play soccer with every afternoon.

C: The only foreign country you can drive a school bus to is PdQ Canada. And don't think about any field trips to Mexico right now...

So my questions are (1) why languages the kids already know instead of ones they don't, and (2) why in the later grades instead of the earlier ones?

Anonymous said...

Why would any parent of a 6th grader want their child to go to middle school with no art classes for 7th graders, no librarian and perhaps now no foreign languages? After touting the team model to meet the developmental needs of 7th and 8th graders, cutting a team of teacher for one current group of 7th graders is now proposed.

The middle school, with 25% of kids, is facing about 50% of the proposed cuts! And what will be cut next year? This is the weakest school in the Amherst system and it is facing disproportionate cuts.

The only way to get parents of 6th graders behind a move to the Middle School is to strengthen this school, not hacking away at it.

Anonymous said...


1 a: unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power b: something that oppresses especially in being an unjust or excessive exercise of power
2: a sense of being weighed down in body or mind : depression

Dear Catherine,

A few questions:
1. Why are the adults in the picture of saving Marks Meadow fighting each other?
2. Why are the proponents being viewed as the 'good guys' with ALL kids interest at heart and the opponents seen as selfish with only their kids in mind?
3. Isn't the upper hand of the oppressor winning here when the oppressed fight amongst themselves?
And finally...
4. How can anyone sacrifice any child's future and honestly believe they have are doing this for the betterment of the whole?
This theory simply does not apply to children.

While you may support administrators administrating to the administrators under them with top notch salaries, you advocate the closing of a high performing, low or no cost, small class size, elementary school.

Here is a fifth proposal:
a. Cut administrative positions.
b. Reduce the unnecessary overflow of office/administration personnel in all buildings.
And finally..
d. Take a deep, hard, long, look at all the newly created administrative positions in the Amherst schools and ask yourself, "Just what do these people do all day long anyway and how do kids directly benefit?"
You may surprise yourself with the answer.

It is not the act of responsible adults who have mishandled money to attempt to recoup this money off the backs of children.

Thank you.

Cathy C said...

At first glance the middle school cuts are misleading. The tier 1 reduction "goal" for the MS was about $350K, HS about $700K and the Central Office $350K. So, the intentions were proportional. The 560K that was cut and the 202K of additional expenses balance out to reach their goal. Central Office didn't quite meet theirs...

There hasn't been art at the 7th grade for a few years, this is obviously a shock to some people, but not new. Next year's 8th grade is a smaller class and the numbers justify the team cut. The teams would be over 100, not the classes.

I completely agree with Anonymous that the MS needs help. Moving the 6th grade might infact get parents more interested, committed and involved, really helping to stengthen the Middle School.

Yes, the budget is horrific, but make a suggestion as to what should be done instead. I'm sure it would be equally torn apart by people who love whatever you would cut.

Alison said...

I can't speak about the overall level of administration in our districts but I was struck last night at the "new seventh grade parent night" at ARMS by the fact that ARMS has two vice-principals for two grades (both of whom, I know, are excellent...I currently have two kids at ARMS...this is no reflection on them personally) and the previous night I sat in the SC meeting to learn that, among other cuts, the high school was going from three vice-principals to two. For twice as many grades! Has someone taken a look at this? It seems to me that either ARHS is under-administered or that ARMS is over-administered in terms of principal-level staff. Again, no personal reflection on the job any of these people are my experience they have been great.

Anonymous said...

Correction in my original post to read.

Why are the adults in the picture of saving/closing Marks Meadow fighting each other?

Anonymous said...

Two comments:
Teachers electing to not get negotiated I understand it teacher did not get raises some time in the past with the understanding that they would get raises in this current contract. Why is it considered balancing the budget on the backs/livelihoods of the teachers?

It's rather random; why not have parents of current students pay a fee for education or institute a local sales tax or whatever. Why? are teachers supposed to take the brunt. Mr. Kelley would have it that that is act of selflessness. (However he is very happy to have his kid get benefit of the charter school private school at public expense loophole. He proposes that teachers forego negotiated COL for their colleagues and students. But would it not be an act of selflessness for parents to contribute? or for administrators over $75,000K to take a 10% cut townwide??

What about the free bus transportation to school--often within walking distance.... why is that considered a necessity in this town?

Secondly how MUCH goes to the TWO alternative high schools for goodness sake? Why is this never brought up?


Ed said...

I signed my first contract at what would be $22K in today's dollars. For this, I was teaching SIX prep courses in two very different subjects (math & English) with absolutely *no* aide as well as hall monitoring and cafeteria duty.

I am a forth generation teacher and I am all for teachers getting paid but I think that the teachers in Amherst are doing VERY, VERY, WELL.

At some point, one does need to ask exactly where the limit to our ability to fund education lies. If I am not mistaken, Belchertown has one of the lowest per-pupil spending in the state yet does better than Amherst by all objective measures.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Nancy,
You may want to proofread before hitting the publish button.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Finally catching up on my responses:

Anonymous: In reviewing what other MA small districts do in terms of MS, I found exactly four districts that have a 7-8 school. It is just an unusual option, and the reason for that is in part because there just isn't the same sort of investment. I still believe a longer duration in a school, as is seen in most districts, is better. And although the kid-focused culture of the school may be true regardless, I think parental involvement in things like fundraising could be dramatically better. And yes, will push for a process that allows some discussion (I've heard from parents who feel strongly - but both ways).

Anonymous: The instrumental music cuts are at the elementary level, and yes, the alternative to these cuts is reducing (largely) intervention teachers. I agree that it is hard to cut intervention teachers to save music -- of course, if you close MM, you can have music and intervention teachers! The world languages in 7th grade aren't being proposed in terms of a trade off with other cuts -- I don't think we are considering other cuts at this level (except for a librarian and guidance counselor). I agree that appropriate support staff is needed, but I also think that cutting entire programs is MUCH harder to bring back than cutting a few intervention/support positions ... and wouldn't have the added impact of influencing HS language, MS/HS music, etc.

Neil: We did do that sort of interview, and Dr. Hochman definitely thought the MS should be 6 to 8. This was also suggested by some of the superintendent candidates we interviewed recently.

Ed: As you know, I'm a big proponent of earlier language -- and for $100,000 (TOTAL) we could offer Chinese or Spanish in all of the elementary schools K to 6!

Anonymous: Sorry, I should have been clearer. IF we moved the 6th grade to the MS, we could then subsidize and pay for the librarian AND have 7th grade world language. So, in a sense, the Amherst elementary budget would be subsidizing the 7th/8th experience. Seems at least like something that should be on the table to consider, yes? But is it true there is NO ART? I didn't know that. I believe the 7th grade will have 3 teams -- the 8th grade will have 2 teams (smaller enrollment). And yes, I fully agree that the MS is taking too many cuts ... I'm hoping the new budget will reflect a better divide.

Anonymous: I'm frankly a bit confused by your posting ... in part because my preference to close MM is largely based on the desire to cut administrators (as in, the principal!). But you seem to be in favor of cutting other administrators, but not that one? I believe all cuts should be fair game ... but the reality is, closing MM saves around $650,000 a year. We would need to fire 6 or 7 administrators to even out those funds ... and although you may well be right that we could cut some administrators, I can't imagine we really have 6 or 7 administrators that we don't need at all! If you have specific suggestions of positions that aren't needed, feel free to send those along -- I'll be amazed if you find 7.

Cathy: Thanks for answering the art question -- yuck, that's too bad. And I agree -- having 6th graders in really could HELP the school. And I say that as the mother of a 5th grader!

Alison: I agree that the two assistant principals may need to be looked at, in light of what other cuts are occurring.

Nancy: I agree that asking teachers not to take a raise should only be done AFTER we've done other serious cost cutting measures ... it strikes me as not a very good idea. I will look into the cost of the two alternative high schools -- very good question. The issue with the transportation is that we are required to provide it free to those who live further than 1 1/2 miles, and estimates (as reported at the meeting) are that charging would result in very, very little additional revenue (because many would opt out, and the bus passes by those houses anyway).

Ed: I think the key question for me, and others, is ARE WE USING LIMITED DOLLARS IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY? That just has to be our goal, and I'm not sure we are there yet.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that the two alternative high schools actually save the district money. Without the two schools, many of the children being served by them would become out-of-district placements because of their educational needs. Catherine, when researching the costs of the two schools would you also look into that aspect? Do the schools ultimately save the district money? If memory serves me correctly, the East Street School was originally started to save money.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous: Great point -- I know that cost savings were also the reason that Superintendent Vivian gave for spending a fair amount of money on the Bridges program at the MS ($128,000) -- keeping these kids in our district can be cost-effective IF we avoid paying other districts. I'll definitely try to get these numbers.

Anonymous said...

But that assumes that if we did NOT have these extra Bridges teachers, then the parents of those kids would choose to place their children out of our district AND whatever other out-of-district placement we made, it would cost us more than $128K/year. That is a big assumption to make for $128K!!! (Especially when it costs $118K to fund world languages which served about 400 kids--7th and 8th combined--last year.)

In addition to Bridges, we have many other fabulous (and costly) special education programs in our district, including a new autism specialist. I find it hard to believe that these children could not be accomodated in our system without this expensive addition to the Bridges program. If you can show me the numbers, I'll believe it. Until then, I remain a skeptic.

Anonymous said...

You said that closing MM would mean losing that principal, but he has seniority to the other 3 new principals. Which one would we lose and who and how would that decision be made?

Yes, we learned the other night at the 6th grade parents meeting at the MS that 7th graders have NO art classes at all. No options for any art.

If we were to move the 6th graders to the MS this fall, wouldn't this need to be stared already? We are already a few weeks away from choosing classes for the incoming 7th graders. I can't imagine how we could put them in there this fall giving the time table we are already working with for the 7th graders.

Seems to me that there are way too many still unknowns to do any drastic changes for this fall. We are almost in March and have no real idea of anything yet. We are still at least, from what the SC said, a month away from being able to make the decision, then it still has to go to Town Meeting and Select Board, plus we have to choose a Superintendent and the current ones we have are having health problems that may or may not impact their ability to continue through this year. We also have an election happening, which dramatically affects the SC, that happens at the same time this decision is supposed to be made.

If you look at this whole picture, making any dramatic decisions right now seems extremely irresponsible of us as a town. There are too many variables at play.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous: Hey, you may well be right -- I'm not trying to defend the Bridges program (or any other program we are using for special needs kids). I think we need to take a serious look at the numbers, including the costs, the number of kids served, and the costs of out of district placement. I just don't have those numbers yet so I don't feel comfortable commenting. But I agree that we need to have a careful look, and I'll try to do this soon.

Anonymous: You are absolutely right that it is not clear which principal would leave ... I imagine seniority would be a factor, but this would be up to the superintendent. I have done a new blog post on your question of "is it the right time to do anything." But briefly, yes, we have a lot going on, and that isn't ideal. But I think we also need to remember that NOT doing something is also doing something ELSE that some would consider drastic. Budget cuts are real, and the money has to come from somewhere. And that is TERRIBLE about art ... I had no idea that was the case, and that seems awful.