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.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Update on the Numbers

As I noted following the last meeting on Tuesday, February 3rd, the School Committee voted unanimously to request specific information regarding the costs associated with each of five plans (current configuration at 2% cuts and "worst case" scenario, the pairing plan, the 3 K to 4s and a 5/6, closing MM and keeping three K to 6 schools, closing MM and moving the 6th grade to the MS). This information was requested to be given to School Committee members today so that we would have the chance to review the information and clarify any issues prior to the meeting on Tuesday.

Although I am not allowed to discuss any of the numbers I have received until the Tuesday 7 pm meeting, I will say that we were NOT given all of the information we requested and I find that very disappointing. I hope that we will be given the information that has now been requested at two separate School Committee meetings prior to the meeting on Tuesday, but it just is not clear to me if we will receive that information prior to the meeting (which of course would allow us to look over that information, check calculations, and get clarification prior to having to discuss this meeting with the community and potentially make some recommendations going forward). I hope all parents and community members will attend the meeting on Tuesday to learn what information will be given at that time -- I believe it will be a very interesting meeting in potentially many respects. I will certainly blog about that meeting later that evening and provide a full presentation of the numbers that are presented at that time, as well as my own opinion about those numbers.


ed said...

It may be poor form, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with submitting a Sunshine Request for the numbers they won't give you.

And if they don't give you the stuff then, you write a polite letter to the Secretary of State's Office asking them to tell the school folk to give you the info.

If you can't get what is public information in your capacity of school committee member, you surely can get it as a citizen.

ed said...

If the school wants to play hardball and dump the stuff on your lap at the meeting, there also is nothing wrong with ajurning for an hour (or day) to get a chance to read it.

It is what an adjurnment to time definite is FOR...

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Catherine, I don't find this disappointing...I find this outrageous! Especially in light of the fact that you have already had to call an extra meeting of the Elementary SC to reiterate explicitly to Super Helen your requests for specific numbers!

This represents a serious lack of leadership and a violation of public trust. The schools control the majority of the town can you let the Supers get away with witholding data that was to be used to make decisions about where this huge amount of money goes?

Something must be done. You, the School Committee, as our elected leaders, must do it.

Anonymous said...

Will we at least find out what we would have to give up next year if we don't reorganize or close Marks Meadow? We are anxious to know if we are giving up intrumental music or will have to go to large classrooms.

The Way I See It said...

I believe that a vote on all of this should not take place until after the March SC election and when we have a new superintendent, because we need consistent leadership and such important decisions should not be made by people with one foot out the door! I would rather have complete and accurate information rather than rushed, inaccurate figures, but if they could not get the information to the SC between Tuesday night and Friday, then they should have made that clear with specific reasons whythey could not comply!

I also think that whatever information was given to the SC should be released to the public BEFORE the 2/10 SC meeting-some of us would like to see the figures ahead of time!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear "The Way I See It" and Anonymous,

The reason (which I requested) for having the information early was for the School Committee to have a chance to review the numbers and ask questions if things weren't clear (so, really, to help make sure that the information we requested is available and clearly presented). That way when the information goes public, it is as accurate as it can be (which is why we aren't releasing the numbers -- which could be revised some -- prior to the meeting on the 10th). The superintendent has assured the entire School Committee (at the January 13th meeting) that it would be possible to get all of these numbers, and in fact, my understanding is that these numbers do exist (and have not been rushed to meet this deadline). I agree that an explanation for why all of the information was not given to us should have been provided on Friday -- it was not. I am continuing to push VERY HARD for having all of the information on all of the options for the February 10th meeting, and I hope that we all will get that information then.

In terms of when the decision is made -- the new superintendent will start July 1st ... but unfortunately, we have to make serious cuts before that point (but certainly it may be possible to get his/her advice on possible choices since that hiring may happen in late February/early March). There just isn't time to wait until July 1st to solve this year's budget crisis, so the School Committee is going to have to do the best job it can to understand the numbers and choices to make the best choice possible (e.g., are we closing a school, cutting instrumental music, having larger class sizes, etc.). And ultimately, the Superintendent presents a budget, but the School Committee votes on it. It may be that the vote occurs in April after the election ... but I'll say that when I attended my first meeting last April, I certainly didn't understand the budget and the choices the way I do now with my time to study and understand them and talk to people (and I remember Kathleen Anderson abstained in the vote on the budget which came shortly after her election the year before -- again, she just didn't feel she had the information to vote in an informed way). So, it also might be hard for new members to immediately have to vote on a budget that they didn't have a chance to craft and shape (and remember, 3 of the 5 members are the same).

Again, I urge everyone to attend the Tuesday meeting ... should be very informative.

Anonymous said...

You didn't really answer my question. Did they at least provide information on exactly what would be cut next year if we kept our four schools in their current configuration? That is really what we are waiting for. We want to know what the base of comparison is for the other models. Some of us are considering charter schools and/or moving depending on what we might lose with the budget cuts. Did they at least provide you with that?

Anonymous said...

What explanation was given for not providing the School Committee with the numbers?!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Anonymous and Anonymous,

1. They did NOT provide us with any information about the current cuts with the current configuration.

2. No explanation was given for the lack of numbers on the current system.

Hence my disappointment.

But I remain hopeful that these numbers will be provided to the School Committee in the near future, and to the community on Tuesday. I am doing whatever I can to get this information. Trust me.

Worried said...

If they did not give you any numbers on what cuts they would make to keep our four schools open and in their current configuration, does this mean that they are recommending closing Marks Meadows or pairing? What other reason would they have for not providing those numbers but that they know they wouldn't use them anyway? I am worried this will force the School Committee to make a decision without enough information!

Anonymous said...

Is there a point where the Select Board should or could put pressure on the superintendents? Or do they have no authority over the school managers?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear Worried and Anonymous:

1. I have no idea why we did not receive the information -- I believe it is very odd (particularly without any explanation given). And for the record, it is the responsibility of the Superintendent to provide the information requested by the School Committee, which in this case was information on FIVE specific plans (current configuration, pairing, 3 K to 4 schools and a 5/6, close MM and keep 3 schools K to 6, close MM and move the 6th grade to the MS). Then the School Committee votes on which of these to pursue, eliminate, etc. We should have been provided with the information we requested, which interim Superintendent Helen Vivian assured us we would have at both the January 13th meeting and the February 3rd meeting (this second meeting was called ENTIRELY to clarify the nature of the information we wanted to receive by Friday) -- and yes, we of course need precisely this information so that we can make an informed decision about how best to solve this very difficult budget situation. However, I remain hopeful that the information we requested will be provided at the meeting on Tuesday (and ideally given to the School Committee members at some point prior to this meeting).

2. The Select Board has no responsibility over the Superintendent. The School Committee ultimately has responsibility over the Superintendent (hires, fires, evaluates, etc.).

LarryK4 said...

All the more reason for Amherst to switch to Mayor/Council (such as Northampton, a city since the turn of the century yet smaller than Amherst), where the Mayor sits on the School Committee.

And is, after all, the freakin Mayor!

Ed said...

If I am not mistaken, one needs a state certificate to be a superintendent. And that the state can revoke these certificates much as the state can revoke a medical license or an attorney be disbarred.

While the ultimate authority in hiring and firing a superintendent lies with the board, his/her/its license lies with the DoE (or whatever they are calling themselves this week). And even if one is halfway out the door to retirement, the potential of publicly loosing ones' credenials might be enough to keep one honest.

This isn't like higher ed, if the state yanks their licenses, they can't be superintendents, not here, not anywhere -- think like loosing a drivers' license.

Confused said...

Will there be data available for the meeting tomorrow night? This is a busy week with the candidates coming. If we aren't going to have data, I won't come to the meeting. Are there plans to reschedule when the public can see data?

Meg Rosa said...

Hi everyone! I know people are really upset about all the possibilities we, as a town, are facing right now. I found a website that may give us a chance to make this into a positive experience for ALL of our children.

This may not be the perfect answer, but it is a positive direction.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still no information on current cuts, which were promised today. I am told tomorrow AM. We will see. I think they WILL be presented tomorrow night -- the question is does the School Committee get any chance to review them PRIOR to the meeting. I hope so -- particularly given that we were promised these numbers on Friday, then on Monday, and now we are nearly at Tuesday.