By NICK GRABBE
Friday, December 4, 2009
AMHERST - For the first time, a group of citizens will participate in a focus group on possible cuts to the elementary and regional school budgets.
"We want them to ask questions we haven't asked," said School Committee member Irv Rhodes.
Administrators are scheduled to provide the nine members of the focus group with information on options for reducing the budgets by Christmas. The first meeting of the group is scheduled for Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Regional Middle School.
Regional School Committee member Debbie Gould said she wants an answer to the question, "What does the public want to know about the schools to better understand the budget?"
Last month, an invitation for volunteers went out, and nine people responded. All nine will be invited to the focus group, though it's not clear that all will be able to attend.
The group includes School Committee candidate Rick Hood, fiscal conservative Stanley Gawle, and Becky Demling, co-chairwoman of the Crocker Farm Parent Teacher Organization. It also includes Alison Donta-Venman, director of institutional research at Mount Holyoke College, and James Chumbley, a retired psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts. The other members of the focus group are Joe Cullen, Ernie Dalkas, Jennifer Holme and Joe Gensheimer.
The School Committee is facing an estimated gap of $2 million to $4 million between the amount it would cost to keep the same services next year and anticipated amount of money available.
A preliminary list of possible cuts is expected to be presented at Tuesday's meeting of the Regional School Committee, and of elementary cuts at the Amherst School Committee meeting Dec. 15. More detailed information about cuts is expected at the meetings of Jan. 12 and 19.
The Regional School Committee is also seeking to devise a process for allocating costs for an estimated $3.8 million in capital improvements over the next five years. The highest-priority items on a list for next year are $92,000 for caulking windows and doors and repointing leaking capstones at the middle school.
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.