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, January 19, 2010

Amherst school panels, principals grapple with proposed cuts

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AMHERST - The four elementary school principals told the School Committee Tuesday that they are not comfortable with cuts that have been proposed and want to avoid further reductions.

"As painful as these cuts are, they will allow us to continue programs," said Matt Behnke, principal of Wildwood School. But additional cuts that would result if the Amherst schools don't find more money to spend would "hit bone," he said.

The School Committee has identified $1 million in cuts to the elementary schools, including $582,997 from the closing of Mark's Meadow School. In addition, there are $210,341 in school-based cuts, mainly from a reduction of four classroom teachers, and $278,431 in central office reductions.

The reduction in teachers would raise the average class size from 19 to 20, said Michael Morris, principal of Crocker Farm School.

The principals want to save the equivalent of almost 10 positions that could be cut if voters reject a tax override March 23, if teachers decide not to give back negotiated salary increases, and if there is no unanticipated state aid.

These "second-tier" cuts would mostly affect struggling students. They include psychologist, special education, intervention and English Language Learners positions, as well as instructional technology.

"I can't think about what it would look like having those things missing," said Ray Sharick, principal of Fort River School.

Despite the cuts, the budget includes new money for preschools targeted at low-income students. School Committee member Steve Rivkin said Amherst should have been offering these preschools long ago, but asked if in a tough budget climate they are a higher priority than the at-risk positions.

The Regional School Committee also met Tuesday. Members looked at options for restoring physical education positions previously on the cut list, and discussed whether small increases in class size could save some elective courses that are on the chopping block.

Several members favored the option of cutting music to every other day in the Regional Middle School and finding $67,000 in additional cuts, in order to save phys ed. Rivkin said that most schools don't have music every day.

At the high school, classes currently average 21.6 students. If budgets are cut as much as administrators fear, that number would increase to 25.

Several members said they favored a smaller increase, if that meant saving some electives. On class size, "we don't want to break the dial, just turn it a little," said Chairman Farshid Hajir.

Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez cautioned the committee that small increases in class size wouldn't produce significant savings. He said he wouldn't want members to become so comfortable with this option that average class sizes of up to 30 adversely affect interaction between students and teachers.

Nick Grabbe can be reached at ngrabbe@gazettenet.com.

42 comments:

Mike Jacques said...

Catherine,

The principles talked about getting down to the bone. I was wondering if any discussions have been occurring to compare our SPED spending with other towns. Also if these discussions have occurred do they compare the added benefit to the community for all of our extra dollars? If you have any info or a link that would be great.

Anonymous said...

It behooves every citizen to take the time to watch and listen to the Town Manager's presentation of his proposed Town budget (i.e. separate from the Schools and the Libraries) from Friday afternoon, January 15, either on ACTV or on the ACTV website.

He is talking about having to go back to a status quo in dispatcher staffing that was unacceptable when we discussed it several years ago in Town Meeting, a debate that featured a never-to-be forgotten visual presentation from Phil Jackson about how the dispatchers operate. We alleviated that situation with some additional funding then, but the Manager says that we may have to go back to it. I have no reason to doubt him.

We are starting to talk about significant problems with public safety WITHOUT an override. It's time to get a grip, folks. I am convinced that there is no way to rearrange the numbers (and hence the resources) to make things come out right DESPITE the tough questions being asked.

Rich Morse

Concerned Citizen said...

Since a large proportion of our fire and ambulance calls go to the University, has there been any discussion of that institution pitching in more specifically in the area of public safety? I guess I should just watch the presentation on ACTV as well!

Anonymous said...

what are the enrollments in the 5 largest high school courses and the 5 smallest? and what are these courses?

Ed said...

Since a large proportion of our fire and ambulance calls go to the University, has there been any discussion of that institution pitching in more specifically in the area of public safety?

OK, lets have a fair and objective analysis of this. First, Hamp makes a profit when they have to send ambulances to Amherst on mutual aid, how can Amherst not make a profit the rest of the time? They are given a 100% reimbersement of bill by UMass insurance - this is unprecedented as insurance companies usually give far FAR less.

Second, fire protection (and insurance rates) are based on numbre of trucks available, not how often they are used. So the cost for what Joe Homeowner wants is independent of how often one truck goes to UMass (10 minutes after the fire alarm has sounded and after EH&S's firefighter have already dealt with the problem).

Look at it another way -- UMass already is paying, directly and indirectly -- a LOT to Amherst for police/fire/ambulance services. What would happen if the were to establish a "wall" of separation?

(A) no longer assist the town with judicial enforcement/punishment and saying that whatever UM students do off campus is between them and the town -- and that the town must deal with it at town expense. (How much does a criminal prosecution cost, Mr Morse?)

(B) Take back the North Fire Station and staff it with the UM Volunteer crew. Buy a used ladder truck if needed - all the buildings now have sprinklers so the tall ladder isn't needed as much now anyway -- it is far more useful for structure fires in congested areas, and what at UM is still made of wood anyway?

(C) put the ambulance out to bid (as it lawfully should be) and it goes to someone else other than AFD.

You would have to shut down half your fire department.....

Penny wise and dollar foolish...

Ed said...

One other thing though: the Amherst Housing Authority is a separate municipal organization with its own funding sources.

Would it be worthwhile to look at what the net cost issue with Fire/Police/Ambulance to AHA properties (which are tax exempt) is?

First, you will see a significant police cost - far more per unit/person than with UMass. (No one, myself included, really wants to say this because of the social implications, but just take the street addresses of AHA properties and the police dispatch log....)

Second, there is a significant ambulance load - and unlike the UM insurance that pays 100% of the bill, you have whatever Medicaid/MassHealth pays which likely is less than regular insurance.

Third, the AHA receives lots of Federal and State (not only DHCP) funds that in a city (where the HA is part of the city government) would be used to pay for Fire/Police issues.

Now lots of people are going to argue, legitimately, that charging the AHA for fire/police would be morally reprehensible. Fine. UMass students are equally low-income and treating us differently is socially just because????

The problem is that Amherst can not sustain its level of governmental services. And that trying to get more out of the UM students may have the effect of destroying the town's major industry.

Anonymous said...

Ed, Ed, Ed, you really should stop spewing your flawed opinions as facts. Time and again folks have pointed out how wrong you are about your AFD/Umass posts yet you continue to deliver such drivel.

Ed said...

Ed, Ed, Ed, you really should stop spewing your flawed opinions as facts. Time and again folks have pointed out how wrong you are about your AFD/Umass posts yet you continue to deliver such drivel.

I was physically present in the Chancellor's Office when his was negotiated. I do know what I am talking about....

Anonymous said...

The cuts to administrative assistants at the central office are too deep.The work at central is endless and year round- it doesn't end when the kids depart for the day- or at the end of the school year.

I know school secretaries that take it quite easy (late arrivals, early departures, no show/ no call for work days, extended lunches/ unprofessional behavior in the office )- This behavior occurs throughout the school year- but especially over the summer! Try calling the WW office- or drive by (during work hours) to see the vacant parking lot.

The Central office is a hub bub of activity all year long- To cut admin asst positions from full year to school year (thinking it is quiet in the summer)is wrong.

This situation needs to be examined!~ Why are we paying staff(for full year work) when are not showing up/ doing their job while cutting the positions of dedicated, hard working central staff that need summer hours to get their never ending work completed?

Anonymous said...

Ed, I have to agree with 12:57. You are giving out incorrect information. Insurance ratings are more complex than how many trucks are available. Staffing, response time, population, etc.
The North Station belongs to the town, why you would think they would give it to Umass is odd. The comment that AFD gets to UM fire calls in 10 min is also incorrect. To correct you line by line is pointless. When you say things like this it makes me wonder if all of your posts about education are incorrect too.
And if anyone thinks this town could be covered by an all volunteer crew you should take a look at the statistics on the Amherst Firefighters website.

www.amherstfirefighters.org

Concerned & Supporting an Override said...

8:25- This is a concern I have had for a long time. It's not just the schools that suffer from the lack of an override, it's also a range of town services that need more resources.

I understand the idea of using your override support (or opposition) as leverage to make the schools be more accountable, to find out why it's costing Amherst more than other towns to educate students (and put them in study halls). And I agree these tough questions need to be asked and answered.

But, I think this year that strategy will backfire and cause our town, and all of its services including the schools but not only the schools, to erode.

The 2.5% cap doesn't allow Amherst to exist (much less thrive) in the world of 2010. We need an override.

Anonymous said...

There was an interesting moment in the most recent Amherst School Committee meeting in which Mr. Rhodes questioned how those who wrote the elementary school budget were crediting the closure of Mark's Meadow.

I still don't fully understand it, but it seemed that our school officials were essentially crediting themselves with a specific dollar amount assigned to that fait accompli, that closure, against the specific amount of cuts they were supposed to make. Mr. Rhodes seemed confused and concerned about this.

I think some of us trying to follow the process closely would like to understand more about what is going on here.

The Mark's Meadow closure is a done deal so I don't understand how it can be construed as a "cut". But perhaps I'm missing something or perhaps I've got it all wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

I can understand what the school officials thought they were doing..but it really is not the right way to go about it. It makes budget making VERY confusing and makes us have to do mental gymnastics to really understand the end result. Surprise, surprise!

Ed said...

Time for a "zero-base" budget.

Here is what we will have for revenue.

Here is what we will spend (see above).

We don't care what we spent last year. That was then, this is now.

Anonymous said...

how is it that something that is in the paper on jan 20th is posted on this blog on jan 19th....

Anonymous said...

Here's something that is posted three days from now, go figure...

January 23, 2009
For immediate release:

Governor Patrick Protects Education Funding Amid Budget Cuts

Plan will give municipalities revenue tools to offset local aid cuts, manage more efficiently

BOSTON - Friday, January 23, 2009 - Despite the immense financial challenges facing the Commonwealth during this national recession, Governor Patrick today reaffirmed his commitment to cities and towns, announcing that he will protect education funding from cuts and will limit reductions in state aid to cities and towns this year and next.

The Governor told members of the Massachusetts Municipal Association gathered for their annual meeting that he will prevent cuts to so-called Chapter 70 education aid during the next round of mid-year spending reductions he will make next week. Additionally, he will hold Chapter 70 funding for city, town and regional schools at the fiscal year 2009 (FY09) level of $3.984 billion in his fiscal year 2010 (FY10) budget plan he will also release next week. That level, a 6 percent increase over FY08, was an all-time high for Chapter 70.

"Funding Chapter 70 at FY09 levels in the face of our current fiscal crisis is about ensuring that we don't sacrifice tomorrow's promise during today's downturn," said Governor Patrick.

An unprecedented national economic downturn has resulted in a loss of nearly $2 billion in revenues this fiscal year and prompted the Governor to make mid-year spending cuts last October. The Governor was able to hold Local Aid and Chapter 70 education aid harmless by making deeper cuts in other state programs. However, economic conditions have rapidly deteriorated since then, requiring a second round of cuts that will have to include Local Aid.

Recognizing that cities and towns rely heavily on state aid for municipal services like police and fire and to help mitigate the property tax burden, Governor Patrick will limit reductions in unrestricted state aid to communities both in his emergency cuts and in the FY10 budget.

More...

http://www.mass.gov/?pageID=gov3pressrelease&L=1&L0=Home&sid=Agov3&b=pressrelease&f=090123_edfunding&csid=Agov3

Anonymous said...

What exactly are Chapter 70 funds?

Ed said...

http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/gl-70-toc.htm

Anonymous said...

Folks,

Take a look at today's Daily Hampshire Gazette (1/22/10).

Now count up the column space outside the sports page dedicated to Amherst matters.

Does that seem like enough coverage to you for a community of this size?

I rest my case: we're getting hosed.

Rich Morse

Michael Jacques said...

Does anyone know what kind of money we save / get from Gov. Patrick's announcement on chapter 70? It will be interesting to see how that affects the budget recommendations at the end of this month.

Confused said...

The governor's announcement seems to be about FY10 (our current year). What will the situation be for FY11? That is the year we are currently examining budget cuts for. Anyone know?

Ed said...

Also possibly of interest (albeit from the UM Collegian) is a story about the issues facing nearby Ware.

http://massdailycollegian.com/2010/01/21/ware-have-all-the-students-gone/

kevin said...

Thank you, Catherine, for providing a space for meaningful dialogue. Apologies for hijacking your blog.

A friend of mine who works in the planning field calls Amherst "The World's Smartest People". Where they hire the best people and don't listen to them, like the parking garage. Let's call them WoSP's.

I had a boss once who tried to show me how to dial a phone. Ever have one of those? Imagine what Larry Shaffer's job is like. Working… in a WoSp’s nest?

Gov. Patrick's decision to spend our money this year is not a solution. It is a response to the already deep cuts in education and town services. The best we can hope for is a year to breathe.

It is a matter of priorities. Once your priorities are set, the steps will follow. Skipping to the steps, like how to rationalize EMS, is how we got here.

Thank you, Catherine, for your effort and hard work. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

I've gone back to watching the SC meeting and I think there needs to be more attention paid to Irv Rhode's "objection" to a distortion he sees in the elementary school budget. I think that I get it, and I think that the reason that I get it is our mutual background in Town Meeting.

And I think that some of the other people around the room didn't get it. He was talking about "relative pain" when making comparisons with other cuts in other parts of the school and Town budgets.

I don't see how a reduction in overhead represented by the closure of Mark's Meadow can be seen as a "cut" in a single year's budget.

Rich Morse

Trying to Pay Attention said...

I think what I heard the respondents to his question stating is that the children (and their needs) who were served in Mark's Meadow will still be present (along with their needs) in the system. So, the teacher (and perhaps guidance and other specialty service???) cuts that are enabled by the closure of MM need to be considered within that context. We will have more kids being served in fewer buildings, by fewer practitioners. So, in a sense, even though the decision to close MM was made months ago, the impact of that closure (at least as far as the cuts in personnel are concerned) will be felt on the upcoming year's budget. So, rather than categorizing all savings from the closing of one of our four elementary schools as pure "finding of efficiency", there is an attempt to document a tangible loss or decline in services (or at least service providers) that will result from it.

Rick said...

The document presented was messed up in my view. It had cuts in three columns: Marks Meadow, School Based Proposed Cuts and Central Office Proposed Cuts.

There were things in the MM column that:

1. Are not really “cuts” – meaning that the elimination of them does not affect the ability to provide “level services”. Example: elimination of custodians – the building is gone so you don’t need the custodians to keep level services.

2. Then there are cuts in the MM column that are really cuts that I would have put in the School Based Proposed Cuts column because they are “real” cuts. Example: loss of a guidance counselor.

Any cost reduction that is strictly due to the MM building not being there, is not a “cut”, but rather, simply means its less money to achieve “level services” – level services is the baseline for cuts.

Don’t get me wrong about saying closing MM is not a “cut” – I am defining “cut” simply as a cut from level services.

I get why ARPS may want to show what the building-going-away cuts are, but again they just mean that its takes that much less money to achieve level services.

There are areas like this in other documents. For example, the saving of $100,000 in regional for health insurance is not a “cut” – again like closing MM its that much less money needed to achieve level services.

This is not at all to say cuts are not a lot – they are – it’s just messed up how it’s presented in some areas.

Anonymous said...

And I take it that the significance of the budget being "messed up" (Rick Hood's phrase) for Irv (and perhaps for the rest of us, especially in Town Meeting) is that it distorts the level of "relative pain" (Irv's phrase) that the elementary schools are taking in this process, RELATIVE to other parts of the schools or the Town.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, this links to the problem of public confidence as to whether one or more bureaucracies are exaggerating their plight in their public utterances anticipating an override.

Even as a closer observer than some, I find this to be fairly obscure "inside baseball". With news now of money flowing back into both the schools and the Libraries, what's a voter to think?

Rich Morse

Rick said...

That's not what I meant, and I don't think it's what Irv meant. Maybe "messed up" were the wrong words to use. I simply meant that the numbers were not entirely presented correctly. In the case of elementary schools it did in some ways lower the pain that it looked like elementary was taking. But that’s not my problem with it; it’s simply that numbers should be presented as accurately as possible.

This is important just on the face of it, but it’s also important because if the public can pick out a few items that are inaccurate, they tend to start thinking the whole budget is inaccurate.

From what I have seen of Irv’s comments, he feels that way as well. It’s not that there is a slant one way or the other; it’s simply accuracy we are talking about.

Trying to Pay Attention said...

In response to Rich, how is closing an elementary school not experiencing enough pain? And my intention is not to belabor the emotional side of things here. It's to point out, again, that those same kids will be in our system, being served by reduced staff. Perhaps, as Rick has stated, the beans are being counted in the wrong columns--which leads to inaccuracies/skepticism in the accounting process, but the fact is that more kids are going to be served in fewer schools with lower levels of staffing next year. AND, as Irv also pointed out, ten of the fourteen cuts that get us to where we need to be to meet the anticipated (no override) budget shortfall relate to intervention/special ed services. That's a big OUCH as far as I'm concerned. Especially, as Irv has pointed out, when they're occurring BEFORE the special ed review takes place.

Rick said...

Patrick’s Twitter post on 1/22:

“State of Commonwlth preview: Gov to fully fund Ch 70 educ aid in budget, continuing historic commitment 2 students” and “based on Ch70 formula, but will receive at least as much as they received last yr ~Brad”

Then Gazette blurb on state of state address:

“There were few policy announcements in the address, although Patrick did recommend lawmakers not cut education aid to Massachusetts cities and towns.”

How strong do we think “recommend” is? The Twitter “preview” sounded a lot better than the real thing.

Rick said...

"which leads to inaccuracies/skepticism " Yes, I think so. But we shouldn't overreact to that - it's easily fixable and I think they are in process of doing so.

Anonymous said...

I understand your desire to be a kinder and gentler voice in town, Rick. And I expect to be voting for you enthusiastically for SC.

But I think Irv WAS saying that there was a slant, either intentional or unintentional (who cares?), in terms of portraying the situation of the elementary schools in a broader budgetary context. I watched the meeting, I was riding the staionary bike vigorously at the time, but I think I'm getting the gist of Irv's "objection" correctly. And I believe that he actually may have uttered the heresy, that the elementary schools might be relatively ok sans override.

And the broader question for me is this: is it possible for a School Committee member and a Library Trustee to state publicly "in my opinion, we're just fine" or "in my opinion, relative to other parts of our public sector in Amherst, we are doing ok."? I think that, from a practical standpoint, such a statement is strictly forbidden, and there would be hell to pay for the speaker.

In the face of an override, our elected officials become captives of the bureaucracies that they are supposed to oversee, tasked by the political constituencies most fiercely attentive to them to be lobbyists of the voters on behalf of them. And THAT ROLE is a distortion of their function as servants of a broader public.

But feel free to correct me. Anybody.

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

Yeah Rich, the Library is still catching daggers three years later for not supporting the Amherst Plan Override.

Rick said...

Rich:

You may be right about Irv – I shouldn’t say what he thinks or doesn’t think.

Yes it should be perfectly fine for an SC member to say "in my opinion, we're just fine". But in my view saying that is just as wrong as saying “this is a disaster”. It’s neither.

I believe that anyone saying “we’re just fine” is referring to the cuts that were in the blue portion of the handout. Whether they are “fine” or not is one thing, but to only do those blue cuts means an override of some amount is needed. I don’t think anyone has said the deeper (yellow and red/orange) cuts are “fine”. Some or all the yellow cuts would be needed without an override.

Frustrated Parent said...

If I remember the meeting correctly, it was stated that for the schools, the yellow and red cuts would be needed if there were no "additional sources of revenue." Among the additional sources of revenue mentioned were an override, a reduction in raises taken by the teachers, and no cuts to state aid for schools. Seems to me that the third source of revenue will be there (although Rick is right that the messages from the Governor's office are confusing). What is the status of the second potential source of revenue?

Seems to me that those who vigorously support an override tend to minimize the impact of other revenue coming in and instead just push for an override. No matter what. When I read in the Bulletin about a $500K gift to the library in the same paragraph as their director mentions cuts, I find that hard, as a taxpayer, to swallow. Especially when the article goes on to say that the Trustees are considering putting $20K of it toward materials. I agree with Rich's suggestion that the presenters of the various aspects of our budget be more realistic about what is really going to happen to our sevices and what is really available.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any idea what they are talking about?

When was the last time any of you ran a school district? When did you ever manage a town? The nuances and subtlties of a town or school budget are lost on you.

And what the **** do any of you know about being a school Secretary?

Irv said, right up front, that he was overtired and hadn't had enough time to figure out that chart. Which is a temporary worksheet and not the completed document, which will have one column. It is a rationalization, not an accounting document. Give the man a break.

And why are you trying to do their job? Negotiating with the University is best left to those who understand that resources are finite on both sides. More money for ambulance service will mean less money elsewhere. Period.

Get a life.
---

Rick said...

Frustrated Parent:

Yes I think you have that exactly right. An override is not the only possible source of $ to be able to avoid the worst cuts. Other sources include:

• Town employee givebacks (e.g. lower or zero COLA)
• Less of a decrease (maybe zero?) in state aid (Chapter 70 or otherwise)
• Money from reserves

Elsewhere on this blog, Larry Kelley (a staunch anti-overrider) said – for the first time that I know of – something other than just “no more overrides”:

”I will vote in favor of a modest Override ($1 million) as outlined in the Amherst Bulletin editorial a while back as long as it's a package deal: $1 million in givebacks, $1 million in cuts, and $1 million from reserves.”

The above totals $4 million which is about what we need. Not sure about the exact numbers and whether it’s wise to take more from reserves, but that seems like a reasonable concept to be talking about.

What is the status of the second potential source of revenue? [union givebacks]”

I believe those negotiations are ongoing so we don’t know the answer to that yet.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Quick responses from me (busy preparing for my semester to start TOMORROW):

Mike - I think the Budget Advisory Group is very interested in special ed costs -- and they are trying to get some numbers. I am looking into our costs compared with other town's costs -- will report back on this blog and in meetings whatever I can find.

Rich - I'm focusing on school stuff and understanding how we do spending here ... but yes, it is very important for all voters to understand town costs. I share your belief that voters should get informed about where we are, and to then make their decisions about supporting an override. I will also note that the excellent FCCC group recommended a MENU override precisely so that voters could decide where they'd like to allocate additional funds.

Concerned Citizen - this is a good question but it is not one that involves the schools, and hence I just don't know the answer. I would encourage you to contact Larry Shaffer and/or Stephanie O'Keeffe to learn more about that.

Anonymous 10:07 - I believe this information has now been posted on the ARPS website (check under "budget"), but my numbers from LAST year (I don't have average class size for all classes this year individually) indicate that there are many social studies classes taught to above 25 (there were 4 sections of world civ honors taught to 28/30, PLUS sectcions of anthropology, psychology, criminology, American Society and Film). In fact, social studies has the highest class average by far of the major academic departments (mean of 22.2, compared to the next highest of 20.6 in English). The lowest class sizes tend to be in electives -- largely because of limits of equipment (e.g., in classes like ceramics, wood sculpture, etc.). There are also some low enrollment academic classes -- for example, world civ NOT honors was taught to as low as 10 to 13, sections of biology/chemistry/physics (NOT honors) were taught to as low as 13/14/15, sections of quantitative reasoning were taught to 13 and sections of intro to calculus were taught to 15, and sections of Russian were taught to as few as 7 to 10.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Ed/Ed/Anonymous - I just don't know enough about how town/fire/police are used by the town/university to comment on any of this. This is beyond the purview of this blog!

Anonymous 6:43 - thank you for sharing this view. Ultimately the superintendent makes up the prioritized list, and parents (and SC members) are just less aware of some of the issues you describe. If you are willing, an email to the SC and superintendent would help get some of these issues addressed and potentially re-prioritized.

Anonymous 9:54 - again, I just don't know enough about fire stuff to comment on this. But thanks for the link to the firefighters website.

Concerned and Supporting an Override - I think you make a number of important points. First, I believe a menu override would be fairest to the voters, so that voters can decide how to allocate additional funds. That would solve the issue about how to resolve different needs. Second, I think people have a right to vote against an override for schools because they are concerned about accountability, but what I hear mostly from people is that they just genuinely don't know that the schools NEED an override (which is different). It is true that the 2.5% cap poses limits ... it also seems to be true that different schools handle budgets in different ways and have different per pupil costs (and different rates of pay, and different class sizes, and different numbers of study halls). For me, I need to understand how we are spending school dollars before I'm convinced that an override is needed -- I may well decide that an override is needed, but I also might not. Third, there are multiple ways of gaining additional resources. One is an override -- another is teacher give-backs -- another is increasing state aid. I think some people might be willing to support an override IF state aid doesn't come in at appropriate levels, but it seems too early to determine that that is the case (and in fact, recent reports suggest that Chapter 70 aid may be much higher than we anticipated).

Rich - Irv was wise to point this out ... and it was VERY confusing. The issue is that there are cuts associated with closing Marks Meadow that even if massive amounts of money came through we would not want to use (e.g., we don't need a fourth elementary school principal when we have three elementary schools, but the principal's salary was put on the "cuts" list). There are other expenses that we saved from closing Marks Meadow that we might want to have back if more money came through (e.g., we cut some intervention/therapeutic teachers and obviously kids needing those services are still in our schools). I believe the cuts need to be presented in such a way as to demonstrate things that we do NOT need anymore, regardless of funding (e.g., an extra librarian, nurse, principal, custodian, etc.) and things we still would LIKE to have if funds permitted. My understanding is that greater clarity is coming on this soon.

Anonymous 2:57 - I agree. And I think these cuts are going to be presented in a clearer way soon.

Ed - I believe zero-based budgeting would make a lot of sense. The elementary principals did present a list of what the schools will look like next year (even with worst case financial predictions) and that was more helpful to me than the cuts list.

Anonymous 5:32 - I check the on-line version of the Gazette some evenings, and some stories get posted before midnight on the day they will be published.

Anonymous 8:53 - is that article a year old? I'm confused with the 2009 date!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:24 - Chapter 70 funds are a major source of state funds for local education.

Ed - thanks for posting the link with the info on Chapter 70!

Rich (at 8:42) - it certainly seems like the Gazette covers Northampton more than Amherst (odd since Amherst has more kids in its schools). But there is also something called the hostile media bias in which people tend to assume the media is biased against their side (so, perhaps we are falling victim to this bias?!?).

Mike (at 9:04) - if there are no cuts to Chapter 70, we gain about $600,000 at elementary and close to a million at regional. That would mean no need for any of the second or third tier cuts and only some of the first tier cuts.

Confused (at 9:28) - I hear that the governor's current intention is to not make cuts in Chapter 70 for the fiscal 2011 year (perhaps in part because he is up for re-election ... and perhaps the Martha Coakley loss was surprising).

Ed - thanks for the link!

Kevin - thanks for the kind words about my blog -- I think communication is good, and I hope that this blog has been helpful in that way. I certainly believe having a year to breathe and NOT needing an override would be VERY good -- and maybe current override organizers can just delay the plan for one year! I think there would potentially be alot more support for an override NEXT year (e.g., opportunity to see the superintendent in action for a whole year, opportunity to see new negotiations of teacher contracts, opportunity to see the recommendations of the special ed review).

I disagree with your point about hiring smart people and letting them do their jobs. The only way the public/voters/tax payers impact the schools/town is through electing people who share their views, and can then communicate their views to the superintendent. Last year, the MS principal recommended cutting basically all 7th/8th grade world language. This year, the HS principal recommended moving to three study halls. In both cases, the superintendent was aware of these recommendations, and didn't stop them -- the SC did, and the SC did because parents/tax payers communicated that these were not good options. Now, there are certainly times in which the SC is NOT going to go with community opinion (e.g., we heard more from parents wanting us to save MM than those wanting us to close MM), but I believe the only way the voters have power is through the SC members, and thus the SC plays a very important role in shaping the direction of our schools.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...
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Anonymous said...

"...the Gazette covers Northampton more than Amherst (odd since Amherst has more kids in its schools)."

But isn't that why you have the Bulletin?