We had a pretty quick meeting (two hours), so this will be pretty short.
First, we had an updated budget presentation by the superintendent and Mike Morris -- this presentation just walked us through the latest budget projections. The highlights (I think this is already posted on the ARPS budget site) are that we've been able to ADD (due to the change in state aid projections) a .6 ELL teacher (to WW, based on school needs), 3 intervention teachers (one EXTRA to each school), .20 classroom music (so that all kids can have music on Wednesday/opportunities for dramatic performance/chorus), .3 SE therapeutic ( to create equity in such staffing across the schools), .5 library para (so all schools have a .5 library para PLUS a librarian), 1 therapeutic para (so 2 at CF, 3 at WW and FR), a 1.0 intervention para (so each school has 1), and a .40 psychologist (districtwide). This is in addition to the things already in each of the schools -- which you can see at: http://www.arps.org/files/FYaa%20Amherst%20Building%20Staffing%20Profile.pdf.
Next, we heard what was on the "add list" if an override was passed. This includes a total of $305,000 -- .6 intervention, .7 SE academic, 1 SE clerical, .20 PE (CF preschool), .50 ELL, 1 SE para, .5 psychologist, 2.5 SE para, .40 SE related services, 1 maintenance person, and 2 central office staff going from full-year to school-year. Dr. Rodriguez has also proposed adding a month-long summer program for 100 kids who are struggling (this is largely funded through grants -- a total of $17,000).
We had a relatively brief discussion of these cuts/adds, which basically the SC agreed with and commended the superintendent and principals for doing such a thoughtful budget review.
Steve Rivkin then made a motion, which Irv seconded. The motion was as follows:
As members of the Amherst and Regional School Committees, we believe that asking voters to support an override should be taken very seriously and that it should follow a comprehensive review of programs and costs and in-depth discussion of whether our current programs and level of funding enable us to meet our many objectives as school systems. Unfortunately, we do not feel that we have had the opportunity to engage in either of these exercises and therefore do not believe that today is the appropriate day to come forward with an estimate of our expected funding shortfall.
Over the last 10 months, the Amherst School Committee has voted to close a school, has welcomed a new superintendent, and has voted to implement the first redistricting plan in over 30 years. We have not had time to engage ourselves and the broader community in discussions regarding the successes and drawbacks of current programs and the desirability of changes and expansions including elementary school world language, summer and pre-school programs to serve disadvantaged children, and an expansion of the arts but to name a few. Moreover, our budget oversight process is quite time intensive, and the current budget is by no means a finished product, as many questions remain unresolved.
We believe the best course of action would involve two parallel efforts. The first would be to continue our work on the budget over the next few months, satisfy ourselves that we were using our resources effectively, and then inform the community and select board of the amount of our funding shortfall and the desire to have other funds fill the gap. The second would be to undertake a broader planning process with input from stakeholders throughout the community. We would expect the process to be completed by the end of the calendar year and to provide substantial input on the future course of the districts.
However, if the Select Board is determined to maintain the March 23rd override deadline, as well as a commitment to not seek an additional override in the near future to fund any programmatic changes in our schools, we feel compelled to make sure that this override, if successful, would give our elementary schools the opportunity to maintain current programs that are effective and undertake new programs deemed desirable by the schools and community. We therefore request that if an override is placed on the March 23rd ballot, the elementary schools be allocated $400,000.
We then discussed this motion for a while, and I would encourage people to watch the ACTV broadcast to get a sense of all of the comments from various board members (which are too extensive for me to appropriately detail). Ultimately, this motion passed unanimously.
We then had a brief discussion of policy IL (evaluation of instructional programs) - which passed unanimously at the last regional SC meeting. It also passed at the Amherst meeting.
We had a brief discussion of topics for future meetings, including the evaluation of teaching (Steve), the world language report (Catherine), and the current elementary math curriculum (Andy offered this suggestion from a teacher).
The meeting then adjorned.
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.