My Goal in Blogging

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amherst school panel to discuss cuts Tuesday night

Hampshire Gazette
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

AMHERST - After outlining $2.6 million in possible cuts in regional school spending last week, Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez plans to tackle the elementary budget at a School Committee meeting Tuesday night.

"It's gut-check time," he said. "We need to decide what kind of educational services we want. Do we want bare-bones buildings and doors and windows, or do we want something that's truly motivational and of a substantive nature for our children?"

The level of the possible elementary cuts will be in the $1 million range, not including the estimated net savings of $450,000 from closing Mark's Meadow School, said Andy Churchill, chairman of the Amherst School Committee.

On Saturday, Rodriguez gave 35 officials from Amherst, Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham a vivid picture of the impact on the regional school district of lower state aid and higher staff salaries. State aid, which accounted for a higher percentage of revenues than town assessments up to 2002, is down to 37 percent this year and not expected to rise next year.

There will be an increase in class sizes next year and a decrease in the number of elective courses, Rodriguez told the regional officials. The number of students per guidance counselor will rise and the amount of time allotted to physical education will fall, he said.

Two things could reduce the extent of the cuts. One would be a positive vote in Amherst next March 23 on exceeding the state-imposed limit on property tax increases. The other would be a giveback by staff unions on negotiated salary increases, which add up to 5 percent on the regional level and 4 percent on the elementary level.

There is a need for an override, Rodriguez said, but first it's necessary to go through the process of outlining possible cuts under different revenue scenarios. He said he made an offer on givebacks to the teachers' union, which on Thursday voted to talk to him about the sensitive issue.

"We're not going to economize our way out of this problem," said John Musante, Amherst's finance director.

Still, Rodriguez is looking for savings that don't affect classrooms. He said the district will change the "Cadillac service" of providing house-to-house bus stops. He has asked staff to recommend ways to reduce special-education costs while staying in compliance with the law, he said.
He has also proposed consolidation of two alternative high school programs, one in South Amherst and the other on East Street, where the high staffing level "exploded my mind," he said.
Rodriguez said he is assessing the financial and educational implications of switching from a trimester system to the more common semester system. He has also launched an inquiry into how many students have left the public schools for charter or private schools and what their reasoning was.

School Committee member Catherine Sanderson has circulated charts of state figures showing that the per-pupil expense in Amherst is much higher than the state average and surrounding towns. On Saturday, Rodriguez questioned the validity of such comparisons.

"It's a very inexact science," he said.

The data are two years old, he said, and Amherst last year eliminated the equivalent of 55 full-time positions.

The outcome of the Amherst override will have a big impact on the three smaller towns in the school district. The percentage increase in the town assessment will be largest in Pelham, where enrollment declines are more moderate, and smallest in Shutesbury.

John Trickey of the Pelham Finance Committee said he needs to know what his town's regional assessment will be, with and without an override in Amherst, and would like to project expenses three years into the future.

The regional school budget must be approved in three out of the four towns to become official.


Anonymous said...

"{Rodriguez} has also proposed consolidation of two alternative high school programs, one in South Amherst and the other on East Street, where the high staffing level "exploded my mind," he said."

Maybe he should put his mind back together, roll up his sleeves and get to work. Now is the time Mr. Rodriguez to show Amherst what you are paid for.

Perhaps the first thing he should do is publish the line item budget so that we, those who he wants to support his tax increase, what we are paying for.

Joel said...

I couldn't agree more.

Let's see the school by school, line by line budget, just like the one Northampton publishes on the web for everyone to see. Maybe that's part of the reason Northampton passed an override. People got to see what they were paying for.

Anonymous said...

In this article, Andy Churchill mentions the $450,000 savings from closing MM. A couple of months ago you said it was $730,000. Big difference.

How horrible to ruin one of Amherst's most successful schools, and only small school, for such a small savings!

Any idea just what the real number is and just where the savings will come from?

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need a line-by-line budget, but I also agree with Dr. Rodriguez that the staffing levels at the two alternative high schools are mind-blowing! Especially for the very few students they serve!

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, $450,000 is such a small savings. Get real. It is a HUGE savings and will allow our elementary schools to avoid the drastic cuts that are happening to the middle and high schools this year because they do not have a huge savings like that. If you will check back into your notes, I am sure you will find that the closing of MM was proposed to save~$650,000 per year after the first year when the savings would be less due to one-time transition costs. Still, I'll take a $450,000 savings any day!

Anonymous said...

" 'We're not going to economize our way out of this problem,' said John Musante, Amherst's finance director.

Well, Mr. Musante, till you do, you sure as hell aren't going to tax your way out of it either!

Show me a line budget.

confused taxpayer said...

I imagine the staffing levels at the two alternative high schools would explode many minds -- if citizens wwere ever told what they were. Why weren't we given this information last year? Was it kept from us deliberately? Why couldn't these two schools have been combined last year?

Anonymous said...

"In this article, Andy Churchill mentions the $450,000 savings from closing MM. A couple of months ago you said it was $730,000. Big difference."

Makes it easier to put pressure on the unions/workers for give backs. Then later, admin. insiders can get a bigger raise.

Amherst schools, best job mill on the planet, if you know someone (wink wink).

Anonymous said...

It is said that we are "special" in Amherst, that we are intelligent, creative and capable. We have a high % of professionals and educators treading the hallowed halls of Amherst College and UMass, Hampshire and elsewhere.

As a relatively new resident, one who moved here believing that there was a commitment to education, I am stunned by the on-going acceptance of mediocrity.

Progressives were always known for stepping out in a courageous manner.

What I have seen is petty politics on the old SC. The new one is a breath of fresh and courageous air.

What I observe is a fear to change, tunnel vision that cannot accept what is in plain view - a catastrophic future unless we radically alter our course in this town of Ivory Towers.

Look at everything. Look at those sacred cows. Look at the football program, look at extra curricular activities we all WANT but do not want to pay for. Look at the idle members of staff that it will be painful to let go. Cut administration to the bone - fewer offices, more work for administrators may mean a better education for our children. (Those of us in the private sector live this reality.)

Look for poor decisions made by administrators, accept them, then change the culture so they are not repeated. If they are not stopped fire irresponsible administrators that accept undisciplined ill founded decisions.

All this and more needs to be examined in a crisis. I for one would vote for an override only when I can see where the spending resides, only when a bloated administration is cut down to size, only when this School Committee acknowledges the abject failure and abdication of prior school committees and takes a positive pro-active roll in managing the District.

The time for decisive action is now.

Anonymous said...

To ANon 12:44- Abject failure of past school committee ? That might better describe Holyoke, or Fitchburg or Chelsea. Amherst has issues for sure- but come on I think that you're overstating just a little.

Anonymous said...

If possible, could we please have a moratorium on members of the sc from referencing their own children when discussing the impending budget cuts? I watched last week's meeting on TV last night and it was embarrassing to see committee members talking about how their own child will be affected or not affected. Repeatedly. Please at least affect a professional posture that you care about all the children, not just your own and their friends. I'll hope for better at tonight's meeting.

Anonymous said...

If we look at our current trajectory is "abject failure" really that far from the truth.

While I find Anon 12:44's strident tone a bit heavy, they have a point. Where would we be with policies that were not a discontinuity from the prior School Committee ?

Isn't the role of the SC to direct the school system in a way that ensures on-going excellence ?

Anonymous said...

Yes- abject failure is really far from the truth. An abject failure would be having a drop out rate near 60%, or a 25%-30% daily truancy rate or being taken over by the state because the overwhelming majority of your students continue to fail the MCAS. THAT"S abject failure. What we have in Amherst doesn't even come close nor would it have happened even if we had the same old school committee.

Anonymous said...

Abject failure is possible in Amherst. Keep turning a blind eye, and it becomes a certainty.

Rick said...

The $450,000 savings for MM is for2011 only because one time closing costs subtracts from savings in 2011. In future years it’s close to $700,000.

The article should have mentioned that - probably a lot of people had the same question.

The link above says $405,000 for first year and $687,000 eventually – those numbers have probably been revised upwards.

Anonymous said...

Every single penny, every single day.


Anonymous said...

Anon 2:12--The figure of savings in closing Marks Meadow has been quoted/inflated as high as $800,000 Why there are now two assistant least two different people with this same title is another mysterious move??
And how can they can combine a lock-down facility, no wait a minute...the door only locks after you ring yourself in and someone wands you down with a hand held metal detector, with an "alternate" school (the SAC and ESAH) is beyond me....I would never allow my child to be frisked in any manner in order to receive her/his education in any building!!

Anonymous said...

To Anon 5:21- Who's turning a blind eye?- One can recognize the need for change without being chicken little.

Anonymous said...

Turning a blind eye to the culture which has actively caused things to be SO bad!

...of lies, cover-ups, threats and supression... NOTHING to be proud of, little village!

Amherst: town where the getting away with it is easy... as long as your "friends" cover your ass and your enemies know it.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

To 7:07 Am- Your response- in addition to being meaningless, is a great way to put a stop to any kind of rational discussion. But then again- the poster before you did that as well.