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, April 28, 2009

Amherst Meeting, April 28, 2009

This meeting was called entirely to vote on the Amherst budget, so this was the only item on the agenda. The latest round of proposed cuts is as follows:

Tier 1 cuts

One classroom teacher
One guidance counselor (WW)
One custodian
Assistant principals move to school year (from full-year) positions
Instrumental teachers - .75 reduction
Cafeteria paras - WW and FR

(None of those are particular new -- the instrumental music cut would mean some type of delay in the start of instrumental music, and the classroom teacher would be an upper grade)

Tier 2 cuts

All of the Tier 1 cuts, PLUS:
Instructional technology (computer) teacher
One classroom teacher
2.70 intervention teachers (ELA, math)
Specialist teachers (art/music/PE) - 80% time for all staff in these positions
Instrumental music - .50

(Instrumental music would have a one-year delay, so that strings would start in 4th grade instead of 3rd and band would start in 5th grade instead of 4th; it is unclear what the cuts to specialist positions would mean yet -- since these are new cuts on the table -- but these are cuts that are being made on top of other cuts just two years ago, meaning a pretty sizeable reduction in cuts to these areas).

Tier 3 cuts

Most of the cuts here are those we've seen before -- homework clubs and late buses disappear, 3 more teachers (to be determined) are cut, another 1.10 in instrumental music goes, as does the Science Coordinator and 2 more intervention teachers.

The superintendent recommended voting a Tier 2 budget, based on her best guess of where we might end up in terms of state aid, which we did. However, it was also noted that we were voting a budget, NOT voting on specific lines in the budget, and that we would like to see further clarification of the impact of the cuts (particularly the newly-announced cuts, such as to the specials) on children in all of the schools on a day-to-day basis.

Steve Rivkin noted his regret that the cuts were made to specials, which provided important ways for children to achieve and experience new activities (PE, art, music), and wondered about cutting intervention support instead (particularly "math coaches" and other intervention teachers who largely work with teachers, NOT students). He also asked whether closing Marks Meadow should be on the table for THIS year, if our budget is indeed at a Tier 3 or even Tier 4 level (a scary but distinct possibility). Maria noted that this was something that would need to be seriously considered IF we were forced by the town to go below Tier 2.

I expressed my concern about the process in which we see each budget 5 or 6 times, and each times there are new and different cuts -- which seems like not the best way to craft a budget (and one that leads to a lot of hysteria among parents, kids, teachers, and staff). It was noted by the superintendent, and others, that this had been a very unusual year, given the change in administration as well as the very dismal economic climate. I do hope that we can return to this issue of the budget process next year with our new superintendent, and that we can craft a process that includes more involvement from all stakeholders (parents, teachers, staff) EARLY in the process as opposed to late in the process in which people are reacting to proposed cuts (and in a sense, lobbying for particular positions).

Maria also noted that a survey was being distributed tomorrow to teachers and staff (anonymously) to gather feedback about different types of cuts they believed could be made with relatively minimal impact on children's experience in the schools. This was an idea sent by a parent to the School Committee today, and I hope this survey reveals valuable information on where cuts might be best made.

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