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.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Impact of an Override on the Middle and High School: Just the Facts

We've had a lot of debate on this blog about whether the cuts to the schools are too severe, or not that bad. I therefore have taken a considerable amount of time to just list each of the cuts to each of the schools in detail -- but without any commentary. Thus, readers can read for themselves what the cuts will be, and how they feel about them -- and I've taken all these numbers from documents currently on the ARPS website so you can check my math/explanations yourself. (This blog posting just focuses on the middle and high school cuts, but I will do another posting later on the elementary cuts).

The Cuts
There are the cuts that an override in the amount requested ($1,100,000) would save (I've listed the amount as 1.1 million although the regional will only be allocated $950,000 because the cuts list is in flux and thus the order of various things could change):

  • .5 HS performing arts position (increases class size from 17 to 26 in all performing arts classes)

  • .5 HS arts position (increases class size from 17 to 23 in all art classes)

  • .8 HS PE/health position (increases class sizes in PE to 28; reduces PE electives)

  • .2 HS Chinese (consolidation of levels 4, 5 and AP Chinese due to lower enrollments)

  • .5 HS English department - individualized reading program (replace an English teacher now teaching this support course with support in the Academic Achievement Center)

  • 4.1 cuts to academic departments (leads to class sizes of 24 in English from 22 now, 22 in science from 21 now, 24 in math from 21 now, 25 in social studies from 22 now; no change in world language; NOTE: in 2003-2004, class sizes were 21.8 in English, 23.7 in social studies, 24.3 in science, and 23.2 in math - so even without an override, class sizes will be smaller next year in science than they were in 2003, and less than 1 student more per class in math compared to 2003)

  • 1.0 MS PE cut (PE will be taught one block during 7th grade with health and then as an elective, instead of every other day for both years as it is now)

  • .4 MS library cut (the librarian will teach the Reading Writing Workshop class to provide academic support)

  • .4 MS math plus cut (math intervention class sizes will rise from 4 to 8)

  • 1.3 HS tech/business/consumer department (eliminate classes in wood technology, wood carving, consumer auto, computer repair; increase class sizes from 15 to 20 in remaining electives; plus $4,000 in supplies to this department)

  • 2.8 HS family/consumer science department (eliminate courses in foods, culinary arts, clothing, and childhood development, plus $7,582 in supplies to this department)

  • 1.2 HS elective section are ADDED (so that kids have classes to attend)

  • 1 HS copy service personnel (eliminates a paraprofessional who photocopies)

  • 1 MS custodian (a night-time custodian will be eliminated)

  • 1 MS clerical position (1 of the four clerical positions will be eliminated)

  • 1 MS QLC coordinator (the Quiet Learning Center position will be staffed by a paraprofessional instead of a staff member)

  • the GCC counselor (eliminate funding for the counselor who coordinates the Greenfield Community College program)

  • consolidation of HS department heads (decreases by .1 FTE the release time given to teachers who serve as department heads, meaning more teaching for department heads)

  • 2.4 HS SPED positions (reduce special education liaisons and academic skills classes; increase caseloads and class sizes for remaining liaisons)

  • .2 HS librarian (reduce librarian to 4 days a week -- staff library with paraprofessionals on the other day)

  • .2 Dean of students (reduce one of the two Dean positions to school-year only)

  • .2 Prep Academy (eliminate teacher staffing of this program and replace with support in the Academic Achievement Center)

  • $6,000 in professional development for the high school (eliminate out of district professional support for HS teachers)

The HS with/without these cuts
Here is what the HS will look like next year IF an override passes and IF it doesn't pass:

Administration - 1 principal, 1 assistant principal, a school year only assistant principal and a school year only athletic director (the override has no impact on any of these positions)

Department Heads - 2.3 department head positions (3.6 IF an override passes, meaning less teaching for department heads if an override passes)

Guidance - 3.9 caseload counselors (it is 4.9 now -- meaning counselors will see 282 versus 226, but this is NOT on the "add" list if an override passes so an override has no impact), 1 Academic Achievement Counselor (same as now, no impact from override), .8 Student Achievement Counselor (no impact from override), .9 outreach worker (no impact from override), and 1 college counselor (no impact from override)

Student Management - 1.8 deans (one dean will go to school year only IF the override doesn't pass), 2.0 campus monitors (not impacted by the override)

Regular Education Teachers - 65.3 now (would decrease by 9.7 teachers -- 4.7 in elective departments, 32 in academic departments -- IF the override doesn't pass, resulting in the increases in class size as noted above)

Intervention Teachers - 1.6 English language education, .1 Project Challenge, .2 Prep Academy, 1 Math Academic Achievement Center Paraprofessional, 1.4 ELL paraprofessional (the only change here that is impacted by an override is the .2 cut to the Prep Academy)

Library - 1 librarian (will go to 4 days a week if the override doesn't pass), 2 library paraprofessionals (not impacted by an override)

SPED teachers/paraprofessionals - 3 academic skills, 5.6 specialized programs, 1.6 psychologist, 1.2 education team leader, 1.1 therapist (occupational, speech), 33.6 paraprofessionals - as noted previously, 2.4 of these 48.5 positions would be cut if the override doesn't pass (depending on student needs)

Paraprofessionals (non-SPED) - current 3.6 (2 for copy service, 1 for computer lab, .6 for science lab) would move to 1.6 if the override doesn't pass (both copy service paraprofessionals would be cut), and 2.6 if it does (meaning we'd still have one paraprofessional to handle photocopying)

Nurse - 2 (not impacted by the override)

Clerical - 9.7 now, will go to 8.7 next year (not impacted by the override)

Custodial - 7.8 now, will go to 6.8 next year (not impacted by the override)

Preschool - 2 now (1 teacher, 1 paraprofessional) - not impacted by the override

Note: Students will still take 13 classes a year and have two study halls in a trimester system (typically 10 academic classes a year and three electives of some type) regardless of whether an override passes.


The MS with/without these cuts:
2 principals (1 regular, 1 assistant) - not impacted by an override

3 guidance counselors - an increase from 2.8 currently, and not impacted by an override

1 dean - same as now, not impacted by an override

1 quiet learning center staff member - position now covered by a full-time faculty member; to be covered by paraprofessional IF an override fails

1 nurse - same as now, not impacted by an override

4 clerical (3 full year, 1 school year) - if an override passes, no change; if an override fails, one of these positions is eliminated

6.3 custodians - if an override passes, no change; if an override fails, one of the night-time positions is eliminated

19.2 team teachers - this is an increase of 1.2 team teachers from current staffing and will not be impacted by an override

3.4 intervention teachers - this is a cut of 1.2 positions from current staffing; if an override fails, a .4 position will be cut (meaning Math Plus sizes will increase)

1 librarian - if an override passes, no change; if an override fails, this position is cut by .4 (the librarian will then teach reading intervention)

5.0 exploratories/PE teachers - this is a decrease of 1.0 PE teacher from current staffing; if an override fails, an additional PE teacher will be cut (and PE will no longer be taught as an elective, but will be combined with health and taught only as a one-semester course in one grade).

1.6 music - this is an increase from 1.4 of current staffing, and means that kids can have music every day (this is not impacted by an override)

3.4 world language teachers - this is a decrease from 4.4 in current staffing, and means that we will no longer offer Russian and German at the middle school AND that class sizes in the other four languages will increase to 25 (this is not impacted by an override)

special education - 37.1 current teachers/paraprofessionals will go next year to between 30.1 and 36.1 (none of these cuts are impacted by an override)

regular education paraprofessionals - current staffing is 1.5, and will go next year to 2.5 to 3.0 positions (regardless of whether an override is passed)


Note: Regardless of whether an override passes, students in the middle school will have no change in class sizes (academic classes will be about 20 students, which is the same as current class size at 7th grade and a decrease in class size for 8th graders), and will have seven periods a day: math, English, social studies, science, world language, music (band, orchestra, or chorus), and an elective (health/PE, drama, art, computer).

So, these are the cuts as currently on the table, and I've presented them in as objective a way as I can. I know that different people will see these cuts in different ways--but I hope that all readers/posters can try to respond in a thoughtful and respectful way, even when there is disagreement. I believe that people who care deeply about the schools may ultimately come to different opinions about whether they should support an override -- and I hope that all posters (even the anonymous ones) will think carefully about what they post, and whether you would post the same thing if you had to identify yourself. I'd like to have a fruitful discussion, but that can only happen if people on both sides of the override battle, as well as the undecideds, are respectful in their comments.

154 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay, so let's make these cuts AND pass the override.

That should eliminate the two forced study halls, right?

Anonymous said...

What? Two full time people in the HS just to use the copy machine?

Are you serious? There are really two full time employees just to make copies in the HS? I honestly can't believe that. Are you sure that's right?

Ed said...

I am going to be brutally honest here: the question is not if we should or should not have cuts.

The question is if the schools are properly staffed or not. The question is what constitutes the proper level of staffing and what balances both the needs of the students and the needs of the community.

And then acertains that the human resources are distributed where they are most needed. This teacher always made his own photocopies...

Please, do not presume that the cuts are a reduction from what is needed - or conversely that what we have now is even enough. There needs to be a clear (objective which means no teachers involved) study of what staffing levels need to be. And *then* (and only then) can we start addressing the issues of if we have met the level or not.

Confused Taxpayer said...

Is Anon 6:24PM correct? If we pass an override, will that get the HS kids out of the two mandatory study halls? I don't see that on the list.

It was my understanding from reading the Bulletin and this blog and from watching School Committee meetings that we could get the high school kids out of one mandatory study hall (but not two) for FREE just by going from a trimester system to a semester system. Catherine, is that right? If so, why isn't that on the list anywhere? If we can get something (one more instructional class) for nothing, why isn't it happening?

Anonymous said...

I think if A-Rod and Jackson actually prioritized getting rid of study halls, budget cuts and the override could fund that.

Rick said...

Assuming state aid does come in at -5% assumption, and assuming the override passes then I believe Anon 6:24 is correct.

Referring to this, the total at the bottom of the green area is $2,217,330. The total at the bottom of yellow area is $1,294,955. The difference between those two numbers is the total cuts for the light green and yellow areas: $933,375. That should be more than enough to get rid of both study halls.

”we could get the high school kids out of one mandatory study hall (but not two) for FREE just by going from a trimester system to a semester system.”

Yes that is more or less correct – there are some one time costs, and it does effect teacher work hours so that may or may not affect teacher pay – but roughly speaking that seems to be correct. The reason it’s not happening is that such a change is under the control of the teachers union and they voted down the change. There is nothing at this point that SC or ARPS can do about it.

Personally, I think the SC should look hard at eliminating 1 study hall, but 2 may be too much for now.

All of this depends on:

a. Whether the override passes.
b. What state aid really does: 0%, -5%, -10%, etc…
c. Does the union give concessions (not currently in any of these numbers)

Rick said...

If the override does not pass you can forget about any “good stuff” (like eliminating a study hall) happening.

So I encourage you to Vote Yes for Amherst.

questions said...

C-Thanks so much for this really useful information.
Why does the teacher's union have the vote on semester vs. trimester? Are there other issues that can't be changed b/c of this? (Like Wed. early dismissal and only one conference/year for the elem. schools?) Does this mean that sup can't change to semester? How would you get teachers on board?

Where you specify "music every day," does that mean for every student every day? Or that more students would get music before the teacher is there every day?
Thanks!!!!

Pro-override said...

I support the override. I wish that the one or no study halls was a part of it. Since our child isn't school-aged yet, I can only think about what seems important such as p.e., music, library, dept. heads having reduced teaching load so that they have time to work on curriculum and staff development, etc. I like how we can see how those things will be positively impacted with the override passing.

Other things, I assume are important but don't really have info. about. What does a dean do? What would it mean for one to only work during school year and not summer? Reducing a janitor sounds bad - is the school so clean we can let one position go or are there already complaints about cleanliness, which would suggest that we need to fight to keep this position? It doesn't seem humanly possible for some positions to do more than they already do, so how could the slack be made up? Is there somewhere information about what these positions and services entail so voters without school-aged kids can better ponder whether they think the positions can be eliminated or need to be saved?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, can you post the link to last year's high school courses and student enrollment numbers?

I found that information very useful when thinking about the need for an override -- which I still can't my mind up on. I was surprised at the large number of classes with less than 20 students in them. I know this is partly a function of the trimester system which makes it hard to fill up elective and coordinate students's schedules. But it was hard for me to understand the low student numbers after having my kids go through classes of 25 to 28 kids at the elementary school.

It seems that there is still a lot of tweaking that can be done at the high school level to save money that isn't being done. It also seem s pretty reasonable to ask the teachers to go to a semester system next year -- contract or no -- since the schools will head that way anyway and it gives students more class time for the same money and administrators more flexibility in scheduling and filling up classes. (Switching to semesters may not save teacher jobs, which may be the biggest stumbling block -- I just don't know how this plays out.)
Another idea is to ask the high school teachers to teach one more class each year as a way of getting rid of some study hall time.

I also am wondering what the per pupil expenses are at the elementary level versus the high school. Are we generally spending the same money per student or is it higher at the high school level? I know a lot of European countries spend much more on preschool and elementary education than on older students. Kids with a strong start in school do better -- and are probably much happier all along. I wonder if we are doing the same or opposite. (And in case readers are wondering, I will have no kids in elementary school next year.)

I thrive on information and more may help voters to understand and decide.

jmcgowan

Nina Koch said...

Catherine,

I am wondering if you ran this by anybody within the school system, just to double check your facts.

For example, the deans are already school year employees, on a teacher contract. The .2 cut would mean that one of the deans comes in 4 days a week instead of 5-- during the school year. That was stated at a school committee meeting.

That particular error is not a big deal, but it is an error, so I am wondering if anybody read over your list of facts.

Ed said...

If the override does not pass you can forget about any “good stuff” (like eliminating a study hall) happening.

This, bluntly, is extortion. And who was it who said "millions for defense, not one penny for tribute?" And why is that not true here? And why is not the appropriate response to demand an UNDERRIDE?

So I encourage you to Vote Yes for Amherst.

Both Kerry Healey and Martha Coakley tried that stunt - both going to supporters (Healey to conservatives, Coakley to conservative "trade-union" Democrats) and in both cases it didn't work, with Deval Patrick and Scott Brown winning...

And I encourage people to Vote NO to extortion.

Now there is a very easy way to end the trimester system notwithstanding the union contract: You put it into the override.

This is perfectly legal - the money for the schools (and teacher salaries) is only available IF the high school is on a semester schedule. (Otherwise the money may not be collected from the taxpayers.) The Federal Govt has been doing this for years, the 21 year old drinking age and the ill-fated 55 MPH speed limit are examples thereof.

And the teachers' union will have a choice: do they or do they not want to have their pay raises? They don't have to agree to give up that language in their contract, but if they don't, they don't get the extra money.

And I would have no problem expanding this into other things too, right on down to specific performance language on the part of what teachers are expected to do. Union doesn't like it, they don't have to accept the money - their choice.

The issue with the trimester system that no one will admit is that it reduced teacher workload. First, with a greater number of minutes in prep/superv periods (not greater number, but each being longer, a greater percentage of the day) the teachers are teaching less. And second, with the schedule causing fewer students in a class, they have to teach fewer students.

It also created "featherbedding" - it would like a snow plow only being able to plow the odd or even side of the street - you then have to have a second plow to do the other side. Which means you have hired two people to do the job of one. And ever since the RIF of the 1980's, this is what teachers unions have been trying to do.

The union has been looking out for the members - that is its job. But who is on the other side, looking out for the taxpayers? And the taxpayers themselves putting enabling language on the override would permit them to look out for themselves.

Education is a business - I want to see a staffing study of how many people we really NEED in the school system. I still can't get over hiring people just to make copies!

(and if teachers are copying as much stuff as this would imply, first would it be cheaper to put this out to bid as some place like _Collective Copies_ might be able to do it cheaper, and second are we talking about some possible copyright violation problems here?)

The more I think about it, an inquiry into photocopying is in order....

Anonymous said...

This may not be too PC but I believe that Rick ought to refrain from campaigning on this site.

Rick all your comments are tainted in that light - and yes I am the anonymous poster who descried your experience/ commitment or lack thereof. .

You responded that you ran and sold a $20MM business and to boot you lived in a modest house and worked as a web developer.

My judgment is that something is disingenuous in your comments. Those who hobnob with the wealthy yachting types on Marblehead neck rarely give up such a life voluntarily. If you were such a great owner/ manager/ inheritor, why did the sale of such a large business not net you some significant money ? (I realize this is personal - but it does reflect on your so-called capabilities to sit on the SC.)

That observation and given your ardent support for an override without a truly rigorous review of the budget might explain why you have to live so modestly now - i.e. perhaps the yachting biz was mismanaged. Or maybe there is a different reality.

In any case, please keep your campaigning to some other venue.

For the record, I support the override when we understand what the budget really looks like. If we need a few months to get that detailed information - so be it.

ANON54

Judy B. said...

I think ANON54 is way out of line and is a good demonstration of disrespectful nameless posting and name calling. I bring you back to Catherine's request or at least what I got from it... if you wouldn't say what you're saying with your name attached, that you should refrain from posting it.

Why be so mean to a guy who like the rest of us is trying to make a good decision and also is willing to take on a volunteer task which, in Amherst, will increasingly make him a target of verbal abuse (like your posting)? Who are you?

Anonymous said...

Anon 54:

What an outrageous post!! You very obviously do not know Rick Hood. If you did, you could never make such ridiculous comments. Your post has no place on this blog, or anywhere for that matter.

Anonymous said...

Anon54, I think your post was right on. I thought the same thing. Rick should be posting on his own blog. People are sooo flippin thin skinned in this town. There was nothing outrageous about your post. Get a life people!

Rick said...

"Those who hobnob with the wealthy yachting types on Marblehead neck rarely give up such a life voluntarily."

Yup that does seem weird, but that’s exactly what I did.

”Rick ought to refrain from campaigning on this site”

Sorry if my comments seem that way. My last one above was obviously in support of the override campaign, but the rest of my comments were either in response to what somebody else had said, or stating my positions which I would have thought people would like to know. But I will try to be careful about that in the future.

”If you were such a great owner/ manager/ inheritor, why did the sale of such a large business not net you some significant money ?”

Yep that’s personal. I don’t mind explaining, but as I was writing the explanation I realized that would be campaigning so I stopped. Email me if you really want to know.

I will say that I shouldn’t have said this:

"If the override does not pass you can forget about any 'good stuff' (like eliminating a study hall) happening."

That was kind of inflammatory and I apologize. I do think Ed went a bit too far in calling it “extortion”.

Anonymous said...

I want to walk the fine line between a couple of the last posters.

I really appreciate the fact that Rick is so forthcoming on this blog. He's active in our community and he's running for SC. To me, it's a 100 times better to have him tell us what he thinks before the election instead of us feeling blindsided after.

Even if it is a little bit of accidental electioneering (in other words, I don't think Rick is seeking votes here, he's just part of the debate), I think it's great and a net positive for Amherst to have him on this blog and his own talking about these issues.

Having said all that, I do think, Rick, that you should be completely forthcoming with us. I saw a post a while ago about you doing paid work for the HS. I think it was Larry Kelly who was snarky about you being paid $4,500 so that it fell below some sort of line about bidding or something.

I think it's important that you get that out there so it isn't misconstrued. Please let us know about your work arrangements with the schools.

Also, do you have any other connections we should know about? For example, past SC members were pretty unquestioning of school administrators. If you have in fact done work for the HS, are you close to decision makers there?

Again, I ask these questions just to get it all out there. I think you've done a great job being forthcoming about all your ideas about our schools. I think we would all profit from knowing this stuff.

Thanks and keep up the great work.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 6:24 - it is clear that we could re-order the cuts list and eliminate ONE study hall even if an override doesn't pass (as long as state aid stays at our estimate of 5% cut) -- we added about $450,000 stuff that was on the state aid list (including reducing class sizes in 7th/8th from 25 to 20, adding two MS SE teachers/paraprofessionals, adding a HS guidance counselor, adding .4 language instruction at the MS to decrease class size, adding a band director) -- any of those cuts COULD be swapped to save a study hall regardless of whether the override passes. Now, that might not be a good decision, but this is the type of discussing that really hasn't gone on at any length by the SC or by the community. Certainly if an override passes we would have more flexibility in eliminating one or possibly two study halls - but again, the SC doesn't fully control this because we REACT to cuts lists produced by the MS/HS adminstration. And let me be totally clear - the HS administration hasn't placed moving to one or no study halls ANYWHERE on an add list (regardless of an override). That is one of the reasons why I've felt very torn about what to suggest -- the HS adminstration started with a recommendation of moving to three study halls, and we've already pushed them to two study halls.

Anonymous 6:32 - there apparently are two paraprofessionals who are in charge of photocopying at the high school. This was explained by the HS principal that these jobs helped teachers have more time to focus on teaching. One of these positions is on the cuts list for sure (regardless of an override) -- the other will be saved if an override passes.

Ed - I certainly have no idea what HS staffing should look like ... and that is why I wanted more time to examine our staffing, staffing in other HSs, and staffing over time in our HS (as enrollment has dropped). That is why I abstained from the vote on the shortfall amount - I haven't been able to gather the information I would need to feel confident about projecting a particular number.

Confused Taxpayer - as I note above, the HS principal has NEVER put moving to one or no study halls on the adds list (regardless of whether an override passes). It is just clearly not a priority, and that leaves me a bit stuck - as a parent, I would think this would be top priority (more so than having smaller class sizes), but the HS administration is not making this recommendation (in fact, they recommended three study halls initially to keep class sizes small). It is true that if the teachers voted to go to a semester system, we could go to one study hall for the same cost of what we currently spend to have two study halls. But this isn't in the SC's control, because the SC gave away the right to choose the HS schedule in contract negotiations. Thus, we can't EVER have a move to the semester system without a majority vote by HS teachers (last year they voted this change down for THIS fall by a 2 to 1 margin).

Anonymous said...

"That is why I abstained from the vote on the shortfall amount - I haven't been able to gather the information I would need to feel confident about projecting a particular number. "

Catherine,
You abstained on the HIGHER shortfall amount ($950,000). You voted YES on the lower number ($800,000). Why were you able to "feel confident projecting a particular number" in that scenario? It seems to me that if you lack confidence and need more time, that should be true regardless of the number. It is this inconsistency in reasoning that makes people feel that there is some intentionally afoot in trying to squeeze the regional budget.

Rick said...

Hi Anon 2:20:

Sure I am happy to explain that. Yes I bid $4,500 for re-doing the ARPS website back in 2008. I purposely bid below the $5,000 threshold that requires other bids, not to get the job – honest – it was because they were desperate to get a new site up fast because they were interviewing Superintendent candidates and wanted it to look better. To go out for multiple bids would have taken more time than they had. Plus I was flexible and wasn’t just interested in doing the site but in teaching them how to use the content management system that was chosen (Drupal, the same open source (and free) one that whitehouse.gov now runs on) which I use for all my other website projects. So as much as possible I was helping ARPS do the site, not just doing it myself, so they got familiar with it and didn’t need me as much. They do 99% of it themselves now. You can ask the IT Director Jerry Champagne about that if you like.

Any work I have done since then has been for free.

I haven’t done any other work for ARPS.

A.N.W. said...

2:55. Interesting point. I wasn't aware of this "intentionality" but now that it is mentioned, I think I understand what is meant by it.

What is the goal of our efforts to refuse the region as much money as they say they need? Is it because we're mad that Amherst gets told what to do by other smaller towns? Is the role of the region to represent the town or represent the school? Is it because we want the study halls removed? Bigger classes? More APs? Less electives? what does that make the school look like? I can understand why Catherine says she needs more time. The agenda is quite lengthy and the quality/quantity of decision making is huge.

It would be helpful to understand why $800,000 is an acceptable amount to work within and $950,000 is not? What I saw that night was $800,000 was initially proposed by Steve Rivkin (and agreed to by Catherine?) and $950,000 was a compromise suggested by him in response to Andy Churchill's larger amount. Why does the additional $150,000 justify an abstention? Thank you.

Rick said...

”Now, that might not be a good decision, but this is the type of discussing that really hasn't gone on at any length by the SC or by the community.”

It’s not too late**. I get why folks have not suggested one study hall yet, for the reasons Catherine mentioned. I think part of what is going on is they are frazzled about the work involved in coming up with these lists, which is complicated work and they just forget to think out of the box a bit about something they assume is “off the table” but maybe shouldn’t be.

I think if this is brought up, and I suggest it should be, that it should be couched in these terms: “hey you have busted your butt coming up with this stuff, and we really appreciate the hard work you have done, so asking for a major change here is asking a lot, but let’s work together to see if we can do even better than we have, because WE (all of us) may have overlooked something here”.

**Although how does changing to one study hall effect signing up for courses which I believe starts next week?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 7:31 - it is clear that getting rid of one study hall is totally possible, even if we stay on the trimester and don't pass an override -- it would just have to be prioritized over other things (as I detail above). But it is also clear that eliminating 1 or 2 study halls hasn't been a priority from the administration -- which then puts the SC in a bit of a weird place -- do we tell the administration to do something that we think benefits education that they think doesn't? This is precisely why I wanted more time to discuss the cuts list before voting on a shortfall.

Rick - as you note, it is clear that we could get rid of at least one study hall (and possibly two if the override passes), even on a trimester system. Moving to the semester would have some one-time book costs, but then would reduce the need (permanently) for some on-campus monitors, so it is clear that it is a net gain in terms of costs. Unfortunately, as you point out, the teachers voted to oppose the move and thus the SC can't do anything about the HS schedule. I should also note that it is apparently VERY unusual for the SC to have given away the right to choose the schedule in contract negotiations (according to the head of the MA School Committee association) -- given that the schedule obviously has serious fiscal implications.

But I don't think it is accurate to say that reducing the number of study halls is necessarily linked to an override passing. As of now, if the override passes, students will still be in two study halls next year. If the override doesn't pass, we could still move to one study hall if that was prioritized differently (and/or if there was more state aid than anticipated or if there were give-backs). Now, I certainly agree that having the override pass would give us MORE flexibility in terms of adding things (like adding teachers to reduce a study hall), but let's remember that right now, reducing a study hall doesn't appear on any add list created by the adminstration, so this is NOT one of the changes that is linked to the override passing.

Questions (at 8:20) - the teacher's union has the vote on semester vs. trimester because the SC gave away this right during contract negotiations (which is unusual, as I note above). And yes, there are DEFINITELY other things that can't be changed without opening negotiatons -- such as early dismissal on Weds., the start/end of school, only one conference a year (and early dismissal on these days) at elementary school. Neither the superintendent nor the SC can require the HS teachers to change to semester, and I'm not sure how to get them on board (e.g., they voted down this change last year 2 to 1).

Music every day is the current proposal, which means that every day in the MS kids would have music instruction -- band, orchestra, or chorus. The schedule is a seven-period day, and music would just be one of the periods (taught by a regular music teacher). That is twice as much music as there is this year, but the same as there has been in years prior to this one. Does that help?

Pro-override - I agree that having one or no study halls would be good to have, and I wish that the cuts list had included this change. It would have increased by likelihood of supporting the override, since this seems like something very tangible that would benefit all kids. And I should have been clearer on the cuts involving the department heads -- the department heads ALREADY have reduced teaching -- the override passing maintains their current level of reduced time, and if it doesn't pass, their teaching time increases by .1. You ask a lot of other good questions (e.g., what does a dean do?), and I believe the Citizens Budget Advisory Group is working on answers to these now. I believe they plan to post answers on the ARPS website in March (hopefully before the March 23rd override vote).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

jmcgowan - I share your belief that more information is useful! To answer your questions: if you go to the ARPS website and go to 'administration" (far left) and then 'budget' - the list of all classes and rough class sizes (a range) is found. The gist is that we currently offer a number of classes to below 20 students: 18% of English classes, 19% of social studies classes, 27% of science classes, 25% of math classes. So, one could have an increase in class size NOT by going to class sizes of 35 (and for the record, there are NO classes taught to above 30 with the exception of large music ensembles), but by decreasing the number of classes taught to fewer than 20 kids (which totals 84 academic class this year) and bringing those classes up to 22, 23, 24. This is one of the things I would have liked to have seen more detail on (e.g., what would it cost to increase by this amount, would that allow us to go to one study hall) before voting on the short-fall amount. As you may know from watching the meetings, I share your concern that we are so committed as a district to class sizes of 20 to 22 in 7th to 12th grade but are wiling to have class sizes of 24+ in 4th to 6th. Again, I think more time would have better allowed for budget decisions to be clarified between the elementary and regional levels BEFORE havinng to choose numbers.

Unfortunately, we can't either move to the semester system (this year or next or ever) without a vote by the teachers in favor of that, nor can we require HS teachers to teach an extra class. Those would both be violations of their contract.

Finally, our per pupil expenses are greater at the regional level than the elementary level: I think it is about $15,000 per student elementary and $16,000 at regional. I think this is largely because the HS offers more expensive things (e.g., athletics, ceramics, music, lab science, etc.), and HS teachers (and principals) get paid more than those in the earlier grades (and this patterning should be consistent in other districts). However, I do agree that spending more money in the early years is a very wise investment -- one of the reasons I pushed to add to the elementary budget above what the superintendent and principals had recommended in terms of level services.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:


Nina - I took all of this information from documents given to the SC over several meetings -- and all of these documents are available on the website for anyone to check/confirm. The dean position is listed as a ".2" cut and most of the .2 cuts reflect moving from full-year to school-year, so I assumed this was the intention. But if this person is already full-time but school year, then I guess he/she would just not work one day a week. The important thing for the sake of the budget, is that (a) this would save $15,000 (which must represent 20% of his/her salary), and (b) we would have 1.8 deans instead of 2 deans.

Ed - as is clearly noted on the ARPS website, the trimester system is better for teachers: they spend 20% of their day in prep time versus only 14.2% of their day in prep time in the semester. Apparently they teach the SAME number of kids during the year -- if teachers have a class average of 25, they teach 10 classes of 25 = 250 during a year (divided into 125 each semester), whereas on the trimester, they teach 3 classes two of the trimesters (75 students) and 4 classes the other trimester (100 students), which again adds up to 250. So, they also have fewer kids at a time in the trimester.

ANON 54 - I think each voter should vote for the SC candidate that he/she believes best shares his/her vision of what our schools should be and how to get there. Rick's housing value, yacht experience, etc. just doesn't seem relevant to me -- but if it does to you, I know Rick has a campaign website in which you could probably direct specific questions. I think it is good to have varied voices here, and I appreciate Rick's thoughtful comments (which he does post under his own name). Finally, my hope is that all voters will reach their own decision about whether they do or do not feel comfortable voting for an override at this time -- Rick feels strongly that an override is needed. Others are less convinced (I'm still in this category). And others may well feel an override is NOT needed. I did this blog posting so we could all have the same information, and then draw our own conclusions about the implications of an override passing versus not.

**I'm going to ignore the postings discussing whether this postings is good or not in an attempt to focus on the ISSUE and not on RICK!***

Anonymous said...

What is the superintendent's role in determining cuts? Has Supt. Rodriguez voiced any opinion or guidelines on how to make cuts?

Abbie said...

Catherine,

can't the authority for deciding semester/trimester be renegotiated at the next contract negotiations? I don't see how that can be "permanent".

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 2:55 - I fully needed more time, and I wasn't confident in any number. That includes the number I voted for ($400,000) at the elementary level and the number I voted for ($800,000) at the regional level. I was very uncomfortable having to make a guess at either number BECAUSE I didn't feel like I had all the information I needed. As I think I explained at a fair amount of depth in a prior post, I had a clearer picture of the elementary cuts (and what the schools would look like with the cuts) AND I had a clearer sense of the types of things we MIGHT want to add (e.g., K to 6 world language, preschool) and that we couldn't get those without more money. I wasn't at all sure of what number might make sense at the regional level since I didn't have enough information -- but I felt like $800,000 was TWICE as much as we gave to the elementary schools, and I guess that felt OK in terms of proportions. That's a 1 to 2 ratio, which still doesn't seem ideal, but it felt better than an even worse ratio, which the next vote was ($950,000). So, I felt stuck - and I did the best I could at the time.

ANW - I think the role of the regional SC is to support the regional schools. But that does NOT, to me, mean simply accepting a cuts list and saying "yes, that's what it would take to avoid these cuts." If that was our role, then really, the SC is irrelevant because we can just ask the principals for the number. The SC has a responsibility to figure out how the budget will be spent, and whether it meets the needs of all kids (not just some), and whether this budget fits with what our community wants and can afford. I also think we have a responsibility to make sure that money is spent well. I am uncomfortable with decisions that have been made by prior SC members (e.g., voting to buy portables for MM, voting to give HS teachers the right to choose the HS schedule, voting to implement world language at only one elementary school, etc.) - in all of these cases, the SC just accepted the recommendation of the superintendent. That isn't responsible ... and I don't want to be in a situation in which a year from now, I know I've voted for something I shouldn't have. I believe a HS that doesn't have any study halls is more important to have than a HS with 6 world languages or a HS with smaller class sizes than in some elementary school grades. But I don't know if other committee members agree, or if other community members agree -- because we didn't have the time to ask or answer the important questions you pose. That's why I wanted more time -- and since I didn't have that time, I didn't feel comfortable voting to give the regional schools any more than twice as much as the elementary schools.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Rick (at 3:23) - I'm not sure if it is too late or not to move to one study hall for next year -- but again, this idea of having just one study hall was mentioned at least by me at SEVERAL meetings. And no one said "what a great idea, we should try this." I think it is worth a shot - but I'm also mindful that in the repeated budget meetings we had, this idea was NEVER mentioned by any HS administrator or the superintendent. It doesn't seem like something that the leadership prioritizes at all.

Anonymouf 5:45 - the superintendent works with the principals to come up with the cuts list ... so I think he is quite involved -- the cuts/add lists represents their general agreement on what to recommend to the SC.

Abbie - well, obviously control over the HS schedule will be a point that will be under negotiation the next time around ... but it is clearly something the HS teachers want to maintain, so I would imagine (not having been involved in labor negotiations at all) that it would involve the SC "giving up" something to get this back. I'm not sure what all we have to "give up" -- or what the community would consider reasonable to "give up" to get this back (ummm, bigger raises?!?). But it is not like a new contract just starts with a "blank slate" -- the right to the control the schedule (and the right to have half-days on Wednesdays, only have parent conferences once a year and with afternoons off from teaching, etc.) is all a part of the current contract, and to have changes in any of these would presumably require giving up of something in return. That's why I don't we can promise a return to the semester at any particular time -- this isn't currently under SC control, and it isn't clear when/if it will be again.

Anonymous said...

Rick,

Thanks for the answer.

To the other question, do you have close working relationships or friendships we should know about, especially considering the failure of previous SCs to question administrators in the past?

Rick said...

I have a working relationship at ARPS with Jerry Champagne and Nina Koch in regards to the website and am friends with Nina Koch. I am friendly with Mark Jackson and like him a lot, as I got to know him well during my time at ARHS Parent Center. There are various other people at ARPS I am certainly friendly with.

I see why you are asking, but whether I am friendly with someone at ARPS is irrelevant to me as I will base my view and decisions on facts, data and logic.

LarryK4 said...

And I'll bet you got along just great with former Golden Boy Jere Hochman.

Anonymous said...

go home larry.

Ed said...

do we tell the administration to do something that we think benefits education that they think doesn't?

Absolutely you do. It is your job.

Ed said...

An interesting point:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201001/school-yard-garden/4

Anonymous said...

I will anonymously claim several years experience on staff at ARHS. My children have experienced Amherst schools.

I am responding mainly to Catherine’s post of 4:11 pm on Feb 19, where Catherine wrote:

“...as is clearly noted on the ARPS website, the trimester system is better for teachers: they spend 20% of their day in prep time versus only 14.2% of their day in prep time in the semester.”

My reading of these numbers is that “the semester” would be 7 blocks – teach 5, 1 preparation, 1 supervision.

While I don't recall the exact numbers, I do recall that the current trimester system gives ARHS teachers LESS prep time than they had under the old 8 block semester system pre-1999/2000. If you could verify and include that data in the conversation, Catherine, that would be useful.

One of the ways that the current trimester was "sold" to high school teachers in 1999 was by focusing on the gain from teachers having less students at one time to teach, and the fact that a teacher would be teaching only 2 or 3 different classes per day, as opposed to 3, 4 or even 5.

As someone who has taught in several other districts using various versions of the semester system, and having listened to many ARHS teachers who support the current trimester, preparation time is not one of the perceived strengths of the trimester system.

Thus, to state that the trimester is better for teachers, with 20% prep time per day, with the referenced semester system reducing preparation time to 14%, is in the context I've given above very frustrating – in two ways:

The first is what I fear is the easy take-away for many folks who will read statements such as this - that teachers are selfishly fighting to hang on to an undeserved (in these tough financial times) inefficiency, when in fact the current amount of prep time represents a past sacrifice by teachers.

The second is the expectation for a teacher to deliver an excellent education to 125 students in the proposed semester system when s/he has 28 minutes for lunch and about 50 minutes each school day to prepare lessons, grade assignments, email, make calls, meet with parents, supervisors, colleagues, etc, etc, etc. I know it gets old, both to say this and hear this, but you can't do this to a workforce - demand more and give less, without diminishing the output.

I have a good friend who is the chair of his department at a university in New York. His rule of thumb is that there is no way for him or any other professor to do a good job teaching unless the ratio of teaching time to prep time is no more than 1:1. I assume that the typical ratio of teaching to prep time at the 5 Colleges is somewhere around there. The ratio of teaching to prep time that is implied by the ARHS semester system referenced at the beginning of this post is 5:1.

I want to acknowledge that from an accountant’s point of view – each iteration of the schedule from the pre-2000 semester, to trimester, to the proposed semester above can be defined as more efficient, money is “better used,” more class time is delivered to each student, delivered mostly by reducing prep time for teachers. But can we also acknowledge that this more efficient system, with higher expectations and great demands on staff, combined with falling resources, is unsustainable?
(cont)

Anonymous said...

Continued

Broadly – I think that we have to confront several troubling realities that we are reluctant to acknowledge:

1) Articulating and embracing high expectations is not sufficient for meeting them, especially if we do so in many facets of our lives, and especially if we don’t have the time and money to do so. We can’t have everything we want. We can’t have open spaces, low crime, bike lanes, 3 colleges/universities, great public schools and services and anything but high taxes. We can’t have better results, using fewer resources, in education, even if we want it.

2) Getting data, interpreting if effectively and applying it in a timely fashion is a huge and costly endeavor. Are we willing to spend the money to effectively monitor the hundreds if not thousands significant policies in effect and programs ongoing in a school district. We need to balance our desire for data with a willingness to listen to and trust others’ abilities and intentions when that data we want isn’t at our fingertips.

3) On average, except for the very wealthiest among us, our incomes have stagnated or declined in the last 30 years, the last 10 especially. This makes the bite of number 1) even deeper and harder to confront, and the urge for logical, efficiency-creating efforts like number 2) more understandable. If we could only just get more efficient, if we could just get those numbers to show those darn parents, those darn teachers, those darn SC members, those darn administrators, those darn taxpayers, those darn students how to do more of what they should be doing, we’d get where we need to be in this darned competitive world. Fact is, our aspirations are bigger than our ability to pay for them these days, and we have to learn to not tear each other down as we all do our imperfect best to confront this.

A plea to close:
When we discuss schedules and “efficiency,” prep time and taxes, student achievement and social justice, how about this: We imagine that all of us know what it’s like to be pressured to work harder when we’re already stretched too thin. We recall that we all make sacrifices to pay our property taxes, that all of us want justice and the best outcome for our children. Then, no one could propose a 30% reduction in the time a teacher has to prepare without acknowledging how damaging that would be to teachers and the quality of education, that no one would question the values of a SC member who wants to know what’s what before she asks for taxpayers to make more sacrifices, and no one would say hurtful things about another parent who is seeking only what they think is best and just for their child.

Hats off to all in this blog who are trying their best to make our schools better. As we all know, nobody deserves (and observes!) our best efforts more than our children.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:35 and 12:42:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Your post is one of the best things I have read on this blog. And thank you for all your hard work over the years teaching our children. From your post it is clear that all the kids who have passed through your classes over the years were very lucky to have had you as a teacher.

Ed said...

The second is the expectation for a teacher to deliver an excellent education to 125 students in the proposed semester system when s/he has 28 minutes for lunch and about 50 minutes each school day

Enough!

Maybe we need to arbitrarially make the school day 8 hours long, with the teacher given a half hour for lunch, hence the 7.5 hour workday that the state auditor stipulates public professional employees ought to be working. (Reference the audits of the Amherst Housing Authority and the director not doing this.)

Now if you take the full 7.5 hours, exactly what percentage of THAT is the teacher teaching?

no way for him or any other professor to do a good job teaching unless the ratio of teaching time to prep time is no more than 1:1.

K-12 is not college. I am sorry, these folk are not professors, as much as they might think they are. Further, the workload in higher ed (or lack thereof) is a growing national scandal.

UMass permits professors to take one day (of five) for personal gain outside of the university's business. Seems to me that there is a bit too much free time if this is possible.

And how many other professionals get a 1:1 prep time ratio? Doctors? CPAs? Lawyers? Those folk get paid for what they DO, with a 0:1 prep time ratio...

Call me hard headed, but my attitude increasingly is do the damn job or we get someone who can/will do it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Anon 12:42

Please, however, don't compare anything HS teachers do to College teachers. College teachers must also publish. It's just different work. HS teachers have much more intensive teaching jobs.

Apples and oranges.

Ed said...

0ne more thing - to those who think I am "over the top" - I am at CPAC right now and there are people and organizations who make me (by comparison) look like a NEA advocate. Folk who openly speak of abolishing public education outright. Who intend to see it happen...

I mention this for a reason: right now the NEA is in the position that the UAW was 30 years ago. Give us more for a lower quality product, they demand, and management agrees knowing that the audience is captive and has no choice. But the customers are not captive, and that needs mentioning.

Home schooling is quietly expanding expedentially. Charter schools and private schools (both religious and not) are expanding. Like the Japanese autos, people are ignoring them - but at your peril!

The other thing to remember is that funding is a baseline to any contract proceeding -- if the town is not given the money, it *can't* negotiate it.

Hence, I propose an UNDERRIDE of the entire school budget, with the escape clause of if the trimester system is abolished, the underride also is not applicable. Hardball - yes. But this is what is needed to SAVE the schools and public education itself...

And, damn it, if you can't teach the workload that teachers a generation ago taught - and taught well - you don't belong in the profession....

Anonymous said...

"That's why I wanted more time -- and since I didn't have that time, I didn't feel comfortable voting to give the regional schools any more than twice as much as the elementary schools."

Catherine, you continually leave out the fact that the elementary schools NEEDED less money because of the huge savings garnered from closing MM. It is unconscionable that you keep throwing the disparity in funding numbers out there without that clarification. Each entity was starting from a completely different base zero. And then to say that we could do away with a study hall even without an override is even more unconscionable and shows a total lack of regard for either the professional staff or the public's viewpoints about the things we need to save from the chopping block. If you're trying to squeeze concessions out of the teachers by underfunding the high school than I wish you'd just come out and say so. I think it's a lousy way to go about it, especially for someone who claims to care about good process, but it's the only justification I can think of for your convoluted reasoning.

Anonymous 8:11 AM said...

.......

Anonymous 8:11 AM said...

The other thing to remember is that funding is a baseline to any contract proceeding -- if the town is not given the money, it *can't* negotiate it.

That is very clever, Anon 8:11 AM. You must feel very proud to come up with such clever thoughts.

That's right, blame the teachers for those who refuse to take responsibility for their obligations and pay their bills, like a little $16 monthly override bill. I bet you fight with the clerk at Cumberland Farms every time the price of gas goes up, too.

Amherst teachers worked without a contract or COLA for many years. Any current contract reflects future AND past amounts, averaged over many years. Which they are in the process of re-negotiating.

Do you think they care about your little threats? They have better things to do, like educating our children -- while half the town considers them disposable.

Please, do your homework before you do any more flaming. No matter how beautifully worded and phrased, you speak only half-truths designed to manipulate and deceive.

And to what end? No one wins. We all lose.

Does your mother know you talk like that?
.......

Anonymous said...

That's right, blame the teachers for those who refuse to take responsibility for their obligations and pay their bills, like a little $16 monthly override bill.

Exactly how does this become a legitimate "obligation" of the taxpayers? THEY didn't negotiate the contract, and by LAW all public employee contracts are negotiated subject to revenue being available.

I bet you fight with the clerk at Cumberland Farms every time the price of gas goes up, too.

No, I - like many people - drive less so as to have to purchase less and the price came back down last winter because no one was buying gas.

Please explain: who in the Cumberland Farms is forcing me to buy gas from them (in fact, I don't) - it usually is cheaper in Northampton and I get it there.

Amherst teachers worked without a contract or COLA for many years.

I'm sorry, I don't care. I really don't -- nor do I see why I should. Are you concerned about *my* income - and if not, why should I be about yours?

Any current contract reflects future AND past amounts, averaged over many years. Which they are in the process of re-negotiating.

Right. Last word is "negotiating." The taxpayers and the teachers are adverse parties here - and it is not 'teacher bashing' to say that the teachers are the "enemy" here. Adverse parties ARE enemies....

Do you think they care about your little threats? They have better things to do, like educating our children -- while half the town considers them disposable.

The teachers have chosen to become adverse parties and in doing that gave up all rights to be upset about taxpayers considering them to be "disposable."

If Cumberland Farms fiddled with the pumps and only had 3 quarts of gasoline coming out for every dollar they charged you for, exactly how long would you continue to purchase gas from them? If they did this AND started charging a dollar more a gallon than everyone else did, where would you buy your gas?

And when they wound up selling absolutely no gas to anyone, what right would they have to complain about it? (OR would you continue to buy gas there???)

If the teachers want to talk about what is best FOR THE STUDENTS that is one thing. But when the teachers take all of this as a union contract negotiation, they loose ALL ability to claim it as anything other than that. And further have to accept that the response from the taxpayers is that they simply aren't worth it.

IS teaching a charity? And if it isn't, then it is a business that teachers are engaged in for profit and it is the same thing as saying that WalMart isn't making enough money so we need to force people to shop there. Right...

Please, do your homework before you do any more flaming. No matter how beautifully worded and phrased, you speak only half-truths designed to manipulate and deceive.

And to what end? No one wins. We all lose.

Does your mother know you talk like that?
.......

February 20, 2010 9:07 AM

Anonymous said...

I would like to learn more about the assertion that teachers worked for years with no contract or COLA. What about STEP raises? Were they zero too? Catherine, can you do a post on the history of our teachers' contracts for us?

For me, I am less concerned, though, with what has happened in the past than what is currently the situation (especially since many of our current teachers may never have worked in a no-COLA contract). The current situation is this: employees at the five local colleges/university have received no raises last year and most will probably receive none last year (in the case of Smith, they might also be laid off); housing values have dropped; our tax rate is one of the higest in western mass; Amherst teachers make the second-highest salaries in western mass.

Given the CURRENT situation, I cannot really work up any sympathy for whatever happened with the teachers' salaries in the past. Clearly, we have more than made up for whatever past situation must have existed. So let's focus on the current situation.

Anonymous said...

Friedman column that posits that government is now or will have to soon be in take-away mode, after 70 years of give-away mode. Gives context to the difficulties we're facing here, as we confront having to do less with less.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/opinion/21friedman.html

While the anger people feel as they are told they will have to sacrifice more and received less is understandable, it does not excuse inappropriate behavior. The flamers (all of them, not just the ones I don't agree with) on this blog are starting to worry me, folks.

There are too many recent examples of internet anger turning into real world violence. I think strong consideration should be given to removing such posts.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:30, we also have to remember that the teachers contract set a level for all other contract negotiations in town. They are all starting that process again and our officials really need to think about how each contract dominoes into the next.

Ed said...

There are too many recent examples of internet anger turning into real world violence. I think strong consideration should be given to removing such posts.

Good Lord!

Would someone please understand that there are different forms of "anger"? Catherine, you are a psychology professor - maybe you can explain it?

There is a very big difference between strongly held principles (government spends too much/little, teachers overpaid/underworked versus underpaid/overworked, Coke versus Pepsi) and the idea that "I will kill you because I disagree with you."

The inherent basis of liberal (small "l" folks, Ann Coulter & Rush Limbaugh are "liberals" but definitely not "Liberals") thought is that each individual has individual human rights (Limbaugh's "Rights Granted by God") and that you simply can't kill someone because he/she/it disagrees with you.

There are dimensions of difference here. I disagree with many others in how to best accomplish a shared goal - the education of children. I feel passionate about this - that doesn't constitute violence.

Take that a step further and lets say I thought that public schools were evil and should be dismantled (like the Ron Paul Fan Club does) and that all public employees were inherent parisites (ibid) - REMEMBER I DON'T HOLD THESE VIEWS, even then I would not be promoting violence. I would be advocating a public policy issue - a legitimate civic right.

You don't have anything resembling a potential for violence (that is so feared by my anonymous critic) until I start encouraging people to go shoot teachers. And I will give you a real example of this so you can see the difference:

This week in Washington, a bunch of, well, racists wanted to have a convention. Global warming was involved somehow and I know about what I am going to say because the same speaker was going to speak at a conference I was attending and I wanted to see what he had to say.

YOU REALLY WANT TO SEE THOSE WITH WHOM YOU DISAGREE BECAUSE IT ENABLES YOU TO UNDERSTAND WHY YOU DISAGREE WITH THEM. This concept is being lost, I think, but I digress.

People who deny the Holocost tend to not have much credibility with me, and anything involving David Duke likewise but this is a free country and stuff like this should be on CSpan so that people can know how stupid some people truly are.

And I used to (emphasis USED TO) respect the Southern Poverty Law Center - not always agree with, but respect. No more: http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2010/02/15/american-renaissance-conference-cancelled/

http://www.onepeoplesproject.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=331:the-antifa-did-it-american-renaissance-canceled&catid=29:antifa-news

THIS is an example of internet postings which lead to violence. Ed saying that he wants the town to take as hard a line at the negotiating table as the teachers' union has done is something slightly different, do we not agree?

And maybe a failure to make this distinction represents the mentality of those unable to make it -- maybe we have some along the lines of the ANTIFA in our midst?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:09AM: good point! I know the police officers just agreed to a 6.5% COLA over three years and the firefighters agreed to the same...something along the lines of 1.6% COLA per year. Way below what the teachers get...and the teachers get a STEP raise (up to a certain point) as well.

Nina Koch said...

I am not sure if everybody understands that the teachers are in the process of negotiating a giveback.

Anonymous said...

And a teacher giveback would change the whole political calculus around an override vote, whether the folks on this blog want to admit it or not.

Anonymous said...

Anon:2:00 If I have been reading correctly the 1.6% per year for three years (which by the way does not multiply to 6.5%) may be less than the teachers are getting in their present contract, but I believe they got even less than that during years before this contract was finally negotiated. I think there might have been some no COLA or 1% COLA years that pre-dated this contract.

Anon 3:19 I agree it would be interesting to hear from the teachers about a giveback in the upcoming year before the override vote. I think the teachers should offer their giveback contingent on the override passing, so it would feel like everybody budged.

Anonymous said...

I am right now anti-override because it largely funds raises. Take out the raises and the budget isn't so bad without the override. I haven't had a raise in two years and won't have one next year.

If the teachers renegotiate, that would convince me to vote for the override. It's as simple as that for me.

I also believe strongly that anyone in the schools making over $100,000 per year should take a voluntary furlough to reduce their pay by some amount. It not only makes people like me more likely to vote for the override, it shows the teachers that the highest paid administrators are with them in making sacrifices.

The superintendent's contract, his many sick and vacation days, his extremely high pay, and his bonus for not living in Massachusetts cannot make teachers talking about giving up raises feel particularly good.

Rodriguez has to act first to show some very minor amount of good faith.

Anonymous said...

On the subject of trimester vs. semester...
Has anyone studied the impact on students if they have long gaps in a subject (i.e. Spanish spring trimester and then not again until winter the following year). I don't yet have students in the high school but this to me is an area where I am very concerned.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:11, I have had 2 kids go through the HS trimester system and the gap was a problem regarding math and language classes. I had hoped that after the trimester survey we would have had more difinitive info on that.

Nina Koch said...

I think most of the higher paid people (central office and principals) have already declined their raises. Farshid Hajir read a letter from Kathy Mazur about that at one of the school committee meetings.

I agree that it would be good to see some kind of gesture from the superintendent on this. Although for me, that's not a make or break for how I feel about the giveback. For me, the general attitude of the public is more important and I do feel that our giveback should be contingent on passage of an override. Also, it would be nice if people would stop saying nasty things about us when we are volunteering to make this donation. I am definitely tired of hearing that we are motivated purely by self-interest, that we don't care about the kids, etc.. That bugs me a lot more than the superintendent's salary.

I know not everybody feels that way about the teachers and that many people recognize how hard we work. So, thanks to the people who have expressed those sentiments.

Anonymous said...

Nine, please be careful.

Negotiating a give back and agreeing to one are two very different things.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:43

It's Nina

Nina Koch said...

well, I am a math teacher, so I don't mind being called "Nine"

the teachers did already vote to give the union authority to negotiate the giveback. that is not the same as approving it, of course, but I think if we understood that everybody was sharing the burden, then it would probably be approved by the membership. just my guess. nobody likes seeing whole programs disappear.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. The highest paid grandly agreed to forgo raises?

Why are they getting raises?

We are in, wait for it, A RECESSION.

Okay, the teachers have it in their contracts. Why do the administrators get raises as well? Is there no end to the money this town spends?

Anonymous said...

Catherine, is there a way to offer clarification on the questions and misinformation/musings in these posts that is in summary form on the first page of your blog? Perhaps a list of links to the information?

This blog is sometimes a helpful way to "hear" different perspectives about the issues, but after reading these most recent entries, I have ended up with more questions than answers. I think it would help readers more if you offered information instead of responses to each specific post. Or at least, if you are going to try to respond to posts, it would help if you just responded to posts that are discussing the issues and not to posts that stray off topic or get nasty.

Thanks for your efforts!

Ed said...

Actually, why doesn't someone post the current Amherst teacher's pay scale? That is a public document and lets see what the steps ARE and such.

I think there are quite a few who don't understand the dual step of years of service and advanced education, and many of us who haven't seen this particular scale.

Anonymous said...

The current teacher contract is here: http://www.arps.org/files/UnitAContract.pdf

The pay scale information for this year is on page 38.

Anonymous said...

I think it's sad that in a town that prides itself on social justice we have school employees who earn less than 20,000.00 a year

Anonymous said...

My understanding is the superintendent already agreed to forego his raise. And I also understand that several (all?) the principals also agreed to forego their raises. This kind of leadership means a lot to me and my family and I believe these people deserve much kudos for this. Of course some people will disagree but for my family, we were inspired by this.

Again, I realize people will disagree, but regarding the superintendent, he walked into a very difficult scenario and he has done so much good in my opinion, in a very short time. Along with the school committee, the superintendent is working very hard and I do not have any problem with his compensation package.

Even though there are people who disagree with both the superintendent and the school committee on this blog, I sincerely appreciate the thoughtful posts from both sides and it is heartening when courtesy prevails and we can engage in thoughtful dialogue to further improve our schools.

Anonymous said...

I'm just stunned that there were raises to give up.

The ES principals got good raises less than a year after they began as principals. That was weird.

The super was due a raise on his huge salary after just one year? That's also weird.

And, not only are we in a severe recession, but our administrators already make significantly more than other principals and supers in the area.

I think the culture of ever increasing raises for the highest paid administrators has to end.

If the override passes, my guess is that all these guys (and they're mostly guys, btw) will get their old raises back.

Then, we'll be broke again and the usual suspects will bitch and moan about needing yet another override.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

I have to agree with you, Anon 10:05! We're voting NO!!

Anonymous said...

to Anon 7:25 am -- thanks for pointing out the non-living wage for hourly school employees.

As a former APRS hourly employee, I know I didn't enjoy the tiny salary and the big responsibility, but then again, I didn't work full-time and the job comes with health insurance (which I didn't use, but I was in the minority on that). I think I worked 38 weeks/year approx. (9 weeks in the summer, approx 4 weeks unpaid for school vacations). so the <$20K salary makes a little more sense.

Anonymous said...

Re hourly pay: I meant 9 weeks OFF work in the summer, and 4-5 weeks off for school vacations.

Anonymous said...

Early on there was some discussion about clerical support for the HS. I wanted to put in a few words about this.

One thing to keep in mind about copiers: when only copier-trained staff use them, they don't break down nearly as often as when 50 different people (with 50 different ideas about how to clear a paper jam) use them.

Things went much better at my school when we had a workroom para who was adept at the care & feeding of the copiers. When she wasn't there, they jammed constantly, went down and had to sit waiting for repairs. There were a few teachers who knew the machines and they were occasionally pulled away from their work to help others.

All large organizations have staff to keep the copiers functioning, as well as to allow professional staff to spend more time on key aspects of their jobs.

Do you really think HS (or any) teachers should be spending 20 minutes/day standing in line and then using a copier? Classroom teachers don't have paras to help them.

And guess who ends up being the "Copier King" or "Copier Queen" if there's no copier person. The regular office staff, who are very busy doing other things.

Anonymous said...

They could also just send larger jobs out to Staples or Kinkos and spend a lot less money than hiring a whole person just to work the copy machine.

Anonymous said...

One way large corporations avoid down-time of broken copiers is to specifically have the contract written so that the copier company gets paid by how many copies the machine puts out. If the machine is down, they don't get paid. It puts urgency into getting the machine up and running.

Ed said...

One thing to keep in mind about copiers: when only copier-trained staff use them, they don't break down nearly as often as when 50 different people (with 50 different ideas about how to clear a paper jam) use them.

So you bid the job out to Collective Copies, a nice left wing collective so that you don't have to worry about doing so....

And why are so damn many copies being made???

Anonymous said...

Who would drop off & pick up the jobs if they went to a copy shop? Who would keep track of the jobs? Handle the billing? Might as well have the copy para at least part-time.

Anonymous said...

Can't speak for HS, but in the ES (and everyone tries to use double sides):

-tests
-homework
-worksheets, drilling sheets
-school or classroom notices & forms (eg field trips)
-work by kids to share with class
-reading materials copied from original sources
-writing and other project booklets for the younger grades
-copies of books or parts of books that the school can't afford to buy in bulk
-copies of learning materials such as flash cards, geometry shapes and number lines
-adminstrative paperwork
-special ed reports
-IEPs
and a lot more. I almost never saw anyone doing personal stuff on school copiers, which really impressed me. When I worked in offices that went on constantly.

Nina Koch said...

There are two different sources of materials being copied. One is from teachers within the high school. This would be class activities, homework sheets and so forth. I typically have a classwork sheet and a homework sheet each day, although some classwork sheets span several days. But when you have hundreds of class sections, it adds up fast. It also involves a quick turn-around time. Like right now I just finished rewriting tomorrow's homework assignment based on what happened in class today, so I have to get that copied tomorrow morning. There wouldn't be time to send it out to a private shop and get it back.

The other source of material is district wide and this tends to involve big jobs, like the program of studies, handbooks, training guides, materials for school committee meetings and so forth. So, even though that machine is located within the high school building, it serves the whole district. It's a big production machine, and teachers would not be allowed to operate it on their own. Also, this shop converts materials for special ed, binds booklets, laminates things, and so forth.

It's possible there's a way to make the operation more efficient and I'm sure it's being looked at.

Ed said...

As to the stuff being copied:
-homework
Copyright Violation

-worksheets, drilling sheets
Copyright Violation

-reading materials copied from original sources
Copyright Violation

-writing and other project booklets for the younger grades
Copyright Violation

-copies of books or parts of books that the school can't afford to buy in bulk
A KNOWING Copyright Violation!

-copies of learning materials such as flash cards, geometry shapes and number lines
Copyright Violation

We are told that the teachers are educational professionals who deserve to be paid a fair price for their labor.

Yet we have no problem when the teachers STEAL the time of others and convert it to their own ends. Which is it folk????

Anonymous said...

OMG- here is yet ANOTHER thread that has devolved into utter ridiculousness.

Anonymous said...

Copyright laws matter everywhere.

Here in Amherst, where many professors and other writers make their livings selling textbooks, they particularly matter.

But please feel free to endorse theft. Where do you work, maybe I can steal something from there.

With the salaries and benefits of two copy room employees, the schools might be able to keep an extra classroom teacher. So, this issue matters at various levels.

Of course, the mentality in Amherst is that our fabulously paid administrators should get raises and never spent a second thinking about costs.

A big account, like ARHS, would be able to get pick up and delivery from a copy shop.

But here we tie up money in salaries rather than using a local business.

Anonymous said...

Ed:

My god, you are just getting ridiculous, now it's accusations of copyright infringement!

I teach in the system. I stay up to god knows what hour many mights preparing worksheets, homeworks, classwork, review packets, quizzes, rubrics, etc etc for my students. (And baloney to all who write how teachers only work 6 hours a day) and then I copy those materials to use them. Often I prepare multiple versions of the same material to better meet the varied needs/abilities of my students. Then after trying them in one class I may make some changes in them before I copy the set I will use for another class. No infringement here. Can't be so flexible and reactive to my students if I have to send out to a copy shop.

And guess what, I am HAPPY to share what I prepare with colleagues if they are good documents. Teachers share with each other and allow each other to copy (I guess you would probably call it steal) great ideas. It's called COLLABORATION and when you do it with the high quality of colleagues I work with it is a GOOD thing. Why make it evil that we share our work and our ideas?

We all have the same goal, here and sharing with each other helps.

The documents that I might copy out of books are from teacher editions and materials provided by the publisher so I CAN make copies of them so I can do my JOB better for god's sake.

Why must you make this evil now? That's about the most twisted of many comments I have seen so far.

Sam I Am

Anonymous said...

Ed: You said:

"Yet we have no problem when the teachers STEAL the time of others and convert it to their own ends."

Did it occur to you what "their own ends" are? Did you think about how their ends are educating our children? Do you really believe teachers are only in this profession for purely selfish reasons??? Or (sarcasm alert!) for the big bucks they earn?

Only you could twist yet another situation to paint teachers again
(and again, and again...) with such a negative brush.

The good news is you are being so ridiculous that I can't imagine anyone would take you seriously anymore.

Anonymous said...

How about we all just agree to skip over Ed's comments and stick to the topic?

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:59

Good suggestion.

Anonymous said...

What do people think about the high school having 84 academic classes with less than 20 students? Why can't these class seats get filled before going to taxpayers for an override?

How can anyone say things are cut to the bone or programs are decimated when the high school has so many small classes?

ARHS Parent said...

Or why can't our kids get out of their study halls to fill these classes? If you figure an average of 5 empty slots per class (just a rough average--I know many classes have only 11 students) to reach the much-touted "average class size" of 22, with the 84 underenrolled classes, that means 420 slots! Isn't that enough to get our kids out of at least one mandatory study hall?

Anonymous said...

It seems that everyone is missing Ed's point.

If teachers are copying worksheets out of textbooks, which they often do, my kids bring this stuff home, they are taking someone else's property and not paying for it.

Okay, we ALL want our kids educated. (Letting them know what copyrighted material is in this age of pirated materials on the internet seems to be a good lesson, but who cares, right?)

What Ed raises and that I agree with is that maybe we shouldn't pay copy room people. Maybe we should be buying the best textbook and workbooks available with the money we're using on their salaries.

I know that many in Amherst don't believe in that sort of thing because they want to create their own special curriculum, but stealing this and that for one or another textbook is not the answer.

Oh, and copy shops accept pdf, rtf, and .doc formatted materials via email that they then reproduce, so the argument that we must have people in the building is silly. Teachers could email materials to a copy shot at midnight and have it delivered to the school the next day.

This thread is about money and how the schools waste it at the same time they're asking for an override. I do think discussing the employment of two copy room people is incredibly valid in this economic environment.

Ed said...

Three points:

First, it isn't just that it is wrong, but that there is legal liability being created here. And Massachusetts law is that if a teacher gets sued, the district has to indemnify the teacher.

20 years ago - under a far weaker Copyright law, Kinko's got sued. See http://fairuse.stanford.edu/primary_materials/cases/c758FSupp1522.html That is a real case that went to a real Federal court where Kinko's lost.

And we have all heard about the RIAA suing everyone in sight for music piracy. Well, folks, it is the same law here and Amherst has deep enough pockets to make it worth them suing Amherst.

And the justification I am hearing from the teachers here is the exact same thing I hear from college kids who steal the MP3 files. H*ll, I would like a new car but that doesn't mean that I am going to go downtown and just take one...

Second, there is an environmental issue here. Copies are on paper and with the volume of copies that it takes two people to produce there is a whole lot of paper involved. And even if it is all recycled, you still are only reducing the environmental impact by about half - paper is not like steel and there are a finite number of times it can be reused, and further all the industrial processes involved in the pulping and such (with all the nasty chemicals) are virtually identical to virgin wood fiber.

And third, the reason why we have a curriculum is so that teachers aren't up all night inventing one of their own. That is why we buy textbooks and such. And how much are we spending on textbooks - the average one lasts maybe 5 years?

And the mentality of "I am a teacher serving a noble purpose so I can do anything I damn well please" is the wrong thinking of the drunken deliquents in Southwest. Teachers are supposed to be role models, "moral turpitude" anyone???

Oh, and as to quizzes and such from the textbooks -- all the text books I have seen (and remember that folks like Wiley send me free desk copies of all the stuff you use) either give you the quizzes they want you to use as .pdf files either on a CD or on their secure website.

Which of course asks the question of (a) why the extra labor of manual copying when you can just send the .pdf to a printer, and (b) do you really (REALLY) have permission to be reproducing this stuff?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really care what Ed thinks? Let's not get sidetracked with his continual angry rants against teachers.

Anonymous said...

I just took a few minutes of my lunch to look at ten different workbook/homework/assessment/re-source type books from different publishers from the shelves in my classroom and from common spaces. every one of them had the following printed in them:

"May be reproduced for classroom use."
EVERY ONE OF THEM SAID THAT.

Anonymous said...

Although, at times, I agree that Ed can be overly dramatic. But here, I think he is making a valid point and people are trying to brush him off as crazy. You cannot tell me that copyright violations are not rampant among teachers in Amherst. My child brought many illegally copied items home from elementary school. Many Amherst educators look down their noses at textbooks - when in fact they are great equalizers for children with parents who do not have a high level of education. Sonia Sotomayor grew up reading a set of encyclopedias that I'm sure were filled with cultural omissions and inaccuracies - yet look where she is today. We should be investing in textbooks and other (legally purchased) curricular materials rather than blowing money on paraprofessionals to stand at copy machines all day long.

Anonymous said...

To Anon 12:32

And, if the books the teachers are using say "May be reproduced for classroom use" then you still think there is some sort of copyright infrigement going on?

Ed is NOT in the classroom. He ALWAYS talks about things he knows nothing first-hand about. Ed does not know what he is talking about...all he does is stir up controversy where there is a good chance none exists.

Anonymous said...

So you have looked at a few books that you have access to and they say "may be reproduced." This doesn't prove that all Amherst teachers are using material legally. I'm telling you that my child has brought home illegally copied material. BTW, if you are a teacher what the hell are you doing on a blog during school hours?

Anonymous said...

Good heavens! Let's all get a grip.

Anonymous said...

Don't the teachers get a lunch hour? Are you taking that away from them too???

And you KNOW that material was copied illegally how?

I am so tired of the animosity toward teachers shown on this blog. They could not pay me enought to be a teacher in Amherst right now. I have never in my life seen so much hatred of teachers. You would think they were the enemy.

Anonymous said...

So now it is teacher hatred to say that my child brought home illegally copied material from elementary school?

Anonymous said...

Again I say- yet ANOTHER thread that has devolved into utter ridiculousness.

Anonymous said...

ED:

It would be truly great if every textbook was perfect and just had to be followed verbatim. (Kind of like my teacher did it in the 1960's way before people figured out the drawback to teaching that way) Then you only have to pick an awesomely perfect textbook and anyone could teach it (and I guess you could pay them less, too, Ed).

Truth is, no textbook or other resource is perfect for every student or teacher, and flexibility is VERY important to do a good job teaching. Every teacher loves good quality resources but can not depend solely on them to do a good job of teaching a diverse group of learners. A teacher needs to be flexible, responsive, reactive,
and creative to make a curriculum real, and relevant, and interesting. That involves way more (time and energy and skill)than just following a textbook.

I read a study once (sorry I can't cite it) that discussed which professions involve the most decision making during a typical day. The results showed teaching was a very close second. Teachers came in second to air traffic controllers (and what do they earn?). I can't remember the exact number , but it was in the thousands of decisions made daily for a teacher.

I hope (and know) that we have better teachers than just "let's pick a good book and just blindly follow it". A curriculum means more than just what is in a book.

A curriculum is everything that is taught and HOW it is taught. That is where the decision making, and flexibility, and creativity, and responsiveness come in to play.

I'm glad we have teachers that do that and don't just blindly follow a good book.

Anonymous said...

Ed,

Are you getting your regular medications? Because, my boy, it appears that you have gone way over the deep end. Take a step back fr a minute and try to process all of the time you spend reading and ranting on this blog.

You bash, bash and bash eduactors, yet I hear you are an eternal grad student in the school of ed.

Take some time off, Ed. Go to the spa and try to relax because you have lost your perspective.

You are in a permanent state of bash and rant, Is that any way to live?

Anonymous said...

For what it is worth, I'd like to apologize for the hostility about the teacher being on a blog during the school day.

Unfortunately when I resorted to anger, my point was lost. So, I regret using hostile language - yet I still feel that it is inappropriate for a teacher to be on a blog during the school day.

And, I've been a teacher - I know what it is like - which is why I was so shocked that a teacher would have time - even during lunch - to be on a blog.

Additionally, while it is discouraging for teachers to hear anger from parents, teachers have options. They can just say to themselves, "that person is being a jerk and I'm going to completely ignore them," or they can try to look for an underlying message, or they can say, "waah, waah, they hurt my feelings." So, it seems unproductive for people to keep crying that this blog is full of teacher-haters and teacher-bashers. Because ultimately each person is responsible for what they do with the information that is available here. We are all responsible for our own morale in life. And whether the schools accept it or not some of the complaints voiced on this blog are widely held.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to money:

No one has really justified the two copy room employees.

Copy shops could do this work for much less and it might even be more convenient to send materials to them.

Copy shops tend to only copy materials that can be legally copied, so that would solve that problem.

Again, in this economic environment, how can did the district justify paying two full time copy people in the HS? I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg of inefficiencies and poor management in our schools.

Nina Koch said...

I mentioned this before, but just to clarify, one of the copy paras is doing large scale jobs for the entire district, not just the high school. The machine happens to be located in the high school. Actually I am surprised that position is listed in the hs budget because he does work for all of the schools and for the school committee (which often has a very tight turn-around time). Anyway, the two individuals work in two different rooms.

I am worried when people say something like "this is an example of the schools wasting money." How do you know that it would be cheaper if we sent it out? I think you don't have enough information to conclude that.

We are producing millions of copies each year. If a class of 25 kids gets an average of two copy faces per day over a term, that's 3,000 copies for just that class. Multiply that by 10 classes per teacher by 100 teachers and you are at 3 million copies-- just for instructional use (not all the big booklets that get produced). I saw one poster from the Environmental Action Club that said we use 4 million sheets of copy paper per year, and many of those are double sided. So 3 million is a very conservative estimate.

The cheapest rate at Collective Copies is 3.5 cents per copy (bulk, overnight). A single million copies would be $35,000, which is about the cost of those two paraprofessional salaries. The next million would be another $35,000 which might account for materials and service. And the next million would be another $35,000-- which we are currently saving by not sending it out!

Now, I don't have exact numbers on all of this, but I do know that administrators are desperately scrambling for ways to save money. Do you really think they want to lay off teachers or close down programs? Of course they don't.

I think it's great if people want to make suggestions and say "Hey have you thought about doing x?" We have a budget suggestion box for doing just that. But I don't see justification for people to leap to the conclusion that the schools are just wantonly wasting money and don't care about it. Of course they care. I am guessing that worrying about the budget keeps people up at night. If they thought they had a simple way to save even one classroom teacher, they would go for it.

Anonymous said...

Nina- the problem is that all these folks THINK they know what it means to run a multi-million dollar organization that has hundreds of employees and thousands of consumers. Just like they THINK that they are experts in teaching math or science or a foreign language.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the little whiff of sanity and reason, Nina.

Nina Koch said...

I really wish there were a way for people to get past how angry they are. It's going in both directions to some degree, like 6:35 sounds pretty angry. But I am really shocked to hear how angry some parents appear to be. I think in some cases it's one particular bad experience that gets globalized to the entire school district.

Maybe we need some kind of ombudsman. I mean, obviously we can't pay for new staff right now, but still I would like to see someone who could broker this, to foster better communication. It might be a way to stop those particular bad experiences from turning into sweeping indictments. I continue to wonder if parents are contacting teachers directly when they have a concern. I'm not convinced that is happening.

Anonymous said...

Nina, thank you for the calculations, and I agree with you. There are so many angry parents (and others) using this blog to express random outbursts of frustration and outrage. Some of it's uninformed but as customers of the schols they deserve to be listened and responded to better than they obviously are.

I do want to add that my kid attended two private schools (elementary and middle) before he went to public HS. I see little difference in how we are treated between public and private. Actually, I may even get a bit more "service" in the public school, because of legal issues. Private schools tend to have that attitude of "this is what we do and who we are -- take it or leave it." Public school says, "This is who we are and what we do, but let's find a way to make it work for your kid." At least that's my experience. In any case one size does not fit all, public or private.


The stuff being copied in the ES was primarily REPRODUCIBLE MASTERS, stuff off the internet (all copyright UNprotected and INTENDED to be copied by teachers; some of the best freebie websites are created by national organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics or National Council of Teachers of English with the intent of providing high-quality FREE curriculum materials) and things we WROTE/CREATED all by ourselves. And shared with other teachers. This includes manipulatives such as fraction pieces and geometry forms.

It would cost a heck of a lot more than $35K to buy all the books and consumable components the kids would need if we never copied anything.

And as Anonymous teacher put it (that daring blogger -- at lunchtime no less -- tsk!), much copying is done on the fly because the responsive teacher says to herself at, say, 12:45,
"Hmmm, they really didn't get the Least Common Denominator lesson as well as I'd hoped today, so I'm going to redo the math homework to address that."...how on earth can a copyshop accomodate that kind of flexible, on the spot teacher work?


And sheesh, Ed, you are on your way to apoplexy over nothing. Can you turn the volume down before you explode all over your keyboard?

Nina Koch said...

yeah at least my blog addiction is under control enough that I am not tempted while at school. although people can do anything they want on their lunch break, right?

I just do it at home when I am on the treadmill. Sometimes it's worth a good two miles! My excuse is that I have low blood pressure and getting aggravated is in some way therapeutic for me.

Ed said...

And, if the books the teachers are using say "May be reproduced for classroom use" then you still think there is some sort of copyright infrigement going on?

All I can say is that every resource I have seen that permits reproduction for classroom use ALSO includes access to Adobie .pdf files of the documents.

If you legitimately have access to one, if you have purchased the product and don't just have a free "desk copy" of it, then you have full rights to the other. This is how it works....

And it is a whole lot faster and quicker (and cheaper) for the teacher to hit a "print" command on his/her/its computer and PRINT OUT the documents than to hire someone to manually photocopy them in an analog fashion. (You also get a better image as well...)

And this teacher used to have to photocopy his own stuff HIMSELF (and justify it to the secretary as well...)

Oh, and those of you who wish to question his mental health -- there is a long line of UM officials ahead of you on that and I really don't care. And I am suing them and if you want to get named in the suits, well I don't care. Have a nice day.

Oh, and as to my "medication", it is 20 mg Benicar, daily, and no I am not "off" it - and what medications are the teachers (If you can ask me, I can ask you...)

Personally, I think that all of this does little more than show just how intolerant the teachers are and that is not "teacher bashing." Instead, it is suggesting that the district made some poor hiring choices....

Anonymous said...

I agree Ed. it's real easy for them to take pot shots at you. They have zero tolerance. why are we surprised?

Anonymous said...

The only reason that it is so easy to take pot shots at Ed is because he is so off the wall. No one takes him seriously.

Anonymous said...

Ed, it does seem logical to an outsider the we might be able to print out what we need from our printers instead of using copiers.

(Though I don't see how that saves paper.)

But have you SEEN the printers in the elementary schools? They're very basic models and SLOW. Each printer serves as many as four classrooms as well as other staff, meaning that each printer handles has up to 100 different users!

Simply not an option for printing multiple copies in an efficient manner. Generally the computer printers are used to print one document which is then reproduced in bulk by copier.

If the district had efficient high speed printers attached to its computers that would be a different story. Not the case.

Anonymous said...

ES Parent...
I've worked at several big law firms. When paper is your business, you need people to do the copying. In schools, a lot of learning gets done from material that is on paper, and we need people to help teachers make the copies. I think we should give teachers as much support as we can, and a person to help them with all the copying is a good start. Excellent schools begin and end with excellent teachers. Check out the NYT article online today Where the Bar Ought to Be, by Bob Herbert http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/23/opinion/23herbert.html. We should do what we can to support our teachers. I think paying the para's for copying to support the teachers is a worthy expenditure. And we should find more ways to do that.

Ed said...

I don't want to kick over another hornet's nest, but one can print to a digital copier. And who is still negotiating contracts for an analog one???

Anonymous said...

If the teachers give back or delay their salary increases where does that leave the schools in terms of need for an override? It seems that state aid may not get cut, since many democrats seem to want to keep their seats statewide and nationally. What are the rough numbers?

Anonymous said...

I think the need for an override goes away if the teachers do some give backs.

Nina Koch said...

I can't believe we are still talking about the copier, but I remember the faculty senate a few years ago looking for ways to cut costs and one of the things we learned was that it costs 4 to 5 times as much to use the printer as the copier. So we are discouraging teachers from using the printer (which is definitely easier for the teacher and very tempting when you are in a rush).

Also, not all material is in electronic form. A lot of our textbooks were purchased in the 90s and the auxiliary resources (that we paid for and are allowed to copy) are blackline masters in paper form.

We do have one networked copy machine in the main office, but that machine can't handle the volume needed for the entire school. Remember we are talking about millions of copies over the year.

Now maybe we could buy or lease another networked copier but then there would probably be somebody else complaining about why we are spending money on such a new-fangled machine!

Anonymous said...

Nina- People are still focused on the copier because:

a) they have no real understanding about budgeting and therefore see only the trees and not the forest

b) they don't understand what it takes to run a very large and complex organization smoothly and efficiently and

c) they don't understand the role that support staff play in making sure that folks like teachers actually spend time teaching and not dealing with things like copiers.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 11:57.

ARHS Parent said...

Forget the copier...where IS the Superintendent?!

Anonymous said...

Even if he's in FL, it doesn't mean he's not working!

Anonymous said...

Of course people in AMHERST don't understand the budgets because AMHERST won't publish a detailed budget.

It's all there for the taxpayers of Northampton to see, so they know what they're paying for.

Transparency isn't a concept our administrators are comfortable with.

Anonymous said...

My understanding from central office staff is that he won't even respond to email when he's in FLA.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:48, if he is in Florida working, how come I was told that Maria Geryk is in charge this week? Wouldn't that imply that he is NOT working? Frankly, I wouldn't have even thought about it except for the fact that he just submitted his sick/vacation time and today onward was NOT on it!

Nina Koch said...

there is a very detailed budget available for both Amherst and Region at
http://www.arps.org/budget

There is also a summary version available for people who prefer that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nina. That helps, but it's a far cry from what Noho publishes.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:35:
Great link. Thanks! It would be so nice if we could resolve some of our budget woes and curriculum questions long enough to really focus on supporting and developing the art of good teaching. Because, in the end, that's what is going to most determine educational outcome (regardless of what particular math program or science sequence is offered). The import given to these micro management issues seems out of proportion to that larger, critical issue.

Nina Koch said...

the regional budget alone is 71 pages (FY10). I guess I am not sure what more detail you would want. what are you looking for? that's a genuine question. can you give an example of something that you are not finding in the 71 page version of the regional budget that you feel would be informative? or is it the way in which it is arranged that you find problematic? again, a genuine question.

Anonymous said...

Anyone interested in above reference should google: Herbert oped Where The Bar Ought To Be

Ed said...

I still want to know how it costs 4/5 times more to use a printer than a copier when the technology is IDENTICAL. It is all electrostatic charges on a drum and toner technology, unless someone made the stupid penny wise/dollar foolish decision to go with inkjet printers. (And the new generation of those are now coming close to laser production levels.)

I still want to know why there appears to be a need for so damn many copies. Aren't we supposed to be hugging the planet by saving paper?

And I still want to know why the teachers can't manage to make their own, as this teacher once did. And as to copier maintenance, the first day of school the secretary (i.e. "God") gives you explicit instructions as to what you must do (how to clear paper jams, etc) if you want to use "her" copier. And you didn't want to think of having "God" mad at you...

That is the teaching I did. No paras in the classroom, no paras to do busywork, no paras to make my copies -- if I wanted copies made, I showed up early and did them myself (and was damn glad to be able to do so).

I realize I sound like a cummegion but the teachers today appear to be spoiled. There was a time when teachers actually had to work...

Anonymous said...

Ed, do you really think anyone cares what you think about teachers and copiers?

Anonymous said...

Spoiled? Spoiled is when the school has a computer for every kid & a fast efficient printer in each classroom, support staff on tap so that any kid who is consistently off-task gets the help he or she needs so the teacher can teach everyone else, where all teaching staff have all the textbook components instead of only some teachers having them, lots of top-notch curriculum and technology training, opportunities for professional advancement within and training outside the district, and adequately staffed (not bare bones) building admin so that concerns and questions are addressed definitively and quickly.


THAT would be spoiled.

Anonymous said...

Re: Herbert oped Where The Bar Ought To Be. That is a great read. Can they come up here?

Anonymous said...

Yeah. Some of my favorite quotes that I think we could learn from in developing our own schools:

... This emphasis on program elements is one of the main reasons it has been so difficult to repeat the successes of outstanding schools. As Ms. Kenny put it, “They were trying to replicate programs instead of trying to develop people.”

... “You put all of your focus on finding great people,” said Ms. Kenny, “and you establish a culture that helps them constantly learn and grow and become better at what they do. You have to provide a community in the school that supports and respects teachers. And you have to give them the kind of freedom that allows their passion for teaching to flourish...

I'd love to see that shift in values and culture here.

Anonymous said...

“You put all of your focus on finding great people,” said Ms. Kenny,

Oh please. What a meaningless, vague statement. Who defines "great," anyway?

How do we in Amherst reach consensus on what constitutes "great people?". Education? Licensure? Life experiences? References? A great vibe? Or like the Supreme Court justice supposedly said about porn: I'll know it when I see it?

And it's easy for charter school principals to talk. They don't have unions to deal with. I'm not slamming charter schools or unions, just pointing out that Ms Kenny is not playing by the same rules as a public school district like ours.

Anonymous said...

I think the Supreme Court Justice is pretty much right!
What the article is talking about though, is not just finding great people to begin with, but really developing a culture in the schools that supports their growth. It's about recognizing that our human resource is our most valuable and focusing on and investing in it.

Anonymous said...

Re: February 25, 2010 7:13 AM,

I agree. It's a culture, and it comes from the top down. I know it when I see it. And "It" ain't here.

Anonymous said...

And "It" ain't here.

What do you mean? Our teachers aren't bright & committed? Try spending time in other district classrooms before you say that!

Or are you saying there's no culture supporting & promoting excellence in teaching? While there is not nearly enough money or staff for teacher development & curriculum support, the culture most definitely does support excellence. When your building examplars are people like Roger Wallace you bet you're pushing youself to the max.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure two paras making copies is that ridiculous. I'd rather have a para doing the copying than a teacher. And I'd rather have the machine right there at the school for easy access, and last minute copies. Is the outrage really over the paras making copies, or just frustration at the lack of money, and a way to solve the problem?

Anonymous said...

Can we get some ideas about how to "establish a culture that helps [teachers] constantly learn and grow and become better at what they do?" Clearly, we have some outstanding teachers in Amherst that are excellent resources for our children but would also be excellent resources for other teachers.

1. Is there a mentorship program for new teachers whereby they are paired up with a more seasoned and supportive teacher in the building? Would that be something that newer teachers would benefit from?

2. I heard about a math award or grant or something that an ES teacher received. Can we honor more teachers with these types of grants? As a parent, I would be willing to contribute to some sort of grant fund that rewards teaching excellence (I am assuming that there is a way to evaluate it, despite 1109am's cynicism).

3. Are there opportunities for advancement for teachers, or incentives for them to further their professional development? Will the new curriculum director be a former teacher in the district?

4. Can principals recognize one outstanding teacher in their schools on a yearly basis in the local newspaper by writing an article of commendation about them? (Does anyone read those Atkins customer of the month club articles? It's a lovely way to learn more about your neighbors and community members, at least I think so.) Or perhaps there could be essay contests for the students to participate in on a yearly basis, whereby they nominate and write about their teachers? The winning student and teacher could get a stipend from the school parent group as a reward.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The annual high school graduation would be a terrific time to award a winning essay written by a student about an excellent teacher they had in the district. The student gets the award for the winning essay and the teacher gets a stipend.

Check out this 2005 New York Times article by Thomas Friedman... Behind Every Grad... (cut and paste link in browser or google it)
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/10/opinion/10friedman.html

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that. Great article!

Anonymous said...

Thanks anon. 4:56, for the great article and the great idea. I think both should be forwarded on to the SC.

Anonymous said...

The copy room paras are a convenient symbol of being out of touch. This is a time of great economic stress, anxiety, fear of job losses. Arguing with a straight face that we need to pay one or two people to make photocopies just doesn't fly. HP laser printers cost anywhere from a hundred to three hundred bucks now. No way can you convince me that the paras are justified, and trying to do so makes me very dubious about this override.

A similar item that jumps out at me is the attempt to restore $10,000 for graduation at the Mullins Center. Sorry folks, but don't ask for an override claiming a budget cut to dangerous levels and and then propose to spend ten grand on a place to hold graduation when it can be done essentially for free at the high school.

I graduated in my high school gym. It was perfectly wonderful. Save that ten grand and put it towards something with real educational impact. Finding more questionable items like this of ten or twenty grand hidden in the budget could save things of real value, like a teacher.

Anonymous said...

1036p, excellent ideas. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Agreed about the graduation. I thought they had decided not to do that. I'm stunned that it's still at the Mullins Center. No override to fund stuff like that. Get real.

Anonymous said...

Mullin's Center graduation is on the cut regardless list folks. You should get your facts straight before getting the flame thrower ready. The town website has easy links to the current budget proposals as well as the process that got us there. The Feb. 8th report to the SB (from BCG) has the cuts list for all departments as an addendum. Cuts are in ascending order of importance (with those closest to the top being restored first). The gray portion at the bottom are cuts and/or savings that will be implemented regardless of the revenue picture.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a handle on how much/what was cut from the ELL budget? Or where I can find that. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The gray portion at the bottom are cuts and/or savings that will be implemented regardless of the revenue picture.

Another way to look at this is to say that many of the items in the gray section are things that we never should have been paying for all along and ought to cut.

Take a look at the salaries posted on http://nomoreoverrides.com
That sure dampens my enthusiasm for an override.

Anonymous said...

9:53 - I have quite the different reaction to the salary list. Outside of a few overpaid administrators, our town direct service employees -- teachers, police officers and fire fighters, are paid not nearly enough. It is quite sad to me that these are the incomes we expect to convey our trust and confidence.

I wish more of the override were going to the salaries of these direct service municipal employees.

Anonymous said...

Why so much discrepancy in salary between a high school science/english teachers in the range of 40 K (sounds too low to me) to a Kindergarten teacher in 70K range (sounds very high to me for a 200 days school year).

Some of the Special ed people are getting 70K.

Can someone explain why so much of a range difference?

Anonymous said...

The graduation ceremony was moved from the Fine Arts Center to Mullins Center because the fine Arts Center could not handle the overflow crowds. I was present when there was a near riot because doors were shut in the faces of some families of graduates.
What is the capacity of the high school gym? The Fine Arts Center?
Mullins? A minor detail we may want to check before seeing the Mulllins Center as some sort of extravagance!

Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why it costs $10,000 to use Mullins for graduation (or another way to put it, why UMass would charge Amherst School Dept $10K!)
How much does Smith College charge for holding graduations at John M Green Hall?
They are the site for numerous HS graduations over on this side of the river.

Anonymous said...

Mullins Center isn't part of UMass. UMass rents it from whoever owns it. It's not part of the university.

Anonymous said...

O.K., so for about $30 per graduate Mullins Center can continue to be the graduation site.
Seems like a relatively small price to pay for the unlimited and comfortable seating, ample parking, air-conditioning,
pleasant post-graduation gathering site, etc., etc. that makes the evening a pleasure for all involved.
I'm interested in knowing what site was identified as a reasonable alternative by those who put this on the cut list. Or was it put on the cut list to force the families of graduates to fund-raise the $30 per student?