My Goal in Blogging

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

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Tier 3 Choice: 4 Schools or 3 Schools

Given that by all estimates, we appear to be looking at Tier 3, a number of people -- parents AND teachers -- have contacted me to say why are we not now looking seriously at closing Marks Meadow at the end of this calendar year. And in fact, when the superintendent recommended (on March 3rd) not closing Marks Meadow at the end of this year, she even said that was her recommendation IF we were at Tier 1 or Tier 2, but that if we were at Tier 3, "all bets are off." So, we do appear to be at Tier 3 ... which means I think we need to take a VERY serious look at whether Marks Meadow should stay open next year. Let's look at what the options are.

The estimate is that closing Marks Meadow would save $700,000 a year -- but "only" $406,000 in the first year (although significantly more IF you don't move the portables at the cost of $140,000). So, let's say we are at Tier 3 (which all indications suggest is accurate), and we have a choice of having four schools next year (our current system) or having three schools next year (if Marks Meadow closes). Here is what we lose, as suggested by our superintendent at the March 3rd Amherst Meeting, if we keep four schools at Tier 3:


  • 6 classroom teachers (somewhat larger class sizes in the upper grades at probably all schools, because I assume these six would basically come from losing a teacher or two in the 4th through 6th grades across the district) - $324,000
  • 3.2 instrumental music teachers (the loss of ALL instrumental music) - $172,800
  • 9.2 intervention teachers (math, English Language Arts, ELL) - $496,800
  • 1.8 computer teachers - $101,000
  • Science coordinator - $54,000 (this means no science coordinator for K to 6 at all)
  • Librarian - $54,000 (I believe two schools would then share a librarian)
These cuts total $1,202,600.

What could we gain by closing Marks Meadow THIS YEAR (and thus have an extra $406,000 -- which is a conservative estimate, because you do NOT have to move the portables)? Here's how I'd use this money:
  • First, I'd save instrumental music -- this is a rich part of the Amherst curriculum, and it is an important feeder to the MS and HS music programs, and it is a way for us to realize our social justice mission (because wealthier kids can pay for private lessons, but disadvantaged kids can't) -- that costs $172,800.
  • Second, I'd save the science coordinator -- that costs $54,000 (and we do so little science K to 6 that not having that person seems like a really costly choice).
  • Third, I'd save 3.5 intervention teachers (who work with kids who are having trouble on the MCAS in english and math and who work with ELL students) -- that costs $189,000 (3.5 X $54,000).
That leaves $6,200, meaning I've basically spent the savings (although again, if we don't move the portables, we could in fact have another $140,000 to spend - meaning we could add back another intervention teacher or two, or have smaller class sizes, or get back a librarian, etc.).

So, this is how I'd allocate the money --others may have different priorities, and those priorities may well include differences in managing the money between three schools (e.g., maybe going immediately to save classroom teachers and reducing class size instead of saving instrumental music and intervention teachers), OR between four schools (e.g., saying that keeping Marks Meadow open for next year is worth losing all instrumental music and increasing some class sizes). Those are choices we all may see and rank differently, and that's fine. But let's be clear -- there is a finite amount of money, so making one choice (e.g., having four schools) inherently does mean we are not able to make a different choice (e.g., having instrumental music). All I'm doing is telling you the choices that I'd make.

57 comments:

Anonymous said...

A decision needs to be made. If we have the numbers in hand we shouldn't do the typical Amherst response of talking about it until we are even deeper in trouble.
Just do it.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Before making this decision, I would like to see two separate budgets prepared by the Superintendent's office. The first would illustrate, line-by-line, the Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 level cuts with four elementary schools (i.e. the budget numbers we have all been presented with at School Committee meetings over the past few months). The second would then illustrate, in the exact same way, the Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 level cuts factoring in the closing of Marks Meadow. Until we see those figures and explanations side-by-side, it is very difficult to envision what our school system would look like next year under each scenario. We have all seen the amount that would be saved if Marks Meadow is closed (with and without moving the portables), but we have never actually seen what three remaining schools would look like in terms of things like instrumental music, intervention teachers, homework clubs, etc. with these savings factored in. I hope this information will be provided at the public forums on Marks Meadow this month.

Anonymous said...

What is the current amount they are asking to cut in the elementary schools and the regional district? Your cuts (option 1 or 2) list 1.2 million in cuts, but didn't I read something in the paper about needing to cut 1.8 million for the elementary schools?

When we have suggestions (like look at cost savings of providing only the minimum state-required bus transportation (which might be 2 miles away from school, vs the 1-mile requirement currently in place) - who do we send these suggestions to? The school committee? The principals (since they seem to be the ones listing the latest set of Tier 1,2,3 items) or Maria Geryk?

Anonymous said...

How about all of the above

Anonymous said...

Question about FTE costs: It seems that you have estimated each FTE to cost $54K. Does that include health care insurance/benefits, or would there be ADDITIONAL savings for each FTE cut? Do you know what that would amount to per person (on average)?

If the $54K is the sum of both salary and benefits, could you tell us what the breakdown is? (How much for salary and how much for benefits)?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, what are your and the SC's options is terms of voting to close MM for this year or for next year? The motion is already in place to vote to close it (or not) in May for the following school year (2010-2011). If you want to move to close it for the coming school year (2009-2010), do you amend your previous motion? Do you vote it down and make a new motion?

Anonymous said...

I like your comment:

Second, I'd save the science coordinator -- that costs $54,000 (and we do so little science K to 6 that not having that person seems like a really costly choice).

It sounds like so little is done for science in K-6 that we might not miss the science coordinator!

Seriously, though - how many science coordinators do we have now for the four elementary schools? 1 for all them, or 1 for each of them? I really see very little science curriculum coming out of the classroom for my kids so I am surprised to hear we even have a science coordinator.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

As regular readers of this blog and/or followers of Amherst school issues probably realize, one of the "funnest" things about being on Amherst School Committee is effectively dealing with preK-12 goals with two separate budgets - preK-6 & 7-12 --that are passed by *very* different processes.

It's from that struggle -- not just because I'm a MM parent -- that I ask us to continually check our thinking from one school budget to another. You can't make apples to apples comparisons on a number of things, but in a lot of ways you can.

Here's one example I've brought up a couple of times in the past, and as far as I could tell, even though I got quoted in the paper at least once years ago, mostly people pretended I never said it: it's time to stop spending $300,000 a year in the Regional 7-12 budget on the 7-12 athletic program (that's $300,000 in addition to the gate receipts & athlete fees & athlete/family fundraising already raised & spent).

When we talk about "the core" in a financial hole like this, a hole we're not climbing out of for years to come, I just can't justify protecting some of our current outside-of-school-hours at the expense of current during-the-school-day activities. Sure, they're in different budgets, but to the individual taxpayer, it's all money for schools. And that money is supposed to reflect & follow our values, not just the way we've always done things.

*Every* child in the four Amherst elementary schools who expresses interest in the grades 3-6 during-the-day instrumental music program to a music teacher gets an instrument rented for them one way or another -- even if it's out of the teacher's pocket. My kids have been in classes of hugely varying socio-economic levels with 90%+ participation in instrumental music during the day! You're not going to see that level of participation in middle school and high school athletics, and in this culture in the 21st century, *when push comes to shove*, the elementary kids are learning more about how to learn from instrumental music during the day than they are from the sports after school 7-12.

Of course athletics 7-12 are important! So is a good phys ed program preK-12!

Again, since we're at the pushing and shoving stage, let's stop trying to shave some here & some there & hope it'll be enough (cutting) to get through "one more year" -- let's open our minds to the idea (for example) that if after-school athletic activities are what keeps some kids in school, and what enables a (very few of those) to attend college, the time for community-based athletic boosters to take the lead on funding those programs (yes, I know, the current Boosters just about finished paying for the field lights!) has come.

This isn't about "parents paying for teachers." This is about funding programs. And yes, I know athletic program cuts have already been planned for FY10 and have been made in recent years, and participation fees have increased. So I think we've gone about as far as we can go *with the current model* for 7-12 after-school sports.

Of course your mileage may vary, but me, I can't justify, at the same time we're still putting *any* money (other than liability insurance, maybe), into after-school athletics, at the same time doing any of the following (in no particular order of magnitude):

1. making grades 9-12 kids all take two study halls out of 15 classes a year

2. eliminating school librarians (not book shelving & buying, but the important part: the teaching they do)

3. eliminating elementary instrumental music during the day

4. limiting after school buses for kids who need extra help

What else am I willing to give up, in exchange for community-based boosters taking on the 7-12 athletic program? These are not going to be painless, and it pains me to list them...Again, in no particular order:

a. class sizes of less than 22(?) for grades 5-6

b. class sizes of less than 25(?) for grades 7-12

c. elementary assistant principals (3 positions)

d. some fraction of paid clerical support in every school office

e. all class-size paras

f. keeping kids in district in special programs without good data showing that we're helping them more than out of district placements would help-- "ood" costs a fortune, but at least we'd have fewer employees to pay benefits for (through retirement) if indeed needs are too severe to be more mainstreamed rather than substantially separate

g. some fraction of high school & middle school administration, with safety paramount

h. elementary technology specialists/specials

i. all preparation of reports to the state that do not clearly have a check attached to their submission -- out of 100 or so reports we have to do for every district every year, it's simply not possible they all have actual payments that will get withheld if we just "forget" to submit them

and there's probably more, as much as I hate to think about any of it.

I didn't always realize I was lucky. While I was on the School Committee(s) 2002-2007, it was partially during the last economic downturn -- and it was just a downturn. Turns out the sky really is falling this time, folks.

Let's support all our School Committee members in substantively discussing and making some hard choices based on the things we believe kids really, really need most from our schools. Our schools can't do everything a kid needs in the *best* of times. We can't even come close for some kids with this little money. But we *can* define our critical, core values in a way that will work for Amherst kids with whatever money we've got.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts about looking into a four-day school week? Longer school days by a bit, but might it save on building/heating costs?

Anonymous said...

Alisa V. Brewer, are your arguing that extra curriculars such as athletics, drama, debate team, chess club, should be not be funded by taxpayers but should be funded exclusively by family paid participation fees, (the effect of which is saying these are of no value relative to other educational endeavors.)?

Isn't that like arguing only people with house fires should pay for the fire department?

Anonymous said...

Alicia is right about how we are OVERSPENDING on athletics in the regional district budget.


Based on FY08 numbers, the state average per pupil expenditure on athletics is $124. Amherst-Pelham spends $311 per pupil while the Amherst elementary school district spends $0 per pupil on athletics.

For 1892 pupils (x $311/pupil), that comes out to $588,000 in the regional athletic budget. That is $350K more than what would be spent at an average school in the state with the same number of kids as ours.

More details on the data source and other interesting facts on Alison's per pupil blog. (I don't know how to make a link here on this blog).

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Re: are your arguing that extra curriculars such as athletics, drama, debate team, chess club, should be not be funded by taxpayers but should be funded exclusively by family paid participation feesNo, I don't believe I am arguing that. Sorry my post was long and dense; it's the way I talk, too:-)

I said that the *7-12 athletic program* approx $300,000 line item in the 7-12 Regional budget should be distributed elsewhere in the preK-12 program (given the budgeting complexities I mentioned) because we've already maxed out possible athlete fees, gate receipts, and fundraising in the current model. And I at least implied that community-based boosters would surely come together to "save" the athletics program, with all the hard work of sponsorship and fundraising taken out of the school venue.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Even as a parent of a serious athlete, I have to say I agree with some of Alisa's points. Not that we should move the funding of athletics entirely to fundraising, but that we should look and see whether we could make some deeper cuts in the non-core areas of our middle/high schools in order to spare core areas and to reduce the impact on our youngest children. I think Alisa's primary point is that we might want to look at shifting some of our money from the regional to the elementary budget. Alisa, correct me if I am wrong.

I hate to say we might want to further reduce some of our sports programs, but if it meant keeping all kids out of required study halls and/or our youngest children in classes of 20 or less, I would support it. Along those same lines, parents of athletes have to pay a hefty fee for participation but kids in clubs don't have a fee imposed--perhaps that should be considered. I do think that we should do our best to retain a selection of both athletic and after-school-club offerings since those are sometimes what keeps kids in school. We just might not need as many options. Just as I don't think we need as many elective options in the high school but I do think we need smaller class sizes in the younger grades. I am constantly amazed that class sizes of 24 and up are considered acceptable at the elementary level but maintaining class sizes of 20-22 at the high school level is always listed as a primary goal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I accidentally said "Alicia" instead of "Alisa" in my last posting.

Alisa also brought up cutting paras.

The state average per pupil expenditure on Non-Clerical Paraprofs./Instructional Assistants is $515. For Amherst (elementary schools), we spent $1107 per pupil, so for our 1453 pupils, we are spending $1.6 million (or $860K more than an average school in the state with our number of kids).

For Teachers, Specialist (vs Teachers, Classroom), we spend $1444 per pupil vs the state average of $480. That translates to $2.1 million total (or $1.4 million more than the average school with our number of kids).

Everyone argues that much of these intervention coaches and sped teachers are state-mandated, but it is not possible that the state of MA would mandate that Amherst spend $2541 per pupil on these combined services vs the state average of $994 per pupil. That's an EXTRA $2.25 million RIGHT THERE. Cut half of that and we will be well on our way to getting our budget under control.

Remember, this is $2.25 million MORE than what would be spent at an average school in the state, with the same number of kids as ours.

And this does not even take into account health insurance and benefits that would accompany these positions. So there would be significantly MORE SAVINGS to be had if many of these paras/assistants/specialists were cut from the budget.

Anonymous said...

The Amherst-Pelham regional district spends a total of $3.6 million on the combination of paras/teacher specialists/ instructional assistants, which is $1.7 million MORE than an average school in the state with our number of kids.

This is $1.7 million in savings potentially to be had in the regional budget - and then there would be even MORE SAVINGS from the accompanying reduction in health insurance/benefits.

Anonymous said...

I concur with the idea of exploring some of these other elements - elementary athletics, paras - becuase if our costs are not in line with comparable districts there is a reason, sometimes deliberate and purposeful and sometimes not.

Anonymous said...

Overall, we run expensive schools. Of 319 districts reporting, Amherst ranks 23 and Amherst-Pelham ranks 28 in terms of highest amount spent per pupil on Insurance, Retirement and other (HR & benefits). We must have more employees per pupil than most.

Amherst ranks 25th (and AP ranks 77th) in terms of most spent on other teaching services (which includes the para/assistants). Thus, we must have more paras per pupil than most.

For highest amount spent on operations and maintenance, AP ranks 35th and A ranks 80th.

I suspect that the high amount per pupil spent for Amherst-Pelham on operations/maintenance is due to the fact that we have 4 separate buildings (East Street Alternative School (17 kids), the South Amherst Campus (29 kids) and the main HS and MS. Running two separate buildings for 43 kids (and their accompanying 18 FTEs) should be looked at a source of potential budget cuts on the regional budget.

Why is all the fuss centered on Marks Meadows and why has no one raised an uproar about having two buildings (that incidentally, are not paid for by UMASS) for 43 kids? Granted, the buildings are on different budgets; but with all the talk about languages and too many free periods - wouldn't you at least think about closing ONE of the TWO buildings, if not both of them? Can't the 17 kids or the 29 (or all 43 kids!) be accomodated in the portables, or is it one of those things where the portables "belong" to the elementary school budget?

mariac said...

I resent, as a parent of a child who requires a para, that these be cut out since our district seems to have more paras per students than other schools. many parents who have kids with special needs have moved into the district because of the services amherst offers compared to others. kids need support in all areas. the arts, athletics, music, etc. closing a school in order to keep as much as these programs in place is a no brainer to me. in any other profession, if all you do is talk, talk, talk, and do nothing, in a certain amount of time, you would be first put on notice for not producing, then eventually fired. Well, amherst has been put on notice, and now lets stop all of the talking and lets do something about it.

Anonymous said...

"many parents who have kids with special needs have moved into the district because of the services amherst offers compared to others."

You have just mentioned the elephant in the room.

Anonymous said...

"You have just mentioned the elephant in the room."

Great! Let's start discussing how to reduce services to those children most in need. It's a theme which gets frequently hashed over by some of the more compassionate posters. But of course, it's worded as making the Special Ed program more "effective". And quite candidly, it makes me sick.

Anonymous said...

It makes me sick that we spend so much of our budget on such a small percentage of the children. Do those SPED kids need help? Of course they do. But so do non-SPED kids. Do SPED kids benefit from one-on-one or specialized attention? Without a doubt. But so would non-SPED kids.

The SPED budget had grown dramatically over the years, *much* faster than the non-SPED budget (I thank Alison Donta-Venman for publishing those data on her blog!). As another poster has pointed out, the amount we spend on SPED must far exceed the amount that's mandated by the state, because the average per-child state expenditure is much lower. And, also according to data on Alison's blog, the percentage of SPED kids is not higher in those other districts. The only explanation that I see if that more extremely needy SPED kids live in our district. By why would that be, unless they moved here specifically for the services?

We can no longer afford such generous services, for anyone.

Anonymous said...

"Do those SPED kids need help? Of course they do. But so do non-SPED kids. Do SPED kids benefit from one-on-one or specialized attention? Without a doubt. But so would non-SPED kids."

Are you actually equating the needs of a neurotypical child with that of a child qualifying for SPED assistance? I sincerely hope that I have misread your post.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My thoughts:

Anonymous 11:44 - yes. Agreed. But this is HARD for Amherst!

Alison - I've asked for this information, and I do think it would be relevant and important. I don't think we'll get it line by line at each level, but I do think the presentations by the Superintendent at the Community Forums will give some good insight into what these choices would be (e.g., what would stay/go under 3 versus 4 schools).

Anonymous 1:28 - there are a bunch of relative small cuts (e.g., professional development, secretarial support in central office, etc.) that make up the rest -- I was trying to hit the big ticket items just to simplify. The other cuts (to get to the 1.8 number) are pretty easy ones to make (meaning have relatively little impact on day-to-day life for kids). The transportation numbers have been run -- it really doesn't save much -- I think Rob estimated like $1,000 a year -- once you factor in having to bus kids who live further than 1 mile, and also not charging low income kids. This has been looked in to and is not a big savings - but if you have ideas, you can email the superindendent and SC members (the principals have some say, but more over their own building, which obviously isn't something like transportation or a change in district-wide policies).

Anonymous 1:32 - true!

Anonymous 1:33 - the $54,000 is the average salary -- benefits would be more, but that varies (so the $54,000 number is what is put in the budget). I don't know the break-down.

Anonymous 1:37 - this is a good question. I think I would have to amend my motion ... which I would do IF the superintendent made a recommendation that we could/should close MM this year.

Anonymous 1:41 -- good point! There is ONE science coordinator for all four schools ... and yes, the science curriculum is not as strong as it could be (it gets pushed to the side for other things). My fear is that without this job in there, it will disappear further. She is doing a good job trying to help teachers integrate science into classroom work in all four schools K to 6 ... seems like a pretty good use of money to me.

Alisa - you raise many good and thoughtful points, as always ... but on the K to 6 level ... what would you cut to keep MM open? Or do you think closing it is the right choice? Because cutting 7 to 12 stuff is NOT going to help the elementary schools right now!

Anonymous 1:57 - 4-day school weeks are very hard to implement. First, you have to extend the school day so they get the right number of hours -- which means you are changing all teacher contracts throughout the district (and bus contracts). Second, many teachers have their own kids in other districts nearby -- making it hard for them to have their own kids in school less time than they are teaching. Third, many low income kids depend on free breakfast/lunch at school. Four day weeks really hurt those kids. I just don't think this is a realistic way to solve our budget crisis.

Anonymous/Alison/Alisa/Anonymous - I am trying to focus this blog post on what to do NOW in terms of keeping 3 versus 4 elementary schools ... so, all of the talk about per pupil expenses and fees and athletics is important and valuable and maybe worthy of a new blog posting -- but I'm not going to individually respond to these points! Again, this is a post about the ELEMENTARY school budget, which is NOT going to be helped by stuff at the regional level, including the 2 alternative high schools.

Mariac - well said. Thank you! I think it goes back to what we see as the core of the Amherst schools ... for me, it is NOT four buildings. It is art, music, appropriate intervention support, small class sizes, etc. And the reality is, we DO start sacrificing some of this stuff to maintain four schools.

Last three anonymous posters - I do think the special ed program needs to be looked into ... because I hear consistent concerns from parents and because it is expensive. This is not saying we need to cut services to kids who need them -- it is saying we need to make sure we are providing EFFECTIVE and COST-EFFICIENT services to kids who need them. There may be times in which we could do things CHEAPER and BETTER at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, we realize that SPED dollars are reimbursed by the STATE as it is a mandated program. No competition necessary for these dollars.

That said, my point is that All programs should be reviewed for "effectiveness". Maybe a committee could be formed to look into the athletic, music, language, etc. prorams?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:48 -
My understanding is that the state reimburses SPED programs up to a point (maybe a certain amount per child or something like that, perhaps varying the amount based on the level of help needed). However, it is NOT my understanding that the state will reimburse Amherst for ALL SPED costs.

Anonymous said...

Catherine - about your point that this blog is focused on 3 or 4 schools - and that the per pupil expenses may not be relevant to the topic - the fact is that if you cut just HALF the paras that are already ABOVE the state average (to save $1.1 million), you might even save close to $1.8 million when you take into account the additional savings from heath insurance/benefits that go along with those paras.

Amherst spends $2677 per pupil on the combination of Employer Retirement Contributions and Insurance for Active Employees compared to state average of $1641. Again, that is $1035 MORE per pupil than state average, which translates into $1.5 million MORE than another school in the state...

Keep in mind that even by cutting HALF the paras/specialists/assistants that are putting us ABOVE state average, we will STILL be spending another $1.1 MILLION ABOVE STATE average.


If you do that, you can have both Marks Meadows and music. Or cut MM if it's still seen as extraneous spending (because we should always be cutting extraneous spending in general). And/or cut music too if it's seen as extraneous.

I don't have a specific position on MM or music - I just wanted to point out that there are alternate places to cut the budget where it seems we are overspending.

My position is that I don't like it that we are continually cutting regular education (by cutting the classroom teachers in the proposed Tier 1,2,3 scenarios whether we cut or don't cut MM) - and continuing to treat SPED and intervention and struggling students as if they were sacred.
They definitely need and deserve help but do we really need to go above and beyond by $2.25 million dollars in these difficult fiscal times?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 5:58 - I think special ed is extremely different from the examples you give (athletics, language, music). First, I hear NO complaints from parents about those other things -- I hear lots about special ed. Second, the amount of money the district spends on special ed is significantly higher than that spent on art-music-language-athletics added together. Both of those facts say to me that we need to be paying more careful attention to special ed than other parts of our budget.

Anonymous 6:11 - this is also my understanding. Thanks for pointing this out.

Anonymous 6:30 - I blog about things I've studied and know well. I don't about other things until I've learned enough about them. I'm not compelled at all by the Amherst spends more than some other districts on anything in particular -- I'd need to know more about our student population (e.g., I imagine we have a more transient population, and potentially a higher ELL population than many other districts). I'd need to know more about how we compare to districts that are like us and so on. The superintendent and principals haven't recommended the cuts you suggest, and while you may be right, I certainly don't feel I know enough to say "let's cut the paraprofessionals down to the state average." Again, you may be right -- but the numbers you've presented aren't enough to convince me. I'm focusing on the options the superintendent presented at each level -- those are clearly the things that she thinks we need/don't need at each level, and hence those are the things we could save by closing a school.

Anonymous said...

It's understandable not to want to put anything on the table for cuts if you don't have a clear understanding of the topic.

That suggests, in light of the seriousness of the cuts that are being suggested, that a serious effort need to be put forth by the superintendant's office on examining all areas of the budget where significant cuts can be made. And quickly, too, since we do not have much time before the May vote.

I think most would agree that if Marks Meadow or music were to be cut completely, they're gone permanently.

However, cutting some number of paras/specialists does not necessarily have a permanent effect. After all, these paras/assistants/specialists have only been added in the past 9 years (see FY09 budget which details changes from 2000-2009) so you might say they are just recent additions. And they can easily be re-added whe the budget permits.

And we're talking only about cutting HALF of the amount we are ABOVE state average, leaving us still with a significant leg up on the state average on paras/assist./specialists.

My kid tells me that a girl in his class gets to go to the mall to shop with her para during school hours if she behaves. My feeling is that this para could probably handle two kids at a time instead of one.

mariac said...

take away my kids para (that is SHARED now by the way to save $) and let's see how this effects neurotypical kids in the classroom. I also have 2 neurotypical kids by the way, and want them to also have exposure to the arts/music/strong curriculum, etc. Quite frankly, the way the sp-ed kids are treated by "anonymous" bloggers makes me sick. We have to fight and pay out of pocket for our kids to receive proper services. That's a little known fact. Amherst has the $ for Sp-Ed services, but ask any sp-ed parent. You have to become a well versed advocate, and spend lots of $ and time fighting for your kid to get what they need. Like I said, my kid shares a para. everything in the school is a fight as far as sp-ed services. what makes amherst different is the school district has the $ to give the services compared to other towns. There you can fight all you want, but in the end it ends up in arbitration and $ out of your own pocket , and you'll still be denied services. Amherst just doesn't give sp-ed services freely. again, cut sp-ed paras and services, and the typical kids in the class will be greatly effected by this, not just the kids with special needs. the teachers will have to take more time to address the issues the paras do, and less time teaching all the neurotypical kids.

Amh Mom said...

It seems obvious that in light of the new Tier 3 situation, the only responsible thing to do is stop hemmoraging money through MM. Close it in June and redistict ONE time for the closing and equity redistribution. This just makes common sense.

Let's stop fiddling while Rome burns.

Anonymous said...

Could you address the savings of $1.4 million in cutting services of paras and instructional aides and why this is not being considered?
I know most say this is a vulnerable population, but if that much can be saved by cutting the aides then I dare say even more could be saved by cutting the administrators overseeing all these aides...and I do not say this lightly as a parent of a sped student. Some--not all, but most cetainly some, services some sped kids get are a waste of the student's time and the aide's time. The aide's are the ones on the floor daily with the kids and receive little or no respect from the majority of the upper administrators anyway (I am also a sped para) so cutting them off the list might actually do them a favor by leading to hgiher paying positions with more respect, thus leaving the sped kid in a position where s/he can learn to depend on themself under the guidance of their classroom teacher and parent(s). Like it has always been, like it is supposed to be...
Just a thought...

Anonymous said...

Time for Anon 8:19 a.m. to find a new career. Let the strong survive, right? Wow!!!!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the reason why SPED services weren't put on the table for cuts by the interim superintendent is because it turns out she WAS the Director for SPED services before her current job... or at least that's what it says on the arps.org website.

http://www.arps.org/
SpecialEducationStudentServices/

The webpage says:

Special Education/Student Services
Maria Geryk
Director of Special Education/Student Services
(413) 362-1832
GerykM@arps.org

Perhaps Maria knew that the SPED program was already running at maximum efficiency, or perhaps she was wary of cutting the projects she worked so hard to get funded.

Either way, as a potential place to cut funds, the area of paras and aids certainly deserves looking into. No harm in looking or asking - as Catherine always says, if it (any program) is proven to be functioning efficiently and well, then good!

Nina Koch said...

to anonymous 8:35, the link that you gave for the special ed web page is on the old arps website. The correct URL is here:

http://www.arps.org/special-education-student-services

Rick said...

Reading all the different ideas from many different people, on this blog and others, from closing MM to changes in SPED, seems like a confusing micro-managed mess that isn’t getting anywhere. This coupled with the high compensation awarded to the new superintendent causes me to think that something is backwards here.

In the corporate world a board [SC] representing the shareholders [voters] would hire a very good, and very well paid CEO [superintendent], and say to that person: “We want you to cut costs by 10% and increase quality by 10% over the next 18 months - go do it.” (or something like that, you get the idea).

It’s not up to a bunch of blog commenters to fix the problem we have. It’s not really directly up the SC either, who while they may approve or disapprove of solutions brought to them by management, its management that should come up with specific solutions, not the SC, and certainly not us, the armchair quarterbacks. It’s fine for us to throw ideas out there, but this seems to have moved beyond that.

I know that right now we don’t have a superintendent. But when the high paid “CEO” arrives, I hope the SC says something like the above to him. Somebody making that kind of money needs to be given a challenge like that, and if they don’t perform, they are out. When you get down to it, the most important thing the SC does is hire the superintendent and challenge them to really perform.

Instead it seems like too often the SC and Superintendent wring their hands together about how hard it is to do what needs to be done with not enough money. Yup, there is not enough money – that’s tough CEO, you get paid a lot to deal with that by coming up with innovative solutions, not just to tell us where you plan to cut.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Rick. A voice of reality and reason!

Anonymous said...

Rick, your post actually makes sense, compared to all the micro-managers on the School Board. I see from your ID, that you have had experience out in the real world, unlike those whose entire life has been spent in the academic bubble. Very refreshing!

Naomi said...

I think some bloggers do not have a fundamental knowledge of Sped law. If a child requires a one-on-one paraprofessional in order to receive equal access to the same curriculum as regular ed students, then one MUST be provided and paid for by the school district. It's the law. However, a sped administrator may change their mind about one-on-one services (or ANY sped services) when a new IEP (Individual Educational Plan) is written (usually yearly) and remove that "accommodation." If the parents disagree with the change, they can request an "independent" evaluation from someone who does not work for the school department. If the family is of low income, based on reduced or free lunch qualifications, then the school must pay for the independent evaluation. However, the evaluator must accept the state rate of reimbursement, which is lower than what is paid through private insurance. The school district will contact the evaluator, who then calls the parents to make an appointment. If the independent evaluator upholds the school's decision, then the parents can seek another evaluation at their own expense. This is usually unaffordable to the low income family. State insurance plans, like Mass Health, will probably not pay for it because they consider most testing
related to an IEP to be the school district's responsibility. Unfortunately, there are some independent evaluators who do the testing for schools on a regular basis and an "understanding" grows between them and the sped administrators. In other words, the evaluator comes up with results that favor the school's position. For low income disabled students, there is no recourse. If a family DOES have enough income, or private insurance, they can choose a highly qualified, highly paid evaluator who has no relationship to the district. You may be surprised at how differently their testing comes out compared to those who accept state rates. In conclusion, eliminating one-on-one paras for disabled students is illegal, at best. Parents of means will be able to pay for the appropriate testing in order to have the para services reinstated, even if they have to go all the way to hearing with a special ed lawyer. Children of little means will be at the mercy of the school district. Without a needed para, the child will fall behind, maybe become anxious and disruptive, or start to act-out verbally or physically. In time, they may be transferred to one of the district's "substantially separate" programs for children whose behavior prevents them from being educated in mainstream classrooms. Meanwhile, their well-off disabled peer retains a para and stays in his or her regular ed class with typical students as role models. Sped paras are worth their weight in gold. Yet they are not even paid a living wage! I suggest that we reduce sped administrators and use that money to hire more sped paras.

Anonymous said...

May I second this motion? Very nicely put from someone who apparently knows!

Anonymous said...

Anon: 4:57
That is not at all what I am saying here. I know from seeing it myself how some children are side swept at a very early age into the sped trap. Yes, trapped in a program that their peers do not accept, where they are tormented and teased daily. Where they run to be comforted hiding behind their tears and we go to a quiet place to reflect. The tormentor's name will never be revealed as this would break some unwritten rule 'don't tell or you will get worse next time I see you in the play yard'. If there is indeed a proven overflow of paras or aides then perhaps cuts can and should be made there. Did you know they already took 1.5 hours of pay out of the paras weekly salary. Talk about adding insult to injury! If this kind of cut can be made then why isn't someone looking at the many, overlaps in administrative positions that if eliminated would save even more than the 1.4 million dollar figure I read earlier.
Naomi, I could not agree with you more. Most of the sped kids in Amherst come from low-income families. This is because they cannot fight the system because they do not have the money and most wind up in secluded classrooms that look more like storage clsoets than a place where you can study. There is a nonverbal autistic child in the MS with no para, last I knew of, whose parent is low-income. This is a student who would blossom with a one-to-one, but for budget constraints?, lack of her parent knowing their full rights?, the school taking advantage of the situation?, s/he does not have what s/he needs to be a successful student and what 'law' is protecting him/her?
Rick, who is responsible for the mess we are in today with this 'structural deficit' and how long ago might you estimate that it might have been seen coming?
Is the principal of each building responsible for how their allotment of the moeny gets spent? And does the SC ever act for the individual within the system? Any individual that is student or teacher, etc.? Thanks...

JWolfe said...

Rick wrote:
"In the corporate world a board [SC] representing the shareholders [voters] would hire a very good, and very well paid CEO [superintendent], and say to that person: “We want you to cut costs by 10% and increase quality by 10% over the next 18 months - go do it.” (or something like that, you get the idea)."

Hilarious. Have you picked up a newspaper in say the last 8 years? This is pretty close to what the Enron board said and thought. Add in AIG, GE (don't worry GE Capital has us covered!), Wachovia, Morgan, shall I go on?, GM, Chrysler (various times). Daimler Benz (how did that Chrysler purchase pay off?), Wells Fargo, Lehman Bros., Bear Stern, & Citi. And those are just the ones that spring immediately to mind.

Just think Citi and Enron and you've got the fantastic business model to which you refer.

The board you describe is known as a mushroom board, left in the dark and fed manure.

Also, there aren't too many corporate boards that listen to the shareholders. If there were, there wouldn't be shareholder revolts over board elections.

We elected an SC filled with people we know and who are accessible to us. That's how small town governance works.

Moreover, the pre-Catherine Sanderson board was essentially mushrooms. They did whatever the sainted Jere Hochman asked. How's that worked out?

Anonymous said...

When I initially read that statement from the School Committee justifying the new superintendent salary, I was reminded of AIG defending their executive bonuses!

Rick said...

JWolfe:

Nice job offering nothing of value. Do you have a solution or are just into making idiotic statements like “Have you picked up a newspaper in say the last 8 years?”. Instead of wondering who reads the newspaper, maybe you should learn to read yourself.

You complain that ”…the pre-Catherine Sanderson board was essentially mushrooms. They did whatever the sainted Jere Hochman asked. How's that worked out?”

The whole point of my post was to suggest how that could be changed. But I guess you don’t like to read so you missed it.

Here is what I said:
”Somebody making that kind of money needs to be given a challenge like that, and if they don’t perform, they are out. When you get down to it, the most important thing the SC does is hire the superintendent and challenge them to really perform.”

Here is what you said:
“The board you describe is known as a mushroom board, left in the dark and fed manure.”

Huh?

You are one of the clueless who think the word corporation means Enron and nothing else. There are thousands of small to medium size businesses out there and not all of them are badly run businesses with useless boards. For example, Silicon Valley equity funds have boards, of course, and you think they don’t demand performance from the CEOs of their companies – and get it, or else? Think again.

The fact is we have a board in the form of the School Committee, and we have a “CEO” in the form of Superintendent. I was making a suggestion of how the board might better manage its CEO.

JWolfe said...

Okay Rick, I'll bite. The corporate model you describe is the worst of the worst. You said the board tells the CEO to do something and we know he can because he's highly paid. "Go do it, we trust that you can because we're paying you a lot of money" is more or less what you posted. That's the model of highly paid CEOs who are highly paid because compensation consultants pull the same BS the SC did and compare salaries in markets they define as having only upward momentum in price. Apparently, even in a severe recession, school administrators' salaries can only go up.

Look, one of my closest friends in the world is a private investor of the type you describe. Just spent the weekend riding bicycles to Austin, TX with him. Believe me, he and his partners have never told a CEO to go do something and then trusted him/her to do it without micromanaging. That's the nature of VCs. He's a major shareholder in a company I'm sure you've heard of and he sends me the various ad campaigns they're thinking of using. The board is literally approving TV ads. Revenue for this company has been sky rocketing. The board is involved in decisions like what direction TV advertising should take. That is a long, long way from telling the CEO to go for it and we'll check in and see how things develop.

Your post explicitly says that the SC should turn things over to the CEO and demand performance. Incentivizing performance without careful oversight has been a major factor in the destruction of shareholder wealth over the last decade. You may have had a more nuanced model in your head, but reread your post, you discuss SC oversight in process only after the fact.

Here is what you said:

"When you get down to it, the most important thing the SC does is hire the superintendent and challenge them to really perform. "

Maybe you didn't mean to say what you did, but there it is. The SC hires a highly paid CEO and then checks his/her performance. (BTW, the correlation between pay and performance has been shown to be extremely weak.)

Also, in the world you thought you described but didn't, VCs deal with two types of CEOs: Company founders and people whom the VCs know very well and have worked with in the past. They bring the latter in specifically to take a company to the next level, usually removing or demoting the founders. If you know about VCs and hedge funds you know that. How is this unproven, never been a superintendent anything like the CEOs major investors and boards install in the company's you extol?

Your post was about the Amherst schools. How is our new superintendent anything like a veteran Silicon Valley leader brought in to get a company ready to go public or be sold? This guy has never run a district. You label him a CEO and assume that that title and his compensation make him something he isn't and has never been (even though he certainly could become a fine leader).

Part of what was so off putting about your post was the simple correlation between his compensation and competence. He must be able to handle this, he's the highly paid CEO! His compensation was bungled and now that odd pay package is used as evidence of competence many of us did not see in his interview. Imagine how smart he would become if he were paid $250,000 per year!

Moreover, and this is the big point, the USA is starting to emerge from 40 or so painful years of the CEO as hero culture and the belief that govt. should operate more like a business.

Government is not a business. Being efficient and effective are nice goals, but sometimes they are impossible to achieve. Indeed, many businesses, particularly in high tech, are able to flourish because govt. did all those inefficient things needed to create the conditions for their success, everything from creating a national system of public education from K - PhD to creating the internet through DARPA. I just find it odd that in the current environment, a rational person is calling for local government to embrace a business strategy that is at best problematic.

You want to debate this, fine, email me at work. I won't insult you personally, but I do reserve the right to label bad and stupid ideas bad and stupid.

Rick said...

You said: “"Go do it, we trust that you can because we're paying you a lot of money" is more or less what you posted.”

>>> Where did I use the word “trust”?

You said: “Incentivizing performance without careful oversight has been a major factor in the destruction of shareholder wealth over the last decade.”

>>> I agree. Where did I say there shouldn’t be oversight?

You said: “Part of what was so off putting about your post was the simple correlation between his compensation and competence. He must be able to handle this, he's the highly paid CEO!”

>>> I had said in my original post: “Somebody making that kind of money needs to be given a challenge like that, and if they don’t perform, they are out.” How does that assume that “He must be able to handle this…”?

You just didn’t read what I posted.

Rick said...

PS: You said “I won't insult you personally…” You already did in your first comment. It’s not real nice to “Have you picked up a newspaper in say the last 8 years?”

JWolfe said...

From your original post on the idea that the CEO just does it:

"We want you to cut costs by 10% and increase quality by 10% over the next 18 months - go do it.” (or something like that, you get the idea). "

and on the SC not coming up with policies, leaving that to the CEO/Superintendent (i.e., trusting that person to come up with solutions):

"It’s not up to a bunch of blog commenters to fix the problem we have. It’s not really directly up the SC either, who while they may approve or disapprove of solutions brought to them by management, its management that should come up with specific solutions, not the SC,"

and on the idea that if we pay someone a lot of money we're essentially paying a lot of money for his/her expertise and so we should let them succeed or fail and then judge their results, as opposed to being part of the process of crafting solutions:

"when the high paid “CEO” arrives, I hope the SC says something like the above to him. Somebody making that kind of money needs to be given a challenge like that, and if they don’t perform, they are out."

and more of same on the false connection between executive compensation and performance:

"there is not enough money – that’s tough CEO, you get paid a lot to deal with that by coming up with innovative solutions,"

These are not taken out of context. You wrote those above lines.

In your post the process is:

Elect SC

SC chooses Superintendent

SC tasks Superintendent

Superintendent crafts and implements policies

SC reviews efficacy of Superintendent's policies

The space for oversight is only after a policy is implemented. If the super makes a bloody mess of things, fire him/her. You make this point clearly throughout. So, yes, you support oversight in the form of the SC looking at potentially horrible results because they aren't supposed to have input in policy creation. That's from your post.

I confess I don't understand your last critique of my comments about compensation and performance. You say that you didn't write that "He must be able to handle this." But you did say that. You said, clearly, that he is hired to craft solutions. He's the highly paid CEO and so he is responsible for coming up with solutions. The CEO not the board. You wrote that. That's what it means when you write:

"But when the high paid “CEO” arrives, I hope the SC says something like the above to him. Somebody making that kind of money needs to be given a challenge like that, and if they don’t perform, they are out. When you get down to it, the most important thing the SC does is hire the superintendent and challenge them to really perform. 
"

You leave it up to this untested, somewhat controversial new superintendent to come up with solutions. The SC can than react if those don't work. You explicitly say that it isn't up to the SC to come up with solutions. The SC may oust the superintendent if his solutions fail.

What you wrote is pretty clear. Maybe you don't believe in your own statements, but it's a top-down, largely discredited model and it won't fly in town. We don't have a highly experienced leader coming, but we do have an SC that has at least two people (Sanderson and Rifkin) who were elected after promising to play an active role in decision making. I don't think the people who voted for Sanderson and Rivkin thought that they were putting people in place to pick a superintendent and then just periodically review that administrator's performance.

I have read and reread your original post. I have read your replies, which largely skirt my responses. What your wrote is pretty clear. I just disagree and I think there's a lot evidence from the business world that supports my criticisms of what you wrote.

JWolfe said...

A lighter look at the way business works to maybe make Rick lighten up (i.e., offered as a truce):

How to make an Investment Banker:

Young Chuck moved to Texas and bought a donkey from a farmer for $100.

The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey the next day.

The next day the farmer drove up and said, 'Sorry Chuck, but I have some bad news, the donkey died.'

Chuck replied, 'Well, then just give me my money back.'

The farmer said, 'Can't do that. I went and spent it already.'

Chuck said, 'OK, then, just bring me the dead donkey.'

The farmer asked, 'What ya gonna do with a dead donkey?

Chuck said, 'I'm going to raffle him off.'

The farmer said 'You can't raffle off a dead donkey!'

Chuck said, 'Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead.'

A month later, the farmer met up with Chuck and asked, 'What happened with that dead donkey?'

Chuck said, 'I raffled him off. I sold 500 tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898.00.'

The farmer said, 'Didn't anyone complain?'

Chuck said, 'Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back.'

Chuck now works for Morgan Stanley.

Rick said...

So tell you what, let’s do this. Let’s just say I am all wrong and let’s hear what your solution is.

So, who is it that should be coming up with better ways of doing things and then doing them?

JWolfe said...

Rick,

The School Committee, with input from parents, in concert with teachers, principals and the superintendent.

Complex beyond comprehension.

JWolfe said...

On why all this should not and is not left in the hands of our "CEO," see Catherine's posts:

Feb. 14, 2009: "Roles and Responsibilities of the School Committee"

and

March 29, 2009: "Does a School Board Control Curriculum? Yes!"

Rick said...

Well that’s not a specific solution, but we agree on this: "Complex beyond comprehension."

My post started out with “…seems like a confusing micro-managed mess that isn’t getting anywhere.”

I was attempting to suggest a way to make it less complex by “putting the monkey on the back” of the new Superintendent to sort through all the complexity and come back with list of solutions... a Plan.

You didn’t, like that idea.

But with the right person on that job – repeat: with the right person in that job – I can imagine a Superintendent who says this:

“OK I have listened to this long list of ideas from all of you, and come up with some of my own, and this is my plan and my schedule to accomplish that plan”.

So all I was saying is that the SC should tell that Superintendent that this is what they want to see. And it in no way means that the SC should not voice their ideas on what should be in the Plan and insist on some if they like.

Maybe what you are saying is this is all impossible because no one would ever let that happen – too many micro-managers running around to allow that to happen? If that is what you are saying I don’t disagree – but I would at least try.

---

Of course this should not be “left in the hands of our "CEO" – I just don’t understand how you got that form my post. Maybe the above clarifies it some.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

Anonymous 8:32 - I agree that all aspects of the budget need to be looked into. I believe that is being done -- and I will push hard to ask tough questions about where things might be cut. Because of the issues with state reimbursement for some sped money, I don't think cutting paras is as easy as it might seem on paper, but sure, I'd say if we are spending a lot more (or less) than other districts on one area, that seems like a decent place to really investigate how funds are being used.

Mariac - I hear stories like yours a lot. And I'm sorry for that. I also agree that removing paras from classrooms influences all kids' experiences, so again, this is an area in which I think we need to be very careful about cutting.

Amh Mom - I agree with you -- closing Marks Meadow is a very clear way to save half a million (at least). I am not sure, however, if the superintendent's office feels there is enough time to accomplish this well (e.g., drawing new boundary lines). I will ask this question, however, at the next meeting, because frankly, we are at Tier 3 -- and even the superintendent said that all options need to then be on the table.

Anonymous 8:19 - I believe all services and programs in our schools are being seriously considered at this point in a budget crisis. I will continue to ask about the feasibility of cuts to this area, but again, I think the principals are trying to give their best recommendations, and these positions haven't been on the list.

Anonymous 8:35 - I certainly agree that all programs should be looked at -- and yes, that may include us finding out that some are working well (and efficiently). I am encouraged that Maria is going to have an outside review conducted -- which I hope will include an examination of costs and services of all aspects of our sped program.

Rick - I think you make some good points -- certainly the superintendent is ultimately in charge of the schools, and that means making decisions (e.g., improving quality 10% or reducing costs 10% or whatever). But I also think the School Committee needs to provide direction -- because ultimately, we are going to evaluate him yearly. So, if we say "reduce costs 10%" and he says, "great, we'll cut all world language and increase class size" we might not be happy. Similarly, he might decide his goal is to increase the opportunities for the top 5% of the class every year -- which would be a way of increase quality, but perhaps not one that resonates with the community. So, I think, yes, the Superintendent ultimately has to do his job, but the SC plays a crucial role in giving him direction -- and that has to be more specific than just "do your job". I also think people should be careful to not assume that this blog is in fact determining ANYTHING. I'm reading the comments, obviously, but I'm not tallying how many people say what to form my opinion about what to bring to the SC, nor are these comments shaping the direction in which are schools are headed. I am seeing this as a good place for people to share ideas with me, and for me to "discuss" these ideas. It is NOT meant to serve as the template or model for any School Committee meetings, discussions, or priorities.

Anonymous 11:20 - I think it is amazing that you are using the term "micro-managers" to describe the School Committee's work. Can you give three examples of micro-managing? Because I'm on the School Committee, and I can't see any examples of this level of contribution or oversight at all. In fact, I would say if anything, the School Committee has not taken enough responsibility for making tough choices and decisions but instead has relied too heavily on whatever the superintendent recommends.

Naomi - thanks for your detailed post - I think you make some very valuable points. I am wondering how many adminstrators in SPED you think we should cut. According to the district homepage, the following people work in Special Ed: Joanne Smith (Interim Director of Special Education/Student Services),
Marta Guevara (Interim Director of Intervention and ELE), David Slovin (Special Education Administrator, Grades 9-12),
JoAnn Smith (Special Education Administrator, Grades PK-6),
Jeanne White (Special Education Administrator, Grades 7-8; School Choice Coordinator), and three administrative assistants/secretaries. To me, that is five people serving as administrators, and some of these have other jobs as well (e.g., ELL, School Choice, etc.).

Rick said...

Catherine: I re-read my original post and there is one thing I would change in it: "...its management that should come up with specific solutions, not the SC..."

It’s certainly OK for the SC to come up with specific solutions.

All I was really getting at is that to me, the ideal situation is where you have a real leader of a Super who comes up this lots of good ideas to present to the SC and then implements them (unless SC disapproves).

It seems to me - and I could be wrong - that this has not been the case in the past, which leaves a void that gets filled by blog commenters and others. Not that it’s bad for blog readers to comment, its just not really what should be the driving force – a real leader of a Super should be the driving force.

So… I was just saying that when the new Super arrives, that the SC asks him to “fill the void” instead of ending up just being a moderator of everyone else’s opinions and ideas. See the difference?

The fact that he is highly paid only enters the equation in that because he is, the SC (and all of us) can perhaps more easily demand that he steps up and does that job.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, again:

JoelW - I agree that the board has to be responsible to the tax payers/share-holders, and that includes setting clear guidlines for a superintendent and making sure that he or she delivers on those. I do think the SC has focused more on promoting the superintendent's agenda and the schools than critically evaluating their strengths and weaknesses -- and I hope that this tendency is changing.

Anonymous 1:29 - I'm not going to comment here on the salary issue.

Rick - I agree (as does JoelW, I think!) that the SC could do a better job of managing their CEO. I hope that this change is starting now, and I hope that the schools (and kids) will benefit as a result.

JoelW and Rick - I know you both, and I actually think you two agree ... maybe one of the hazards of email is that some stuff gets lost in the translation. So, I agree with you both -- the CEO/superintendent is hired to run the schools, and the SC should give that person clear direction and evaluate how well he or she is doing accomplishing what the SC has set out as priorities (with input from parents/teachers/principals/community members). Yes? We have hired someone, and are paying him WELL, because there is the belief that he will be able to accomplish what the SC believes should be accomplished. Let's hope we are right.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

When talking about paras, let's remember that all paras are not SPED paras! I myself was talking about -- the fewer than we used to have --

*e. all class-size paras*

which we have historically used in most if not all K classrooms -- where a well trained class-size para can in fact make a big difference -- and also in larger grades 1-6 classes, where I'd say the results vary a ton depending on the synergy between the teacher and the class-size para.

And as has been mentioned, but is not always clear to folks without personal experience, SPED paras can not only enable a particular child to be in a "neurotypical" classroom, but can in some cases of less severe but still significant needs, also help with other aspects of the classroom including teaching small groups, thus helping all kids.

Anonymous said...

mariac --

Everyone wants what's best for his or her children, and most are ready to argue vociferously for it. But with your expressions of resentment, disgust, and righteous indignation, I'm sure you've managed to shame many a parent into silence in this debate. Bravo.

Do you realize how you must sound to, say, a working Marks Meadows mother, a woman who grew up in Amherst herself and is now struggling to pay her property taxes? "My child has special needs, and I moved to Amherst because your schools spend waaay more on SPED than most towns do. But Amherst can afford it -- you're rich! Okay, so maybe the town finances are hurting now, but don't you dare cut services for my child. Just close Marks Meadows; it's a no-brainer. And hurry up about it!" Would you be so impatient if some SPED services were on the chopping block? Or should that be utterly unthinkable?

By the way, unless and until you provide your full name, you're just as anonymous as every other anonymous poster on this blog.

Keith Ulrich