3 seek Amherst school slots
AMHERST - The three candidates seeking two School Committee seats all talk passionately about the schools. All have been involved with the schools on myriad levels.
They all want to help the schools get through the budget challenges and thrive. And they are all running for office in the March 31 election.
Irvin E. Rhodes has run for Select Board, been on the Finance Committee and most recently served on the town's Facilitation for Community Choices Committee. He also has taught, been a school librarian, and assistant superintendent at the former Belchertown State School. He said he's making his first School Committee bid because, "I want to bring all that experience" to the committee.
He said working on the finance and facilitation committees "has given me an insight into the financial workings of the town budget." The overriding issue is the budget, he said.
The town has four elementary schools, and this year committee members have discussed the potential closing of Marks Meadow. No decisions have been made, and initially Helen L. Vivian, one of the former interim co-superintendents, recommended against that or any other changes to the configuration of the elementary schools. Some have proposed closing that school as a way to save money.
Rhodes said he doesn't think the school should be closed next year and instead thinks the school closing "needs to be (considered) within a comprehensive plan." Closing that school is not addressing the school budget structural deficit, which would be addressed in a comprehensive plan.
He said the community needs to get involved in creating the plan, and it needs to be ready and implemented in fiscal 2011. That plan needs to set goals and objectives. People want to go for easy solutions. They glom onto something that makes very little sense."
Rhodes said he can work collaboratively and looks forward to doing so with the committee.
Steven G. Rivkin, is the chairman of the economics department at Amherst College and said he wants to see good policy decisions in the schools. His specialty is economics of education.
Rivkin, along with current School Committee member Catherine A. Sanderson, co-founded the Amherst Committee for Excellence in 2007 in an attempt to ensure academic excellence for all children.
As a committee member he wants to ensure that all students are "intellectually engaged." And he also wants "to bring a sense of open debate and discussion to focus on data and evidence ... and most of all to focus on the children."
Rivkin said he believes that given the financial shortfall for fiscal 2010, the committee does need to consider closing Mark's Meadow for the fall. He realizes September is soon, but "we should not rule it out given the crisis."
He said, "We can't get caught up in the budget. The way in which the schools are structured has a huge impact on the quality of education in the schools."
He sees that redistricting is imperative "to eliminate the substantial disparities in the schools."
He said it's unfair that about 66 percent of the students at Crocker Farm are eligible for free lunch while only about 20 percent are eligible at the Wildwood and Fort River schools.
Redistricting the schools would create a balanced student population at all the schools.
As a committee member he said he would "focus on evidence," and he hopes the committee will be a forum where "people can disagree respectfully openly and move forward." With the committee, "there's a tendency to not disagree" or not ask the administration tough questions because the meeting is open.
Megan D. Rosa said she couldn't look at herself in the mirror if she wasn't going to try to help the students.
She said diversity issues are important and like Rivkin she wants to ensure greater diversity and equality among the elementary schools. She, too, would like to see redistricting.
"The bigger piece is the kids ... to do what I can to so each of these kids gets the best education we can give them to get the tools (they need) in life" to either work, or go on to college.
That drive "is so deep in me ... to make a difference in these kids' lives. We can't lose the focus of what these kids need."
She believes it's essential "to keep those core classes, services, making sure we have the core really strong."
Rosa has two children at Marks Meadow but contrary to what some think, "I'm not running to save Marks Meadow," she said. "If the numbers show the best thing is to close Marks Meadow, that's what we would have to do. (But) I don't see it being able to happen this year.
"We have to follow the advice of the administration and principals to make sure the kids have exactly what they need."
She also praised the administration for doing a good job with the budget and "putting the kids first."