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.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Unused Amherst classrooms to be sold

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Monday, November 9, 2009

AMHERST - Two years after Town Meeting approved spending $275,000 for two movable classrooms near Mark's Meadow School, they have not been used for that purpose and will be sold after the school closes next spring.

Two School Committee members said the purchase showed poor planning and that the modular classrooms probably will be sold at a loss. But another committee member and Mark's Meadow Principal Nick Yaffe defended the decision to buy the classrooms, saying the school had a different vision in 2007.

This year, the only activity in the modular classrooms during school hours is instrument lessons one day a week, Yaffe said. They are also used for an after-school program. Last year, they were used for Title 1, a federally funded intervention program, but never as regular classrooms. They would have been used more this year, but Mark's Meadow lost staff because of budget cuts, Yaffe said.

The two 28-by-28-foot classrooms actually cost only $215,000, largely because the University of Massachusetts donated the labor for their installation, said Kathryn Mazur, the schools' human resources director. The money came out of Amherst's capital budget, not its school budget.

Town Meeting was told in 2007 that the 10 classrooms at Mark's Meadow faced a space crunch because of the need for space for special education, computer classes and physical and occupational therapy. Arguing against the purchase, Town Meeting member Nancy Gordon said all elementary students should be placed in the three other, larger schools, which is what will happen next fall.

School Committee member Catherine Sanderson, who was elected in 2008, criticized "very poor planning" and apologized to the town for "a big mistake that was entirely avoidable." She said she doesn't know whether there's any market for the classrooms.

"If there isn't, I think we should start by asking Superintendent Jere Hochman if Bedford, N.Y., could use them, since Jere was the district leader who convinced Town Meeting we needed them," she said. Six months later, Hochman announced he was leaving Amherst to become superintendent in Bedford.

Elementary enrollment declined from 1,732 students in 1996-97 to 1,460 in 2006-07, and in 2007 there were indications the slippage would continue, Sanderson said. It would have been wiser to bus any overflow Mark's Meadow children to the Crocker Farm School, which has been under-enrolled, she said.

"I fear this type of poor decision-making makes people feel less confident that the schools are using their always-limited resources in a prudent way," she said. The current committee and superintendent are acting more responsibly about spending, as shown by the decision to close Mark's Meadow, she said.

School Committee member Irv Rhodes, who was elected this year, recalled that the modular-classroom proposal was presented to Town Meeting as if there was an emergency at Mark's Meadow.

"Now the damn things are sitting there and not used," he said. "We're going to take a financial hit. It baffles me about how the decision was made."

Andy Churchill, who was on the committee in 2007 and was a Mark's Meadow parent, said that because there were just 10 classrooms for seven grades, every year Yaffe had to decide which grades would have two classes and which only one. This resulted in big swings in the number of students in classes, he said.

"It's easy to play Monday morning quarterback," he said. "It is a different time now and we have different needs and levels of revenue from the state. Would we do it again today? Obviously not, but at the time it was a solution to a problem. It wasn't a stupid idea."

Yaffe said the plan was to hire another teacher and conduct classes in the modulars, but the budget crunch didn't allow that. Mark's Meadow had faced chronic overcrowding for 10 years, since it stopped mixing grades in classrooms, and in 2007 there was no decline in enrollment or discussion about closing the school, he said.

"Our vision was to have Mark's Meadow expand and redistrict," he said. "That plan changed because of economic circumstances and declining enrollment."

The new classrooms provided flexibility in allocating space in the building, Yaffe said. "They served a purpose," he said.

Because they have gotten little use, the classrooms are in excellent shape and Amherst may get a good price for them, he said.

"It was a bargain," he said.

59 comments:

Abbie said...

My memory is that it was Elaine Brightly (former SC member) who presented the case that MM absolutely NEEDED those modulars. After Nancy Gordon spoke, I became skeptical of the urgency and voted against their funding. It seemed at the time if MM was overcrowded then its enrollment should have been capped at whatever would have fit into 7 classrooms (ie. one class/grade). It seems insane that the plan was to EXPAND (ignoring all demographic and enrollment predictions). The budget crisis was nothing new and has been with us since the birth of Prop 2.5.

I hope that this mistake prompts everyone at TM to be skeptical, regardless of the expert that presents the case...and resist group-think.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Abbie. This is yet another example of past leaders avoiding difficult decisions.

To say that it is "Monday morning quarterbacking" to criticize this decision misses the point.

It was clear to many that hard times were coming and it is job of the leadership to be able to make the difficult choices to minimize the impact of the hard times.

Anonymous said...

"It was a bargain," he said.

Unbelievable! Now I think we should have an override.

Anonymous said...

It is astounding that you can be so snarky and critical of decisions made by previous school committees when you have been a driving force behind closing MM and redistricting, two decisions that will have long-term negative effects on the school system in general and minority and low-income families in particular. If buying the modulars was a mistake, which is debatable, it's not a big one. They can be sold. Closing MM is permanent. Not everyone believes that $700,000 will be saved by this closing nor that clustering language-minority students is illegal.

Joel said...

To Anon 12:32

You're right when you say that not everyone believes that closing MM will save $700,000 per year or that the language/ethnic clustering as practiced is illegal. Just because some people believe those things doesn't make them true. People believe a lot of things that just aren't so.

There is an objective reality about these issues:

1) the people who make the budgets (i.e., the folks with access to the real numbers) believe that closing MM will save $700,000+ per year every year going forward;

2) the district's lawyer says the clustering Amherst practices is illegal;

3) the portables were purchased for a need that didn't exist.

I, for one, am very happy that we now have an SC and a superintendent who operate in the reality based community.

Rick said...

In hindsight this was a bad decision – it sounds like it probably was in foresight also. But I worry that people will take this one decision and pass judgment on whether ARPS makes bad financial decisions across the board. ARPS may or may not make good financial decisions, but this one example is far from enough data to make that judgment.

If I had to guess – which is a bad thing to do – I would say that under Hochman, financial hardball was not the norm, that’s for sure. Under Rodriguez, I think it will be much improved.

Another point: people say we should have been more on the ball because we knew economic times were tough and tougher coming. That’s true, but what really needs to be the mindset is that we spend wisely no matter what times we are in. For example, I have heard Steve Rivkin argue that we should have closed MM even if times were not tough, because that $700,000 could have been spent better elsewhere. I get that argument. Maybe that seems extreme – maybe not – but that kind of thinking needs to happen. We should always asking: “what are we spending money on right now that we really could be spending differently?”

Rick said...

One more thing:

We have been hearing that these classrooms cost $275,000 forever. Now suddenly we hear that they really cost $215,000 (because of donated labor). That $60,000 difference is not chump change.

That drives me nuts. Numbers like that should not change. This bothers me almost more than whether the spending was badly done or not. It’s inaccurate or changing numbers that make me really question ARPS financial abilities.

Another example of that is when they pulled money out of a hat after the 2007 override. I was at least glad that when I spoke to Rodriguez a while back, he was well aware of that and told me he would make absolutely sure he knew what the real numbers are.

Anonymous said...

The previous superintendent, who certainly made a human being's worth of mistakes while in Amherst, also made progress on difficult issues when he was here, and it's just ridiculous for present (and aspiring) school committee members to be so snide.
Regarding the modulars - I recalled their cost as being pegged at about $400,000 (during budget and school-closing talks last year, when the modulars were cited as wasteful spending.) It appears the cost was closer to $200,000. Any idea why the different numbers?

Anonymous said...

Rick, you've slid from being an interesting questioner to someone who has adopted the snarky cynical pose that dominates discussion in this town. We need questioning, and skepticism, and clear thinking - not more conspiracy theorists. Please go back to your old self so I can vote for you for s.c. Thank you.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Abbie - I believe that the entire SC believed the modulars were necessary, including Elaine. I can't for the life of me figure out why ... especially since the voting for the modulars happened AFTER the override in 2007 failed, and we were told that if the override didn't pass, we would have to get rid of teachers. So, I don't know how the SC/Jere Hochman believed we would pay for the teachers needed to teach in the modular. You were right to be skeptical -- and yes, it is a lesson for TM to be skeptical when voting.

Anonymous 11:32 - given the overcrowding at MM (which I believe was true) and the under-enrollment at CF (which was clearly true), there were clearly better solutions than buying two modulars. I believe Nick is right when he says no one was even discussing closing MM in 2007, but they clearly should have been (particularly since the override had just failed and finances were clearly dire).

Anonymous 11:55 - hard for me to see how spending $200,000 for two classrooms that have NOT been used as classrooms and that we will now get much less than $200,000 for is/was a bargain.

Anonymous 12:32 - I have indeed been a driving force behind closing MM and redistricting -- and thus if those two decisions do, as you believe, "have long-term negative effects on the school system in general and minority and low-income families in particular" then I'm sure you, and others, will hold me accountable for those decisions. I hope you will also give me credit if it turns out that we do save a huge amount of money by operating one fewer school (hard for me to see how this is something we could be wrong on, since we definitely are saving all the administrative costs!). I also hope you will explain how having schools that have proportionate numbers of low income kids is bad for low income kids and minority kids. If you believe that low income kids benefit from being clustered in a school, write a letter to the Bulletin using your actual name. Similarly, if you believe that having segregated schools by ethnicity/race is legal (I hope you are a lawyer?), write a letter to the Bulletin explaining your legal opinion on this -- since apparently our district's lawyer's decision was inaccurate? Finally, how in the world can you say that it is debatable about whether buying the portables was a mistake? We bought them, never used them as classrooms, and they will now be sold, but that might not be a mistake? And although they can be sold, I am quite certain we will never get $200,000 for them!

Joel - well said on all fronts. Thanks.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Rick (at 5:30) - I agree that this decision was a bad one - in foresight and hindsight. I also believe it is a compelling example of bad financial decisions that have been made by the district, and that we (as in the district/SC) need to own up to mistakes. For example, in the last round of negotiations, the SC/Jere gave raises that were pretty much not payable without massive cuts/layoffs/an override. That is unfortunate. Similarly, the SC/Jere allowed the HS teachers to choose the HS schedule, which has led to the maintenance of a trimester system when that results in FOR THE SAME DOLLARS kids having two study halls a year instead of one under a semester. That strikes me as a bad decision -- financially and educationally. I certainly think there is evidence that Hochman wasn't making wise financial decisions. I think it is too soon to tell whether Rodriguez will or will not make the same mistakes -- but I'm very hopeful that he will not (and certainly in my conversations with him, I believe he has a good sense of the mistakes that were made and a strong commitment to doing better by the schools and the town). I absolutely agree that we need to be focused at all times on how we are using our limited resources -- which is why the closing MM decision should have been on the table for years. Was it in the best interest of educating all kids in our town to spend $700,000 in that way? I can't imagine it was, and I wish it hadn't taken a financial crisis last year for this to get on the table (if it had even been on the table earlier, we definitely would NOT have bought the modulars!).

Rick (at 5:46) - the change in amount bothers me as well ... my best understanding (others are poking into this now) is that TM authorized a higher amount (the $380,000) but they ended up being able to buy the portables for less. So, there was an amount that was approved, and that amount was more than what was spent. But yes, this should have been clarified a lot earlier in time -- my mistake on this.

Anonymous 5:54 - at the risk of sounding snide, can you give me a few examples of the progress made by Jere during his tenure? If I look at our schools, I can see the following things he accomplished: eliminating tracked math in 7th grade by adopting "extensions," eliminating 9th grade biology, purchasing the 2nd version of the Investigations math textbooks for elementary school (which have yet to be shown to be effective in any independent research), purchasing two un-needed modulars, maintaining inequity in our elementary schools, signing a teachers' contract that the district (and town) couldn't afford, and allowing high school teachers to choose the schedule in which they taught (despite the high financial cost of the trimester system). So, I'm asking a serious question -- what progress do you believe he made?

Regarding the modulars and their cost -- I answered this question which was also posed by Rick - see my above answer.

Anonymous 5:59 - Rick is posting the questions and comments he has using his own name -- and they strike me as valid and important questions. I think criticizing his posts from your anonymous perch is not fair. If you have advice for Rick, you can email him privately (see his email address by clicking on his name/photo).

Anonymous said...

Catherine,

Regarding the "progress" made under Jere, you left out some dubious hirings - Hello, WW!

Rick said...

Anon 5:59: I certainly don’t mind the criticism, but I’m lost as to how my last two posts are that much different than any others I have made. I guess they are a little snarky (“financial hardball was not the norm”….” they pulled money out of a hat”). But I’m really not sure how they make me a “conspiracy theorist” – what conspiracy? I also think I was being balanced. I don’t think this one example is a reason to say ARPS doesn’t make good financial decisions (there may be others), and yet I do think that numbers presented that are fixed and known quantities should not change. I guess I would retract any “snarkiness” but otherwise I stand by what I said.

Anonymous said...

Rick, welcome to Catherine's world. The minute they don't agree with you you are snarky. I don't know yet if I will vote for you but I am glad you are posting here so we know what you think!

Joel said...

Rick,

"Snarky" is a tone. Once you say something someone disagrees with, then forget rational discourse. It's all about your tone.

Rick said...

At any rate, getting back to the subject, sort of:

The other night there was a presentation on first looks at next year's budget for the regional schools. The presentation showed that a 7.8% increase is needed for "level services". That seems like a lot to me. Supposedly 80% of the school budget is personnel, so more or less this means that people-related costs need to increase by 7.8% to keep level services. That seems like way too much. Health insurance would be the only big number and that is supposedly around 9%. I guess COLA for next year is 3%, and then there are step (seniority) increases – which normally should be a wash, but perhaps they are not. The regional SC chair was there and agreed it seemed high and was going to check it out. Needs explanation, but worries me a bit that a number like this gets thrown out apparently without thought about whether it makes sense or not. Seems like someone should have said “this 7.8% seems high...people will ask about this...we should have answers ready”.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Catherine, when/if the modulars are sold, where will the money go? Since they were purchased from the capital budget, does the money go back into the capital budget or does it go into the elementary school budget? Do you know?

Anonymous said...

There are times when one really comes to resent the know-it-all tone of this blog, including from Ms. Sanderson.

But, other than Ms. Jensen, there's something missing: people who were there when this decision about the modulars was made.

You all talk as if making cuts were a resistance-free activity, like a knife through butter. But, as you've already experienced in one recent instance, there's an additional problem: parents and children loved Mark's Meadow, as they come to love other expenditures in the budget.

We can't reconstruct the reality of the debate and discussion of the Town Meeting in which the modulars were approved. But I voted for them, and I believe that many of the clairvoyants on this blog would have, too. Context is everything here, and it's missing from this discussion.

This demonstrates the problem of doing real oversight in Amherst. And, let's remember, Ms. Sanderson is one of the members of a School Committee that essentially got rolled by our current Superintendent for a considerable amount of additional compensation. In short, these things develop a momentum all their own.

So this fiscal conservatism stuff is not as easy as it looks from the cozy safety of your personal computer. Right now, Town Meeting is essentially open door government: so, come down, all you anonymous know-it-alls and peer at the numbers with your neighbors. Take responsibility, for once, instead of simply sniping from the sidelines.

Rich Morse

Frustrated Parent said...

Rick asked: “what are we spending money on right now that we really could be spending differently?” I agree.

My vote is for the SC and Dr. Rodriguez to take a long hard look at the two alternative high schools. In utility costs alone I imagine they are a money sink, even without looking at the staffing and curriculum. If nothing else, why can't we consolidate the two programs into one building. Where is that outside review of the special ed program anyway??

Rick said...

Rich,

I agree with most of what you say. And yet, the whole system of politics is supposed to be based on this: you like what an elected official did, you vote for them again; you don’t like what they did, you don’t vote for them again. Therefore, the discussion needs to include mistakes that were made, no matter how obvious or not obvious they were at the time.

The problem is not that “mistakes” are discussed, but rather the “know-it-all” tone that they are discussed in, as though no one in their right mind would have voted to do such thing. Which is what you said: ”one really comes to resent the know-it-all tone of this blog”. And another context missing is that everyone makes mistakes, so it’s not a question of achieving zero mistakes, it’s a question of how many mistakes have been made, how bad were they, and perhaps how easily could they have been avoided.

Perhaps we all need to get better at pointing out problems while being respectful and not being “know-it-all” about it. I know that people who feel frustrated by lack of action on problems they perceive are not going to want to do that, but one can push hard and still be respectful. I’m going to try to do better at that.

Cranky taxpayer said...

I think when you run for a public office, such as town meeting or school board, or have a position such as school superintendent, your decisions are wide open to analysis and criticism -- and yes even mocking. Look at the abuse heaped on King George, John Adams, George W. Bush and Barach Obama. It's part of the job and people need to either develop a thicker skin -- or gently recede from the public limelight.

So if you stand up in a room and ask for public tax money and it turns out that the money is spent on something no one needed -- taxpayers rightly will question and even mock you.

Meg Rosa said...

I wanted to just chime in here briefly. The PGOs met with the Superintendent yesterday and he said a few things that made me feel more comfortable about how he is looking at things.

One was how he has asked the Principals to look at next year's budgets. He didn't ask them to find cuts that could be made, he asked them to build the schools how they would like to see them. Start from scratch and put in the things they need. This seems like a refreshing way to look at this problem. There will be a lot of new changes happening in the next year, so why not start out fresh?

Another idea that was briefly brought up (and I don't remember who exactly said it) was renaming the schools for next year. Now they almost immediately said they wouldn't be going that far, but after thinking about it for awhile, I actually really LOVE that idea!! Talk about a fresh start!!! We will have 3 new schools next year. The only things guaranteed at this point are the buildings, district lines and principles. Why not start fresh? Another way to bring the town together when it seems so divided!!

Frustrated Parent said...

I really don't want our teachers, administrators, and school committee members spending time debating renaming the schools and then trying to come up with politically correct names that won't offend anyone! Please...just concentrate on better educating our children and on balancing the budget with as little harm to the curriculum as possible. I beg you. We have way bigger fish to fry than worrying about school names.

Anonymous said...

I agree - please leave the names of the schools as they are. I can't see any reason to change the names of the schools. Alot of wasted time and emotion for no good reason. Let's focus on making the schools the best that they can be.

Anonymous said...

Rich Morse - You are awesome.

Anonymous said...

Oh please dont open that can of worms! The arguments will just continue as people argue to death over how to add marks meadows name into everything. The schools were named what they are for a reason, Let the debates end!

Rick said...

Meg, thanks for letting us know this:

"He didn't ask them to find cuts that could be made, he asked them to build the schools how they would like to see them. Start from scratch and put in the things they need. This seems like a refreshing way to look at this problem."

Sounds good to me.

Meg Rosa said...

Boy I wasn't saying that to cause an issue, just as a new beginning. I also was never thinking of including Mark's Meadow into it either. Just something new and fresh. I really never expected such a negative reaction to that idea at all!! It just seems like there is so much dividing this town, that starting over would actually bring people together. But hey, I am just one person and it was an idea that sounded good to me at this time. That's fine if people think it's a bad idea. Just looking to help. Maybe someone wants to explain why they are against it using their name though.

Caren Rotello said...

Meg,
I appreciate your enthusiasm and desire to "start fresh" in the schools. However, I am strongly against changing the names of the elementary schools because it would inevitably be a long, contentious process and would require people's energy. I would much rather see that energy focused on the important issues in the schools: weak curricula, poor alignment, and making the best use of dwindling budgets. It doesn't matter if they're called School 1, School 2, and School 3 if they continue to perform so poorly for our children.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Meg, I am also against spending time and energy renaming our three schools and am willing to post under my name. There will be so much work required to transition our students, teachers, administrators, and the schools themselves this year to next; I just don't think adding yet another thing to the plate is the best place to spend our time and energy. Not to mention the fact that the whole exercise could be more divisive as well!

I do agree with you that the town feels very divided right now but frankly I think that is going to get worse before it gets better. Many will continue to be unhappy about the closing of MM and the redistricting for a few years (until they get used to the new arrangement or until they move/their kids age out of the elementary schools) and the upcoming override vote will create a whole additional set of things for people to fight about!

Meg Rosa said...

Thank you ladies!!
I do agree it would it would take up too much time and resourses we just don't have right now. I think I am just a hopeless optomist, trying to grab onto anything positive right now!! Thanks again!!

TC said...

Meg,
In principle I think your idea is good, but after what I saw during the redistricting forums, I have to agree that renaming the schools would probably become one more thing for people to fight about, organize protests, etc...and we don't need any more of that...

Meg Rosa said...

Also, just to clarify, this was not my idea, it was something I heard yesterday at a meeting and initially thought it was a good idea. But, hey not all good ideas are things that can work in the long run. I can totally see how this could cause this town more chaos than we already have!!

Anonymous said...

I'm having the same reaction to some of Ms. Sanderson's public utterances that I have to the behavior of several of my favorite athletes for both the Red Sox and the Celtics:

I really admire what you're doing, but could you spare us the trash talk and self-congratulation?

I guarantee you that, in the years after Ms. Sanderson's service to the school system, there will be successor School Committee members who will reveal pockets of waste and inefficiency that continued during her watch. And, if called upon to respond, Ms. Sanderson will say what countless elected officials have said in the past, "You had to be there."

A little humility is in order here.

Rich Morse

Caren Rotello said...

Rich Morse,
I think the only way to get things done in this town is to be very, very aggressive and to ruffle a lot of feathers. Personally, I am grateful to Catherine for fighting to improve the quality of our schools and to save the district money. Will there continue to be waste in the system? Without a doubt. But she is working to implement positive change, and I applaud her for doing so. Better than sitting on our collective hands while pretending that our schools are excellent -- that's the most polite behavior, but also the least productive.

Anonymous said...

Hey Frustrated Parent - Amen on your comment. Oh my gosh, re-naming the schools with all the other stuff on our plate? Puleeeeeezz!!

Anonymous said...

The schools were all named for reasons. Wildwood is near the Wildwood cemetary. Ft. River is near the creek of that name. I'm sorry you feel the loss of your school, but the rest of the town feels connected to their school and the name it was given.
Ali Burrow

Meg Rosa said...

For the record, again, I was not trying to make this about Marks Meadow, my "loss", or really anything at all avoub me!! I understand why all the schools were named like they were. I believe this subject has been closed and we can all move on at this point.

Maybe talk about the idea about the principals looking at how to build their schools next year, instead of what to cut. We have a chance to have a fresh start next year, to make sure we get to hang on to things we really love about our schools, all of them. We can make things run more efficiantly, streamline the kids educations. Make sure teachers are working together more, giving all kids the same education and access to programs, horizontal and vertical allignment in each school and then between the 3. Getting more parents involved in the schools, starting now!!

Anonymous said...

What if it's not true that the law forbids the kind of clustering we now have in the schools? It makes sense that it would be illegal to force these clusters against people's will, but isn't it a different story if they want to go to school together? Are there any cases of Cambodians being forced out of their home districts and into Ft. River against their will? That doesn't seem to be the case. Are there any restrictions (other than available space) to our open enrollment program? The mantra that this is illegal and we can't do it sounds altogether too black and white. Could the district lawyer elaborate of the fine points of this issue? And if it turns out that it really isn't illegal to have these clusters as long as they are voluntary, shouldn't the school committee give some consideration to the wishes and needs of these families?

Anonymous said...

At this point it isn't just about if it's legal or not. IT ISN'T WORKING, at least not at Crocker Farm. My kids have suffered because of it while kids improved across town.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:29

Clustering by ethnicity is not illegal because some ethnic groups are being forced to go to a school that they don't want to attend. It is illegal because the school district has been offering preferential access to school choice, and free transportation to that choice, only to those ethnic groups. Imagine if Amherst offered to bus all children of European descent to Wildwood regardless of where they lived in the district; and nobody who was not of European descent was allowed to have free transportation to the school of their choice. Now do you see why it is illegal and unfair?

I also agree with Anon 4:54. Even if it feels good, both the MCAS scores and high school drop out rates indicate this practice is not working well for these kids.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, let's have a LONG drawn out discussion about re-naming the schools, and then Jim Oddham can get up and proclaim that there wasn't enough discussion about it because he didn't get his way. Yeah, there's a good idea.

Anonymous said...

OK, so the idea about renaming schools is not popular. It was just a suggestion -- let's not overreact. I feel for you Meg! No wonder most people post anonymously!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait until the time comes when we refer to CS in the past tense the way she references JH. Please, please, please leave the SC now before you completely dismantle any hint of what the schools used to be.

Anonymous said...

From my perspective, CS is keeping the schools from being dismantled. If MM wasn't closing ALL of the elementary schools would be losing funding for programs such as music, art, etc. I am grateful for her strong leadership and willingness to stand firm against the temper tantrums.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:00p.m., what is the point of your post? You are a mean, dumb person. You want Professor Sanderson to leave the SC so that the schools could thereafter return to their current and failing state? You are an idiot. I see that Prof. Sanderson and her colleagues on the SC have voted for some extremely positive changes that will hopefully improve our schools *academically.* That is the point. The current SC is focused on academic excellence. Is there something wrong with that?

Anonymous said...

Annonymous November 11, 2009 12:00 PM, go crawl back under whatever rock it is you came out from under. You don't have a clue what Catherine has done to improve our schools. Thank goodness she came along and has donated her time to help our schools.

Meg Rosa said...

I wonder what the conversations on here would look like if there were no anonymous posters? Would you still say the same things to someone's face as you say things on here? If not, maybe they shouldn't be said. Why not work on finding solutions together instead of beating up on each other.

Anonymous said...

Meg, people talk that way in public too. I have listened to many rants at kids events in the past year when parents assume that everyone there agrees with them. Sorry to say its usually over the MM closing. I sure as heck wasn't going to get involved with their anger then, or now!

Meg Rosa said...

Anon 6:39PM

Do you find anger constructive though? Yes, people have the right to be angry, especially over the things that have been going on in this town, country, etc in recent years. In fact everyone should be angry. We got ourselves into a bad situation.

Now here's the BUT! But the anger by itself gets us nowhere. We have to use that anger to then get constructive to try to work together to find solutions. I am not saying any of this will be easy, I believe that you have to work hard to find good solutions.

It is easy to look back in hindsight and see things 20/20. It is hard to find things that may be solutions for the future, then convince people to make really hard decisions, that impact a lot of people directly, and get them on board with them. I may or may not agree with everything Catherine believes is the right thing, but a lot I do. I am not sure if there is anyone in my life that I agree with everything they do, including myself!! She is out there trying to help our town. She stepped up and ran for School Committee because she felt she could make a difference. I think she has made a huge difference. Look at this blog. She has given then entire town, really the entire world, a place to come and talk about the issues we are dealing with. She responds to anonymous posters! Most people I talk to say not to even bother with that. She does. She gives people the chance to be heard, even when she has no idea who is doing the talking. She has allowed a conversation to happen on here, that may not happen in public.

These are hard issues we are dealing with. They hit people's homes on so many different levels. Every child in elementary school in Amherst, will be going to a new school next year. This is a huge impact on the entire town.

The budget is extremely scary for this coming year. The kind of cuts we will have to face are unimaginable to me. There is a lot of work to be done. I have said it before and I will continue to say it.

We HAVE to work together to make this right for our kids. We have no choice anymore. We NEED the parents involved in the schools this year and well into the future. Do what you can, in anyway to help out. The kids need that support from all of us.

The anger does not help them and the real focus here should be how to best help the children of our town. We need to work together to give them the skills they need to succeed in their lives.

Meg Rosa said...

How does Anon 2:01 know if Anon 12:00 is actually a friend of theirs or not? The chances of them being friends? Who knows but from what Anon 6:39 said, that could very well be the case!!!

Anonymous said...

I really like the work that Catherine is doing. I just don't always like what she says in the press or on this blog about it. And what happens is that people begin rooting against you, when you insist on crapping on the prior work of others. That can't be good.

Myra Ross, Sandra Berkowitz, Elaine Brighty, Alisa Brewer, Andy Churchill: these are all dedicated people who have served with distinction as volunteer members on our School Committee. Perhaps no one remembers some of these folks, but they worked very hard (Ms. Brighty for nine tough years). It's really bad form for Catherine to be apologizing to the people of the Town on their behalf. (You'll note that the Gazette article made a point of noting when each commenter was actually elected to SC.)

What I am grateful for is that Catherine has taken very seriously the whole idea that School Committee should do oversight. But it's a tough nut to crack. What the SC has just been through is a very arduous episode, but it's really no more than an episode, of cost-cutting. It took a lot of work by a very good Committee, and as a resistance exercise, it was power lifting, not a light repetition. We can expect more resistance, and more emotion, and more questioning of motives from the public, in the next attempt at economizing.

We've had really good School Committee members before Catherine, and we'll have really good ones after her. Catherine should stick to "owning up" to her own mistakes, and not those of others. This might actually temper some of the resentment about painful change, and allow her to be that much more effective.

Anyone remember the old maxim that "there's no limit to what you can accomplish when you don't care who gets the credit"? Well, perhaps that should extend to not caring who gets the blame. It's much more graceful that way, and grace does have some practical value in Amherst politics.

I expect to vote for Catherine's adrenaline-based style of leadership for reelection when the time comes.

Rich Morse

Rick said...

52 comments on something that is past history that we can’t do anything about (the portable classrooms) – seems like kind of a waste of time.

What’s in the future that needs to be done that we can actually do something about? I’d love to see a top 10 list from Catherine on things she thinks needs to be done and where we stand on them.

Anonymous said...

This is a little off topic and I apologize for that.

I read in the Gazette this morning that the Town Manager and Select Board are asking all town departments to prepare their budgets for next year with 10% spending cuts from this year. Does this include the schools? Is the SC supposed to prepare a budget for next year with a 10% cut?

Meg Rosa said...

If it were all town departments then yes, the schools are included. The principles and Superintendantls office prepares the budgets, then gives them to the SC for approval. The SC vote on the dollar amount.

Everyone has been saying for a long time now that this year will have really bad cuts. Last year's cuts are very obvious. I can't even begin to imagine what our schools will look like next year!! Their goal is to have all departments have a final vote on their budgets in Feb so we can vote on an override in March. I believe we need to pass an override in order to have functunial schools next year.

Anonymous said...

I believe we need to revamp our special education program (which currently uses a much greater proportion of resources per student) and look for savings there before we ask people to vote for an override. As someone else posted above, how can we justify the existence of two alternative high schools while asking our residents to reach deeper into their pockets for an override?

Rick said...

The article also said that the Town Manager didn’t think they would have to go that deep (10%). It seems he wants his departments to do this as an exercise to better figure out what’s really important – not a bad idea – plus who knows, he may well have to go that deep. I know the schools are still working on what the “level services” budget is, which of course is not going to be the budget, but it’s a starting point. Then they will do other budgets at X% cut, Y% cut etc. I heard talk they may even try to use a zero based budgeting approach – build the budget from the bottom up instead of top down: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-based_budgeting which would be a good exercise if they have the time to do it. BTW we are lucky to have such great people in the school finance department like Rob Detweiler.

The problem with all of this, as usual, is that we don’t know what revenue we can rely on from the state. We know that (without an override) we can rely on around 3.5% from property taxes (2.5% plus roughly 1% of growth). But we have no idea what we can rely on from the state, and the word is it’s definitely a decrease (again) And there are many pieces to that state revenue. As an example, the state made a mid-year (this year) cut to transportation funds of around $170,000 – a hole that ARPS will have to plug somehow (they are also fighting it).

I like to keep reminding people that the problem we face is due entirely to cuts in state aid since 2002, which amounts to well over $15 million, compared to if it had simply kept up with inflation. Knowing that does not really help the problem, except that I think it may help us come together when we realize that the “enemy is not us (Amherst)”.

It’s just ridiculous what has happened since 2002. State tax cuts >> state aid cuts >> squeezes all towns. That is exactly the wrong direction to have gone in. As we know, property taxes are a terrible way to fund schools, but the squeeze that was created by cutting state income taxes, and then cutting state aid puts more burden on the wrong funding source: property taxes.

You’ll hear supply-siders say that cutting income taxes actually increased state revenue. In the 80’s I used to buy that argument. But clearly that argument has been disproven. For those who remember the “Laffer Curve”, we were never on the side of that curve where decreasing income taxes increased revenue – that was the mistake. All decreasing income taxes did was create huge federal deficits and squeeze towns.

I imagine an override will get on the ballot this spring. I’d much rather be raising state income taxes (and raising state aid) than raising property taxes, but that’s not an option (it should be). So, everyone will have to choose: take the state and federal income tax cuts you’ve received since 2002 and put them into higher property taxes… or not.

Rick said...

Info from John Musante on portables cost: $300,000 was approved by Town Meeting, but favorable bids came in so that the amount actually spent on the portabels was $213,738.04.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Rick.