My Goal in Blogging

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009, Amherst Meeting

This meeting focused on three topics: a presentation of the School Improvement Plan for Crocker Farm, an update on the 2010 budget, and a motion (more on this later) about closing Marks Meadow school. Maria Geryk also announced that discussions about the math curriculum/textbook are on-going, more data is being gathered to make a decision about whether to adopt Impact 1 for the 6th grade, and that a decision will be made and announced at the May meeting. I'm very glad that she is taking adequate time to really get questions answered and make sure she has all the necessary information before deciding how to proceed -- and as the parent of a 5th grader, I am very eager to hear the outcome of this decision and to learn more about the curriculum for 6th grade math!

First, Mike Morris, principal of Crocker Farm, presented the School Improvement plan for Crocker Farm. I am going to guess that this plan will be soon available on the web, so I'm not going to go through all the details, other than to say that I felt this plan focused on really the three crucial aspects of what our schools should be: curriculum, consistency/high expectations, and community involvement.

Second, Maria Geryk presented a brief update on the 2010 budget. Basically the cuts list for each of the levels looks largely the same, and we hope to have more information in April (as more is learned about state aid/federal money). She also said that she will be reviewing how the cuts at each level (e.g., intervention teachers, instrumental music, computers, etc.) will impact kids in our schools. I believe this information will be presented in April.

Third, I made a motion -- which had been shared previously with the superintendent, all the principals, and all the School Committee members -- that we close Marks Meadow at the end of the next school year (2009-2010). (This motion is pasted at the end of this blog entry.) This motion was seconded by Kathleen Anderson. After the motion, Elaine spoke about some concerns she had about the motion, including timeline, Kathleen spoke about her support for the motion (including the need to not take too long to reach a decision), Sonia spoke about her desire to make sure we could still offer appropriate transportation for all kids to go to the school that best fit their needs (such as by language), and Andy spoke about the need for public comment over the next month prior to an intended April vote. Andy also spoke eloquently about the benefits of having this motion maintain Marks Meadow for the next year (to allow time for transitioning well), provide a real sense of urgency to the regionalization discussions, and allow the new superintendent to arrive NOT having to faced this immediately (which I agree with and this was one of my main goals for proposing it now).

Because of the magnitude of this decision, we did not vote on it tonight, but will take a month to let the public weigh in, and then vote on it at our April meeting (that is the current plan, although of course the School Committee could also decide to take longer to discuss it). I believe more information will be presented soon to the PTOs/PGOs and a community hearing will be set up in early April -- I'll post information on these when it is available on this blog. The key thing for Amherst residents, however, is that the 2 new members of School Committee will now be asked to vote on this motion, potentially at their first meeting. All three candidates were at attendance at tonight's meeting, and have been attending our meetings regularly, so they are all up to speed on this, and other, issues that are coming before us (just as I attended meetings regularly last spring before my election to help create a smooth transition). So, if you have feelings about this motion (pro or con), you have two weeks to ask the three candidates where they stand and how they would vote!

Motion: Close Marks Meadow at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, and re-district to create three elementary schools with proportionate numbers of children on free/reduced lunch for the start of the 2010-2011 school year

We’ve heard a lot over the past few months about the passion the Marks Meadow community has for their school, and it is clear that this is a highly successful school, with a caring principal, dedicated teachers and staff, and involved parents and families. I therefore do not make this motion easily, or lightly. However, after considerable analysis, thought, and discussion, I believe that closing Marks Meadow at the end of the 2009-2010 school year, and redistricting our elementary school population into three schools with proportionate numbers of children on free/reduced lunch for the 2010-2011 school year, is the best decision for all of the children in our community. There are three factors that have led me to make this motion today.

First, the School Committee has gathered extensive data about projected enrollments in our schools. The 2007 New England School Development Council report gives projected enrollments in K to 6 through 2016-2017 that vary from 1368 to 1417. The largest of these numbers is the projection for the upcoming school year, and as was presented to the School Committee at our last meeting, three elementary schools can easily handle the projected enrollment for the upcoming year, and thus for the foreseeable future.

Second, the town of Amherst, and the schools in particular, are facing a real and lasting structural deficit. As detailed last fall by the town-wide FCCC group, this long-term fiscal problem cannot be solved by an override or a one-time fix from the federal government or teachers giving up promised raises. Instead, we need to find ways to achieve lasting and significant cost savings in how we run our schools. Closing Marks Meadow will not, in and of itself, eliminate this structural deficit entirely, but it will get us closer to solving it, which is a step in the right direction. After paying the transition costs in the first year, closing this school would save approximately $700,000 in the second year, largely due to reducing staff positions (which would then lead to even greater savings in every subsequent year because the salary base on which raises are computed annually would be permanently reduced). Although there are other ways of reducing this deficit, such as eliminating instrumental music or intervention support for kids who struggle on the MCAS, I believe these changes would interfere with the fundamental values this community holds for our schools in a way that having three, as compared to four, elementary schools does not.

Third, the 2007 report from the Amherst Schools Organization Committee clearly indicates that we have massive inequity in our elementary schools: Wildwood is the wealthiest school, and Crocker Farm is the poorest, with a spread in terms of kids on free/reduced lunch from 22% to 60%. I believe maintaining four schools with such inequity conflicts with one of the key values of this district--social justice. Although it is conceivable that we could redistrict into our current four schools, all of our children can clearly fit into our other schools, with quite similar class sizes to what we have now, at a cost that is roughly $700,000 a year lower, which makes the plan to move to three schools clearly superior.

I have thought considerably about the pros and cons of closing Marks Meadow and possible timelines for doing so, and I’ve listened to many voices – parents (including many from Marks Meadow), teachers, principals, administrators, and community members. My own feeling is that keeping this school even for this next year is very expensive precisely at a time in which funds are so limited. However, all of my listening to other voices instead leads me to propose that we make the decision to close Marks Meadow now, but allow for one whole year of planning to ensure the smoothest possible transition. This delay, not in making the decision but in implementing the decision, will give the administration time to thoroughly coordinate all aspects of this transition (including moving teachers and staff, planning bus routes, learning more about potential regionalization, considering where 6th graders should be educated, and seeking input from all stakeholders on strategies to help ease the transition). It will also give families time to say goodbye to their current school and to visit and get to know their new school.

Some members of the community have urged the committee to wait for the arrival of the new superintendent before making any major decisions, and I have given this issue of timing considerable thought. Dr. Alberto Rodriguez will arrive this summer needing time to get to know our community, and with many projects and issues on his plate. I believe he deserves a chance to get to know our community and build up support and good will before we ask him to take on the immense and emotional challenge of deciding whether to close a school and redistrict, and the reality is that taking such time, while we watch our structural deficit grow, will result in such extreme budget cuts in the upcoming year or two that we will be forced to make fundamental changes in the nature of the Amherst educational experience. It will also maintain the current inequity in our schools, which I see as highly problematic. I therefore believe that the School Committee should make the difficult decision to close a school and redistrict prior to his arrival so that Dr. Rodriguez can instead focus on factors that directly impact the education of all our kids, such as mentoring new teachers, establishing greater horizontal and vertical alignment in our curriculum, and helping us reach our goal of educating every child, every day.

This decision is an emotional one for me, and for the entire community – parents, teachers, staff, community members, kids. Closing a school with a rich history of exemplary and innovative teaching to a diverse study body is of course heartbreaking for the community. This decision will also mean that many of the children in our community will change schools. As a mother, I realize that two of my children will leave the only school they have ever known, and thus I share in the community’s sense of upheaval on a very personal level. But I believe that an even graver and long-lasting upheaval would result from failing to acknowledge and address the very real financial, educational, and social justice challenges that our schools face today and for the foreseeable future. I therefore ask each person at this table and in this room to weigh all of the pros and cons of this motion, while keeping in mind the educational interest of EVERY Amherst child. In the final analysis, Marks Meadow is a wonderful school for all the same reasons that the other three schools are wonderful: because it is run by a highly skilled and diverse staff offering differentiated instruction and a range of services to a diverse study body. As difficult as it is to accept, reducing the number of schools we operate will allow us to maintain our capacity to educate all Amherst children in this way not only in the short-term, but, more importantly, in the long-term.


Sue Cairn said...

I support your motion...make this decision sooner rather than later, but allow dedicated, structured time for public input and reaction. And give the District time to come up with an implementation plan once the decision is made (if the vote is "yes"). I think it is important that the data that has been collected (NESDEC report, Amherst Schools Organization Committee report, FCC report on town budget projections) be presented at the upcoming meetings where this motion will be discussed. I'm glad to see this conversation officially put on the table with the School Committee, Administrators and the public.

Ed said...

OK, I wasn't there, but I gotta ask: why NEXT year and not this one? For all the reasons for doing this, they are reasons for doing this NOW.

Rick said...

Your really put a lot of thought into this. Well done.

I tend to agree with Ed about why not now? But you have clearly studied this to death so have to go with your conclusion on the timing.

Ed said...

I haven't yet managed to get UMass to put ACTV on the UM cable system (which it should) so I gotta ask -- what was the outcome of this motion?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Hi, to all:

Sue - thanks for the support. Please come to the public forum/PGO meetings to share your views!

Ed/Rick - first, how nice that you agree on this! As you both know, my preference has been to close MM at the end of this year, for all the reasons I've discussed. However, I do believe that this is a new topic (only on the table since January, really), and giving the community a bit more time to come to terms with this decision seems to be the Amherst norm. I was also mindful of the fact that we've just turned the district over to our third superintendent in less than a year, and asking Maria (even as great as she is) to take on this immense challenge in 3 months -- and to make the new superintendent walk in to deal with any last minute crises related to it -- seemed to be cruel and unusual punishment. So, this seemed like a good compromise - get the painful, emotion decision over with, but give the administrators time to plan the transition well. It was a compromise -- which I hope increases its chance of working, frankly.

Ed - Sorry -- should have been clearer. But I just updated my blog to clarify -- April vote on this is likely (following public comment over the next month).

Neil said...

The timing of the decision is appropriate and necessary.

The decision is strategic, the type of decision we expect the School Board to make. I don't think we need a superintendent to bring it to the school board. We already know it is the school board's responsibility to decide.

By not delaying the decision that offers a solution or partial solution to managing the budget versus cost structure, we can advance the problem solving process.

By making the decision and separating the time line for the decision from the time line for implementation, you address strategic issues that should not be delayed, and allow ample time for implementation plans to be devised, published, reviewed and revised with the new superintendent on board.

I am not the first commenter to recognize the wisdom in your proposal. Well done.

I have a question. When we refer to "poor schools" are we referring to how many kids qualify for free lunch (the average income of the families of the kids who attend) as opposed to the dollars spent per child in the school?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Neil -- thanks, and YES -- that is what I meant by "poor" schools (bad short-hand, sorry).

Anonymous said...

Sonia Correa-Pope was concerned about transportation costs and that they be investigated so that children would go to the schools that had previously been proposed in the reorganization/Mark's Meadow closing. I think that it is important to not mischaractrize what she said. Since the closing of Mark's Meadow is a budgetary issue, it is important that any information that is presented to the public about costs is very specifically laid out.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Sounds like a very productive meeting! Thank you for bringing this to a motion, Catherine. Your arguments are well-thought-out and clearly aimed toward improving the education of all our children. I hope the proposed delay in closing Marks Meadow will help ease some of the fears expressed by parents (of all schools--as I last saw the numbers, this would require 481 children to change schools) about having adequate time to prepare their children for the transition. I also think this fits in well with the potential for K-12 regionalization (which might also move the 6th grade to the middle school). I can't wait to see what happens at the April meeting!

Joe said...

Thank you for taking action. A thoughtful, well presented motion.

Obviously there will be some emotional "discussion" regarding the closing of MM during the next month. For those that may oppose the motion, I would hope they would offer a specific plan and time line that achieves equity across the schools and is fiscally responsible.

Not to get too far ahead, but I'm hopeful that this will lead to a real discussion of moving the 6th grade into the middle schools.

Becky Demling said...

Major decisions must be made with due consideration and presentation of the facts. This must apply to closing Mark’s Meadow. We have some quick and dirty numbers with glaring errors that yes, were talked about but never corrected on paper and made available to residents. Closing Mark’s Meadow will save staff but may result in higher transportation costs and loss of Title One funding. We don’t know the full financial consequences. That scares me.
Some on our School Committee have erroneously said that it necessary to reduce our structural deficit. Will it help, yes. But it will not eliminate it. We have contracts that were negotiated by our former Superintendent with an apparent override in mind. That is the major cause of this structural deficit. This does not speak ill of our teachers, only the short sightedness and well, arrogance of those who negotiated it.
The SC must postpone the vote and request a comprehensive report. There will be two new members who, in their first meeting, must vote based on public presentations and not with the internal debate with Administration and Parents that must be considered. How can they vote with limited information? It scares me that some would even ask them to. I attend meetings, read blogs, etc but I cannot claim to know all the details.
I am for closing Mark’s Meadow if the facts support it. I do not trust the numbers we have because they are incomplete. Catherine, when can you have more information available so that we can vote from a position of knowledge and not speculation? Lest we forget that our former superintendent thought pairing would save us money.

Information Seeker said...

I would love to congratulate Crocker Farm for their great School Improvement Plan!!!

I know this seems like a small issue when you look at the way the night played out, but I am deeply impressed with where that school is headed without any changes in the district lines. Keep up the great work Crocker Farm!!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

Anonymous - if that was Sonia's question, I didn't get it -- I'm not trying to mischaracterize it. However, the transportation costs in this plan are not thought to be any different -- many kids are doing to a school that is closer to their house, in fact!

Alison - thanks for the nice words. And yes, IF the regionalization discussions continue and we decide to all move 6th grade to the MS, we actually don't have to move the portables! At that time, CF only needs 16 classrooms, so there is no need to incur that expenise.

Joe - thanks for the support. And I agree with your hope about this prompting real discussion about 6th grade's location.

Becky - I certainly agree that "major decisions must be made with due consideration and presentation of the facts" and that this should apply to closing Marks Meadow. That's why I made this motion last night -- we have the facts. I have no idea what you mean about "quick and dirty numbers with glaring errors". Could you give several examples of such errors? I really have no idea what you mean -- and for the record, all numbers that I've seen are numbers that you've seen. An examination of the transportation costs reveals basically no differences -- that was shown at the February 10th meeting, which was one of the real advantages of this plan compared to the pairing plan. It may well lead to a loss of Title One funding -- BUT SO WOULD ANY PLAN THAT CREATES EQUITABLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS! I am certainly not in favor of maintaining inequity so that we can get a few extra dollars (and the dollars we get from Title 1 are significantly less than $700,000 a year, meaning this is still a huge savings). I also don't understand your point that "Some on our School Committee have erroneously said that it necessary to reduce our structural deficit." There is NO WAY that closing MM won't have a positive impact on our deficit. I have never said it will eliminate it -- nor, to my knowledge, has anyone else. You ask for more information and a "comprehensive report." What information would this include that isn't now out there? And for the record, due to open meeting law, there is NO discussion among any members with the administration or otherwise that is not in public -- meaning at SC meetings. The new members, all of whom have been coming to the meetings, have heard the data, they've heard the public comments, and they have the full access to everything that I do. Let me know any details you want, and let me know any details you want the candidates to have, and I'll personally get and post that information. But I think the facts clearly, clearly support it.

Anonymous said...

Just want to point one thing out:
Take a current 3rd grader this year. That child will have one more year in their current school, then move on to their new school for 5th grade, then (most likely) move on to the Middle School for 6th grade, then the final transition to the High School for 9th grade. As far as I can tell, this is the class that will be hit the hardest with transitions.

Can someone please tell me how we can make this easier for this group of kids who will have multiple transitions in a short amount of time? Seems to me that 5th grade could easily be a lost year for these kids, the ones who would have to change schools that year.

What would the plan be to minimizes the impact for this group of kids?

Not put 6th grade in the MS? Highly unlikely. We need that space in the 3 remaining elementary schools. The Middle School is more than capable to handle the 6th grade class.

Becky Demling said...


Mistakes: For one, it was discussed at the last meeting that the number of available classrooms at CF is incorrect. Even with the portables being moved, they are a classroom short of the numbers needed. Mike said that the pre-school program is not able to give up a room so there was a brief discussion about busing overflow K students to different schools. I have seen no revision to those numbers including in the paperwork I got last night.
Before the SC votes, we need to make sure all facts are on the table. I agree that MM should be closed but I am mindful that only facts make the decision irreproachable. Until they are all on the table, in black and white, we cannot claim that the stakeholders have all of the facts.
Can you tell me how much Title One funding we get between CF and MM? That money is used to help our neediest students. I don’t want to not act because of that money. I know that unless we have a plan to pick up the slack, we will fail those children. I am all for equitable schools but getting the free and reduced lunch numbers to line up does not immediately solve the problem. We need a plan.
I work my butt of doing all I can for CF to help it become what it can be. I have emailed the SC and superintendant suggesting ways to address the inequities now. Many didn’t get back to me. How about a call to standardize field trips and enrichment? How about directives to level the playing field now? CF cannot raise as much funds as the other schools. The financial base of the parents is not there to compete. We do less for our kids there than at any other school because we make less money. When I bring this up, people say wait for redistricting on that. Why can we wait on that “immoral” flaw when the facts are verbally there but vote to close a school without a comprehensive report?
I just want all of the facts on paper. Major decisions require it. Closing MM will likely save money, but we will still have deficits for the foreseeable future until we address the salary issue. When we lay of staff, it is done based on seniority, not position. That pushes up the average base pay because it eliminates the newbies who make less. Yes, we get experience but, we lose some of our “bang for the buck”. The deficit cannot be eliminated by closing the school. That fact alone remains. I reviewed my school redistricting paperwork and I see nothing that spells out the cost increases or decreased related to Title 1 and busing. We need this information on paper so that we can all feel like we made the best choice. We can ill-afford the lash-back if we do not dot our I’s and cross our T’s on this one. Anger and hurt will only divide our town and make every issue an Us vs. Them argument. That will eventually destroy our schools. Taking an extra month or two to make sure that everything is written down, shows that the decision was based on the best interest of all children.
I don’t mean to rant on you. I respect your opinions and your openness of your thought process. Being one who relies on facts as a guide to balanced decision making, I need that pro-con bit on the numbers to feel like I am making a good decision. I respect that you are willing to act. Frankly, I think it should have been moved on much earlier than this by having the full facts studied and presented proceeding to a stakeholder’s discussion and public forums. The process was reactionary and does not serve anyone well. I felt blind-sided last night, as did many others. I want to know that the decision was thoughtful and complete and I don’t feel that voting right now will achieve that.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Becky: The issue of the number of classrooms at CF was noted as the last meeting (March 3rd). My point with this is that CF varies between 2 and 3 classrooms needed per year. They have allocated 3, but it could well be that only 2 are needed (for kindergarten). However, if 3 are needed, we could bus CF kids to another school for that year WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT WE HAVE DONE FOR MM KINDERGARTENERS FOR YEARS. In addition, if the 6th grade moves to the MS, you don't need even the portables at CF (which is one reason I pushed my motion for a year). So, this is not an error, and exactly what I just wrote was mentioned in public on TV two weeks ago.

The transportation costs were estimated at the February 10th meeting. They are $10,000 to $20,000 more. That is significantly less than $700,000.

We are going to lose all Title One money if our schools get below a certain number of kids on free/reduced lunch. I see that as a good thing. Our Title One money is significantly less than $700,000. And much research shows that when you have a school above 40% kids on free/reduced lunch, the lower income kids suffer (Mike Morris, CF principal, has talked about this at length). So, if you reduce the number of kids on free/reduced lunch at all schools to lower than 40%, as the new plan does, you should need fewer resources than you do now.

The issue of standardizing enrichment and field trips is not a central issue. My kids go to FR -- we don't have afterschool Wednesday clubs, but CF does. So, we should force CF to drop those clubs? MM 6th graders take a trip to the UN. My kids at FR don't. Should we force MM not to take that trip? Again, the issue of equity is not as simple as afterschool field trips or clubs. It is what happens day in and day out in every single classroom. That is what redistricting solves -- and what redistributing tiny amounts of PGO money does not! FR raises $15,000 a year. I can't imagine FR and CF would be "equal" if we just spread around that money. The problem just isn't that simple.

In terms of teacher pay -- as long as we have a structural deficit, we are going to be reducing the teaching staff, and yes, seniority matters. But we are going to reduce staff in any of the circumstances to reduce the deficit -- if we wait a year, we may lose teachers with more seniority to retirements, which again means less impact on mean average pay.

Finally, I guess I just don't understand your view that because MM doesn't solve the whole structural deficit, we shouldn't do it. It would clearly reduce it -- those numbers are abundantly clear. I guess I am totally confused as to why we are only interested in a plan that would totally eliminate all structural deficit. Why not take a big step (reducing the base by $700,000 a year), and then find other ways to reduce it further as needed?

Again, comprehensive report ... would consist of what data specifically?

Migdalor Guy said...

Kathleen, you wrote:
Closing Marks Meadow will not, in and of itself, eliminate this structural deficit entirely, but it will get us closer to solving it, which is a step in the right direction." (emphasis added
I believe this is where your thinking is not as well thought out as it ought to be. It's a step in the wrong direction. Your proposal isn't part of a potential comprehensive plan. It's a short-sighted stop-gap. In the absence of a truly comprehensive plan to address long-term financial concerns, I believe it is "putting the cart before the horse" and attempting to solve a problem piecemeal.
Redistricting can and should be addressed, but closing Marks Meadow is not a given necessity as part of such redistricting.
Let's try examining your proposal with an analogy. You are anticipating that you will no longer be able to afford to consume food at your present rate. You predict that possible malnutrition will result. In order to forestall that possibility, you have a limb amputated. All this before you have allowed the medical professionals, including the new doctor (or perhaps nutritionist ?) you just brought in on the case to suggest a comprehensive plan that will allow your body to function as well as possible on a reduced amount of food. When the pain of amputating a limb is brought to your attention, you suggest waiting a while to allow you to come to terms with losing the limb, but going ahead with the amputation nevertheless.
I simply fail to see the logic in such a process - both the analogy I have used, and the actual one you are proposing.
Once again, you have presented this as an all or nothing [flag waving and patriotic music in the background, accompanied by crocodile tears] Hobson's choice "Marks Meadow" vs "our social values and our music program."
It's just not that simple, and it is not an either/or situation. There are plenty of alternatives to be explored. Decisions like school closings are not something with which to unburden an incoming superintendent-quite the contrary. Matters of curricula et al are not unaffected by bricks and mortar matters. A holistic approach is necessary.
I hope the continuing and oncoming members of the school committee recognize the fallacy of the Hobson's choice being presented, and opt for a comprehensive,thoroughly researched and vetted solution for the district's financial woes. If the social justice value is the real agenda here, then redistricting should be done first, and without any attachment to other options. It should have been done years ago.

Adrian A. Durlester (aka Migdalor Guy)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Adrian A. Durlester - First, thanks for using your name! Second, I'm not going to go into the "can I also eat food" analogy, but here's the thing - closing MM saves $700,000 a year. Yes, there are other ways to save even more money. But if you have a deficit, why not try to take a step towards reducing it? Let's say I am spending more than I earn each year. I could cut out my vacations EVEN IF THAT DOESN'T ELIMINATE THE PROBLEM. Then I would just look at other ways to also save extra money -- but if there was a big glaring thing that would help a lot, yes, I would do it. In terms of redistricting -- as was presented at the March 3rd meeting, you can't redistrict to four schools WITHOUT creating an extra classroom that doesn't exist at MM (class in the gym? library? auditorium), you continue to have to bus kindergarteners to different schools, AND it costs $100,0000 to $150,000 a year more. That plan would clearly create an even larger structural deficit.

Becky Demling said...

I am not saying we should not close MM. Where are you getting that? I am simply saying that it should not be voted on until all of the facts are written down and presented coherently- which has not been done yet. Yes, most of it is out there. We need the information off of the replays and blogs and on paper. If you had a handout detailing all of this information, you would have stronger support for this initiative because it negates hear-say and feelings that only some are in the know. The data is all costs of moving, including desks and portables, costs associated with layoffs such as buy backs and unemployment insurance. Transportation and Title 1 funding changes as well as the cost savings of decreased staffing. One organized handout that makes the case black and white would go a long way.

I know that the 40% low income level will help immensely at CF but it is not a magic wand. I would be ecstatic if we no longer needed Title 1 funding to assist the disadvantaged children in our schools. Mike is amazing and knows it is a necessary first step but it does not immediately fix the situation. There will still be work to needed to address the issues of poverty in our district. We need that plan on paper so that parents can be assured that it will happen.

Please hear me- I want to close MM if it is truly best financially. I just want the facts for all to see. The way you are proceeding will bring anger. It will make people feel as if you are disinterested in following an inclusive process. I have seen good towns destroyed by less. The process needs to be transparent or else, we dig our grave. At some point, we will need an override to fix the structural deficit. If the sentiment exists that the SC acts without due process and doesn’t place value on clear public information, then we will never succeed in passing one which will relegate us to many more years of cuts. Just postponing the vote for another month or two, putting ALL of the information in one place and holding the public forums mitigates this anger and presents the argument as shared sacrifice. Please know, I want you to move ahead on this but in a different way.

I would love to allow other schools to share in the good programming the PGO provides at CF. This year Wednesday clubs was a trial run of 5 weeks. If there was space and transportation, I would whole-heartedly welcome everyone next year or share our model for schools to replicate. Amherstopoly has opened lines of communication between the school groups that did not exist previously. I organized and shared it with that goal in mind. Building bridges will enable us to do more with less.

FYI- CF earns around $7,000 a year. This year $2,000 of that was given back to our teachers to buy school supplies for those who needed them. We do not have visiting artists or large numbers of field trips. We look at ways to utilize every penny to the advantage of every child, as I am sure that the other PGOs do. We have so many needs at the school that are not met due to lack of funding. Our playground is inadequate and in disrepair and we cannot even hope to raise the money to improve it. Our levels of parental support do not meet that of other schools.

Anonymous said...

What does the phrase "Structural deficit" mean? (How is that different from just deficit?)

Why has this phrase just been brought up recently (or recently to me)?

Ed said...

Title I money:

There are two kinds -- the kind that follows the kids and the kind that follows the school.

This *is* a case where I might assign to an undergrad the legwork (running it by the ethics commission just to make sure) -- with a significant number of ELL students, some of whom may still have the "refugee" status and the money that goes with that, even though at this point they are the children of refugees, there has got to be Title I money other than for the >40% school status.

Maybe not, but worth chasing down. My gut feeling is that it is an either/or, you either get it collectively for the entire school or for each qualifying student individually. As Federal policy has been to de-concentrate poverty for years, I can't see them not having something to compensate towns that do as they are asking.

Ed said...

At some point, we will need an override to fix the structural deficit

What part of "no more overrides" do you not understand?

The era of increasing revenue is over. The schools will be spending less. Hopefully spending wiser, maybe not, but it will be NO MORE OVERRIDES!

Impacted Elementary School Parent said...

Becky, I do think Catherine's motion was an attempt to be inclusive, to get all the numbers in one place and publicly available (who else but Catherine routinely even ASKS for numbers with which to make decisions?!), and to allow enough delay in the implementation to help ease the transition for all our kids.

Kathleen Anderson has repeatedly asked for ACTION rather than DELAY and has presented good arguments for ways in which public feedback and consensus can be reached in a relatively short period of time. I hope the rest of the School Committee will heed some of her suggestions.

What I have read on this blog today seems, in part, a natural reaction from members of the Marks Meadow community who are clearly concerned about the closing of their elementary school. Change is difficult and nothing brings on stronger emotions than do decisions that impact our children. Rather than criticize Catherine for bringing this whole thing to a vote, I hope people can step back and consider how reasonable her motion really is and how necessary.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Becky in that we need to present clear and concise (if possible) facts - that summarize all the pros and cons basically so that someone who has NOT been following any of this (on TV, on the blog) can understand it. (You have to assume that many in this community have NOT been following this issue closely, just to be on the safe side). Otherwise what you have is a LARGE proportion of MM proponents who HAVE been studying this in detail and just a few from the other schools who have been following.

It may not take too much more time - it seems that Catherine with her superspeed could write a very clear summary pulling info out of previous blogs, SC meeting notes, etc. Perhaps the SC could all sign their name to that report - and that would be a starting point of what could be handed to all parents in the district via backpack mail. (Or would it be to everyone in the district? Maybe then you would have it published it in the newspaper.

And then listed at the bottom of the page (or report) would be a list of

- here's where you get more info (parent meetings, etc)

- here's where you can give input (SC mailbox, SC survey, etc) It has to be controlled enough that each person can only vote once (and not stuff the ballot box or opinion box).

The only question in my mind is how thorough does this mini-report have to be? Can it be just the info we have now (and a list of info we are still looking for) - so that people can start thinking about it early? Without data, all the conversations around town will be just be emotional verbiage, supported by half-baked facts that people have in their minds. With a piece of paper filled with facts in front of them, people can start having intelligent conversations about this important decision.

Becky Demling said...


Let me say that I think we are years away from an override. We need to get our financial house sustainable within the confines of Prop 2 1/2 by limiting our expenditures in a long term way. We are not doing enough collaboration with the University and Colleges to mitigate Professional Development costs. We have hindered business development and been free with declaring areas conservation land. We have contacts that will hinder us for at least 5 years should no action be taken to renegotiate them. That being said, with reform reducing or eliminating the need there may be a need for additional tax increases- whether as debt exclusions to fix or replace aging schools or straight increases to the tax rate to sustain a reasonable level of services. I am all for keeping Amherst affordable but there needs to be a balance. Speaking from experience, home values fall at faster rates when the school system fails. That hurts people more than a modest tax increase would.
To respond to your Title 1 post, we need those numbers on paper to see the role they play in our school services. Speculation gets us no where- hard facts do.

Anonymous, FYI- I am not a Mark’s Meadow parent. My kids attend WW and CF. I see the way Catherine is going about it as dangerous to the integrity of the SC and its processes. Please re-read my posts. I know we have to do this; I just want it done right. There is no harm postponing the vote another month, having all of the facts in one handout and protecting the integrity of the process.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

This is just a general statement -- I'm not going to respond to each comment since many people are responding to each other, and not me, now.

1. Many in the community are very frustrated that the SC takes a very long time to act. I hear this frequently -- including specifically with regards to closing MM. In fact, the first few comments on this blog today were criticizing my delay of a year!

2. Some parents in this community, such as Becky believe that we need more time to discuss/process this. I hear their concerns about the process (although I don't share those concerns).

3. Here is what will happen: because of my motion, actual interaction with parent groups will discuss the closing of MM and redistricting. That interaction OVER THE NEXT MONTH will include a handout that gives all the facts about what has been studied and why the proposal has been made. The SC will have a hearing in which this information is presented.

4. The SC will vote on this motion. People who believe I'm acting too fast and doing damage, such as Becky and others have suggested on this blog, should encourage other members to vote NO on this motion. People who believe the facts are clear and that a vote should be taken so that we can move on and not continue to discuss this should encourage other members to vote YES on this motion. That is how democracy works -- get the facts, as I'm presenting on this blog and as will be presented at public meetings, then form an opinion and convey that opinion to the elected members of the SC, who will then vote.

Another Voice said...

Additionally, it is not Catherine's fault (or anyone else on the School Committee) if members of the community are not informed. Not only are School Committee meetings open to the public; they are also advertised and available on-demand on ACTV. Members of the community should care and be interested in how their money is spent, whether or not they have children in the schools. The idea of sending data home in backpacks totally cuts out a huge proportion of the community. Believe it or not, most residents of Amherst do NOT have children in the elementary schools but the costs of the elementary school budget is borne by ALL members of the Amherst community. Please don't forget that.

Anonymous said...

I have to add that last night there was an assumption made, not sure by who, that closing Mark's Meadow was part of the discussion that happened in the ASOC last year. This was not discussed, in fact just the opposite is true. We wanted to grow MM. We needed the portables and everyone was glad we were getting them.

Closing MM was never brought up to help with the equity issues. Those two items never crossed paths. I really hope that people hear this!!!

In fact just a few years ago the conversation began about building a bigger Mark's Meadow because we don't have enough room as it is now.

How is it that we can go from conversation about needing a bigger school, to now only needing 3 in that short amount of time?

The budget? Equity? To me closing MM needs to be on the table solely because of the budget, but NOT based on equity! Closing MM forces us to have no options for future growth EXCEPT building a new school. Do we want to take that on? Do we really feel that in 5 years (or any # of years) we will have the ability to look at building a new school. The sole purpose of closing MM is based on the budget.

Where are any of the options for increasing revenues? School choice?

What about reaching out to the colleges? They are fabulous resources we already have access to.

I think people are thinking too short sited when they are talking about closing a school and leaving us NO opportunity for growth.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:58 - I would like it when people suggest alternative sources of funding (or cuts) to closing MM (or music, or whatever) to actually do the research & publicize the info. Versus just saying "Let's cut administrative costs, they're so high!" - do the research and show exactly where the cuts can be, and what the impact of those cuts will be. If you want to look into alternative sources of funding - do so! Make a list of what is available, make a plan to figure out who will apply for these grants, aid from local universities. Don't just throw it out there because no one else will do it.

Anonymous said...

How will people get to vote "YES" or "NO" on the matter?

Will there be an option to vote for "DELAY the vote for (1, 2, 3) months?"

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:19,
I am curious as to where you got the idea that I said anything about "cutting admin costs"? I asked questions. I asked for some clarity. I did not say cut one thing over another. I am looking for information, that's all. It is really interesting to me that you managed to read a whole lot into what I wrote, than what I actually wrote!! Please reread and them respond to what I wrote, not your assumptions on what I wrote.

Anonymous said...

The new,interim,and/or old superintendent(s) all work for the School Committee, as does the administration of the schools. It is the School Committee's role to take the lead in decision making, as difficult as that seems for some SC members. I applaud Catherine for making this motion and having the School Committee make a decision to close the gap on the structural deficit BEFORE the new superintendent arrives on the scene.

By having this blog, Catherine is using an inclusive process and putting all the facts, and her opinions out there. Are the other SC members putting ANY facts/ reports out there? Are the other SC members open to discussing these issues?

Becky you ask for: "a handout detailing all of this information... you would have stronger support for this initiative because it negates hear-say and feelings that only some are in the know."

Catherine has put all the data out there. Why don't you ask the other SC member for more of what you want?

Becky: "It will make people feel as if you are disinterested in following an inclusive process".

I vote for SC members to show leadership and make difficult, tough choices for the good of all the kids in the system, whether that feels inclusive for others or not.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:58 from Anon 12:19,

I didn't say that YOU said anything about admin costs, that is just something I have heard a lot of people say. I am asking people to give concrete and helpful examples when they make a suggestion. That seemed like a clear cut place where someone can indeed look up information about the admin costs and propose an alternative solution.

What I am saying is: a lot of people throw out questions out there - What about this (for example: getting university aid)? What about that (for example: options for increasing school choice to gain revenue)?

The reality is: unless there is an expert here on "This" or "That" no one is going to look up the answer for you. The only way to get what YOU want looked at is to look at it yourself (unless there is an expert available).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 8:47 - I think some kids will bear more of a brunt of a change than others, and that is the reality anytime we redistrict. But keep in mind that about half the kids will NOT move schools (only half of FR/CF are projected to move, and only 30% of WW). Also, I don't think it matters whether the 6th grade is in the MS in terms of the transition or not -- kids would be going to that school anyway, so it is just going a year earlier (e.g., otherwise this year's 4th graders are impacted the most -- with a new school in 6th, THEN a move in 7th). But I have a daughter who will start kindergarten in one school (FR), and then go to 1st grade in another (CF). That doesn't seem ideal either! But again, a redistrict moves kids ... anytime. And we need to do it. I VERY much like your suggestion about how to ease the transition for ALL kids when moves occur. Share more about what you think could help with this!

Information Seeker -- yes, congrats to CF! Thanks for noting that in the midst of all this other stuff!

Anonymous 10:55 -- sorry for using the jargon! Structural deficit means that our schools are CONTINUALLY spending more than we have to spend. It is on-going, and thus a one-time fix (like from the federal government) isn't going to solve it. That is why we need to be thinking about LONG-TERM solutions.

Another Voice - very, very well said! If our schools aren't spending money well, then all citizens in Amherst are impacted (because the schools are 70% of the budget).

Anonymous 11:58 - The point Kathleen made was that we've been talking about equity for 2 years, NOT that we've been talking about closing MM. But you can't discuss redistricting UNTIL we know if we are going to 3 or 4 schools. Hence that needs to be settled first. ALSO, MM did NOT need the portables -- they are not in use as classrooms this year, and the clear projection as presented in OCTOBER to SC was that we only need 9 classrooms next year in MM! So, the portables were NOT needed, and should not have been purchased. That is an example of a decision that was NOT well thought out at all. There is plenty of room in the other three schools for all the kids -- as the enrollment projections clearly state. AND if we move 6th grade to the MS (where there is plenty of room), we gain more space in the other three schools than currently attends MM -- meaning there is clearly room. You are deliberating ignoring all facts -- we have enough room through 2016-2017 in THREE SCHOOLS.

So, if you believe we should pay $700,000 a year to cover the possibility that in 2018, there is a massive influx of kids in town, just say that. But don't pretend that in five years we won't have enough room, because that is factually inaccurate on so many, many levels.

I've discussed School Choice repeatedly on this blog -- it is NOT a reasonable way to keep MM open -- if we took in 60 School Choice kids a year (which would be a HUGE number, and they would all go to MM), we would earn $300,000 BUT have to hire two more teachers, so we'd add $200,000 in net gain. Closing MM saves $700,000.

I work at a college -- what resources will allow MM to stay open? I have no idea even what this could be.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 1:01 - yes, agreed! Thanks.

Anonymous 12:47 - my motion will be voted on at the next meeting. It can be voted "yes" or "no." However, a SC member could first propose an amendment to delay the vote until May (or June, or September, or 2012, etc.). That amendment could or could not get accepted. Again, if you want a delay of vote, tell the SC members. If you want a vote in April so we can move on, tell the SC members.

Anonymous 1:10 - I agree exactly with what you said. The SC is in charge of making these decisions, and if you don't like how we are making the decisions, vote us out.

Anonymous said...

The role of the School Committee:

"The Committee represents the entire community and establishes educational goals and policies for the operation of the school system. In addition, the School Committee reviews and approves budgets; is the employer for collective bargaining; and selects, appoints, and evaluates the Superintendent. The Committee reaches decisions by majority vote. The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 set strict legal limits on the roles, responsibilities, and power of a School Committee."

So as far as this says, the School Committee reviews and approves budgets. It doesn not say anything about creating a budget.

No where in here does it say anything about the schools or administration having to answer to the School Committee. They answer to the Superintendent.

The School Committee hires and evaluates the Superintendent.

Looks to me like there are some lines being crossed here.

Anonymous said...

The portables are being used for Title 1 right now! They were not used as classrooms this year, because THEY WERE NOT INSTALLED until Jan.!!!!
To say "You are deliberating ignoring all facts..." is you also ignoring the fact that we were looking into building a new school a couple of years ago. This is a fact!! It was also said last night that closing of MM was part of the discussion last year, included with the ASOC and that it has been talked about for 2 years now. Where was this discussion happening? As far as anyone I have talked to has heard, the first time it was really brought up was back in Dec 08 strictly due to budget cuts.

The school choice is an option to bring in money. We spend a lot for kids going to other towns. We need to at least LOOK at what it could bring into our schools. All I would ask with this is that it gets looked at by the School Committee. You have asked for positive ways to help, this may be one.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 2:27 - Here is the information I received during my Orientation last summer from the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to clarify the rules and responsiblities of a School Committee member:

-Establish and periodically review educational goals and policies for the school in the district. Policies should be reflective of the fact that the School Committee has oversight or and responsibility for the school system, the direction in which the system must go, and establish criteria to determine if its goals and practices are being met.

-Work to ensure that necessaray funds are appropriated for the district and that a balance is maintained between needs and resources in the distribution of available monies.

-Evaluate the performance of the superintendent.

Perhaps most importantly, this orientation provided guidance as to what was expected of me, and all School Committee members, as elected officials: "As a member of a School Committee, you are a public official and a public figure, with rights and responsibilities. Voters elected you to take a stand, argue for public policy, and explain your actions." I hope that is helpful.

But at a minimum, be clear that the SC votes whether to close a school or not, and the SC votes whether or not to approve the budget. This is entirely what we are elected to do.

Anonymous 2:39 - the portables are NOT projected to be needed for use in MM next year. There are 9 classrooms needed, and 10 classrooms available NOT INCLUDING THE PORTABLES. It is too bad that people said we needed to build a school a few years ago, when that was clearly false. Luckily, the projected enrollment report indicates that a new school is not needed, and won't be needed for the foreseeable future. I imagine that we thought we needed a new school precisely because we haven't allocated our classrooms well because of diving into four schools instead of three. Clearly the MM issue should have been on the table for several years -- but I can't undo the past ... I can only look at where we are now, and where we are going. We don't need three schools.

I'm going to answer the school choice question AGAIN. Let's say we brought in 60 kids to MM via School Choice (that is the maximum we could take, and I'd be surprised if we could actually get 60 kids from nearby communities who want to go to that school, but maybe we could). That would bring in $300,000 in revenue, and require us to hire two more teachers, so the net savings would be $200,000. If we close MM, the net savings is $700,000.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I have wondered about school choice myself as a source of revenue. Catherine, if you say accepting 60 kids into our district would bring in $300,000, that comes out to $5,000 per student. Correct? I then looked up our per pupil expenditures and saw that in FY08 (the latest year for which I could find information), Amherst's expenditure per pupil was $15,223.77! (Interestingly, the expenditure per pupil for the 41 students tuitioned out was only $10,932.49.) So, if it costs our district an average of $15,223.77 to educate a student, the $5,000 in revenue that additional choice students would bring could potentially COST our district money? Catherine, if this is a misinterpretation of the data, please correct me.

Anonymous said...

Another school choice question: For a kid currently going to private school, does the Amherst school district get to keep that extra money? Or does the town just not "count" that kid when allocating education dollars to the Amherst school system? Now let's say next year, this kid choices OUT of the district to a public school. Then that is about 11,000 more OUT of the 2010 budget to the other town, right?

Becky Demling said...

Title I Part A provides federal dollars for supplemental educational opportunities for disadvantaged children who are most at risk of failing to meet the State's challenging content and performance standards.

Amherst’s title 1 part a amount was $203,352. (source:

School Choice/ Charter Funding
for FY 2010 (Source: ARPS website)

Charter Tuition - 134,682
Choice Assessment- 22,370

Total funding being sent out of district: $157,052

It does not say how many students included in this cost.

Cathy C said...


As you read your motion, I was initially surprised by the suggested time table. Then the sensibility of taking the time to carefully plan the transition and have results from regionalization seemed a costly but reasonable concession. As this issue has been repeatedly discussed and all financial details shared openly in written reports at SC meetings, thank you for moving the Committee to action as leaders of our schools.

Savings?? said...

I believe Title 1 resources are assigned to a school based on the percentage of children on free and reduced lunches. However the Title 1 resources which the town doesn't pay for are available to ALL THE STUDENTS in the qualifying building. Title 1 teachers regularly assist classroom teachers in many ways, but do not limit this assistance to those receiving free/reduced lunches.

That means hypothetically if a town redistricts schools in such a way as to lower the percentages below the qualifying limits in their buildings, then the Title 1 resources (aka teachers) would be lost, impacting all the students in a building.

Just subtract Title 1 teacher resources (salaries) from the total projected savings if the percentages are lowered due to redistricting.

Abbie said...

To Savings??

does a school have to reach a threshold of kids on fee/reduced lunch before they get title 1 funds? If not, our overall percent (all schools) won't change, it will just shift to something around 30% (this is a wild guess, someone please correct if its wildly wrong).

Savings?? said...

I believe Title 1 is calculated by the building, not the district but I will look it up to confirm.

Savings?? said...

See this link for Title 1 description. It confirms that schools receive Title 1 funding based on percentages of low income families and that all the students in a school benefit.

Anonymous said...

I think the committee is stepping beyond it's bounds in making decisions about closing schools without a superintendent in place. I for one, and I'm sure I am not alone, would be willing to challenge a decision by the committee to close one of our schools in court. It seems some members of the committee are trying to push through this decision without an administrative leader in place and I'm not comfortable with that at all.

Anonymous said...

More specifically, I would seek support from the school's parents to find out if it would be reasonable to file a lawsuit and request an injunction to halt the closing plans until the case could be heard.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 7:56
I could not have said it better!

I think this is one of the most outrageous desicions I ever heard a group of rational adults make! And to be perfectly honest a little scary. At last night's meeting when Catherine Sanderson referred to her decision to close Mark's Meadow as one of a 'clearly superior' nature I honestly feared this woman's line of thinking...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from Catherine:

1. I THOUGHT that Title 1 funds were linked also to the % of kids in a building ... that is why MM and CF get those funds and WW/FR don't. But I will check.

2. In terms of the "legal case" -- two key points. First, we have a superintendent in place -- her name is Maria Geryk, and she's great. She is our administrative leader! Second, the School Committee makes this decision -- it is entirely within the school committee's power to close a school and redistrict, and regardless of whether we have an interim superintendent or a "permanent superintendent", the School Committee votes this decision. So, there are no legal grounds to fight closing a school (just google "Westfield school closing" to see the most recent school closing in our area), and that is true regardless of whether there is an interim or not.

3. I can imagine that for parents at MM, it is scary to have someone actually suggest we act. I can imagine it is scary that kids might have to change schools. But to post anonymously on a blog that this is the most "outrageous" decision you've seen, and that you question my "thinking" is just silly. What specifically bothered you? That I figured out that we can educate all the kids in three buildings? Or that I figured out we could save $700,000 from doing so? Or that I read the FCCC report and see that we have a structural deficit? Or that I was willing to stick my neck out and say that we have a problem and that I have a suggestion for helping to solve it? Maybe you should respond to those questions with detailed and specific answers using your full name, as I gave my reasons in a thoughtful statement last night using my name and on television. It is so easy to criticize anonymously on a blog -- but you make no case for what you found wrong with my thinking, nor do I see any specific suggestions you have for reducing the structural deficit. Maybe that would be more helpful than just critizing me anonymously ... if you want to keep MMM open, which I have to assume you do, then give specific reasons/data/facts/cost savings of some other plan or approach. But your current approach isn't really making me re-think my decision.

Talk About Irrational Thinking! said...

Oh, good idea! Waste some more taxpayer money with a lawsuit to stop the closing of a school in a town where the enrollment numbers indicate that only three schools are necessary! Seems like THAT is looking out for the best interests of ALL our children. Hand me the real estate ads, please...

Abbie said...

To recent anonymous(es):

you are fooling yourselves if you think the majority of Amherst residents would not support closing MM. It is so very obviously the most reasonable move to help correct our current and future fiscal shortfall and maintain a very good education for all kids.

You can deny it, but that won't change it. You can go ahead and try to develop a case which will only cost you money (and perhaps the school system as well). I'm sure that would endear you very much to the wider community.

BTW: to Adrian A. Durlester (aka Migdalor Guy), closing MM may seem to you like amputating a limb but most folks likely look at the situation and think its like putting a different shirt on that arm. The kids will still be going to a very good school, it's not as if they will be denied an education, it will just be much more similar to those experienced by all the other kids in Amherst and they manage pretty well!

Anonymous said...

Dumb question: how do you watch the previously recorded TV shows of school committee meetings? Is there a schedule of when each meeting is re-played or is there an on-demand option to watch the show you want to watch?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Catherine again:

Talk About Irrational Thinking - well said! Thank you!

Abbie - Excellent points, as always (and I love the shirt analogy). I've heard as much from people who are annoyed I'm waiting a year to close it as I've heard from people who want it to stay open permanently. This is really where most of the community is already -- the facts in terms of cost savings and structural deficit just aren't that subtle.

Anonymous - Definitely not the dumbest question I've heard -- and yes, you can watch the SC meetings on line on demand: This website also has a schedule of when the meeetings are televised (which I'll try to update on my blog more promptly).

WW Mom said...

I am writing in response to one of the comments left much earlier in the day about the impact upon a child who might end up changing schools for fifth grade and possibly face another change if they then go to the Middle school for sixth grade. Many years ago, I went to a very, very good public school that had to redistrict and this is EXACTLY what happened to me. I had to go to a new elementary school for fifth grade and then began middle school the following year. This was in the days when, honestly, people didn't think so much about the 'impact' this would have on children. And guess what? We were all ok! Seriously. That experience does not even come close to making the top ten list of most difficult things in my life. I think that as a community, we keep forgetting how resilient children are. Let's give our kids and our community some credit for being able to handle change. We absolutely can and will support our kids. This will be difficult but it will NOT be traumatic. And that is a very important distinction. Let's build three GREAT elementary schools and watch them thrive.... TOGETHER!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Dear WW Mom -- thank you so much for sharing your view! That is a great point, and I think we all need to remember that moving to a new school IN THE SAME TOWN is not really that traumatic at all! Kids have friends in all the schools now, they'll have broader friendship networks, and all of our schools will do a great job of teaching and caring about all our kids. Thank you for your post!

Anonymous said...

Response to: Talk About Irrational Thinking
I'm sorry you don't agree with my idea of attempting to block the committee's efforts to close a school which I and others believe they don't have the authority to proceed with. I am also surprised the person running this blog feels your comment was well made. I will say however, that we are in theory all free to share our opinions and just because you think it is a waste of taxpayer money to put in an effort to do something other than you feel is correct does not give you the freedom to be so caustic and dismissive. I thought this was a place for expressing oneself, not being attacked for having differing viewpoints.

Catherine, You must be aware that there IS in fact some precedent for a legal argument in fighting the closing of schools. A preliminary injunction can be filed and if there is support among parents it may well be. That is not a threat but a right that people have, so please don’t try to convince others that an interim superintendent is going to suffice in a situation like this. If you look at the DOE’s Advisory on School Governance document you will note that there is significantly ambiguous language for a court to go either way, or at the very least, halt a school closing temporarily. You can locate any number of cases on Google, as you say, in which courts have blocked school closings until all sides can be heard.
BTW: I'd feel freer to not post anonymously if you weren't so attacking when somone fundamentally (not rudely) disagrees with you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous - Hey, people criticize me all the time ... and they know who I am. I think criticism is much easier to deliver and take when people post anonymously.

But regardless, by all means gather together the parents of MM and hire a lawyer to block the closing of this school because we have an interim superintendent who actually doesn't have a vote in the decision (just like the permanent superintendent won't have a vote). This will be a great way to introduce the new superintendent to our school district, and a great use of his time! And the great thing about my motion, if you've read it, is that the school doesn't actually close for OVER A YEAR, meaning the new superintendent will actually be here TO PLAN THE SCHOOL CLOSING (and to allow the lawsuit to wind its way around the courts). And presumably if he said "oh my goodness, this is just a terrible way to save $700,000," the SC could then easily re-vote the decision.

Migdalor Guy said...


Just as a matter of record, I have never posted anonymously. Though the comments my appear under my "handle," because I also blog on Blogger, my personal profile is always linked to and one is always just a click away from my profile (which includes my name) at the head of any comment I post.

I think we would have very different approaches to a financial shortage. I just don't see the efficacy of major, difficult cuts when they fail to fully address the problem. You may wind up not having a vacation, and still broke. Having had that vacation might make it easier for you to deal with that reality. All work and no play..., as they say.
Analogies aside, the one thing that is really different here is that we're not just dealing with one person, but hundreds. You claim to have the interests of a majority at heart. Perhaps I have a warped view of things, but I really believe our founders were interested as much, if not more, in preserving the rights of the minority. It isn't always "majority wins."
I also agree with the poster who suggested that what's really happening here is that the oppressed are being pitted against the oppressed, while the oppressor runs rampant over it all.
As stated eloquently by the former MM principal, it is a community consisting of many economically, socially, and American-society disadvantaged families-not at all a country club school for UMass faculty. The number of subsidized lunches is hardly a complete and accurate yardstick, and is, in fact, a deceptive one. The people served by MM will be disadvantaged by having to send their children to other schools. Sometimes, the will of the majority ought to be stayed by the needs of a minority. Tying redistricting to closing MM is not my idea of what being socially responsible is about.
Adrian A. Durlester

Anonymous said...

So Migdalor, how would you propose we balance the budget? What cuts would you propose instead of closing MM to balance the budget?

If you cut SPED spending, then the SPED kids are now "disadvantaged" using your definition.

If you cut intervention teachers, the struggling kids are disadvantaged.

If you cut music, then those kids are disadvantaged.

The reality is that we need to balance the budget. How would you do it?

Neil said...

People who deny that the School Board is the correct authority to make this decision are unclear. A Superintendent does not have the authority to make this decision. If he or she thought is was advised he or she would bring it to the School Board for a vote. Putting the question to the school board for a vote is the right move.

American citizens with standing can utilize the legal process if they choose. They need a meritorious claim to win otherwise they are merely delaying and obstructing.

Savings?? said...

Actually there are very good financial reasons to close one school and have it NOT be Mark's Meadow. If we close Mark's Meadow we hold no equity in the property.

If we close a different school building - one that we own - we have access to the property to rent or sell it. So not only do we save money by reducing staff, we could bring in more money by renting or selling the building. Selling would be a one-time influx of cash of course. Renting would give us some cash flow plus the option of re-opening it at a later time.

How does it make sense in a fiscal crisis to close a building with no rent and no utilities? A sounder financial approach might be to close a building we own, keep MM open, and get more portables to support the increase in students after increasing the size of the MM district. How many towns would love to have a building under those conditions? An added bonus might be to re-instate the MM / UMass Lab School relationship, thereby increasing MM's value proposition.

Is there a cost-benefit analysis comparing these scenarios? If not, this question alone tells me the numbers are incomplete. If the SC votes to close MM, understand that loss of access to equity in another building needs to be subtracted from the proposed savings.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Savings ??: I looked into your suggestion that the School Committee move to close an elementary school other than Marks Meadow. To do that, a few things would have to happen:
--UMass would have to be willing to let us use this building indefinitely.
--We would have to negotiate the timely repair of the building.
--UMass would have to be willing to let us put many more portables on its land.
--UMass would have to be willing to assume the costs of utilities for the portables (adding these would increase the utility cost for the facility).
--We would need to find 60 classrooms among the three schools.

So let's say we close Crocker Farm (our newest school) since closing either Fort River or Wildwood doesn't make enough sense given that they are our largest schools. If we close Crocker, we would need 16 classrooms at Marks Meadow. This would mean the purchase of five more portable classrooms at a cost of $150,000 to $200,000 each. Yes, a one-time cost but where would we get this money? From the sale of Crocker Farm as you suggest? Or rental of that space? Perhaps, but I really don't know the value of real estate of that nature. I hope someone else will weigh in here.

So even if we do find the money to buy those five portables and UMass agrees to host them, pay for their utilities and pay for the much-needed repairs to Marks Meadow, these kids still don't have a lunchroom! And many parents would object to their children being educated in portable classrooms. Plus, there are those who would argue that by closing Crocker Farm, we would be placing a disproportionate burden on the children in our district who can least shoulder that burden. Of course, if you wanted to close Fort River or Wildwood instead, that would remove that argument, but then we would have to find 6 additional portables for Marks Meadow (bringing the grand total to 13 portables)to give us enough classrooms for the district.

Anonymous said...

I think that if we are going to close a school, the ENTIRE town needs to be on board with this decision. The entire town votes for the School Committee members and from everything I have heard, they are not! Community meetings are a must.
Cost savings to be had from closing the school may only add up to $100,000 once we get all the numbers it takes. Even Northampton found it was a savings of $200-300,000 to close a school and that was a larger school with paying for utilities. The $700,000 amount would include something like 13 teachers/staff/ administrators. This number does not include Title 1 funds that would most likely be lost, there are a lot of children who would lose needed services. This number does not include transportation costs, which may rise as a lot of children will now have to be bussed across town, mush further than they are going now.
We still only have assumptions, possibly close to being accurate, but again, we don't have all the info yet. We can not make this decision in the next month. I will write to everyone on the committee and say so, I urge everyone else to do as well.

JWolfe said...

I haven't posted on this thread because so many others have said either what I think (i.e., I support their point of view) or what I suspect opponents of closing MM think (views I oppose).

But, when "Savings?" posted that we should consider closing a school other than MM I just couldn't let that go.

Some MM parents are talking about legal action, more and more delays, the fact that saving 2/3 of our ongoing (same as structural) deficit isn't 100% of that deficit so why do it, and now the possibility of closing a different school.

Obviously, all or even a majority of MM parents may not believe these things, but these views are really off putting to the parents of children in the other three schools (I have two at FR). That is, to parents of the vast majority of elementary school age kids in Amherst.

In earlier arguments, MM parents decried the increase in class size their kids will face. I have never heard from these parents about much larger classes at the three other elementary schools at any SC meeting.

In earlier arguments we heard about Amherst's ability to find money, the need for "holistic" solutions, etc. These amorphous calls for magically finding funding are coming from people I never saw in the last override campaign.

Now we're hearing about studying it to death (presumably until the children of the current crop of MM parents are in the Middle School) and costing the town money in fighting a frivolous lawsuit.

But if that wasn't enough to reveal the real motives of this particular group of MM parents we now have a call to close a different elementary school. Sure, let those kids (a much greater number of kids to be sure) suffer all the problems we've spent so long telling you will affect MM kids. Sure, it will do much less to save the town money, but, and here's the point: MY KIDS WON'T BE AFFECTED. Kill off every other program, close another school, screw everybody, just don't touch Marks Meadow.

So, I say, thank you. You have finally shown in print what so many in the rest of the town think. The campaign to save MM has devolved into nothing more than rank selfishness.

Before you flame me, I am not saying everyone who worries about the impact of closing MM is selfish, but those who are essentially willing to do harm to everything else in our school system in order to protect their neighborhood school with its small classes while the vast majority of kids in town literally pay for it, are nothing more than selfish.

Becky Demling said...

I am a CF and WW parent. I am new to town and have no emotional attachment to MM. I make most decisions based on cold, hard facts. I dislike emotions when making major decisions because they are subjective and hard to quantify. That being said, I am concerned because of the timing of the motion.
We need to know if it does save money the first year. We can ill afford for it to cost more. That means compiling a report of how much salary and administrative costs we would save, minus costs of moving portables and equipment; teacher sick and vacation buy-backs and unemployment contributions; loss of Title 1 Funds and the costs of providing similar services, transportation and any other expense we may have.

Yes, some of this information has put out there. It is on various blogs(such as this one) and meeting discussions but not on a comprehensive web site or report. This must happen before a vote is taken. If it will save money, great- let's do it. If not, time to look at other options. Enough debate- let's talk data! And please, no more "$700,000" figure that does not reflect all of the information.

Please consider that anger will only destroy our schools faster and do irreparable harm to public opinion. I am not saying don’t act, I am merely suggesting that the full information is not out there yet. These numbers must be known in order to know if we can afford to do it on the time table presented.

Please e-mail your full school committee and request the numbers and costs. I have seen too many School Districts fail to account for these costs and end up cutting more to make up for them. Google Randolph, MA if you need an example.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

I am just weighing in on one thing, because others have so clearly conveyed my other thoughts: closing Marks Meaadow 100% saves money the first year, and every subsequent year. This information was prepared by the superintendent and business office and presented over a month ago. I believe it is also on the website.

Here is what these numbers say: in the first year, you save $406,000; in the second year, you save $671,000. These numbers take into account the administrative and staff savings ($216,000), and they include added bus costs ($16,000), and they include transitional costs (including packing and moving - $70,000, prep time for teachers in their new school - $55,000, and moving the portables - $140,000). As I've noted repeatedly, if you move the 6th grade to the MS, you then do NOT have to move the portables.

So, Becky questions the lack of numbers -- here they are. These numbers include, as she requests, "a report of how much salary and administrative costs we would save, minus costs of moving portables and equipment." She asks for information on "teacher sick and vacation buy-backs and unemployment contributions," but the reality is, if we let teachers go who have been given notice, we don't pay these costs. The loss of Title 1 Funds and the costs of providing similar services isn't included in these numbers, but we can ask for those numbers -- although I'd say let's remember that the current plan of keeping MM open already cuts several intervention teachers, so I guess I'm not sure why there isn't outrage now about keeping MM open and how we are going to provide those services? As I've already noted, the numbers presented by the superintendent and developed by the business office OVER A MONTH AGO include transportation and other expenses (e.g., moving supplies, packing). So, from this entire list of things we just must have, I see ONE THING we haven't fully presented to the community - loss of Title 1 funds. I'll get this number.

But let's remember -- the numbers are very, very clear that this plan will save dollars the first year, the second year, and every other year from then on. We can say it's not all about the money, and that emotions matter, etc., but it just isn't honest to say that we don't that this plan will save money. WE HAVE A STRUCTURAL DEFICIT. I HAVE PROPOSED A PLAN THAT HELPS SOLVE IT. IF YOU DO NOT LIKE MY PLAN TO SOLVE IT, COME UP WITH ANOTHER WAY TO SAVE $700,000 ANNUALLY. I frankly don't know how you can get more cold hard facts that what I've presented.

One more thing -- I am hearing regularly and privately from MM families who are mortified about the behavior of a few members of their community who are acting in what appears to be a highly selfish way, and want to assure me that there are people at MM who respect my decision-making, understand that their children will be well-educated in the other schools, and feel bad about the personal attacks I'm taking. So, let's just remember that a few vocal (albeit often posting anonymously) parents do NOT represent the entire MM community, and let's try to avoid stereotyping the entire community based on the small set of voices we are hearing.

Sue Cairn said...

Title 1: My understanding is that we will be redistricting for equity regardless of whether or not we close won't we lose the Title 1 money even if we keep MM open? It seems to me that losing Title 1 money is tied to redistricting, not closing MM. I agree with Becky, however, and would like more clarity on Title 1 impacts.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Sue -- yes, good point! If we redistrict into four schools, we'd lose the same Title 1 money, so again, that is a wash. Relatedly, as the numbers clearly show, if we redistrict into four schools, we need an additional classrooom at MM and we need to pay for 3 more teachers, so that adds up to a one-time cost of $200,000 (to be paid for by the town -- love to see the Town Meeting vote on that purchase of a new portable!) PLUS annually another $150,000. So, here are more numbers -- the gap between redistricting to three versus four schools is even greater than I'd projected.

Savings??? - if we vacate MM, we could potentially negotiate some compensation from U Mass for the kids we educate who live in U Mass housing (Larry Shaffer has offered to do this). If we move to three elementary schools, we could potentially use the MM space for something else (e.g., an alternative high school program, superintendents' offices, etc.). So, yes, we could indeed explore other ways of using this space and/or receiving compensation for vacating this space -- which is what my one year timeline allows for.

Savings?? said...

To Catherine and Alison:
Thank you for answering my questions. I have a better understanding now.

To JWolfe:
I did not mean my comments the way you took them. I am REALLY asking only about the financial aspects of closing schools, whether it be MM or another school, because I want to understand and I want to see that we're thinking of all financial possibilities. I don't want to sue anybody. I don't appreciate being "flamed" by you and linked to people who want to sue the district selfishly. Don't blame MM families for being angry and creating a divisive situation - MM families have company on that score. Don't blame me for asking a question I had never seen asked before. So what that you don't like the question? I thought we were supposed to ask questions here.

This just shows how GROUP THINK has reared it's head on this blog. And truly - MY BAD for participating!

Ed said...

Speaking from experience, home values fall at faster rates when the school system fails. That hurts people more than a modest tax increase would.

School systems are only relevant to property values to the extent to which property owners (not tenants) have children in the school system. Unless Amherst starts building a whole lot more housing in the now-conservation space, and unless the colleges start hiring a whole lot of junior faculty and young support staff folk (and NONE of this is going to happen) there aren't going to be the percentage of homeowners with children for this to be relevant.

Anonymous said...

And now it is a circus. "We are going to sue." And there will be the inevitable building takeovers and the rest because there is a certain clique in this community that does all of that.

Lets get real here. The school committee can hire and fire the superintendent for any damn reason they want. (As to why the acting superintendent isn't given the job outright, assuming she wants it, is another interesting question.)

It is traditional to give contracts, but they don't have to. And even with a contract, the superintendent essentially serves at their pleasure.

So they vote to close Mark's Meadow - or they vote to instruct the Superintendent to close Mark's Meadow. And this is different because????

The only vote that the town has is whether or not to fund the district, Town Meeting can vote to withdraw from the district and have the schools run by the town - you would have to create a new school board and would loose LOTS of state money, but you could do this.

And I almost hope that someone tries that because that would be the end of the joke known as the Amherst Town Meeting.

But the school board can do anything they damn well please, including closing schools. And if you want to sue on that - well it would be illegal and unfair to the majority, but I almost hope that they take the expenses out of JUST the Mark's Meadow district -- eliminate everything, lay off teachers and have kids 60 to a classroom and all.

Catherine Sanderson is one of the few people being above board in this and as she said, you have a whole year to convince a new superintendent and everyone else not to close MM....

Anonymous said...

One VERY important question.

Have you, or ANY member of the current School Committee gone to Mark's Meadow and looked the the budget for that one school?

I can answer this already. NO!!!! No one has gone to Mark's Meadow and looked at the school's budget. So NO ONE has these answers!!!!

The numbers you say they have given us about how much closing the school will save, are not accurate. They were as accurate as they could be at that moment in time. They said that when they gave us the numbers.

You can not say how much we will save or end up spending yet, based on the numbers we currently have. You are throwing numbers out there (and rounding up frequently) that have not been guaranteed to be accurate.

This is not saying that we shouldn't close the school. This is ONLY saying that we do not have the correct, up-to-date numbers on what the cost/savings of closing the school will be.

That is what people want to hear. The accurate (Rob saying they are accurate) numbers of Mark's Meadow. Until we have these numbers, the School Committee can not vote on this option.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:43 - I have no idea have no idea what you mean about the "Marks Meadow budget." If we close MM, we still educate those kids elsewhere, meaning it is not just that you take the amount we spend on MM and eliminate it. The numbers presented at the SC on February 10th show how much it would cost to educate the kids in three schools next year versus four schools. That is the only relevant information -- if we close Marks Meadow, we don't just magically eliminate those 180 kids from the budget (so, some of the expenses are just tranferred to the other schools). And of course we can't ever have the actual real numbers of what it would cost until school starts -- we don't know EXACTLY how many kids will move to or away from town, how many kindergarteners will register, etc. So, sure we don't know the numbers down to the penny. But you know what -- $700,000 is a pretty darn good guess, and the savings may well be somewhat less -- OR somewhat more! Tell me the exact information you need to understand why this decision saves so much money ... I'll get it to you.

Ed said...

And speaking as a UMass Student, why the H*LL am I paying for YOUR school?

Mark's Meadow was built, along with the rest of Furculo Hall, to facilitate UMASS STUDENT education. There are a lot of things that UMass Students could be using that land and space for - parking comes to mind in the former, and why does the town and not us get to use the auditorium? Do you have any idea how hard it is to host a college lecture on this campus because there is NO PLACE AVAILABLE TO HOST IT?

So the university has a lot of tax exempt land - (a) that is an issue you have with the Commonwealth, not me and (b) collectively there are a whole lot of nonprofits with a whole lot more property and a whole lot more money that UMass.

I am paying $1500 more next semester. You want to talk social justice and poverty - there are some real issues here.

UMass has at least 6000 good-paying state jobs and have any of you been up to Winchendon recently? That is what Amherst would be without UMass, a declining hamlet on the intersection of now secondary roads.

In paying the salaries of those who then pay the taxes that support the Amherst schools, I think I am already paying enough. And the university has a H*LL of a lot more needs than to provide free school buildings to another municipality.

Yes, the law now defines UMass as a "town" and what, exactly, is the difference between asking UMass to provide free school buildings for you and asking HADLEY to do it?

Enough is enough. UMass students ought to be able to use that auditorium....

Anonymous said...

"One more thing -- I am hearing regularly and privately from MM families who are mortified about the behavior of a few members of their community who are acting in what appears to be a highly selfish way, and want to assure me that there are people at MM who respect my decision-making, understand that their children will be well-educated in the other schools, and feel bad about the personal attacks I'm taking. So, let's just remember that a few vocal (albeit often posting anonymously) parents do NOT represent the entire MM community, and let's try to avoid stereotyping the entire community based on the small set of voices we are hearing."

I love this paragraph. You can turn this right around and say the exact same thing about the people who are part of the movement to close MM. Do you really not understand how people, many of whom have no ties to the school system, are viewing this process?

Do you have any idea of the amount of people in this town who are incredibly pissed off about how any of this is being handled right now?

There are a lot of people who are not feeling heard by the SC. A lot of these people voted to put the current members in this office. There are a few members of this community who seem to post on here. This is a small part of the discussion that is happening in this town.

You can not say who anon posters are unless they say who they are. Many of them may not be MM parents. Do you know that? You are assuming because they may have certain view points that's who they are. You may be wrong.

With elections coming up, I for one would love to know where the candidates stand on this question, seeing as it may be the first thing they will have to do.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 10:58 - I certainly agree that all voices aren't heard on this blog! And yes, there are many people who are frustrated -- those who feel that closing MM is a bad idea, and those who feel this is a great idea. That is why it is so good we are having an election soon -- by all means ask the candidates what they feel, and vote accordingly. You can check out their responses, which include their feelings about closing MM, on the ACE website: And I'd also make real sure to ask the candidates what other cuts they'll make to avoid closing MM ... because it is very easy to say we'll find grants/get the colleges to pay/wait for the economic stimulus plan. It is much harder to develop practical approaches that are within our own control to solve the structural deficit.

JWolfe said...

to Savings?, I'm sorry to lump your idea with all the others that have been floated to keep MM open in the midst of a massive budget deficit. If it was a simple question that is unconnected to all the other proposals, then I apologize.

The context your question appeared in is that a group of people have come up with a series of sometimes contradictory proposals that all have one idea in common: Keep MM open no matter what the costs to students at Fort River, Wildwood and Crocker Farm.

As to the advantages of keeping MM open and selling and/or renting Crocker, well, I just don't see any. MM is too small. This is one of those contradictory positions: Keep it open because kids (not all kids apparently, just MM kids) thrive in small classes. But, if you close Crocker, then you're squeezing lots more kids into MM, thus losing the advantage of those small classes. And, where would you put them? In trailers? We should sell the newest building with its beautiful playing fields and location in South Amherst to move kids into expensive temporary classrooms at MM? Unless of course you want to move all the Crocker kids to FR and WW to keep MM nice and small.

To me the other obvious question is what's the market for Crocker. Who wants to buy a school building? Oh, and who wants to sell so much real estate in the middle of one of the greatest real estate depressions in recent memory?

Your proposal/question feels like part of the magical thinking that says there must be a special, hidden, really big pot of money somewhere. And, once we find it we should use it to keep MM open at the expense of Crocker and the other schools. By all means, the town should force HS students to take additional forced study halls to keep MM open.

My anger comes from the fact that keeping MM open seems to be the singular thing a group of folks care about. Even without the massive deficit it might not make a lot of sense to keep MM open given all the other needs of our schools.

Anonymous said...

Here is what these numbers say: in the first year, you save $406,000; in the second year, you save $671,000. These numbers take into account the administrative and staff savings ($216,000), and they include added bus costs ($16,000), and they include transitional costs (including packing and moving - $70,000, prep time for teachers in their new school - $55,000, and moving the portables - $140,000).

Ok so how do these numbers add up to $700.000? or even the lower # $671,000?

Can you provide exactly where the total of $671,000 comes from?

Even taking into account the first year savings being a little less, I am still not seeing this.

I added up the first year numbers and got $497,000 Am I doing something wrong?

Where does the extra $200-300,000 come from after? From what this says we are only saving $216,000 for teacher/staff/admin. by closing the school.

I am asking as someone who has not been to many of the meetings and not heard people speak much about how this exactly works.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:11 -- OOOPS, sorry ... should have gone through it step by step. Good question. First, all of this info is on the ARPS website, thanks to Nina Koch who is working tirelessly on this -- (then check on "postential cost savings" and you will get EXACTLY what I am looking at). This shows that closing MM saves the following: 4 teachers ($216,000), plus administrative support (principal, secretary - $135,000), plus other staff (custodian, librarian, etc. - $336,000). That adds up to $687,000 annually, which is basically the amount less it would cost to have three schools compared to four on an annual basis. Then you add in annually some extra busing costs ($16,000), which gets you to annual savings of $671,000. Does that help? Thanks for your very good question!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11:11
Even if Catherine's numbers are a bit off and we don't save $700k, we still are talking HUGE savings which is crucial given these budget #. Also, it's important for everyone to be mindful that we are in the midst of a GLOBAL economic crisis which is not going to get better in the near future. We need to close the budget gap, save money in ways that are as painless as possible.

MM parents are upset about the possible closing but they haven't provided any real world options which will save that kind of money.

Finally, MM kids are not the only kids who will be effected. Redistricting will shuffle all kids around so everyone will have to deal with transition. While that is a bummer, its NOT a reason not to redistrict. Redistricting and closing MM is the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:30 from Anon 11:11

I appreciate your note, but I never said any opinions about anything. I was just asking for the numbers because they did not look right to me and I didn't understand how she got the numbers she got from what was posted.

I never made any assumptions about redistricting or closing a school. Please don't go on the defensive or offensive when questions are asked. Generally speaking, questions are asked to find out more information.

Anonymous said...

The Boston Globe is reporting today that Gov. Patrick wants to distribute $168M in stimulus money to towns for K-12 educational support. Notably, Amherst is not slated to receive any of that money.

Anonymous said...

Let's assume we redistrict for the coming school year. Whether it is
3 schools or 4 schools, or whether the 6th grade moves, it seems there will be one significant group of students affected by it in a unique way - those who would normally be entering their last year in their present elementary school in September but would be moved by redistricting to complete their final elementary year in a new school. Those kids would be facing 3 transitions in a period of 4 or 5 years (present 4th graders) - redistrict, move to MS, move to HS.
Would it be possible to redistrict and still allow that group, this one year, to finish up their elementary experience in their present school?

Anonymous said...

Re: anon 3:42

Delete "present 4th graders"

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 1:54 - sigh ... thanks for sharing the info on the stimulus plan funds. It is a good reminder that (a) we shouldn't count on money we don't have and may not receive, and (b) state and federal money will not ALL pour automatically to Amherst.

Anonymous 3:42 - thanks for the thoughtful question. I do think we could and should take some time next year to think about how best to transition all the kids if we move to three schools and redistrict, and to pay particular attention to those who will be forced to attend three schools in three years (for those who are redistricted to a new school, which they attend for one year before going to the MS). However, I think it is hard to imagine a plan that would "grandfather" some kids to their current school even post-redistricting for three reasons.

First, we may not have the capacity. So, at Fort River, there may be 80 kids in a grade, and if half of those are redistricted but choose to stay for their final year -- we'd need two more classrooms and teachers in that school. It obviously also seems unfair to MM kids, who would NOT have that possibility.

Second, it seems impossible to do from a bus standard -- the same bus couldn't pick up kids at the same stop and make different drop-offs for kids going to the new school and kids going to the old school.

Third, and this is probably the most important point -- the schools themselves will change, so the schools just won't look the same. If all of my kids' friends are going to the new school, he/she would probably like to go to that school as well! I imagine there would also be movement of teachers and other staff.

So, I appreciate your question in terms of easing the transition and would be very glad to work with parents/teachers/principals to figure out ways to make it easier for all kids (special 'visiting' days at each of the schools? PGO nights to welcome parents/families?). If we make such a decision, the SC and the new superintendent should make sure to do everything in their power to make the move happen well -- which again is part of my motivation for taking the extra year to implement the decision.

Mary May said...

I'm very curious about the $$$ figure for "transition" expenses of moving MM teachers/supplies to various schools/rooms. How was the calculation figured? I'm looking at the reality of 10 classrooms plus art, music, computer, pe,library, SPED, Title 1, ELL, offices, nurses room (and I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting)being packed up and moved. You are talking DAYS/WEEKS/MONTHS for all of that to happen. Are MM teachers/staff expected to give up the unpaid summer vacation? Has the school committee asked anyone at MM for an estimate of the time it would take for the school to be emptied? Come and look and SEE what this really means!! If you take the per deum of each teacher or staff person who would need to "pack up", and multiply it by 5 days (which is probably pretty unrealistic given that ENTIRE rooms would have to be sorted and emptied) I think you'll come up with a MUCH larger cost expense for closing this school. Plus, since each teacher/staff member virtually will have to sort and organize all of his/her things, it pretty much assumes MM staff will be expected to "close the school". Perhaps it would be helpful and informative if someone asked the Principal for a REAL estimate of what this transition would cost. Yes, it probably is a one time expense, but I believe it will be CONSIDERABLY higher. I would like to see an accurate, realistic $$ figure put out by someone who's really looked at the reality here.

Anonymous said...

Students who are moved next year, because of a school closing and/or redistricting will follow the lead of their parents/guardians. This does not have to be traumatic. If parents/guardians say and imply from their actions that this is an exciting time for the schools, many kids are changing for the good of ALL in the community, kids will rise to the occasion.

Most school districts have the expected transitions to a middle school and a high school. This is seen as a good thing, a graduation of sorts, when students move up to the next level. These changes should not be included in the counting of "transitions".

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Mary May - the School Committee actually isn't in charge of coming up with numbers; that is the job of the Superintendent's office. The transition costs numbers were created by staff in the superintendent's office, as were all of the other numbers. I'd recommend addressing your question about the accuracy of those numbers to the superintendent, if you, and the Marks Meadow staff, feel that $70,000 is too little to cover the time of such a transition. However, I think it is very important to acknowledge that while there would of course be one-time transition costs to closing a school, the thing we all have to keep in mind is the LONG-TERM savings of operating three versus four schools. So, even if the transition costs are double what they are now, the long-term savings are clear.

Anonymous said...

What is selfish about wanting to save your child's school? I don't get that? How can a school's closing that has been operating for so many years suddenly be the solution to solving the deficit in our elementary budget? I can only pray this will happen if MM does close. But, I resent being called selfish, such childish names Catheriine!, in the standing up for what I beleive to be right. If people are personally attacking you I feel for you but to attack a whole group who believe MM should be left alone only proves to me that you are abusing your position.
Why is it being presented that if MM stays open we will make other children suffer by taking things away from them??? We didn't set this scenario up.
So you use your position on the SC to intimidate people??
Follow me or become one of the group of people who mortify all others???

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:10 - here is the reality -- enrollments have dropped in all the schools, and costs have increased. The result is a structural deficit. It wasn't created by the families at MM, or those at another other school. It just exists. So, I can pretend that it doesn't, which is totally irresponsible, or I can acknowledge that it does and try to solve it -- which is what I was elected to do. I have said there are other ways to solve it -- we can increase class sizes dramatically in all the schools, eliminate instrumental music, and have principals be shared between schools. We could do all those things, and if the MM community wants to save their school, they should start promoting these ideas and getting other people on board. But the reality is, we need to reduce our structural deficit, and all the kids in our schools can be educated in three schools, and that is a way to KEEP what many see as the core of the Amherst education for all kids. If you believe that the core of the Amherst education for MM kids is to stay in MM, come up with a way to reduce $700,000 that you feel good about and let me know. Your email criticizes me, says I'm abusing my position, and says I'm intimidating people -- because I am willing to share what I see as the best solution to reducing our structural deficit and maintaining an Amherst education for all kids. Send me your idea for doing that and then we can talk about which way is better.

Nina Koch said...

"The Boston Globe is reporting today that Gov. Patrick wants to distribute $168M in stimulus money to towns for K-12 educational support. Notably, Amherst is not slated to receive any of that money."

Where does it say in that article that Amherst is not slated to receive any of that money?

Here is a clickable link for people who are interested in the article:

$168 Million to Education

Anonymous said...

The spotlight needs to shine on another pressing social justice issue.

I believe that as a community we also need to push for our school committee to continue to address and respond to the sad reality that as a subgroup low income students in ALL of our schools are struggling to do well on those standardized tests(MCAS) that unfortunately matter so much in these in these times. Whether they sit in Wildwood or Crocker it is imperative those who run our school are working hard to make sure that low-income students are not being left behind.

As you know last year 3 out of our 4 school failed to make AYP because of this subgroup struggles.(See or

Abbie said...

To Nina:

in the article referred to my anon @1:54 there was a link giving the distribution of the entire $168 million (it won't download on my laptop (or link removed?) but I have the pdf at work).

Amherst was not listed as receiving any of those funds. Hopefully, this is just the first distribution and Amherst will receive some later on?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
Nina: Here's the link that refers to the article mentioned by the anonymous poster and Abbie. There is a link to a list -- Amherst is NOT on it.

Anonymous said...

Here is the link to the list of towns in MA that will receive the money - and Amherst is not on it - and the total adds up to the $168 million.

Here is a link to the article (I couldn't find the article with the link Catherine posted).

Reading this, I don't quite understand why Amherst doesn't qualify - but there is a line in there about foundation-spending level (which apparently Amherst must not be below.)

The state’s historic education reform law established so-called foundation budgets for communities, setting a minimum funding threshold districts must meet so that students receive a “fair and adequate” education.

The Governor protected Chapter 70 education funding from cuts in his Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal, maintaining the current allocation of $3.984 billion. However, due to a historic drop-off in state revenue collections brought on by the recession, level-funding of Chapter 70 still prevented 166 districts from reaching foundation spending levels.

Navneet said...

I don’t blog often though I have been following the recent debates and issues closely and have attended many of the SC meetings. After reading many of the opinions and comments I feel compelled to point out, yet again, as so many others already have:

1. We are facing a global economic crisis and a financial shortfall for our schools. The most constructive thing we can do is to find real practical solutions that will work now. The current economic climate dictates that we tighten our belts. We can be optimists but we also need to be pragmatic and find a solution now.

2. This debate is about fiscal responsibility – how we can improve our schools, decrease the budget deficit, and ensure quality education for all children, emphasis on “we”.

3. We cannot look at other sources to “rescue” us – not tax over-rides, not stimulus money, not grants – as a long-term solution. If resources from these alternate sources become available that would be fantastic. We should be cautious, however, about looking at grants because this type of resource has the potential to not last forever. If a grant does run out what becomes of the grant funded program(s)?

4. There is no ambiguity about the financial savings if MM was to close. The numbers were clearly presented in the February SC meeting. There is no other way to save nearly $700K – save this money now and we save instrumental music, and teachers. This impacts all students, not just a few, and ensures that we can provide quality education for all.

5. Other data supporting closing MM is also very clear – namely the school enrollment projections – the numbers clearly show that we do not need four elementary schools to educate our children. We can continue doing a quality job with just three.

6. I want to applaud the SC for willing to consider the motion put forth by Catherine at this week’s SC meeting. I urge them to vote on it soon. This decision needs to be made now, before the new superintendent assumes his responsibilities. It is not a decision that should be thrown into his lap, as Andy Churchill so aptly put it at this week’s meeting. Dr. Rodriguez needs to be given every opportunity to be successful. The last thing we need is for him to start his term facing a divided community.

7. Children are resilient; we are doing them a disfavor by characterizing them as anything less. Our children’s friendship’s cut across this town and our tight knit community. They will maintain these connections and we will maintain our community.

Ed said...

Two things.

First, I have NEVER heard of a teacher being paid extra for packing/unpacking all the stuff in a classroom. The teacher is responsible for setting up the classroom the way the teacher wants it at the start of the school year and if you can have stuff left the way you want it from last year, that is a gift, not an expectation.

There is precedent elsewhere, usually in going to a new school, and what I have always seen is you get to pack your stuff into boxes and the district dumps it (sometimes quite literally) in your new classroom for you to do with as you please.

And in the case where a more senior teacher "bumps" a junior one - does the bumper also get paid to move all the stuff to the new classroom?

Teachers are paid on a yearly salary for all the things incidental to teaching for a year and that includes setting up the classroom in the fall.

If the district wants to give them 5 extra days pay to make them happy, I call that a bribe...

Ed said...

Has anyone considered that Mark's Meadow is unsafe?

It fronts on one of the busiest streets in town, one that funnels traffic from no fewer than three numbered highways to the UM campus.

On both sides is the primary access to UMass parking lots, with considerable vehicular traffic.

With this traffic, which routinely backs up all the way beyond Wysocki House and with the shortage of parking, you have a good potential for "road rage" even forgetting the fact that the vast majority of drivers are under age 25 and statistically most likely to have a MVA.

To the south what was once the "Women's PE Building" has not only become co-ed but the girls sports teams moved literally to Hadley. There are those four new dorms and the plan is to actually have EIGHT there (the rising price of steel forced Lombardi to cut the plan into two phases).

Last night UMass sent out a warning about an "African-American" in a "silver four -door sedan, possibly with out of state license plates" who may or may not have attempted to abduct a child. This is like the third one of these emails that I have gotten this month...

Amherst has three elementary schools with a secure perimiter and one elementary school where any creep need only enroll in, say UWW and have every legitimate right to be IN THE BUILDING because UWW is in the same building (actually the white one next to it).

Other than on top of an insecure toxic waste dump (e.g. Love Canal), the absolute worst place to have an elementary school in 2009 is where Marks' Meadow is. The town has been lucky that nothing has happened, but as the tragedy of last fall shows, accidents and other bad things DO happen and you do need to think about risk.

Marks' Meadow should be closed as a child safety issue.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Reading this, I don't quite understand why Amherst doesn't qualify - but there is a line in there about foundation-spending level (which apparently Amherst must not be below.)

As you concluded, we aren't on the list because we spend a lot more than foundation. Looking at the list to think about who *isn't* on it may help you put it in context -- Pelham, Leverett, Shutesbury, Hadley, and Northampton *aren't* on it, South Hadley and Belchertown are on it.

Ed said...

Following up on Alisa's comment, I strongly suspect that mean property values are a factor because there is a push in some of the hilltowns (like Shelborne with the Cosby estate) to go to median as the one rich person is messing up the state aid.

I also suspect that it is also reflected in household income and when you have a LOT of people with six figure household incomes you are going to get dinged on something like this.

NB: Median is half above and half below, mean is what most think of as average. (Mode is the actual figure you see the most.) The practical distinction is how extreme figures affect - say everyone taking an exam got a B (80-89%) except for the football player who got 2% for writing his name on it.

In this case, the median (half above/half below) score will be somewhere in the B range - while the median (add all and divide) could be a C or even lower depending on the size of the sample.

And Amherst, a college town with three colleges and lots of well-paid professors has a very high median income level compared to, say, Belchertown, Springfield and Holyoke. Hence even if Amherst wasn't already at benchmark, it likely would be dinged as being "too rich" to need help.

Anonymous said...

To Ed -
The scare about the child and the guy in the car happened RIGHT next to Wildwood, not MM.

Anonymous said...

First off, I can not believe you brought up the accident from last fall!!!! That happened no where near the school, and really could've been any child and where in this country.

Second, have you been to Mark's Meadow at all? Have you walked thru the building? Met with any of the staff? If so, you will know that the children are well protected. If not, you really shouldn't be saying anything about the situation, and you should get in there and take a tour. Especially when the kids are there so you can see what it is like suring the day.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about not spell checking that first :)

Ed said...

Ed's response:

First, I am in the UM School of Education which means that I have been to Furculo Hall. As all of the issues I raised are OUTSIDE the building, how is anything inside it relevant to these concerns?

I have been inside the school - was horrified by the wiring in the auditorium which maybe was legal in the '50s but was something I wouldn't want COLLEGE kids near, let alone elementary school kids. But that is a moot point.

Second, it is called exposure to risk and the more vehicles you have going by the school, the greater the chance of a kid getting run over. Sorry, this is a fact.

And as to the ALLEGED incident by Wildwood, I will publicly say what I said privately then: people are shooting at shadows. My point is that we live in a world where these things CAN happen, in a way that they simply didn't in Amherst of 1950.

I again say, and this is notwithstanding whatever may be inside the building, the school is in the WORST place to have a school! No secure envelope to protect from perps, no isolation from very busy streets, right in the middle of the UM campus (which hadn't expanded down that far in the '50s) -- it should be closed for these reasons....

Jan Kelly said...

Breaking news that Amherst will be receiving 280,000 this March from Federal funds for SPED funding. This information came off Masslive and Amherst was listed this time on list of schools. Again the formula concerning how much money although not spelled out in this venue is related to of number of SPED students in the system and amount/percentage of budget spent on SPED. Some in Amherst feel SPED is a huge number of students and expenditures and it is not small but is is not as big as many other systems hence their larger grants. Gov Patrick announced this distribution yesterday with one distribution in March 2009 and one next fiscal year which hopefully will be the same ammount. Every little bit helps and hopefully this may diffuse some of the us/them feeling that some of the SPED parents have had recently. I am SPED parent and but am not in that number. I do feel we need to look at each program including SPED to make certain that we are spending our money wisely. I do however feel that some folks posting on this and other blogs have had an agenda about cutting SPED merely because it does not relate to their kids and their lack of understanding about SPED has been clear. We need to evaluate and make certian how we service all SPED students is done effieicenlty and effectively. Not all are the severe needs with specialized programs that have been discussed but kids like my son who have a n IEP and need a boost to be successful and hopefully be totally mainstreamed in the near future. This money MUST be used for SPED the stimulus package information was clear from the beginning that the money would be earmarked for SPED, infastructures and some teacher salaries. However using this money for SPED increases or even saving services for SPED students frees up that amount of money on the bottom line. Does not cover the whole deficit but every bit helps.

Paul said...

To Ed,
I love it. Now MM is compared to the Love Canal! Please, keep the comments on this side of reality! It seems that those whose only agenda is to close a school will say just about anything to make it happen. Sounds like your bitter that Umass lets us use it! And yes, teachers should get compensated for time spent packing, moving, unpacking. I don't think you understand how much work is involved in this.

Anonymous said...

The teachers moving, packing up and then unpacking their things will take a large portion of the summer to accomplish. This is time they do not have in their contracts and that they will have to be compensated for, if you can get them to do the work in the first place.

And Ed, seriously. The only way to stop any chance of anything from happening at any school, is to put each school and surrounding area in a bubble. This week's incident did not happen at mark's Meadow and could've have happened at any of the schools. Do not isolate Mark's Meadow as the only place this can happen.

Oh yeah, this reminds me... How many bomb threats have there been at the high school since the late 90's? Talk about a wide open campus!!!! The track is right on a main street! The football, baseball fields, again, same thing. If you want to compare apples, you may as well compare apple to apples.

Ed said...

Ed's response:

First, while ad hominums attacks may upset others, I merely find them annoying. Annoying in the concept of how could one be stupid enough to think it will bother me.

Second, lets look at facts.

First, what was it like when Mark's Meadow was built -- the 1950's picture we ran in the MMan was the only one I could find but it clearly was of a different world. In 1958, Route 116 had been moved from North Pleasant Street to "the bypass." There were plans to continue it south through where Staples is now, to have a second UMass exit feeding in just north of where the Mullins Center is, and to have Route 9 bypass the whole town. And UMass was a 5000 student university where few kids had cars.

None of the other roads were built (the shortest route from 116 to most of campus is past Marks Meadow, even from the south), UMass went from a residental campus of 5000 students to an increasingly commuter campus of 30,000, and the campus expanded to the north.

Puffton Village was farmland. As were the rest of the apartment complexes up there. Steve Puffer might have driven HIS car past the school, but there is a whole lot more traffic there now.

Second, starting in the 1960s, we started looking at highway safety. Where we used to put the elementary schools in the most visible places next to major highways to promote civic pride (and taxpayer support), we started moving them away from vehicular traffic for safety reasons. There is a whole lot of traffic on all three sides of Mark's Meadow and not that on all three sides of the other three elementary schools in town.

Third as to child molesters and other perps - I happen to know a lot about the limitations of the UMPD because I have been involved in getting people removed from this campus. On more than one occasion I have made a 911 call of "so-and-so is in the parking lot right now" and been patched through to a deputy chief for a conversation about what we can and can not do about this.

If the most henious pervert was to enroll as a student and then wander around through Mark's Meadow (and know his/her/its rights) I honestly do not believe that there is anything anyone could do until the student was at least suspended - and that would have to be for cause.

You can bully and intimidate but that just as quickly can become a very expensive civil rights violation. And every UMass student has every legal right to wander through Mark's Meadow School as no current student may be trespassed from anywhere at any time.

Worse, it is physically connected to another academic building where UM students have a legitimate need to be. This is inherently problematic...

I say this as an educator -- Mark's Meadow is physically placed in a location where no one would put a school today.

And as to the teachers packing and moving their stuff, I think it is time for people to start playing hardball.

A teacher is responsible for setting up his/her/its classroom in the fall. I was.

And if the teachers don't want to pack up their stuff, then send it all to the dump. (Who packs up and moves the classroom of a retiring teacher?)

Teachers are paid to set up their classrooms in the fall - and if they want to use the stuff they had the prior year, fine -- but they don't have to. And if the senior (much better paid) teachers don't want to act like professionals and do this, then FIRE THEM and get cheaper and younger teachers who are still interested in teaching.

When my father moved to a new building, he had to pack (and unpack) his stuff and he wasn't paid for it. If the Marks Meadow teachers aren't (a) willing to teach in the classrooms they are told to teach in or (b) set up a classroom in the fall that is conductive to education, then they should be fired for insubordination. FIRED.

It isn't like there aren't a whole lot of good teachers who could be hired for less...

Ed said...

One more thing: the issues I raise have nothing to do with wanting to close the school or not, nor with anything INSIDE the school (other than it literally sharing an atrium and two enterances with a UM admin building).

One could, in theory, build a different road between North Amherst and UMass, move the new North Residential Area and all of that to abate these concerns, but that is not going to happen.

So if you are going to close *a* school, and you have three in fairly appropriate areas and one exposed to lots of hazards, which one would you look at?

Nina Koch said...

part of the problem with posting links here is that the comments column is not very wide and the links get cut off (at least on my browser they do).

Here is a clickable link to the pdf that shows "AMOUNT NEEDED, USING H.1 PARAMETERS, TO GET TO FOUNDATION". (When I go to the Globe article, I don't see the link. Maybe it only shows in certain browsers. So here it is for anybody who couldn't find it.)

pdf with list of towns

If anyone is interested in knowing how to make a clickable link when you leave a comment, this is the code:

<a href="paste URL here inside the quotation marks">place here the text to show in link</a>

Anonymous said...

I hate to wade in here, but there is so much misinformation floating around.

Folks really need to be careful and check their facts, or else this valuable resource becomes just a harangue for the disgruntled.

Example: Ed, I am very close to a teacher in town. They do not get paid to set up their classrooms in the fall. Most spend 1-2 weeks or more in their classrooms in August, and that is unpaid time. The only day they are paid for is the day before the children return. And that day is mostly meetings.

Just a thought. Dialogue is helpful. Misinformation is not.