We then turned to the superintendent's update. Maria made three announcements. First, surveys have now gone out to parents at all of the schools electronically, and paper copies are available at each school (and are going out through PGOs). Work on translating the surveys into different languages is also now occurring. The staff survey will go out soon. A graduate student will work this summer on compiling the survey results and preparing a report for the superintendent and School Committee (and let me again convey my thanks to the current and incoming superintendent for their support of having this important data collected). Second, the search for an assistant superintendent has been suspended. Although a number of good candidates emerged, and 6 were interviewed by the search committee, the conclusion of the committee was that candidates with the particular range of desirable experiences did not emerge (this committee including the HS principal, an elementary principal, parents, adminstrators, and me as the SC representative). Thus, this budget line has been cut, and the roles this person would have taken on will be filled by a combination of current staff members (to be determined) and some paid outside consultants. Third, there was an update on the discussion with teachers/staff about opening negotiations regarding contracts. Thus far, the teachers union has declined to enter such negotations, the administrators (assistant principals, administrators) are accepting a 2% (instead of 3.5%) raise, and the non-unit staff (principals, directors) are accepting a 2% raise. In addition, the paraprofessionals unit has voted some changes in health insurance (including increases in co-pays for emergency room visits and prescription drugs) that will lead to lower insurance costs to the district. There was then some discussion about whether the teachers should agree to enter negotiations.
I am not speaking for the entire SC here -- let me be clear. I believe the teachers union needs to decide for themselves whether they want to enter such negotiations. These wage increases were negotiated in good faith, and thus it is up to teachers whether they would or would not like to enter such negotiations. Salary discussions are complex for many, many reasons, and I think teachers are in the best position to decide for themselves whether entering such negotiations (and of course agreeing to new terms) makes sense.
We then turned to a (very depressing) budget update. The only "good" news is that the Amherst Finance Committee is suggesting the use of 1.2 million in reserves (including $700,000 based on the projected savings from closing MM), which helps avoids some of the even worse cuts than could have been made. I'm summarizing the cuts here, but the key ones I believe are:
A reduction of one assistant principal
Reduction of 5 core academic teachers, meaning a reduction of 1 team in 7th grade (leading to class size averages of 27) and a reduction of 1 team in 8th grade (leading to class size averages of 25)
Reduction of 2 exploratory/integrated study teachers (1 on each of the eliminated teams)
Reduction of either a guidance counselor or librarian
A .40 cut in instrumental music (meaning music will now occur every other day instead of every day)
A reduction of one assistant principal
A reduction of one guidane counselor
7.20 teaching positions (meaning class sizes of 25 to 29)
A reduction of three paraprofessionals
A reduction of $100,000 to the athletic budget (and cutting three teams)
These cuts are at the bottom of Level 2, which is further than we had all hoped to go -- and between the Amherst and Regional schools, a total of 50 positions will now be cut.
There was a discussion of these cuts, and their impact on education. A number of people asked questions/made comments, which I'm not going to summarize all of (watch ACTV!). I do want to highlight, however, a few things. First, Mark Jackson announced that Amherst College had eliminated its cap on number of students taking classes at Amherst (it used to be 30 seats, and there was high demand for those seats). In these tight budget times, perhaps this is a way in which at least some kids can explore options outside of the high school offerings, and, in turn, reduce some seats in other classes. U Mass allows students to take classes as well, but charges students the full tuition rate -- about $1200 a class, which thus makes this option less viable for many students. Second, Mark Jackson announced that the high school faculty voted in favor of keeping the trimester system by a 2 to 1 margin (this vote was for the 2010-2011 academic year -- it was already considered too late to make a schedule change for the 2009-2010 academic year). I am discouraged by this news, given that the trimester system (under our current tight budget) requires students to have two study halls, whereas under a semester system, our students would have only needed to take one study hall. It also means that students now are going to spend 13% of their day in a study hall, compared to 7%. This seems very, very unfortuate -- which is why I was so impressed with Mark Jackson's recommendation to his faculty this spring that such a change to a semester system from a trimester system be considered (in light of this year's budget, but also the expected very poor budgets in years to come). If a student has 2 study halls a year for four years, he/she will spend a total of 8 class periods in a study hall during high school -- and since students have only 15 periods per year, this is equivalent to 1/8th of their education time.
We then conducted a few small planning issues. We received information on recommended school choice seats (to be voted on at the next meeting), voted to approve four clerical/media awards (I served as the SC representative on this committee, and it was great fun -- with many outstanding candidates), and conducted a calendar review (the last two meetings in June will include information about an upcoming report from the "How Are We Doing Subcommittee" and middle school/high school school improvement plans and information on the teacher evaluation process). Finally, we voted on a vice chair (since Marianne was vice chair but is serving as chair since Michael Hussin's term expired) to serve for the next month, until the final new member of the SC (from Shutesbury) joins us on July 1st (and we hold new elections). Andy Churchill was nominated by Tracy Farnham to serve as vice chair and was elected unanimously.
We then turned to the Amherst Meeting--which consisted almost entirely of a budget update. The final proposed budget cuts are as follows:
- 3 classroom teachers (1 at 5th, 1 at 6th, 1 at 2nd) -- which still allows classes to remain at appropriate levels
- 2.70 math/ELA coaches
- 1.25 instrumental music cuts (meaning a one year delay in music instruction, so that orchestra begins in 4th grade and band begins in 5th grade)
- 1 librarian and a library paraprofessional
- reduction from full-year to school-year for all assistant principals
- 1.0 specials (which will remain proportional at all the schools based on # of classrooms)
- .80 computer teacher
- 2.3 cafeteria paraprofessionals
These cuts are, of course, hard -- but I'm glad they are not worse than they could have been.
Our final meeting of the year will take place on THURSDAY, June 18th (based on conflicts of two members with the 16th). At this meeting, school improvement plans for WW and FR will be presented.