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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Regional School Committee Meeting, February 2, 2010

This meeting was another really long one -- 6:30 pm to 11:45 pm, I believe -- so this is going to be briefer than the meeting (and I do encourage people to watch the whole meeting -- perhaps in spurts) to get a sense of all of the business that transpired.

Basically three things happened.

First, the SC reviewed a policy on "exit surveys" which would just mean the district would ask families who are leaving the district to complete a brief survey saying where their child will now be attending school and why they made this move. I think this is a really good idea so that we have a sense of the number of kids who are leaving, where they will now be attending school, and what factors influenced their decision.

Second, there was a budget hearing in which many ARHS students (and some parents/community members) discussed budget priorities. This session largely consisted of students asking us to save programs -- music ensembles and wood technology, largely. Some people spoke specifically in favor of the override, and asked us/others to support it. Others focused on changes in priority, such as increasing class sizes would be better than reducing electives/music ensembles (obviously this view validates my own belief about priorities as well as what other members of the SC have been saying over the last few meetings).

Third, there was a discussion about a recommendation from the Budget Coordinating Group (BCG) which followed a presentation by Stephanie O'Keeffe (Select Board Chair, and BCG Co-Chair) and John Musante (Assistant Town Manager) about the current budget. The BCG has asked each of the town committees (library, schools, town - fire/police/DPW/LSSE) to provide a number representing the amount of budget short-fall they anticipate having for next year, and for each of these committees to formally vote on and request an override to cover those expenses.

After this presentation, and some discussion by the SC, I made a motion to delay giving the BCG/SB a recommendation about an override until April 13th (I chose this date because it would allow us to put an override on the ballot in late May or early June). I've thought about this override issue a lot over the past few months (and have had NUMEROUS conversations with pro-override supporters, anti-override supporters, and undecideds), and ultimately, I've come to the decision that I will support an override when the schools have a demonstrated financial need that can't be met through projected revenue (that could be this year, or next year, etc.). (Note: this motion was seconded by Steve Rivkin, but no vote was taken -- I believe it will be discussed again next week).

For me, I feel that the override vote on March 23rd is too early -- we just won't know enough about either projected revenues (e.g., what is the state aid going to be -- we were estimating a 10% cut in Chapter 70 aid, and now the governor says there will be NO cut in aid, but we are conservatively estimating a 5% cut in aid; will there be some unions give-backs; etc.) or projected expenses (e.g., we are still working through a number of issues on both the Amherst and Regional levels, including the list of prioritized cuts but also contemplation of other programs/services). I know that the SB intends to have an override on the March 23rd ballot, but for me, I don't feel comfortable endorsing an override at this point because I don't have any sense of either what level cuts the schools could comfortably maintain (e.g., it is OK to cut Russian and German from our MS and HS; is it OK to have class sizes of X in the HS; is it OK to cut the .2 PE teacher for preschool kids at CF; is it OK to have the projected intervention/SE support in both budgets) or what additional revenue might become available. When we initially ran through budget projections, we were estimating a 10% cut in Chapter 70 aid, but in the last two weeks, we've added about $400,000 at the regional level and $300,000 at the Amherst level -- meaning the cuts are already less bad than we anticipated. But lots could change over the next few weeks/months -- maybe state aid DOES drop to a 10% cut, in which case we need more funds. Or maybe state aid, as the governor has promised (and it is an election year!), won't have any cut, in which case we gain about $400,000 at regional and $300,000 at elementary.

Another factor that leads me to want more time is that I don't believe either SC has really thought through in detail what we want our schools to look like -- and those discussions NEED to occur so that we can plan for the budget. For example, the Hamer report last summer emphasized the need for preschool for all kids, and I really agree with this priority (as does the superintendent). Yet there is only a single preschool class added in the proposed elementary budget, which would serve only 15 kids. Maybe we should seriously consider adding 3 or 4 preschool classrooms to really make sure that all kids in Amherst have the opportunity to begin kindergarten with more equal skills. Here's another issue -- every year the SC threatens to cut Russian and German, and then backs down. I think we need to bite the bullet and have this discussion. Either we believe it is important to offer six world languages in 7th grade, and are willing to commit to these programs long-term, or we need to decide to cut one/both of these and thus eliminate this budget line (EVEN if revenue permits). After all, it makes no sense to keep these (or other) programs for one year if we won't be able to maintain them after that, given budget priorities. I don't have an answer about either of these issues -- but I think they are important questions that should be addressed by the SC, and the administration, and the community, and we need time to have such discussions.

Here's another issue -- the current projections are that the elementary schools are short in their budget needs by less than $200,000 (largely because of closing MM) whereas the regional schools are short in their budget needs by about 1.4 million (and about 1.1 million of this is Amhert's share - with about $100,000 coming from each of the other towns). But given what we know about the importance of early education, I'm not sure if this split makes sense -- we seem to be spending a huge amount on the MS and HS, and maybe a more equitable distribution of these funds would make sense (e.g., should we offer free afterschool care at the ES level? or free summer school for struggling students? or world language K to 6? or return instrumental music to one grade earlier -- 3rd for strings, 4th for band, as it was prior to this year?). Again, these are big discussions, but they certainly could well impact what type of funding needed at both levels. And I'd like to have the time to discuss these, and other, programs BEFORE asking the voters to support a particular budget number on an override ballot.

Now, obviously the SCs have had time to discuss these issues already, but let's remember what we've been through this year (which I believe led to less than ideal circumstances for having these big discussions): a new superintendent (who understandably needed some time to get to learn our districts' programs and people), a major focus on redistricting/closing a school (which occupied a huge amount of superintendent/staff/SC time in September and October), and a sudden departure of a MS principal on the third day of school (which again led to a major change in job responsibilities in central office/administration at the MS and HS). We've all been busy, and although I wish we had had time to fully engage in all of these discussions, we just haven't. And thus I don't feel comfortable asking voters at this time to support an override until we have a better sense of both what our expenses are (e.g., what amount of budget support do we need next year to have the schools we want) and what the revenues will be (e.g., how much revenue do the schools/town have -- which will get clearer later this spring).

So, my hope is that the SB will choose to give the SC a bit more time to learn both about our revenue projections and our projected expenses -- especially since it costs only $12,000 to put an override on the ballot (this seems like money well spent to me, if it would allow us to give voters a better sense of how much money the schools need and why). We could easily vote to support an override in April, and still have an override in May or June (as Northampton did last year, successfully).

One final thing - I asked Stephanie O'Keeffe at the meeting last night three questions:

1. Whether it would be possible from the BCG/SB's perspective for the SC to vote simply to put an override on the ballot to let the voters decide (without the SC taking a specific stand supporting the override). She said no -- that the SB would not include the schools on an override ballot if the SC didn't take a position supporting an override.

2. Whether it would be possible for the SC to give the BCG/SB a number that represented the amout of money we believed we needed to provide the type of education our kids deserve (without the SC specifically stating that we believed an override would be necessary to provide this, and instead leaving it up to the SB to choose whether these funds could be raised through more local/state aid or union give-backs or reserves, etc.). She again said no -- that if the SB were to stick their necks out to support an override, they wanted to know that other town entities also supported an override.

I would have been comfortable with either of these options. However, what Stephanie indicated was that the only way the SB would put an override on the ballot that included the schools would be if the SC voted (a majority) to specifically endorse an override BY FEBRUARY 9th (since the SB has to put an override question on the ballot by February 12th to get it on the March 23rd ballot). As I've noted previously, and as I said last night, I'm not there yet -- and I don't think I can be there in less than a week. I therefore believe that we need to reconsider this question of an override (whether, and how much) in April when we have much more information about local/state aid and when the SCs have really had a chance to engage in important questions (with the community) about what we want our schools to be.


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Anonymous said...

Is there somewhere online we can watch the meeting? I unfortunately had to miss it.

Anonymous said...

Your post worries me. Will a school committee that does not have a parent of a middle schooler or a high schooler focus disproportionately on the elementary school, and regret the attention and resources needed for the 7-12 grades?

Anonymous said...

The discussions about what we want our schools to look like can continue and should continue. When we're done, we might find that an override is needed (next year or after) to make our vision a reality. But an override is obviously needed this year to maintain level services in the school - and town - and to close the money gap.

Anonymous said...

can the meeting be replayed on ACTV?

language confusion said...

german and russian are back in the middle school budget/plan for next year?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:00 - I believe it is available on ACTV (maybe not yet, but will be soon).

Anonymous 11:21 - for the record, I will have a 7th grader next year and Andy has a son in the HS now. But I think it is reasonable for people to ask about why the MS/HS get 1.4 million, and the elementary schools get less than $200,000 in a potential 1.9 million override. I would hope that people who support an override would want strong schools K to 12 -- not just for those grades/schools for their own kids. Again, this is the type of conversation we need to be having -- I raised a question, but didn't propose the solution.

Anonymous 11:27 - I agree that an override will be needed sometime soon. But I'm not sure why it is needed on March 23rd, as opposed to two months later, when we have more information. I'm also not sure how we ask voters to support an override when these important conversations haven't occurred -- because how much money do we ask for and for what? I'd rather have the discussion, and then ask voters (if needed) to give us more money than to ask the voters to give us more money and then tell them later we'll decide how it will be spent.

Anonymous 11:28 - I'm sure the meeting will be replayed on ACTV ... and I think it will also be available "on demand" on ACTV.

Language confusion - if an override passes, yes, Russian and German will both be saved at the MS and HS. That is the type of conversation that I think we need to have -- the override at both the Amherst and regional level basically restores everything that we are doing now (which again, I think means we need to think through some of these issues BEFORE determining how much additional revenue is even needed).

TomG said...

I couldn't have asked for a more thorough statement on where you stand on an override to fund the school budget. I thank you.

You raised issues that I did not know about and you did it in a way that helps me understand the factors you've identified as driving your decision.

The one part you didn't talk much about was getting a handle on the existing cost structures, evaluating cost for value delivered, and identifying aspects of the school budget where cost to Amherst taxpayers is out of line.

Solving these "high expense for the value delivered" elements of the budget over a two to five year period is reasonable, in my opinion, but asking voters to vote for higher taxes (permanently?) without addressing our problematic cost structure is irresponsible, in my opinion.

The analysis is not an analysis I would do with personnel on staff. It is a public education accounting analysis for public school programs and it could be done in a few months.

(Whatever happened to the blue ribbon panel looking at our public school costs? Did they stop meeting after the last super left?)

Thanks for all you do. And thanks especially for keeping us informed about your thinking on decisions that will be made by the SC.

Ed said...

Will a school committee that does not have a parent of a middle schooler or a high schooler focus disproportionately on the elementary school

There are two inherent flaws in the premise which underlies this question.

First, that only those who have a child (and why stop at one, why not say only those that those who have two, three, or more children) currently in the specific school have the legitimate right to say what kind of schools we should have in this community.

And hence, second, only those who are major property owners in town (and thus paying the property tax) have the legitimate right to determine how the property tax revenues are spent.

The latter once was reality - there were property requirements for voting. (0h, you also had to be male and white and it goes without saying heterosexual.) And as a result of three successive waves of civil rights reforms, the vote of the single mother living in a Section 8 Apartment is considered the equal of Cindi Jones.

And the adults of the community (including a good number of the high school seniors should they be so inclined) have the legal right to determine what kind of schools we shall have in this community.

Regardless of their personal wealth.

Regardless of their family status.

God Bless America.

Ed said...

Six languages -- and I presume six different teachers to teach them -- strikes me as a bit much for the Middle School.

I know some COLLEGES that don't offer six languages, in fact I am not so certain that UMass still does....

Frustrated Parent said...

Will the representatives on the School Committee from Shutesbury, Pelham, and Leverett be allowed to vote for/against support of the override in Amherst? That doesn't seem appropriate to me!! They will not be stuck with the burden of those taxes nor be allowed to vote in the election, so I don't think they should be allowed to vote in the decision of the SC to support (or not) the override. Can you look into this for us? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

At this point, 3 of the 5 Amherst SC members have voted NOT to support the override - Catherine Sanderson, Steve Rivkin and Irv Rhodes. So, if I understand Ms. O'Keeffe's explanation correctly, without the support of the SC for the override, the schools will not be part of the override vote on March 23rd and will not receive any extra money if the override passes. So as of today, Frustrated Parent, you have nothing to worry about.

E.L. said...

If the schools are not included on March 23, will an override still be up for a vote? What is your position on an override that supports only town services?

Ed said...


Amherst appears not to be on the list. Interesting, isn't it.

Anonymous said...

I really don't care what US News thinks about te quality of schools. Why do we think they are the experts on quality schools in America. What is their criteria. I went to high school in CT - in this school you could be a math/science major, they have several science classes including AP Chem and AP Physiology, they have an art school (in a separate builing no less), they have a museum on campus - yes said campus as this school had several buildings, including a separate two story library. I could go on and on...and this school is not on the CT list of top schools.

So I submit to you that this list of "top schools" is not relevant to anything...and not at all interesting.

Anonymous said...

There has been a lot of conversation about high sped costs in our town and cutting those. Is there any data indicating that kids receiving sped services are getting adequate and effective services? Has there been any survey of families receiving these services or teachers whose students get them? We should make sure that these kids are getting what they need before cutting the services.

Gavin Andresen said...

Catherine, your arguments for delaying an override vote sound to my ears a lot like the arguments I heard from Marks Meadow parents who thought more time and study was needed before closing the school.

I didn't agree with the Marks Meadow parents then and I don't agree with you now.

Passing an override does not mean the money automatically gets spent. IF there is more money, and/or IF the School Committee decides that a restructuring can be done to save a lot of money then you have the power to recommend a smaller budget to Town Meeting.

And, of course, Town Meeting could vote a budget less than the School Committee recommends.

Rick said...

I agree with Gavin. And here is an email I sent to the SC yesterday:

I’d like to offer something that might help with your deliberation about what to say and do about the budget and override.

I think Kathleen said it the best last night: you are simply asking for more money (less of a cut), not deciding what to do with the money yet.

So let’s split up those two parts:

1. The money
2. What you do with the money

So #1 is simply this: would ARPS like $1.4 million (regional) more to work with in formulating its budget or not? I can’t understand why the answer to that would be “no” unless you believe there is $1.4 million in waste that can be cut. If there is such waste, it should be on the cut list; if there is something not on the list that should be, let’s put it on.

But we have been looking at these cut lists for 3-4 months now and I haven’t heard any SC member ask for something to be added. If there isn’t anything to be added, then by saying “no” you are saying that making all those cuts is OK (possibly not all, if the union does givebacks, but most).

Now if you think the $1.4 million in waste is in an area like SPED where it's just too hard to figure out a specific cut list before that study is done (but you believe there are cuts to be made there) I suggest this:

We don’t know how much that is yet, but when we do sometime in 2010, then start to use that money saved to ADD additional items to the schools such as the summer program, Pre-K, AP Chemistry, etc..

Then #2 is really about what I think Steve was saying:

If I understood him correctly, he doesn’t like the system whereby we simply list cuts of existing items, and assume that if more money is available that we restore those exact items. Perhaps he is saying we should be looking at replacing those restorations with different items.

If that is what Steve is saying, I get that. So why can’t you do that? I have also not heard anything suggested by the SC as items that would replace restored items (for example replace items in the yellow portion of the cuts).

I heard about the summer program (which I totally agree with) – is that an item that you think should replace some of the items in the yellow area?

This is not mutually exclusive. You can say you want more money to work with AND discuss how you would use that at the same time, can’t you?

You do not have much time at all to consider if you want more money, but you have a lot of time to decide how to use the money.

Anonymous said...

But Rick, nobody is going to vote to give more money if we don't know what it will be spent on.

Anonymous said...

When the override vote happens, there will have been a list promulgated of what town services will be funded by the override. I do not believe there are any guarantees that if the override passes the extra money will be spent on the listed town services. There just are no guarantees in life.

Disgusted with Political Squabbling said...

Rick, do you think it is right, though, for the Select Board to require the School Committee to publicly endorse and override before they will "allow money to go to the schools?" Isn't it the Select Board (with the Finance Committee) that is responsible for overseeing the overall budget situation for all areas of town (including the schools) and then deciding whether or not to ask the voters to pay more money in taxes? Has anything like this ever happened before? You were involved in the last override. Were members of the School Committee and Library Trustees forced to publicly say "we need an override--vote for an override" before being allowed to participate in any money that might come in from an override?

I think there is room for the voters to decide themselves. The voters may or may not agree with the Select Board or with the School Committee but why can't either or both groups just say "we agree that we should have an override question on the ballot to let voters decide?" That is what I am struggling with.

Curious observer said...

Rick, I sort of don't get it.

What if state aid is not cut, the teachers forgoe all or part of their salary increase and ARHS decides to increase class sizes to save electives, jazz band, etc.? Is an override for the schools needed this year?

What if the March SPED review shows SPED delivery can be reorganized to deliver services more effectively and cheaply?

If an override later turns out not to be needed, what will taxpayers think about having put the vote up in March?

If an override is needed for next year, there is still time to put it on a ballot later -- and make an effective case to voters.

Rick said...

”…nobody is going to vote to give more money if we don't know what it will be spent on…”

I would vote for an override if the SC says “here is a list of cuts (if we don’t have an override) and we don’t see any other ‘waste’ that can be added to this cuts list” and I look at that cut list and say “I don’t want those things to go away”. That is the position I find myself in.

”Rick, do you think it is right, though, for the Select Board to require the School Committee to publicly endorse and override before they will "allow money to go to the schools?"

No. If that is exactly what they are saying then it’s not right. However looking at it from the SB’s point of view, why would they ask taxpayers to consider an override if the SC is saying they don’t need the money?

I think the answer to that question is this: the SB can ask, even though the SC hasn’t said it wants the money yet. Here is why:

I see that via the BCG process there has been an effort to reach a consensus on what the right number is to put on the ballot (at the moment that hovers around $1.9 million). I get why the Select Board wants a firm answer from the SC on what they need, but I don’t actually thing they need that to put it on the ballot. Via the BCG process, it’s been presented what ARPS administration thinks its needs, and that’s good enough to come up with a number, because the BCG has a clear sense of what all departments think they need and what they have agreed to cut in the process.

Also, it’s not asking for an override that determines what ARPS spends – it’s the budget that the SC votes (and later that TM votes). There could be an override and then the SC could vote a budget that doesn’t use any override money, in which case the money goes into reserves (if the override passes). But that isn’t going to happen because if by March 23 the majority of the SC does not say they need override money, then it's not likely to pass.

I don’t understand why the SC thinks it doesn’t have enough info yet to make up its mind on this – I mean we have been looking at these cut lists for 3-4 months. There can only be two answers:

1. They are OK with cutting all that stuff.
2. They think there are other things that could be cut instead.

Which is it?

There is a third, which is they want to know more about what is happening with union givebacks and state aid, but that is kind of a mute point as notes from the BCG meeting say this:

“If additional unions agree to COLA concessions, thus decreasing the cost of the recommended restorations, that amount would be: a) deducted from the requested override amount, if the agreement occurs before the ballot language is finalized February 12th; or b) reflected in the budgets recommended to Town Meeting: we would recommend not taxing to the full levy limit authorized by the override, rather than seeking to spend the COLA savings on additional restorations.

If FY11 State Aid is more than projected, that difference would be reflected in the budgets recommended to Town Meeting: we would recommend not taxing to the full levy limit authorized by the override, rather than seeking to spend that additional State Aid on additional restorations.”


Rick said...

"If an override later turns out not to be needed, what will taxpayers think about having put the vote up in March?"

It will be recommended not to tax up the the override level. Also, even if it were, it goes into reserves. Reserves are a good thing.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

I am, as always when I post here, speaking only for myself, not as a Select Board member, since the Select Board's only power is as a Board, not as individuals.

The School Committee has decided (by virtue of not providing the schools override numbers to their BCG reps as they agreed to do throughout the BCG process), that an override is not needed for the Schools.

The School Committee may change their minds, of course, but they currently have a position that is no -- there is no "maybe" at this point in the process.

Going back to Northampton: if the Select Board proceeds with asking for an override for schools on March 23, but the School Committee has still not agreed that schools override money is needed, then there is no well-organized Northampton-style we're-all-in-this-together campaign to pass an override -- and it will fail.

And that's why I would be reluctant to see such a question on the March 23 ballot...2007's failed override had many aspects, but one of them was that all the boards -- the same boards represented on the BCG -- were not in support of the override.

Anonymous said...

Alisa, thanks for the summary. But don't be too sure a lower, town-needs only (i.e. police, fire, DPW, library) override wouldn't pass. In some ways, more people may be willing to vote for a smaller, town-department-specific override. Especially among the older voters without kids in the schools who do tend to be the ones who vote!

TomG said...

In the current environment of uncertain state aid, it may be that the SC and SB could reassess the budget schedule and reset the timing of when the override question is asked.

I think that's what CS figured out and posed to Stephanie. Stephanie may not be as fluent with the factors affecting the need for a school budget override and the timing of when that question will be answered by the state.

Is there room in the process to schedule the vote after the schools and the town have the fuller picture?

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Here are the factors I see:

1. The School Committee knew the schedule all along. There were no surprises or unfamiliarity with how things work. So no, this is not a matter of oops, we didn't understand that each and every year, at this time of year, we don't know the answer on local aid/Chapter 70/PILOT/circuit breaker/regional transportation, or for that matter on teacher give-backs (we've been told to wait for those before, too:-( -- yet everyone agreed that the BCG timeline was workable.

Until Tuesday night, less than a week before the deadline. So it's not the timeline that's the issue, it's the desire for certainty.

2. Town Meeting can appropriate subject to the passage of an override. Scheduling that override election would be challenging but not impossible -- although figuring out how to word the question far enough in advance of the election itself is still tricky.

3. Waiting doesn't necessarily give us more information. You've probably noticed Town Meeting action on the budgets being postponed in some years. Some years it truly is down to June 30 before we can feel really confident about what kind of package we can expect from the legislature, while other years there are clear signals; this year on a Friday Patrick said local aid and Chapter 70 were safe, on Saturday the House Ways & Means Chair said don't bet on it.

How does the pro/con column add up on March 23 vs. waiting is the question, with the acceptance that we may not have a full-enough picture until the end of June? Leaving us voting on the override at the very end of June or ? as long as it's done before September 15 (state law) -- not a lot of wiggle room given our voting populations ties to the academic calendar.

Rick said...

I just came from the BCG meeting (I left at half time) where they seem to be working it out OK. It’s not great that the SC did not meet the timeline, but there is still time for them to do so – a bit late – by finishing up their discussions on the their school committee meetings of Monday and Tuesday.

Although it would have been nice to wrap this up (e.g. override ballot language) at the SB meeting this Monday, February 6, I believe it can still be done on the February 12 SB meeting?

BTW there was no one wanting to change the date from March 23. There are all kinds of problems with that, including that the other towns don’t know what they have to do until we do.

Anonymous said...

I think that's its completely irresponsible on the part of Sanderson, Rhodes and Rivkin. The schools have been slowly bleeding out over the last 6 years. If they can not see the effects of these cuts over time then they shouldn't be on the school committee.

Anonymous said...

Not only is it irresponsible - I think its a breach of the fiduciary responsibility. Catherine's, Steve's and Irv's.

Anonymous said...

According to the data I found online, Amherst spends more than twice as much on Special Ed than other students, yet Special Ed students make up less than 15% of the overall population. At the SC meeting, parents and students alike begged that the band program not be cut, and the teacher position kept intact. Some of these kids may want to major in music in college or are looking for scholarships based on being well-rounded or have as a goal to be band teachers themselves. How is this fair?

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Four-Towns Meeting

Saturday, February 6, 2010
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Amherst Regional Middle School Library

Welcome and Introductions

Reports from Boston—Senator Stan Rosenberg (and Rep Story may attend, while Rep Kulik has a prior engagement)

Updated Revenue Assumptions and Budget Projections
State Funding
Use of E&D Funding
Use of School Choice Funding

Potential Cuts to Level Services in the FY2011 Budget

Assessments to Member Towns
FY2011 Scenarios
Projected Member Town Assessment % for FY11-16

Guidance from Member Towns
Assessments & Budget Support

Town Meeting Calendar
Warrant Articles Due Dates


Anonymous said...

"Amherst appears not to be on the list. Interesting, isn't it."


The only area hs on that list is Greenfield. As long as we're reading between the lines, as you asked us to do, what does it tell you whwen the only area hs is Gfield? That school system is suffering worse than most in these past few years. I know somneone who lost his job mid-year there last year.

If Greenfield made the list and no other hs did, that tells me a lot about the list.


Anonymous said...

If the Select Board thinks an override is needed for the schools, town and library, what stops them from voting next Monday to put an override on the ballot in March?

Is it sticking your neck out to vote what you think is right? Isn't that what the Select Board members said they would do when they ran for office?

Anonymous said...

I haven't read every post on this thread, so I don't know whether this has come up, but one consideration in thinking about delaying an override vote is the Select Board's reluctance to schedule ANY town vote at a time when students MAY not be here, or MAY not be able to participate fully.

As I recall, this kept the Select Board from scheduling an election even in September 2008 to fill Ms. Awad's seat on the Board. I suspect a similar objection could be made to scheduling an override vote during or near the college exam period in May. And, using this same line of thinking, June is clearly out.

Now I thought that this line of thinking served to compress the available periods for elections significantly, and I thought that the logic behind the decision to delay the election for the Awad vacancy beyond September was the top of a slippery slope. Here we are again.

I believe, that, if students care enough about town politics, they can find ways to be here to vote and to participate. But that's not the prevailing view right now.

Rich Morse

Ed said...

It isn't only Greenfield:

Hopkins Academy is Hadley's high school....


Anonymous said...

I'm comfortable with a Town's needs only override vote if it comes to that, and, for readers of this blog, this possibility should come as no surprise. It's been clear for some time that the schools are not perceived to have their fiscal house in order, at least in the opinion of several SC members and some voters. The Town should not pay the penalty for that.

I know that this will not go over well with Sanderson and Rivkin, but I think that they are suffering a wee bit from a lack of experience in the larger town government, including Town Meeting. There's actually some valuable experience to be derived from serving in Town Meeting. One of the insights from sitting in there hour after hour, year after year, is that all of the fiscal numbers are built on quicksand.

I cannot remember being more conflicted about the efforts by any two elected or appointed officials on behalf of all of us, than I have been with Catherine and Steve. I find both of them to be incredibly brave and, despite all the harrumphing and offense-taking directed at them, I see them as fighting for the idea that every child's education is crucial. They have made School Committee a fascinating thing to watch, and the number of candidates for openings there reflects that.

But, in this override situation, I listened to Stephanie O'Keeffe the other night and agree that the delay talk is "making the perfect the enemy of the good." And this is one occasion when I find Alisa Brewer acting in her continuing self-appointed role as Town Scold (also Rebuker-in-Chief) to be spot-on.

So I find myself signing on in agreement with Gavin Andresen and Rick Hood on this limited issue of Rivkin and Sanderson's Hamlet-like posture on the override. The benefits of delay for an override vote, at least within the spring of '10, seem to me to be completely illusory. And touche' to Gavin for making the Mark's Meadow comparison.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Fine to ask the big questions, which CS and SR are doing, but in the meantime my kids at the high school are watching their opportunities vanish. PLEASE get behind the override! It's excruciating watching this school implode.

Anonymous said...

What about opportunities to get our kids out of the mandatory study halls? Why don't I see that on the list of things we would get if we supported an override that would send $1.4million to our schools??

Anonymous said...

4:13PM Maybe you don't realize this in all the silly rhetoric and misinformation about the trimester system- but the reason there are mandatory study halls is because the HS budget has been bleeding a slow death. If you don't want study halls then fund the schools the way they need to be funded.

Anonymous said...

Rich- I think your potshot at Alissa Brewer is really not worthy of you. Sorry if that makes me a rebuker or scold too.

tired taxpayer said...

Rich, so it's numbers built on quicksand then -- and a override vote? Led by the merry pranksters -- I mean elected officials and self-appointed citizens who start the annual late winter panic, misinformation and changeable numbers among parents and students alike. Maybe it's time for something else.

curious observer said...

I think people misinterpret much of what Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin are saying and doing, partly because people aren't paying enough attention. Also many watchers keep looking for some nefarious, white elitist, self-serving motivations hidden behind their words.

What I see is remarkable consistency in their positions. At their most basic level, they are logical thinkers not motivated by ideologies. They are interested in what works.

If you read Catherine Sanderson's blog post today much of what she suggests will not help her own children, nor will it help Steve Rivkin's.

They are interested in preschool for disadvantaged kids, small class size K to 4, more music and foreign language in elementary school. Because research shows that this helps children academically. To save the electives and high school music program, Sanderson suggests increasing class sizes in core academic classes -- because research shows that class size at this age is less important. Quality teaching is always important. Improved, richer curriculum will lead to better educated kids so Sanderson and Rivkin want these materials in our classrooms. Sanderson thinks many more 8th graders can learn and excell at algebra because kids at other schools do.

Rivkin and Sanderson both are interested in making decisions based on real numbers, accurate information and hard assessments of programs and practices Amherst schools have used for years.

They want answers from a system that gives answers relunctantly and confusingly. This was underscored by a parent's recent question asking why we are never shown in detail what's in the budget -- only cuts.

If Rivkin and Sanderson are not ready to support an override, maybe they have something important to say to us.

And with five young children in Amherst schools, they certainly have a lot at stake.

You may not agree with everything or anything they say -- but they keep tell us what they think and why they think it. Openly and clearly. They have passion and zeal -- and they have dedicated their lives to education.

Anonymous said...

To 5:18 - Consider that it's possible to be right (CS and SR ask good questions and press for answers) and wrong (it's folly to deny that years of cuts haven't hurt the upper schools, unless you haven't paid attention) - all at the same time.

Nina Koch said...

we don't need to wait until May to know about what we have already lost: things like MCAS tutorials, clubs, PE for students in grades 10-12, elective opportunities...

For example, lots of kids want to take photography in high school. Shouldn't they have a chance to do that? We've already lost an art teacher this year. Students have less of a chance getting into a course that could potentially be an area of passion for them. I don't want them to be told "Oh it's not so bad."

Even under the rosiest revenue picture, like say the state actually increases state aid, we would still need the override just to bring things back that are gone this year. For example, we could go from offering 13 blocks to 14 blocks and reduce the need for study halls. But we are not likely to be in a position to do that.

I don't understand how there is some scenario under which the override is not needed. Unless one of our wealthy alums donates $100 million.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

There is a lot to respond to here ... and so I'm not going to go through 45 posts individually and react, but I've read them all. And here is my reaction:

1. It is very, very easy as a parent to be pro-override. I get that, and I can see many parents who believe that is the only right way to go. As an elected official who is charged with overseeing the schools' budgets, I'm in a bit of a different situation, and my view on the override isn't driven by my "parent hat" - it is driven by my "responsible elected official hat". As I said in this post, I will support an override when I believe that the needed expenses for our schools for next year are greater than our revenues. That's it.

2. I think the Marks Meadow comparison is very apt, though in a different way -- I believe last year many people said "you are on the SC, how can you be voting to close a school." And I felt that voting to close a school was the right way to go to preserve education in Amherst (and I still believe this was the right decision). It was not an easy decision, nor was it a decision that I made lightly. And I'm not going to decide to support an override without feeling confident that this is the right way to go. Maybe other people are a whole lot smarter than I am -- and they can reach this decision faster than I can, or based on less information. But I can't.

One more thing about Marks Meadow -- the delay that people wanted then would have CONSEQUENCES (e.g., we couldn't have gotten reserves from the Finance Committee unless we have a vote prior to July 1st). There is absolutely no consequence to having an override vote in March versus May -- we saw last year in Northampton that an override passed in June. The only possible consequence is that a delay in the vote would INCREASE the likelihood of it passing!

3. A number of people have said "our schools are decimated" -- and I don't actually know that that is true. The total number of funds needed to FULLY fund everything at the elementary level is less than $200,000. That money could completely come in ways other than an override (teacher give-backs, more state aid). The total number of funds needed to FULLY fund the MS/HS budget is 1.4 million --of which 1.1 is Amherst's share. But if the governor full funds Chapter 70, that drops, and if there are teacher give-backs, that drops, and so on. There are also expenses in that list that I don't necessarily support -- do we need Russian and German in 7th grade? Do we need class sizes smaller in MS than we have in 5th and 6th grade? I'm not sure -- and again, I can't go to the voters (or the SB) with a number "give me this amount" until I'm convinced that we really, really need this amount. These are hard times for a lot of people financially, and I have to take asking people for more money very seriously.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

4. An override that fails on March 23rd does NOT help anyone. And I can't think of literally one person who would vote for an override in March that wouldn't support one in May. But I sure can think of people who are NOT going to support on in March (too early, not enough information) but very well COULD support one in May as more information comes available (e.g., what is the REAL state aid number?). I don't see what people lose by waiting.

5. I do think reasonable, thoughtful people are doubting whether to support an override, because there are still lingering questions about how our schools in particular spend money. We have a great committee (chaired by Alison Donta) now looking into these issues of how we spend money in Amherst, and I think the answers to these questions will be very informative. But we sure aren't going to have those answers in a week!

6. Finally, I guess ultimately I don't feel comfortable saying to voters "we definitely need an override of X amount, so please support it, and we'll get back to you later on in terms of how we are going to spend this money." This process feels bad to me -- because I think asking people to pay more taxes should include an explicit promise of how exactly those funds will be used, and thus voters can decide accordingly. I don't know (a) how much money we need, or (b) what is will be used for -- so again, I don't see how I can endorse an override right now.

Please note -- this does not mean I won't support an override later this spring, or next year, or at some point. It just means my threshold for supporting an override is pretty high.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

One more thing:

Rick -- let me be very, very clear -- no one on the SC is saying "we don't need these things" or "we don't need any money." What I am saying (NOT speaking for others) is that (a) I don't yet know which things we need (e.g., how small/big should classes be? should we have Russian/German?), or (b) how much revenue are we doing to get in ways OTHER than an override? Those are two really, really, really important questions for me, and I don't think it is fair for you, or the SB, or others to interpret my statement of "I need more time to answer these questions" as "apparently Catherine doesn't think we need these things or more money." As I said repeatedly on Tuesday night, I'm totally comfortable putting an override on the ballot on March 23rd and letting voters decide -- but as an elected official, I think I'm not in a position to speak to whether I will support an override since I don't have the answers to (a) or (b). And that is why I wish the SB would give us the time we need to really think through these questions (and learn more about state aid) and delay an override ballot -- which would still be in PLENTY of time to keep all the things we need in next year's budget (and increase the likelihood that voters would support it).

Ed said...

Nina, you have got to add two things.

First, you - a teacher in the district - are operating under the precept that teachers should be paid more money for less work. I take the converse - teachers should be paid less for doing more.

Times are tough all around and you need to realize that the era of the blank check is over. OVER.

Second, you fail to understand the difference between maximum possible educational benefit and reasonable educational benefit.

Look at it this way -- the best way to teach drivers' education would be to have the student total a half dozen cars so that he/she/it doesn't panic in an actual accident. However, wrecking cars gets expensive so that we don't do this.

We could hire a private tutor for each student - but why stop there - we could hire a half dozen. It would get really expensive, but we could do it.

And the point is thus that there is a finite limit on what we can spend for education. Finite....

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:32:

I know that whenever anyone criticizes the Amherst Center coalition including Alisa Brewer, they are subject to disapproval from the anonymous peanut gallery. The leaders of the coalition, on the other hand, are constantly instructing the rest of us, including Ms. Sanderson, about how to behave, what tone to use, and what to think.

As an observer of Ms. Brewer and her role in town for many years, I believe that Town Scold is appropriate. (Rebuker-in-Chief, by the way, is not my coinage, so I'm not alone.) We each have our respective political styles, and this is hers. It's viscerally terrific when she chews someone out and you agree with her, not so pleasant when you don't. She's a big fan of candor, as long as it's her own.

But don't worry, she tends to get a pass on this. She's enormously popular. She works very hard. I usually agree with her. She will easily survive any perceived slight from little old me.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Keeping services for next year level with this year still means at a much reduced level than 5 years ago and that is what gets lost in this conversation in my opinion.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:32 - well, it isn't really clear that this is true -- class sizes in social studies, math, and science at the HS are smaller now than they were in 2003-2004. We now have two study halls, but even right now, for the same money, kids would have just one study hall if the teachers had voted to go to a semester system. I believe there have been changes in the schools over time, but we have to be honest about what those changes were (and were not). And being honest helps give voters a sense of trust that they are indeed hearing the truth (for better or for worse) and not simply hearing "the sky is falling."

Anonymous said...

Catherine- before budget cuts started in earnest- there were NO mandated study halls under the trimester system so students were able take all of their core classes and electives. That's being honest. Before budget cuts, there was 7th grade art, more music at all levels of the system. That's being honest. Before budget cuts, the ARMS pool was open more than 3 months out of the year, and available to the community at large. That's being honest. I could go on but I think you get the point.

Anonymous said...

It is my understanding that our schools choose not to be included in those lists/rankings, for the reason that they are too dry cut, and cannot possibly evaluate the true "quality" of a school.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:45 - I'd like to have a real sense of how our schools "used to be" and also how our current schools compare to other schools. So, you say that before the recent budget cuts, there were no study halls - -and that's definitely true. But if the teachers went to semesters AND we added $280,000 to the budget, there would be NO study halls. Those are additions I would absolutely support -- but they aren't on the "add" list even if an override occurs. That is precisely the type of thing that I think the SC should discuss -- what's the budget number that gets us back to ZERO study halls -- maybe that's an override amount that the community would support. In terms of art/music -- Mike Hayes (senior assistant principal) has proposed that music goes to EVERY DAY next year, and this is protected even without an override right now (that is my recollection). That is the same level of music that has been at the MS prior to this year and an increase in music compared to this year. However, the issue of art is tricky, because there is a limited amount of time per day -- that strikes me as the limiting factor more than money (e.g., there are 7 periods a day, and that is for most students 5 academic classes, plus music, plus an exploratory). And although we could go to 8 periods a day, that means LESS time in academic class, which is not the recommendation of the administration (regardless of budget) -- more money doesn't get us a longer school day. There is now instrumental music in 4th and 5th at the elementary school -- that is a one year delay from what previously occurred. But again, there is NO proposal to start instrumental music a year earlier EVEN if an override passes. That is being honest -- and all of these points raise to me the need for MORE time to discuss what types of additions to both budgets we'd like to see if there were additional funds through an override -- which we need more time to ponder, yes?

Anonymous said...

There are so many interesting things going on at once, it's dizzying:

1) We have a Select Board and a School Committee both struggling with the question of just what is effective oversight. The School Committee seems to be having a harder time with this than Select Board, and therefore the former is where the action is these days.

2) We have a School Committee in which several members seem to be visibly attempting to balance their responsibilities to taxpayers with their obligations to children. And they're getting hammered for it.

3) We clearly have an override process that was a train that left the station without all the important passengers on board. The Library Trustees and 3 School Committee members seem to be very unsure whether this train ride is one they and the rest of us should be taking. The early lack of consensus among the elected looks ominous for March.

4) We seem to have a split on School Committee between reformers and revolutionaries with Mr. Rhodes casting the deciding vote. The long-term issues that create that split have now gotten mixed up with the short-term issues around the timing and allocation of an override. The split on SC and Regional SC gets down to questions about just what is the ultimate reality inside the schools: are we OK or not? The level of disagreement about that reality plays out on this blog.

5) In the face of considerable controversy both in SC and in BCG, the public has responded this past month by staying away in spectacular fashion from candidacies for town-wide office and Town Meeting. Nobody really knows what it means. I'm fairly sure that the chief effect of the Age of Awad was that too much has been placed on the Select Board plate and the job has become unworkable as a volunteer commitment. And utterly thankless. Perhaps we have wised up about the basic powerlessness of the Select Board. At the same time, the enthusiasm for Town Meeting, perhaps artifically boosted for a bit by the Charter fight, has waned completely: only 63 candidates for 80 open 3-year seats, a devastatingly limp response to the offer of political power in exchange for one nominating signature.

5) We have a Select Board Chair who has tried to wrestle the override process to the ground, thereby trying to act as the de facto Mayor of Amherst, in a municipal system that is designed to negate leadership and forestall consensus until the last possible moment. There's only so much she can do. The lack of a full-time Mayor continues to croak us.

6) We have one Select Board member, Alisa Brewer, running unopposed for her at least third consecutive term in elective office. If you look at the track record of stalwarts doing third or more consecutive terms, it's not a pretty picture. People wear down and stagger across the finish line, or drop out early.

7) The once traditional and reflexive support of the elderly for public education in Amherst has been replaced by a profound disconnect. The kids don't get it and the elderly distrust what's going on in the schools. This disconnect was epitomized by the lone gentleman with the cane preaching against the choir bravely at the Regional SC meeting the other night, looking like King Lear as he deconstructed the financial plight of older residents for the benefit of the eloquent "yutes" in the room.

It hasn't been this interesting for awhile, and, as usual, it's hard to tell just what's actually at stake. We have been listening to the language of crisis for so long now, and I think many people are numb.

Rich Morse

Meg Rosa said...

I have not posted on here recently as I have been over whelming frustrated by the schools recently. Catherine, you brought up exit surveys in your post so I figured I would speak to that, even if briefly. As I am fairly sure you have read on FB, I am withdrawing my oldest son from the Middle School this week. He is a "SPED" child. He has several services at the MS, including a pull out English class, as well as 2 other classes to give him some extra help with a lot of individualized attention.

I can tell you all, with great certainty, that these budgets cuts we are currently dealing with, we are NOT serving our students. The teachers, at least at the MS, have much higher case loads this year, and from my stand point, many kids are falling through the cracks, and the cracks are turning into very wide gaping holes. I feel that the teachers are doing the best that they can, but for many students, like my son, that is just not enough.

I am withdrawing him and we will be home schooling for the balance of this year. I can tell you all right now, that there is no way I will re-enroll him in our Middle School next year with the kind of cuts that we will be facing at the Regional level. There is no way I will put him into a school where the Professional level jobs will be handed over to Paras. That the teachers end up with even more students to teach than they have this year.

The school is hurting now. Severely. We need to pass an override to stop the bleeding, before we cut too much. As a parent of an in coming 6th grader, I would be very worried if we do not pass an override this year, to at least lessen the cuts the Middle School will face. All children are hurting from these cuts. They have cut to the bone and they are about to go thru it.

I know everyone has different opinions about these issues, but I can tell you right now, SPED kids are losing out just as much as everyone else, if not more so, because they fall first. This is a VERY scary time in our schools. We have already gone too far, and now we need to try to make it right, or at least try to control the bleeding.

Meg Rosa said...

I will add this as well. I know of families who are withdrawing their children to home school them because they are not getting challenged enough in school. This is also on my list of considerations for my middle child, although this is not nearly as urgent as my oldest son's issues.

There is a lot going on in our schools that is making many families consider this option. I have also talked to many people, who because of work, can not use this option and feel "stuck" with what they can get from our schools and just hope for the best, supplement at home and hope it's enough. There are just so many families fed up and completely frustrated with where we are right now, I wouldn't be surprised if they all got together and decided to create their own school...

I will say it again, ALL children will be hurting if this continues next year. The override won't stop the cuts, but it will lessen them. We need to pass an override and fight to make sure it is spent correctly. Our schools need our help now, before it gets any worse.

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

A boring post in multiple parts (because it was too long for one)

Hmmmm. From my perspective, this looks a little different.

Last year’s budget philosophy was: identify the core, pare down to the core and protect it going forward. We talked about this at SB, we talked about it at BCG, and we’ve continued to talk about it throughout this year’s budget process.

All involved in last year’s budget coordinating process agreed that as this was the year we expected to need an override, so we wanted to plan early. BCG first met for to work on FY11 plans in September. One of the things we decided that day was to jointly identify summary points at the end of each meeting to take back to our home committees – this would ensure that BCG information was being consistently shared among all the bodies. It would help to keep everybody on the same page – if the home committees had issues or concerns, they could be shared with their reps, brought back to BCG, and addressed.

Seemed like a good idea. Every home committee would have the same report of exactly what BCG was doing every step of the way.

Also at that September meeting, all the reps agreed to coordinate and accelerate their individual budget calendars to work toward making an override recommendation to the SB in time for ballot language to be created for the March 23rd election date. That, and every subsequent step we took toward that goal was specified in the summary points. Select Board has become comparatively boring of late, so perhaps no one watches anymore, but if they did, then they would know that SB meetings have a BCG update on the agenda after every BCG meeting, and those summary points are always read or summarized and discussed. Other SB members ask questions and give feedback. I even get complaints that we talk too much about BCG.

I now realize that this was not necessarily how the other boards were dealing with BCG summary points. Live and learn.

BCG decided that the most credible and valid way to determine an override amount was to base it on what the cost would be of the specific items that would be saved or lost with those dollars. We rejected the idea of simply choosing a number that seemed like it could reasonably be “sold” to the taxpayers – we wanted it to be real. To ask people for more of their money in this economy is not something you do lightly: we wanted to be able to determine a true cost for what we believed to be a true need, and then let the voters decide.

Budgets are created annually based on Finance Committee guidelines, offered in early November. These guidelines took into account the needs of the BCG, and our desire to get prioritized cut lists from each budgeting entity, at different levels of revenue estimation. The idea of the prioritized lists was to have each budget entity identify its priorities, to see what order programs would be restored in with better revenue – be it improved State Aid, an override, etc. Additionally, whereas in the past the budget shortfall has been divided proportionally among the different budgets (with Town, Schools and Libraries receiving the same “share” of the shortfall as each receives of the budget,) BCG was going to look at what we felt were the greatest needs of the community as a whole, instead of simply defending the proportional “turf” of our own budgets. So in considering what would be “saved” through an override, we wanted to look at the lists so we could say , “You know what, we are worse off as a community to lose THIS from the Schools, than to lose THIS and THIS from Town Hall, so we would recommend moving these ‘Town’ dollars to the Schools” (or from the Schools to the Library, or whatever) if we received additional revenue from an override.

(continued below...)

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

(part 2)

This has long been discussed in Town-wide budgeting – dividing the budget pie based on priority rather than traditional proportion. Among the reasons this has never worked in an organized fashion (though there have been some concessions by one budget to help another in the past, for sure) is that the budgets are never in the same stage at the same time – each process and calendar is completely different. The shared goal of creating prioritized lists to be restored with an override gave us that possibility on a small scale. It showed a great willingness to cooperate and collaborate across budgets, and it took a lot of work by the Schools and the Libraries to get their processes to the point where that would be possible, because that necessitated preparing their info much sooner than usual.

But the shared goal was preparation for an override, so the incentive was great.

Mid January was the due date for meeting the Finance Committee guidelines. Mid February is the deadline for ballot language for the March 23rd election. BCG couldn’t create the override recommendations until it had the prioritized cut lists, so we knew we needed to compress a lot of work into a few short weeks. In early December we created a timeline to chart our course. It involved incredible work by all involved to meet those deadlines and adhere to that schedule. Tremendous collaboration across the Town, Schools and Libraries. We decided that the January and February BCG meetings would be so important, that we would arrange to have them taped by ACTV.

Every detail of this plan and the timeline is in the summary points. Every summary points document opens with: “At our (date) meeting, the members of the Budget Coordinating Group agreed that the following points would be conveyed to our home boards and committees:” And the summary points documents are posted multiple places on the Town web site, so the public can access them too.

It’s been a whirlwind last couple of weeks as we received presentations of these lists from the budget administrators, and worked to create recommendations based on the actual dollar cost of actual prioritized programs and services.

A couple of interesting things happened along the way.

(continued below)

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

(part 3)

When the Governor announced his plan to hold local aid and Chapter 70 (education funding) money level to FY10 figures, that was a big difference from the 10% decrease we were projecting. At this point, level funding those items seems incredibly unlikely -- the State faces a $3 billion dollar deficit, so for local aid and Ch. 70 to be held level would require massive cuts elsewhere. The House and Senate will weigh in on the Governor’s budget with their own proposals, and all signs point to less aid than he promises but more than we had originally projected. We are now using a 5% decrease from FY10 levels as the estimate, and that is based on input from people on Beacon Hill.

Reducing our projected State Aid cut from 10% to 5% restored a little more than a million dollars to the budget, allowing restorations of the highest priorities for the Town, Schools and Libraries. That also meant that the remaining highest priority restorations cost a lot less. So as an example, if there had been $3 million in priority restorations before, and $1 million worth was restored based on this development, the remaining priorities could all be funded for $2 million. That’s a pretty reasonable number. In fact, $1.9 million covered all the remaining restorations requested by the Town Manager, the School Superintendent, and the Library reps. That number was so reasonable – working out to less than $300 per year for the average assessed-value household in Amherst -- that BCG didn’t bother to recommend trading from one budget to another – we felt like all the requested restorations made for a reasonable upper limit.

Another interesting thing: It turned out that all the budgets weren’t in exactly the same place. They all had prioritized lists, but they had not necessarily been endorsed by their home committees yet: the schools were still working on identifying their priorities and putting them in order. The Libraries had an endorsed prioritized list, but didn’t necessarily think the restorations should come from an override. The Schools too were expressing concern and surprise about an override.

BCG didn’t want to derail this process at the 11th hour. We were and still are willing to be totally flexible about how we determine the amount and wording of the ballot recommendation. While it had seemed like totaling up a specific list of services to determine the cost of restoring them was a good concept, it didn’t have to be exact. The schools could use the total of the recommendations from the Superintendent and reprioritize it however they saw fit – it was clear that they still needed to have a lot of discussion about those, and that’s fine. We thought they would be ready for this step by now, but they weren’t – no problem, this process is new to all of us, and we can adapt as necessary.

But suddenly there was a concern about this murmur of “not supporting an override.”

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

(part 4 - done, I promise!)

BCG is supposed to make a recommendation to the Select Board, and the Select Board is supposed to then ask voters for additional tax money to staunch the cuts that have been happening year after year across all the budgets. People we hear from are particularly concerned about the ability of the schools to maintain their quality with such continuous reduction of resources. And now, BCG was hearing that the School Committees didn’t necessarily support this.

How were we (BCG and then SB) supposed to ask for money on behalf of bodies that didn’t support our doing that?

I tried to make that point at Tuesday’s SC meeting. I also tried to make the point that I wasn’t asking the committee to support the override in general (though, as I said, I hoped it ultimately would, in the spirit of the joint financial planning and Town-wide collaboration that went into creating it) but only to give an unambiguous vote of support for “us” to be asking for this money for “you.” I’m not sure why this is being interpreted as a pressure tactic; to me, it seems like a practicality.

Our processes weren’t quite as aligned as I had thought, and our communication wasn’t quite as thorough as I had thought, but that’s OK. This was new for all of us, and has been incredibly valuable in so many ways, not the least of which is lessons learned for the future. And I haven’t given up hope yet. If the School Committee could appreciate that there was NO sense of trying to undermine its process (quite the contrary – we believed we were all part of a larger shared process,) and that any sense of taking you by surprise is a total surprise to us as we tried so hard to ensure that you were informed at every step of the way, then I hope we can still put together a successful override recommendation over the next week.

If we can’t, then we can’t and we’ll move on. But I hope we won’t miss this opportunity. To many, the need is clear. We’re so close, but we’ll see.

Catherine, thank you for all you’re doing to ask tough questions and find good answers. None of this is easy, huh?

Apologies for an unbelievably long and dull comment.

-- Stephanie O'Keeffe

Concerned Taxpayer said...

Stephanie, as a taxpayer, I am a little concerned that the whole budget process this year began with "we will need an override." If you start out with that directive to all the boards, it sets up a charged atmosphere. For example, the library. The recently got an unexpected bequest for a large sum of money. If the library was not anticipating an override (as they had apparently been directed to), they might have immediately plugged a modest $8K from that bequest into the FY11 budget to keep the library open on Friday afternoons. Instead, in anticipation of an override, they are now threatening the public with closing on Friday afternoons unless we cough up more cash in the form of an override.

I feel as if starting the planning process with thinking "we are going to need an override" is irresponsible. As if I knew that my family could only afford a $200K house but decided to buy a $400K house with the thinking "oh, my parents will just make up the difference."

The FCC report suggested that an override would probably be needed in the next FIVE years, after the core budget for all areas had been reached and all attempts to increase revenue had been explored. I have not seen that happen, no matter what you might claim. They also recommended a MENU override which I also haven't seen. You like to say the FCC recommended an override but conveniently forget the rest of their recommendations.

Grateful to Meg Rosa said...

worth repeating from 12:11


Thank you Meg Rosa for your wise words ("fight to make sure it gets spent correctly") and for sharing your personal and heart wrenching experience.

Ed said...

It is my understanding that our schools choose not to be included in those lists/rankings, for the reason that they are too dry cut, and cannot possibly evaluate the true "quality" of a school

As one who has had countless students attempting to explain how "unfair" his grading process was, all I can say is that claiming that an evaluative process is not able to evaluate "true 'quality'" is an attempt to conceal deficits.

For example, it isn't a spelling error, it is "an issue of creative expression." Wrong. The spelling is in error, it is wrong, and I still grade with red pens. (I always write something positive abut the student's work - sometimes being truly challenged to find something - but there is always something positive too there in the red ink.)

The UN&WR evaluative process likely has flaws - all evaluative processes do and it is called "variance." But the error is going to harm all schools equally -- if a scale is off by 50lbs, it is off by 50lbs for everyone...

And am I the only one who noticed that many of the comparison districts that Catherine (and others) tend to mention were ON the UN&WR list of excellent schools, as was the neighboring municipality's high school (Hopkins Academy, a 3-Century-old historical abnormality, but that IS the Hadley High School).

This is like asking how the number of situps a police cadet can do is relevant to police work. (You don't catch a whole lot of criminals doing situps.) But it is an effective means to objectively measure physical fitness and is a legitimate one, the officer able to do more situps has a better chance of being able to wrestle the knife away from the perp (and thus not have to shoot her).

Even if the UNWR methodology is flawed, it still is -- like counting situps -- an objective means of evaluation. And the police officer who refuses to participate claiming that it doesn't demonstrate the officer's "real" qualities - well you gotta wonder if it is more that the officer isn't going to do well on the score....

I mean, like, why bother with accreditation, either? Why not just declare divinity and say that 'we are the best' and be done with it???

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

Thank you for the questions, Concerned Taxpayer.

Per starting the year with knowing we would need an override: As stated, last year’s budget philosophy was to identify the core, cut to the core, and protect that core going forward. With projections of a budget shortfall of more than $4M, we would need an override if we didn’t want to lose any more vital services. If we are willing to endure further massive cuts to what we provide as a town, then we don’t need an override. That’s not a budget directive, it’s an either-or reality.

As it is, we are still proposing more than $2M in cuts, and restorations with an override of less than $2 million, should the override question proceed.

Per the FCCC stuff: Just as the FCCC was finishing its work, the economy nosedived. By necessity, we have fast-forwarded implementation of all of their recommendations (many of which were already being pursued.) They said an override would probably be needed within five years. I think they were right, and I think that time is now.

We don’t all agree on what defines the core. Not within a single board, and certainly not across the whole citizenry. How could we really expect to? Where we are now is the best approximation of how to meet the most needs and desires of the Town as a whole, as efficiently as possible. And we continue to refine and improve that. There is no doubt that we are a leaner and more tightly-managed organization as a result of the changes necessitated by budget cuts the last few years. But beware of the point of diminishing returns. We’ve lost a lot. Can we keep losing at this pace and maintain the town we love?

Per the menu override: FCCC said it should be considered. It is being considered. There wasn’t much support voiced for that at BCG yesterday. “Letting the voters decide” is one way to look at it. Another way is that presenting a single question gives the community an opportunity to come together to support all of its services, instead of pitting one against another. We have been working jointly to address needs town-wide, so why not present a town-wide solution? Anyway, that conversation continues.

-- Stephanie O'Keeffe

E.L. said...

In response to Meg Rosa's post: Thank you for sharing your personal experiences in the middle school and your decision to home school your son. I think you make an interesting point since your strong support for an override is despite - or because of - your experience.
I think Ms. Rosa's call for supporting an override and fighting to see that it is spent wisely shows how support for an override can also be an example of citizen responsibility and taxpayer vigilance.

Anonymous said...

I commend Catherine for spelling out exactly the reasons (which I had not articulated to myself) why I am not ready to vote for an override. I do feel that the many emails I receive from well-meaning friends asking me to support the override were appealing to mass hysteria without clear numbers.

I too have looked at the proposed elementary school cuts (worse case scenario) - and they look sad, but well thought out to me. Also we heard about the terrible cuts to the bone last year -and I can't see any of the "carnage" in the schools this year, except that instrumental music starts one year later (4th instead of 3rd).

I would vote "yes" on override if I could 1) see a transparent budget from the schools and 2) see a menu of options to add back that goes beyond "here's what was cut and will be replaced if money is found" For example, I would support less study hall in the highschool, 4 languages in the middle school instead of 6 - pretty much everything Catherine researches and puts out there as possibilities.

Catherine - you are the first person I've elected who I feel is a true representative for me and my beliefs. Democracy at its best. I realize she is not everyone's choice - but she sure is mine. But everyone can say, regardless of whether you agree with her decisions or not, is that she works HARD for the SC. Thank you for everything you do for the kids (and their families) and for everything you've gone through.

Rick said...

In Catherine’s response to me above she said:

”What I am saying (NOT speaking for others) is that (a) I don't yet know which things we need (e.g., how small/big should classes be? should we have Russian/German?), or (b) how much revenue are we doing to get in ways OTHER than an override?”

Point (a) is really not about the amount of money but about where it is spent – which cuts should be “above the line” and which should not. That is a discussion that can take place from now until the budget is voted on.

For point (b), there are only two other sources of money: union givebacks and state aid changes. But those items were covered by the BCG language I mentioned. With that language in place, there is no way Town Meeting is going to vote to tax to the increased levy limit if an override passes and union givebacks and/or increases in state aid occurs.

Rick said...

I’d like to make what I think is a logical argument as to why the SC can support an override, yet not be locked into supporting higher taxes.

Passing an override simply means that the town is allowed to – but not obligated to – tax above the Prop 2.5 limit. What determines whether it does or not are the budgets that each department approves and is approved by Town Meeting. The SC has the power to control that by voting their budget. TM also has power to control that, and as mentioned above there is no way they are going to approve a budget that goes to the full levy limit if favorable things happen with the union and/or state aid.

So by voting to approve an override, all you are saying is that you would like that tool to be in your toolbox as you move forward to a final budget. You do not have to use the tool if you don't want to - or you could use part of the tool.

Rich Morse or others with more town government experience help me out here – am I wrong about this?

Anonymous said...

Rick - I will only vote for override if it supports those items I want to be "added" or "added back" to the school budget so I DO need to know what they are. If they are merely the items that have been cut, then I would vote "NO"

Given the absence of a list (of what would be added or added back), I would vote "NO" right now - which is what I think the SC is worried about -- that the override fails because of lack of information on how increased taxpayers' money will be spent.

And what if, for example, that the override passes and there is no increased transparency in the budget (meaning that any ordinary citizen will be able to look at the budget and understand why Amherst spends more per pupil and seemingly provides less to students.) Since I have no "control" over getting the schools to show a more transparent budget, the only voice I have to vote "NO" on the override UNLESS the data is shown in a satisfactory manner.

Alisa V. Brewer said...

Re: menu/detailed overrides -- please see my post over on Larry Kelley's

Anonymous said...

Amherst appears to be headed in an "every person for themselves" place. ie, folks will vote for an override if they approve of what items the school will spend the money on. ie, if it benefits their kid, they are ok with it...if their kid gets no benefit of the extra tax dollars then they will vote no. What a sad state of affairs.

My take on all of this is that the town should not have an override vote in March - I am sure it will fail. There are too many folks with a VERY negative view of the schools right now. The schools have been under constant, daily attack for well over a year now...almost two years. With the constant attacks, I would hazard a guess that there are very few people who will vote for an override. And the schools will continue to deteriate (sp?) until they are bt a shadow of their former selves.

I like Meg's idea of starting a new school.

Anonymous said...

Rick, please be realistic! If the town votes and override and thus the money is available, do you think the School Committee (or Library or Larry Shaffer) is going to say, "we don't really need it...let's just work with what we have?" I don't think so either. If we vote the override, they will tax us and take the money. Even if state aid increases (which I doubt it will). And if the town votes and override, what incentive does the teacher's union have to give back some of its raises? None, that's what! So please don't vote for an override hoping it will not be used! That is not realistic. If you can afford to pay the extra taxes and are comfortable with the way these extra taxes will be spent, then vote for an override. If you cannot afford it and/ or are not comfortable with how it will be spent, do not vote for it. Once an override is voted, all work on finding cuts will come to a grinding halt.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:48

You are a breath of fresh air. You have obviously ventured forth into the real world at some time in your life. You have my vote!

Anonymous said...

But says Mr. Rodriguez, "We will come up with something that everyone dislikes," eliciting the first chuckles of the meeting.

It would be funny if the subject of educating our children wasn't so serious. Remarks like that are shades of George W. Bush.

Rick said...

Clearly logical argument doesn’t seem to have a place here. Sideways answers that talk about town and library budgets when I am taking about the school budget just avoids logical and productive discussion. Of course the town and library will take the money because they said they need it. The SC has not yet said they need it.

Yes I do think the SC should and would do what I said if that were that the case (union givebacks and/or state aid increase). If I get elected to SC that’s what I will do.

Anonymous said...

And speaking of "serious", let's throw in the subject of the Amherst citizen on fixed income. Come on A-Rod!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I'm actually out of town at a conference right now, so my email access has been limited. But I have read all these comments and again want to share a few thoughts:

1. I really, really appreciate the respectful tone on this blog and these posts (by anonymous and named people). These are hard issues and I think lots of people who care about the schools and town are struggling with big and important questions. I get VERY concerned when I hear things like "those who don't support an override don't care about the schools" or "those who do support an override are reacting to mass hysteria" -- because I think people on BOTH sides of the override issue (and I'm in the middle here, NOT on a side, just begging for more time to do my job) care about the schools and education and the town. So, let's all keep the tone good and positive so that we can share and learn.

2. I have tremendous respect for Stephanie and her leadership -- I supported her for SB, and I think she's done a great job. And I appreciate her willingness to post on this blog and share her considerable knowledge. Thank you, Stephanie, for all you do for Amherst.

3. The town is in a different situation than the schools in terms of timing, because frankly, the schools have NEW leadership (after a year of basically inconsistent leadership) - so it it going to take us longer to develop a thoughtful budget with a new superintendent and remember, new principals in 3 of the 4 elementary schools! That may well be why it is taking us longer to really develop a number and/or decide what it will take in terms of revenue to support that number.

4. Rick, and others, believe that the SC can say to voters "we need X amount of money, so please give it to us in an override, and then we will decide how to spend it." I see two problems with this approach. First, I don't see how we can figure out how much money we need UNTIL we've decided what we want! So, what if we decide we want universal preschool, or summer school, or K to 6 world language in all schools, or more art/music/PE, or smaller class sizes K to 3, or NO study halls? Those all have different costs, and I can't possibly venture a guess on what those costs are. Maybe we need a LARGER override to pay for no study halls, or preschool. Maybe we need a smaller override because we don't need those things. Second, I don't see how voters can decide to support an override without knowing what we will spend the money on if we get it -- some people might vote an override to support smaller class sizes, others would to add world language K to 6, others would to add more music, others would to eliminate a study hall. But doesn't the SC have a responsibility to discuss these different options, and their costs, and get community feedback before deciding on an override amount AND asking the community to pay higher taxes to support them? This might be the key way in which the schools are really different from the town -- I have no idea as a random citizen how many fire trucks we need or police officers, but I have a really keen sense as a parent of whether I want class sizes of 28 or three study halls, and so on.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

5. One final thing - I still don't see why we can't have more time to decide on an override -- I know the BCG has been meeting, but the BCG representatives from the SC have NEVER asked the SC whether they support an override nor asked their opinion about how much that would be or in what form. So, this group has been meeting, but the SC hasn't been asked to give their thoughts to the BCG about any of this -- and thus the representatives have been giving their own personal opinions, but not the opinions of the SC. And now that the SC has been asked their opinion, many SC members (at least Irv, me, and Steve) are not sure where we stand on a March 23rd override -- but this question was NOT asked to us as a body until February 2nd!!! I certainly could have voiced my opinion earlier this year IF I had been asked whether I agreed with putting an override on the ballot in March (requiring a February decision on a number), and I imagine I could have said for a long time that this timing feels not great, since we will not know enough about revenue NOR will we have had enough time to really think through the cuts options (since we did spend a huge amount of time last fall on issues of redistricting/closing MM) AND we have a new superintendent, and new principals in 3 of our 6 schools (and a missing full-time principal in the MS).

Again, with my parent hat on, I probably have to vote "yes" on March 23rd for an override. But with my SC hat on, I have to make sure that I'm taking my role as an elected official seriously, and that does include careful thought of what our schools need, how much that will cost, and how we can pay for it (both short- and long-term) BEFORE I endorse an override. And I can't yet honestly say that I'm certain about a number we need, or how it will be spent, such that I can personally tell voters to vote yes. I am working as hard as I can to get information and have important discussions, but I'm just not there yet.

Rick said...

"Again, with my parent hat on, I probably have to vote "yes" on March 23rd for an override. But with my SC hat on, I have to make sure that I'm taking my role as an elected official seriously..."

Awesome. I think you can do both of these things by exercising your power to vote the budget you feel is the correct one. But by having override money you will have the option of using some or all of the money, otherwise you don't have that option.

Rick said...

Also, I know it would be better if there were more time, but there are many reasons why it messes things up – including the four town situation. Recall when you helped on the ‘07 override we dealt with that when the SB was saying they needed more time.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, this may be incorrect, but as I read your posts in this fascinating discussion what I come away with is that the base-line issue you have regarding the high school and middle school is that funding/study hall/class size/elective reductions wouldn't be so bad if teachers had changed from trimester to semester.
This is the only common theme that shows up in your discussions of whether or not the h.s. and m.s. are in fact diminished/need to be so.
So, my question is (I am not a teacher and I ask this for clarity and in respect), does your present objection to an override stem primarily from disappointment with the teachers' reluctance to switch to a semester? What are the benefits of that, in your opinion?

Anonymous said...

I voted for you for school committee because I want someone there with a parent hat on. I'll let the select board worry about the overall town - I really think a school committee member (parent or not, actually) should care most about the schools.

Anonymous said...

"Once an override is voted, all work on finding cuts will come to a grinding halt."

I dont believe this.

Anonymous said...

to CS 11:20am:
how will you even be able to make your fiscal year deadline given everything you feel must happen before any budget for FY11 is made?

All of your questions and ideas seem reasonable and well intentioned. My concern is that they should be raised in July, not February. Maybe it's better to level fund (and level program) schools for next year (we would still need an override to do this), and engage in the discusion you want to have for FY12. At that time as I understand it there will also be a new teachers contract which can be folded into the discussion.

I understand your concern about having the time you need to do the kind of exploration you say is required. But how do you really anticipate being able to do that in time for this budget year? with or without an override?... and given that at the end of March there will also be at least one new school committee member who will need to catch up ....

I dont think you have the time to do the kind of re-structuring you're thinking about for FY11. And some of the issues may be resolved with a new contract negotiations.

LarryK4 said...

Rick forgets that Overrides are FOREVER--the increased tax levy is permanent!

If town officials fail to use some of the Override windfall on July 1, because of givebacks or unanticipated revenues--it's a safe bet they will use ALL of it next year and TACK ON the normal 2.5% increase as they have done EVERY year since Prop 2.5 was enacted.

Amherst has passed numerous Overrides but NEVER an Underride.

Larry K is wrong said...

overrides are not necessarily forever. they can be for a certain period of time.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

A few more thoughts:

1. I don't know the budget that is the correct one right now, and I don't think that I'll know what that is in 5 days (when the SB needs a decision). These things take time to discuss -- what would it take to provide universal preschool, or no study halls; do we want to keep 6 world languages at the regional level; etc. So, it is NOT just as easy for me as "vote the budget."

2. My understanding for some time has been that the SB was going to put an override on the ballot on March 23rd. I've expressed to a number of people (including Stephanie) that I think this timing is too early, and I've expressed that before this week. I don't think it is compelling to say "it will cost $12,000 extra to do a later override" -- when we are potentially asking for 1.9 million in extra costs, $12,000 is a drop in the bucket!

I did not understand until Tuesday night (3 days ago) that the SB was going to refuse to put an override on the ballot UNLESS the SC said they supported an override AND gave a number. So, I'm comfortable going to the voters and saying "hey, it is your money and your schools, do you want more money?" but that is a lower bar for me than saying to the voters as a SC member "we need you to pay higher property taxes to support an override" -- when I'm not sure that this is true (e.g., what are our real expenses, what are other sources of revenue)?

3. In terms of my "parent hat" -- I think it is very, very easy for many parents to say "yes, more money is good, I'm willing to pay for that." But I think as a member of the SC, that's irresponsible because I need to be able to also feel good about how additional money will be spent, and I need to feel that we are asking voters for more money for things that really make a difference. And I don't feel that we have had the discussions/information that we need to do that in 5 days. And as an SC member, I have a responsibility not just to parents, but to all community members to make sure that the schools are using money wisely and in ways that we "get the biggest bang for our buck." Does it make sense that we will, if this override passes, have classes that are smaller in 7th/8th than in 5th/6th? Maybe it does, but I'm not sure. Does it make more sense to have music every day in MS or to alternate music with PE (this has budget implications)? Again, I don't know the answer.

4. In terms of the semester/trimester decision -- I think the SC needs to think carefully about all things that have budget implications. We could have kept MM open, which some people thought we should have, but I think that would have been using money (but using money for the schools) badly. Similarly, we can keep a trimester system, but we should acknowledge it costs more to provide the same number of study halls under the trimester than the semester. That's a choice we are making (the teachers are making). These are the types of things that do have financial implications, so I think we need to be honest with the voters about what alternatives there are to reduce the cuts. Similarly, most people are in favor of smaller class sizes, but you can increase class sizes and save money -- and there is a line somewhere that needs to be drawn. If we fully fund the override amount on the regional level, we are having the same class sizes as we have now, BUT these are smaller class sizes than we had in 2003-2004. And I'm not sure how I can justify to all voters that we need smaller class sizes NOW than we did 5 years ago -- which again, influences the size of the override.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

5. One final point: an override on March 23rd that fails doesn't help our schools or our town at all. And whether you like it or not, there are some people who may NOT support an override on the 23rd who would support one later (e.g., people who want more info on the good questions the citizens group is raising, people who want info on state revenue, people who want to see if teachers to give backs, people who want to see all the final cuts/adds from the schools, people who don't believe the schools/town will give back extra revenue it doesn't need if state aid is higher, etc.). So, if I care about the schools, which I do tremendously with BOTH my parent and SC hat on, I have to also push for having an override IF and WHEN we need one that has the best chance of passing. And to my mind, a later one is more likely to pass than an earlier one.

LarryK4 said...

A debt exclusion is limited to a time/date certain end.

A general Override is FOREVER.

Larry K is wrong said...

leverett, belchertown, all sorts of neighboring towns conside and pass annual overrides based on budget needs and resources.

timeframes can be established to limit overrides to partiuclar budget years.

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

I know I sound like a broken record about the summary points, but it needs to be understood that this was the mechanism we were using to keep all the home boards and committees consistently informed. This was how committees were supposed to be learning about and talking about what BCG was doing. This was how issues and concerns were supposed to be identified and flow back from the committees to the BCG. The absence of concerns raised by home committees was taken to be acceptance that we were all on the same path and moving forward together.

Do I wish I had come to a School Committee meeting in September or November and laid out the whole plan? I sure do. You know what they say about hindsight. I thought those bases were covered. I was wrong, and I apologize.

BCG has 14 members and five represent the Schools, so there was no reason for me to think that the School Committees were not part of this conversation.

Additionally, this was all laid out at the Four Boards meeting in October, when the SC, SB, Fin Com and Library Trustees all got together to learn and share budget info. It was also part of the Four Towns meeting in December, when the SCs, SBs and Fin Coms from the region get together to learn and share budget info.

I recognize that this apparently wasn’t enough sharing of information and plans, but it certainly felt very thorough. What can we do? Live and learn.

As to just learning about BCG wanting support to include the Schools in the override: please don’t misunderstand this as some kind of last minute surprise. The surprise was on BCG’s end, when it became clear that after all of this work and process and thinking that we were moving forward together it appeared that we didn’t have the support of the Schools and Libraries to ask for the money on their behalf. We didn’t have their buy in. We were potentially doing this against their will. We just wanted to know – do these bodies support our doing this or not? If yes, great! If not, then should we be doing this? I don’t know the answer to that.

We considered the possibility of delaying the vote at yesterday’s BCG meeting. Here is the relevant section of the draft summary points from that meeting:

• That in response to inquiries regarding delay of an override vote, general agreement among BCG members was to keep the March 23rd date. (Several spoke in favor of keeping the date; some offered no opinion; some noted that the question was raised by their home committees; no one spoke in favor of a later date.) Reasons cited for keeping the date included:
o The extensive joint financial planning process that has been working toward this date for many months;
o That uncertainties remain with any date;
o That knowing whether or not money from an override would be available before going to Town Meeting is preferable;
o That having an override vote occur during Town Meeting would be complicated and distracting and would necessitate suspending the meeting to postpone budget consideration;
o That a later date would impact the other three towns in the Region, which would have already had their Annual Town Meetings;
o That there has been significant organizational focus on preparing for March 23rd, including staff anticipation of that date as when they will know if their jobs will be saved or lost;
o The difficulty in justifying special election expenses when the point of the override is a shortage of funds;
o That the sooner the override result is known, the sooner budget and programmatic adjustments can be made;
o Better voter participation to be expected at the Annual Town election.

--Stephanie O'Keeffe

LarryK4 said...

We can't even get the SB to consider making it a "Menu Override"--so good luck with getting them to consider a debt exclusion Override (which, off the top of my head, I think is limited to capital...but as Bill O'Reilly or Anon Commentators would say, "I could be wrong.")

Overriders like to whine that only 2 Overrides have passed in 30 years (they forget the other 8 or 10 for capital) but BOTH of those Operation Overrides are still generating increased revenue to this very day.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...


I know that intended process may have been a good one, but I've attended all SC meetings last year (with the exception of the one two days before Thanksgiving) and NEVER did the SC representatives to BCG say "hey, what do you guys think about an override on March 23rd?" So, I'm not sure where this broke down but it just didn't happen - and I remember last year, when I was an SC member on BCG, I said (speaking only for myself) that I thought we should close MM and others on the SC (Andy) and the superintendent did NOT agree with me when I first said that. Again, that just goes to show that I never felt even as a BCG representative that I should be gathering feedback from my board and sharing that -- I was just speaking for myself. So, if I'd been on BCG this year, I would have known more, but I wasn't.

And in terms of the BCG representation -- it isn't really five members representing the schools, because there are only THREE SC representatives on BCG: Andy (who has clearly been in favor of an override for a long time, and thus wouldn't voice any concerns), Farshid (who doesn't live in Amherst and thus wouldn't pay higher property taxes if an override passed, and doesn't represent Amherst voters), and Irv (and I think we know Irv's current feelings about an override -- I don't know where his thoughts have been all year).

I have no idea if I attended an October Four Towns Meeting (I've thrown away my 2009 daily planner!) but I did attend the December 2009 Four Towns Meeting -- and at that time, I vividly remember stating that I wasn't sure if we needed an override, and that at least the ES and MS schools were really in pretty good shape (which I then listed). So, my opinion was voiced that day (not with a lot of support, I might add) in front of many people (and on TV). I also raised the issue at a SC meeting that we were spending a lot more per pupil than other districts, and that also led me to want to understand more about how we were spending money before I could ask the voters to spend any more money. Those remarks were well-publicized in the paper and certainly in front of the three SC BCG representatives (and others who read the local papers and/or watch SC meetings). Again, I don't think my lack of willingness to support an override right now has been a surprise to many.

In terms of what the SC supports -- I would be very willing to say to the SB "put the override on the ballot and lets let the voters decide." That is NOT the same as saying 'we don't want this money' -- it's saying, to me, that I don't have enough information right now to tell you how much money we need or for what, so I'm not comfortable sticking my neck out. But I believe we live in a democracy, and if voters want an override, they sure can vote for it. I did NOT understand that the SC was going to have to take a stronger position on this until Tuesday night -- that had never been explained to me at any time (nor was that what occurred in 2007).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Finally, I don't find the reasons for NOT delaying the vote compelling, for many reasons: less uncertainty will be present in a month or two (we got more funds in the last two weeks!), we could vote the zoning stuff at TM and delay the budget stuff OR vote budgets contingent on an override; the other towns could decide FIRST whether to support additional funds (Amherst doesn't have to go first!); the special election will cost $12,000 (take $6,000 out of elementary budgets and another $6,000 out of regional budgets). Finally, and I'll repeat a point I've made before -- if an override fails on March 23rd, that is WORSE than if an override passes on May 23rd. Surely staff would rather find out they have jobs two months later than find out they don't have jobs earlier. And I still can't think of a single reason why someone would vote yes in March but NO in May, but I can think of many people who would vote Yes in May but vote no in March. Strategy also strikes me as important -- and I think voters will have more trust and confidence in an override vote when they have more information about revenues AND projected budgets.

Anonymous said...

Looking at a Furlough

UMASS employees are facing furloughs for next year. Cuts in pay. UMASS employees in Amherst are looking at a permanent increase in their property taxes via an override.

So, how about our extremely highly paid administrators take a pay cut?

Our superintendant earns a base of $158,000 a year. That's 40% more than the super in Northampton. He also gets $15,000 per year to commute from Miami. The $173,000 is 53% higher than his Northampton counterpart.

Our HS principal makes $128,000 per year while the HS principal in Northampton (where they don't force kids into study halls) makes $89,000 per year. So, in Amherst we pay our HS principal 44% more than his counterpart in Northampton.

Given these ridiculous salaries, shouldn't these guys be taking furloughs and giving back salary?

What ever happened to leadership? They just want more money from people who are on fixed incomes and declining incomes from UMASS furloughs.

Anonymous said...

Look at the amount of hard work, dedication, reflection, and commitment to work with others that we see from our elected leaders posting on this blog. How much longer can we get that at this level of frustration?

They say that "you can't get something for nothing". In Amherst, we get a lot for nothing, from some very self-sacrificing volunteers including Ms. O'Keeffe, Ms. Brewer, Ms. Sanderson, Mr. Hood (soon, I expect), Mr. Weiss, and others. This is why the cynicism on display here and elsewhere posted by anonymous bloggers is so offensive to anyone paying attention.

How long can this selflessness keep going on? Look at the number of candidates for town-wide office and Town Meeting in March 2010, and you'll see that the pipeline is starting to run dry.

And I can't really blame people. If you watch our incredibly peculiar town government closely, you see a system designed to run good people off, against, and past each other. It's a system that produces tragedy, i.e. in bringing good, intelligent, and thoughtful people down in their attempts to do the right thing.

So we have the spectacle of the Select Board Chair regretting a lack of communication earlier. She has nothing to apologize for. She's done the best she can.

It's not about the people or the quality of their characters; it's the goddamn system we have. And when you lay this misbegotten end-around of representative democracy known as the override process on top of our cockamamie municipal system, I'm convinced that the train wrecks are inevitable.

The great Greek tragedians have nothing on us.

Rich Morse

Marcy Sala said...

As per one of Stephanie's several points related to why sticking with a March 23rd override vote makes sense:

"That there has been significant organizational focus on preparing for March 23rd, including staff anticipation of that date as when they will know if their jobs will be saved or lost."

This is huge to me; both on the town and school sides of the budget. We are talking, not only about programs and services here, but people. Let's have a little humanity folks. What earth shattering conclusions are the School Committee going to come to that will make them decide that they need a significantly different amount of money than the SUPERINTENDENT, PRINCIPALS AND OTHERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DAY TO DAY RUNNING OF THE SCHOOLS think is needed (and please consider that question in the context of all the change that our school system has endured in recent years, compounded by the significant number of changes it will need to endure next year... hiring a new middle school principal, merging two alternative high school programs serving significantly different populations of students, closing one elementary school, redistricting students from the remaining three elementary schools, building new working communities of teachers and staff to serve the new configurations of students and families, restructuring the ELL delivery model)? Then ask yourself if those earth shattering conclusions will be worth the huge stress and uncertainty that waiting and wondering and/or simply acquiescing to more cutting will cause? It is hard for me to believe that the answer to either of those questions will be yes.

We are a community. The process that has been laid out was intended to help us function as one. Let's allow that process to take it's course by letting the town's residents weigh in on the kind and quality of services they wish to support. There is plenty of time for more probing about ways to improve our schools down the road. But lets take a collective breath, think about the opportunity we have before us to stop the slashing, for now, of programs and services that the professional leadership of our schools deem important to preserve... for the present. There is nothing stopping us from getting to work on considering some of the restructuring ideas that have been put forth by the SC for the NEXT budget cycle.

Anonymous said...

A petition is being passed around with many signatures for an override - what does this mean in terms of getting the override on the ballot? As I understand it, it's basically irrelevant, except to demonstrate support - because the SB decided that it's up to the SC to vote to have it on the ballot in March?

Rick said...

"She has nothing to apologize for. She's done the best she can."

That's for sure Rich.

Ed said...

UMASS employees are facing furloughs for next year

Forget facing, as I understand it, many HAD furloughs over Christmas.

And no one is thinking about the consequences of significant UM layoffs....

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

Thanks Rich and Rick. Heck, Catherine and I agree on so much, and we come from a very safe place of huge mutual respect and fondness, that the opportunity to disagree and work through it is actually kind of fun.

More tomorrow. I have 12 and a half hours to NOT think about budget shortfalls and override dilemmas before Saturday morning's Four Towns Meeting, and I intend to do just that.

Thanks to all for taking such a keen interest in this stuff.

LarryK4 said...

Come on Rich, a long,long time ago Princess Stephanie's previous job in life was PR flack.

And, she once was a blogger. So she sure as Hell should know/remember how to communicate.

Anonymous said...

Fiscal laxity got Amherst schools into the current mess.

What I want to see is the budget - clearly, simply, and line by line - before I support a tax increase. What I don't understand are those committed to an override without demanding such accountability.

The current problem stems from prior malfeasance on the School Committee: writing unfunded contracts with no understanding of the budget; failing to act in the face of clear indications of impending fiscal crises etc...

I applaud Sanderson,Rhodes, and Rivkin for demanding to see clear budget numbers before accepting the inevitability of an override. I hear them saying "show me the data" before "show me the money." That kind of leadership is what we need in our elite enclave.

It seems to me that with all the brain power from our highly paid professional administrators, we should be able to wreak some serious efficiency from the system.

In my judgment many of us feel that there should be no override until all numbers are procured, analyzed and used to pare wasteful spending from the budget.

Amherst Advocate

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of rhetoric around the issue of budgets, overrides and town government processes. While all of that is going on, my 8th grader (along with all the other kids in the Amherst/Regional schools) goes to school every day and does her job. She shows up, she pays attention, she participates, she comes home and does her homework. She does this even when programs she benefitted from in 7th grade (e.g., music) have been cut, excellent teachers with whom she formed attachments were cut, other excellent teachers with whom she formed attachments were moved out of the classroom in order to cover administrative positions, and the middle school principal, who had taken an interest in my daughter’s photography, suddenly disappeared within the first weeks of the school year. In spite of my daughter’s best efforts and sustained hard work, middle school has been a place of loss, uncertainty, and shifting ground. I have not had the stomach to let her know of the possibility that the instrument she plays - and all that practicing she does - may have no place in the music program at the high school next year.

I am a fiscally responsible resident. My family and I have had to make very painful cuts in our family budget in the past 2 years. I identify with the residents who don’t have much room to pay extra taxes. But, I am wondering how many more cuts it will take before my hard working student stops working so hard? You know all those things that seem so expendable in the school budget – like art, music, photography? Those are the things that keep my straight A student going. Those are the activities that give her hard work meaning. When I wear my taxpayer hat, I am not so happy about an override. And when I wear my rational, Ph.D. hat, I think waiting for more information is very appealing. But it's my parent hat that wins out. Any down side of paying about $300 more taxes each year and any down side of not having the precise budget numbers in place before an override vote are far outweighed by the down side of having my daughter (and all the other kids in our schools) live with the painful, daily, grinding reality of budget cuts. The FCCC report ( made it unequivocally clear that an override will be needed in our town within the next five years. We have 4 more years to implement that recommendation. But 4 years from now will be too late for kids like my daughter. The time to inspire her – and honor her dedication as a good student and engaged musician – will have past. So, as you do your thinking, blogging, and voting, remember that the people who don’t get a vote – i.e., the kids – have to live every day with the mind-numbing, spirit-sapping consequences of our decisions.

Anonymous said...

.....and then there are those of us with children in the schools who know the cuts are coming and the lives of our children will be affected...
* we want data
* we want questioning and examination
* we want a re-examination of the budget and of the schools
* we want schools, teachers and communities to facilitate the integration of the marks meadow families and the re-districted families into their new schools
* we want the override so that our kids education next year is as status quo as possible
There's enough change happening in our kids' lives in this district next year. The override will help to give them as consistent experience as they deserve.


Anonymous said...

10:35 "the kids – have to live every day with the mind-numbing, spirit-sapping consequences of our decisions."

Right on.

Ed said...

Enough is enough!

I am tired of this "my kid will kill myself/herself/itself if the gilded education ends." If the little darlings aren't willing to try to learn under less-than ideal circumstances then my attitude is that they can do without.

The "everything has to be perfect and ideal and gilded because I am special" mentality simply does not work in the real world. At least the real world outside of Amherst.

There is a balance between unlimited spending to benefit children and fiscal responsibility to look after the taxpayers. And if the response to the latter is that "my daughter will kill herself", heaven help me but my response is "so be it...."

We teach Ecology in the 9th grade - fine. How about the parents learn to define "carring capacity of the ecosystem...."

How about we have some real discussions of what we can afford to pay - not what the teachers' unions demand that we do pay.....

kevin said...


The reason we should not have an override vote on April 13th is Black Thursday (April 15th).

Conventional wisdom has it that this is absolutely the worst day of the year to ask any tax-paying citizen if they want to ante up an extra $250.

Hang in there, this too shall pass.


Sam I Am said...


Of all of your posts, that last one was way over the top and in truly poor taste. Please try to control yourself.
You could actually make your point sans the "shock effect" and the needlessly hurtful comments.

And by the way I believe teachers unions negotiate contracts (a process done in school districts pretty much everywhere) rather than simply getting what they "demand".

Anonymous said...

Well Ed, our state taxes support teachers at UMASS and other public colleges. I'd love some state tax relief too, and lower tuition costs for kids would be great, too. You've previously said "teachers" teach too little and make too much. If I'm not mistaken, full time UMASS teachers make about $30,000+ a year more on average than those lazy, money grubbing public school teachers, and if I'm not mistake, and actually teach fewer hours per day. Taxes are very high for all of us Ed, and every little bit helps, so I assume as a person of integrity, you will lead the charge at your end.

ps--While you're at it, throw a couple of grad program TAs down our way, ok?

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Catherine doesn’t want the override vote on April 13; she wants a vote on the school budget then, with override vote – if any – following in May or June. Problems with that schedule include:

• Override will be during town meeting.

• Other 3 towns won’t know what to vote at their town meetings and won’t know if they need to do an override until we vote on it.

• People who won’t have a job as of July 1 will have that much less notice. With a vote on March 23, they have notice on March 24 – 3 months.

Note that it’s been quite clear what the schedule has been for some time. Excerpt from minutes of the December 15 Regional SC meeting:

“Mr. Hajir noted that the BCG has asked the School Committee to vote a budget on January 26th. This would provide them with the maximum information possible regarding all of the town department’s budgets in order to make the best case for the override question. Mr. Churchill said his sense is that the administration is prepared to meet that target date, and he believes it would be beneficial for the School Committee to provide their data to the BCG at the same time as the other town departments. Mr. Rhodes stated that the School Committee would be voting a budget without the guidance of the final state numbers if that deadline is met. Ms. Sanderson stated that because it is a very difficult budget year, there would have to be a public hearing between the meeting on January 12 and the meeting at which a vote is taken. Mr. Churchill reviewed the proposed BCG calendar, which was included in the Amherst agenda packets. After extensive discussion, consensus was that the Regional School Committee will discuss the detailed budget cuts at the January 12th meeting, host a public budget hearing on February 2nd, and agree on a budget proposal at the February 9th meeting.”

Per that schedule, February 9 is it. We’ll see if that happens or not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Rick, for sharing those minutes.
Catherine, what's changed since then to cause you to ask for a delay?

curious observer said...

I am not surprised that there are stressed parents and worried public employees. Movable "facts" about cuts are repeated over and over and create the panic to the point where many parents think almost all art and music classes will be cut, as well as 50% of high school electives. Much of this has been orchestrated to build up the pressure for an override.

And there are several uncomfortable elected officials. It seems to me that thery have something to be uncomfortable about. There is much going on here behind the scenes and maybe some of their own panic that the curtain has been pulled back.

Stephanie O'Keefe's postings made me wonder about the process and decisions she describes and the requirements of the Open Meeting Law.

I sat through a lot of School Committee meetings and I never knew that the 2009-10 school budget was the "core budget" for the schools system that was now going to be protected from now on. I did hear from several individuals -- outside those public meetings -- that there would be no override in 2009 but one was planned for 2010. Fine. Individual citizens and elected officials can talk and put plans like this into place.

But there are laws regulating how elected officials and boards work together and make decision. These are laws to protect and inform citizens. Elected Boards (Select Board, School Committee and Library Trustees) cannot make decisions in backrooms or in small groups. They must make their decisions in public, in front of us.

The fact that so many Select Board members were surprised by the statements questioning the override by Catherine Sanderson, Steve Rivkin and Irving Rhodes at the last School Board meeting makes me wonder. I think this was the first public meeting where the School Board was discussing whether to support a March override.

Did Select Board members O'Keefe and Brewer think they knew the School Board's answer ahead of time? If so, why? Was it a done deal?

Were they told the school board would recommend an override? By who? Were there conversations, discussions or decisions occurring off the record that led them to think this?

Or did the Select Board chair who has been diligently orchestrating this process for over a year simply forget to talk to the School Committe early?

I am interested in knowing the answer to these questions.

I am also wondering why the Select Board doesn't just vote what it apparently has believed since last year -- that an override is needed, the town, schools and library are now at their core budgets and can't sustain any further cuts.

Instead the pressure is on the new school board members to literally get on board. They are called naive and inexperienced. Didn't they know all this had been decided last year?

These new members seem to foolishly think that discussing issues, facts and questions in public is part of their job as elected public officials. Maybe even more naively, they are following the law in talking to all of us on the record. And they seem to really care about how the schools look now and will look in the future. But there is no time to do this careful analysis since last year, the override vote was planned for March.

Maybe they just don't get how it really works. What a relief.

Anonymous said...

The study hall discussion is so misleading. They have been part of ARHS for quite awhile- nothing new.
They are the result of our trimester schedule) When a child gets 2 study halls it is one per trimester.(will not spend the day in SHs)
The time does not have to be spent in a Study Hall. My kids volunteered within classrooms, worked on their club activities, research in the library, met with guidance... (and if SH was first- they would sleep in at home- HORRORS!!!))
Study Hall need to be redefined- what about a Senior Study used for college applications- A foreign language study used for practice.
I'm sure our kids could come up with some great ideas.(make the kids design and run them)
SHs have been around forever- lets make them useful!

LarryK4 said...

I was at the BCG meeting on Thursday, well most of it, and clearly Andy Churchill and Farshid Hajir did not want the Override on the March 23rd ballot.

If ACTV ever gets it up, watch for yourself.

Ed said...

You could actually make your point sans the "shock effect" and the needlessly hurtful comments.

Actually, I did tone it down. That is where the glaring syntax error came from, and you can hence infer just how far over the edge the initial version was.

And I think it needed to be said.

On the one hand, the basic educational needs of children must be met. I am not arguing that - I am in the education profession after all. And on the unrelated issue of bullying, I think that every one of those (reported) 30 girls in So'Hadley ought to be charged as an adult in criminal court. But I digress...

On the other hand, we are creating a nation of victims. Gen Z is even worse than Gen ME (Millenial generation) and this has got to END. In much of human history, and in much of the world today, most of these kids (and I am talking Middle & High School) would have been considered ADULTS.

In a very few short years, we will consider them adults. And look at the future problems we are creating....

If everything isn't perfect, then Little Suzie will put up her nose and refuse to learn. Fine. Little Suzie can learn the joys of digging ditches or sorting recyclables...

Hurtful - I don't care if this is hurtful. It is called "tough love."

And by the way I believe teachers unions negotiate contracts (a process done in school districts pretty much everywhere) rather than simply getting what they "demand"

Who represents children at the barganing table? Who represents taxpayers?

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 9AM that we should at least make the study halls useful. My son and his friends were talking about what games they play and music they listen to there! Yes I spoke to him about using his time better.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh Ed...give it a rest already. I am so glad you don't actually teach any children in grades K-12. I hope you don't teach anyone at all. Not with your ideas and opinions.

Ed said...

Well Ed, our state taxes support teachers at UMASS and other public colleges.

And UM raises costs and reduces offerings when revenues are down - it doesn't demand a hike in the state taxes. I would have to check, but I think that the Middle School now offers more foreign languages than UMass does...

You've previously said "teachers" teach too little and make too much.

I am equally critical of college faculty & admin. I am the one who taped the salaries to the front of the student union some years back, and clearly you weren't at the public forum for the VC/STUAF candidate yesterday afternoon... I think it can safely be said that I am equally critical of Higher Education abuses.

If I'm not mistaken, full time UMASS teachers make about $30,000+ a year more on average than those lazy, money grubbing public school teachers,

First, all of the UMass "teachers" pay -- in fact all UM employee's pay -- is public and can be found at


Second, there is a difference between an adjunct instructor ("teacher") and various professor ranks - think "principal" for that.

And third, the gap between k-12 and academia has narrowed while HE salaries have exploded. Which means that K-12 is overpaid.

K-12 is paid a whole lot more, in real dollars, for a whole lot less work and we aren't seeing any improvement in outcome, either....

I assume as a person of integrity, you will lead the charge at your end.

Taxpayer dollars pay for about 28% of UMass (and a significant chunk of that flows directly to Amherst). Taxpayer dollars pay 100% of ARSD. And the issue here is who is responsible for providing for children - the parents or the taxpayer? That is what all these "bells & whistles" are - my PARENTS paid for my music lessons...

ps--While you're at it, throw a couple of grad program TAs down our way, ok?

You can have mine. The Bursar will accept payment from 9-4.

It isn't like the '70s & '80s anymore - folks don't understand that - I don't have a TA, the School of Education has NEVER given me a TA. That is one of the reasons I have been here so long...

Anonymous said...

Just curious Ed, what is it that you do now?

kevin said...

Catherine said,

"I made a motion to delay giving the BCG/SB a recommendation about an override until April 13th (I chose this date because it would allow us to put an override on the ballot in late May or early June).

Black Thursday will not go away, Rick. The closer you get to April 15th, the more you should consider tabling it.

And I still think the May timing is off. With nice weather, planting the garden, graduations, going to the beach, June weddings, nice weather, Memorial Day, finals and graduation, and nice weather, not much gets done after Mother's Day.

In my experience.


Michael Jacques said...

The largest burning question in my mind on the override is this. The FCCC posted the widening gap between income and expenditures. I had always assumed that we would cut to the core of our needs and when that was truly achieved we would then pass an override to close the gap for the foreseeable (a guess) future.

As I have not seen any data to support this belief can I assume we are at the core and that this override will close that gap. If not is the override premature and are we just putting a Band-Aid on a cut that needs sutures? Any info on the state of our future deficit would be greatly welcomed.

Rick said...


A successful override really doesn’t have much to do with closing the gap going forward, it’s more about setting what level of services we are OK living with going forward.

Whether or not the override is a band aid depends on what expenses are going forward. The bottom line on that is that expenses MUST stay at or below 3.5% (Prop 2.5% + about 1% new growth) – less that that if state aid continues to drop. That in turn means employee pay increases MUST be limited to 3.5% or less (because its 80% of the budget), if we are not to continue cutting staff and thus services. If I were negotiating union contracts going forward I would make sure to keep that at say no more than 3% total increase (STEP + COLA).

Rick said...

Just back from the four towns meeting where the towns were unanimous in the need for Amherst to proceed on schedule (March 23) with whatever it intends to do for an override. They are looking to Amherst to take the lead and they need to know about this as soon as possible.

My suggestion to the SC is that all they have to do this week is say this:

“At this point in time it looks like we need $X for our budget in order to keep what we feel to be a minimum level of services”

Then the BCG can take that and if that number requires an override, they will recommend that to the SB and the SB can get it on the ballot for March 23.

In no way is this finalizing a final budget number and in no way is this the SC endorsing an override.

A.N.W. said...

Rick "If I were negotiating union contracts going forward I would make sure to keep that at say no more than 3% total increase (STEP + COLA)."

As a taxpayer and voter, I expect future contracts to keep to a 2.5% limit since anything over that requires an override vote, and quite frankly cannot be viewed as available to negotiators.

Rick said...

Yes maybe. Note the town takes in more than +2.5% per year because of "new growth" (new construction), which is normally around 1%, so I was looking at the money that comes in – about 3.5% not 2.5%. Also I was mainly illustrating the idea not the exact number. The exact number will also be driven by what state aid is doing at the time and projected to do.

Rick said...

The main idea is that we cannot have contracts (of any kind) that we know we don't have the money for.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the SC is not going to make a positive decision endorsing the override before the Feb 12th deadline.

And it sounds like March 23 is the choice for other towns/most of Amherst. Changing the date of an override is not going to change the Library's lack of endorsement.

It sounds like what is going to happen or what needs to happen is that

1) the SB goes ahead with putting the override on the ballot (either in terms of 1) town, library, and school (separately) or 2) all together at 1.9 million without the approval of the library or SC. 3) Or just the town services override.

I think the SB is at risk either way - they will look bad if they put the school override on the ballot without SC support (but with school administrative suppport) and it fails. Others will be mad at SB if they don't put it on the ballot (because clearly communications with SC were not clear enough.) And as mentioned, this was NOT a requirement in the 2007 override vote. Not one of the five SC members said "I knew we had to make a decision by Feb 12th). I don't think most will blame the SC if it's not on the ballot because they are right when they say they do not know how much is needed for what services by Feb 12th.

Anonymous said...

I think what this whole discussion indicates is that Amherst needs to revisit the idea of a mayoral style of governing. Override on 3/23 - no override on 3/23. This whole thing is a fiasco. Any chance of resurrecting the idea of a mayor for Amherst?

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

Before getting back to the specifics of the situation at hand, I want to address a couple of points:

First: I am saddened by the level of distrust and suspicion indicated by the comment above from Curious Observer, and I don’t know how we in elected positions can do more to counter that. All our meetings are open to the public. Nearly all of our meetings are televised. I think that every televised meeting since the beginning of 2009 is archived on ACTV’s web site, to be watched at anyone’s personal convenience. Amherst makes an extraordinary amount of information available on the Town web site.

At a certain point, I have to wonder if some people just aren’t paying enough attention. Not everyone needs to pay close attention, for sure – that’s why we elect people to represent us. But people who worry about secrecy might be greatly relieved to learn just how unsecret and out in the open all this really is.

For example, here’s a quote from the Finance Committee’s Report to Town Meeting last spring:

"The FY 10 Budget Process
The FY 10 budget process has followed the Facilitation of Community Choices Committee’s (FCCC) suggestion in its December 2008 report to identify the core services provided by each budget and to then try to identify ways to preserve that core going forward. Each budget entity has gone about this in slightly different ways but all have had to face harsh fiscal realities that indicate that our current recurring revenues are not sufficient to continue funding budgets even at the identified “core” level going forward.

All budget developers have had to make extremely difficult decisions as to what programs and services would remain in the core and what would fall outside the core. Additionally, services even within the core have been scrutinized for ways to continue them in some form utilizing different funding or service provision models.

The FCCC report also indicated that respondents to their public input processes expressed a desire to have budgets reduced before seeking an override of Proposition 2 ½ property tax limits. Given this from the FCCC and the severe downturn in the economy, budget developers agreed early that FY 10 was not likely to be a year in which a meaningful override attempt would succeed. Furthermore, the political capital required for a successful override expended on a failed attempt for FY 10 could possibly jeopardize an attempt for FY 11 when almost all budget developers agree an override will be needed."


Secondly: let’s be very clear about what override support means. No one WANTS an override. The point is NOT to pay higher property taxes. This is about preserving programs and services the community cares about. If reduced State Aid and higher fixed costs leave us with a budget gap, we can either continue to cut people, programs and services, or we can have an override in order to preserve them. So what Curious Observer and others regard as “orchestrating” an override process, I regard as working to preserve as much as possible of the important elements that serve and define our community.

And the point of putting the override question on the ballot is to let the community decide: do we want to pay more to preserve as much as possible of what we have, or not? I feel that to continue to make serious cuts without having asked the voters if they would prefer to endure more losses or prefer to pay a little more to keep what they value would be to neglect my responsibility as a Select Board member.

If that’s “orchestrating,” then I plead guilty as charged.

-- Stephanie O’Keeffe

Property Owner in Amherst said...

"I feel that to continue to make serious cuts without having asked the voters if they would prefer to endure more losses or prefer to pay a little more to keep what they value would be to neglect my responsibility as a Select Board member."

I am grateful that Ms. O'Keeffe is on our side. She would make a fine Mayor.

I, too, am completely baffled by the readers who believe that an override effort is an underhanded sneaky scheme save services.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

I believe that Stephanie has done a tremendous job of trying to manage a very tough volunteer job. And I also believe that we are in a very difficult economic time, which means that state aid isn't all that we had hoped it would be and people individually are feeling strapped financially. But here is ultimately where I am:

1. No one ever asked me at a SC meeting at any point this year where I stood personally on an override, and whether I thought we should have one or whether I thought we should support one.

2. No one told me at any point prior to Tuesday, February 2nd, that the SC was going to have to take a position on the override OR the SB wouldn't put it on the ballot. I've heard plans for an override discussed for a while (and yes, I knew the March 23rd date), but I never believed that as a board member on the SC I had any impact on whether the override occurred that day or whether it did not. Once I realized that I was in fact going to have to take a position on whether it even got on the ballot, I made a motion to delay giving a recommendation to the SB because I personally do not feel like I have enough information to give a reasonable number of the SB in 3 days.

3. I believe that we are in hard financial times, but I'm frankly not really able to say what the impact on the schools would be if an override passes versus doesn't pass. Based on the latest state aid estimates, at the elementary school level, an override in the full amount would total $170,000 -- and would bring back .6 intervention teacher, .5 ELL, 4.9 SE positions (clerical, paraprofessional), a .2 PE teacher for CF preschoolers, and a .5 psychologist. Those are basically the only adds we get -- so, are those cuts that we can sustain, or not? I just don't know, but this is definitely not something that will have a big impact on the majority of kids (now, maybe it will have an unacceptable impact on a small number of kids, and thus really, maybe additional funds are necessary -- but I can't say this yet). Similarly, there is an estimated 1.4 cuts to the MS and HS -- but over $500,000 of these cuts involve class size (e.g., move English class sizes from 22 to 25, math from 21 to 25, social studies from 22 to 26, science from 21 to 24). Now, I'm not sure that having class sizes move from an average of 21/22 in the HS (current averages in academic departments) to 25 is really an impossible cut - maybe it is, but that isn't clear to me (remembering that we now have class sizes in 5th and 6th grade of 24/25). This is the type of careful thinking that I still believe needs to be done BEFORE we ask tax payers to support an override.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

3 (cont.) I'd frankly be MORE likely to support an override that really gave us some great additions that could have long-term benefits - summer school for struggling kids, preschool for all kids, earlier instrumental music, NO study halls in HS, free afterschool clubs/athletics in MS/HS, etc. But this is the type of big thinking that really needs to occur before we can give the SB a number. Would it have been great if this type of thinking had already occurred? Yes. Has it? No. So, given that it hasn't occurred, I'm uncomfortable even throwing out a number to the SB that says what we want (and says we won't ask for an override again for several years -- too late if we figure out in early March how much universal preschool costs) without having these discussions -- as a board, and as a community.

4. I've heard some on this blog (and elsewhere) that SC members should simply advocate at all times for more money for the schools -- but with that perspective, we should ask the voters yearly for an override, and we should aim for class sizes of 12 in all grades, and try to get a 5 million dollar override passed this year. Now, obviously no one is promoting that as a good idea, but this just points to what I think is key -- that the job of the SC is to manage resources well, and that means allocating whatever funds we have in the best way possible (which I think means having larger class sizes in academic departments to preserve music ensembles, wood carving, etc.) but also making wise fiscal choices (which I think means not asking voters to support an override in 2010 that brings class sizes below what they were in 2003). Stephanie wisely points out that we should put an override on the ballot to ask voters what cuts they want to have versus save - and I agree. But that means the schools have to be really honest with the voters about what these cuts are (and are not), and to me it means letting the voters decide -- not requiring that the SC tell the voters what cuts the schools can and can't survive. I think it is clear that most people think smaller class sizes are good. I think it is also clear that most people would rather pay less in taxes. But I don't feel I can look people in the eye and say "class sizes of 24 in science will be a disaster, but class sizes of 21 are fine." I believe it should be up to voters (NOT the SC) as to where they draw that line -- especially if the SB is indeed going to insist on moving forward with a March 23rd override even if the schools need more time to give an accurate projection of the funds we'd need to have the schools we'd like.

Anonymous said...

This just in:

Apparently some Town officials thought that a general override was preferable to a menu because they thought that support for the schools would carry the Libraries and the Town portions of the override over the finish line.

Wow. I think that that's just a fundamental misreading of what's going on in the electorate. But we'll see.

The Four Towns meeting today established that the other towns, especially Leverett, are waiting for what happens to the Amherst override and its impact on the Region before going forward with any revenue enhancement measures of their own. And I'm told that Mr. Rhodes was present and silent on the idea of delaying an override vote in Amherst. But I'm subject to correction from any others who were there.

Hmmm.....this process is a rich and royal tapestry, an ever-changing vision of the ever-changing view. Sort of like playing three-dimensional chess.

Rich Morse

Rick said...

”I believe it should be up to voters (NOT the SC) as to where they draw that line…”

I think this is fine. Voters may want to know the opinion of SC members on certain things, such as what they consider to be a good class size, but that’s up to each SC member to decide whether they have an opinion on those things and whether to voice it.

So repeating what I said above, my suggestion to the SC is that all they have to do this week is say this:

At this point in time it looks like we need $X for our budget in order to keep what we feel to be a minimum level of services”


Rich: I have heard from some people that they think a school override has a better chance of passing than a town override. I know people reading this blog may think all the complaints are about how schools spend money, but there is a lot of complaining about how the town spends money.

I don’t know if menu override is a good idea or not.

Yes Irv Rhodes was silent on that. There was very clear direction from the other towns to Amherst that Amherst needed to get on with it. That was pushed by Shutesbury; Leverett and Pelham agreed. It was the other towns pushing this, not the Amherst people there. The Superintendent made sure it was clear by asking “is this what I am hearing” and all said yes. Stephanie did same.

Anonymous said...

From Rick:

"So repeating what I said above, my suggestion to the SC is that all they have to do this week is say this:

“At this point in time it looks like we need $X for our budget in order to keep what we feel to be a minimum level of services”"

But Rick - I think what CS is saying is that the SC cannot say in the next few days how much X dollars should be, much less what is the minimum level of acceptable services. So the SC is not in a position to make that statement in the next couple of days. CS, the SC, and many of the parents of the schools are not convinced that we are below the minimum level, or how much below the minimum we are, and thus, we cannot know how much $$ is needed to get (up) to the minimum level if we are indeed below it. Plus, it sounds like many don't just want to add back the services cut, but want to review the situation in depth and figure out which of these cut services are critical (not ALL of them are critical, everyone can see that), and whether there are any other important expenditures that are not currently on the budget but would be newly added (universal preschool).

So all the SB can say on the ballot is "the school administrators are cutting $X & these services are the ones cut. To restore these services, the schools need $x." I think that is enough information for the ballot, and all they will get if the issue goes on the ballot in the next couple of days, for the people to vote on whether they want to pay for it or not.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My (quick) responses:

1. The FCCC suggested a menu override: as they said (page 2) - "We recommend that if an override is put forward, a menu override approach be used to allow voters a choice of where to direct the revenues." I wish the BCG had gone with that - as was CLEARLY recommended by this citizens group -- which I think is fairest to the voters (whether they are pro-school or pro-town). Again, no one asked my opinion as an SC member whether a menu override was a good idea.

2. Rick - Stephanie clearly said at the meeting on Tuesday that a statement like "we are short X amount" wouldn't lead the SB to put an override on the ballot. Steve suggested this, I repeated it, and she said "no" -- it needed to be stronger (e.g., we as the SC support an OVERRIDE to pay for that amount).

3. I actually don't care what the other towns want -- I wasn't elected by members of Leverett, Shutesbury, or Pelham, nor will residents of those towns have to pay higher property taxes if Amherst voters support an override (they might, or they might not). Obviously all towns would like other towns to be first because it makes it easier -- but surely it would be easier for Amherst voters to wait and see where the other towns are before we decide where we are in terms of budgets. And again the situation is MUCH easier in those towns since the members on the regional committee who represent Amherst also have to represent the elementary schools -- not just the regional schools. And right now, the BCG suggests that a 1.9 million override will be shared with roughly 9% going to support ALL kids K to 6 and 58% going to support kids 7 to 12 (roughly the same number of kids). That seems like a great deal for the small towns ... much less of a good deal for those who care about the K to 6 experience for kids in Amherst (who, let's remember, are much more likely to be low income and/or ELL than kids in Pelham, Shutesbury, Leverett).

Anonymous 5:00 - exactly -- how can we say we need "X money" in 3 days when we haven't figured out what types of services we really want to offer and what that would cost (which is much, much harder than just asking to restore a list of cuts -- some of which should be restored and others which maybe shouldn't be restored in favor of adding other programs/service delivery). THANK YOU for the clarity in your writing!

Rick said...

”I think what CS is saying is that the SC cannot say in the next few days how much X dollars should be, much less what is the minimum level of acceptable services.”

If they don’t have a pretty good idea of this by now, they never will. We’ve been looking at these cuts lists since December, and the March 23 date has been known by all since September if not before.

Plus, it sounds like many don't just want to add back the services cut, but want to review the situation in depth and figure out which of these cut services are critical…”

Right. And they have until they pass their final budget to figure that out.

Anonymous said...

As I said in an earlier post this week, it appears that Mr. Rhodes is the swing vote in this scenario.

And I'm just a little unclear on where he is. I get the sense that, despite his gruff exterior, he's still trying to figure it out, which is understandable.

This situation resembles jury decision-making to this extent: between Library Trustees, Select Board, and School Committee, we have 15 town-wide elected officials. If they are not unanimously in support of an override that involves their budgets, or close to it, it will give voters an excuse to vote "no". I don't know what others think, but I never doubted for a moment that an essential part of this process was that every elected person was going to have to stand up or down and be counted.

And then the officials who hesitated, tried to avoid making a decision, kept their opinion to themselves, or simply said they were opposed become the scapegoats. Several Library Trustees I find to be utterly shameless in this process. I believe everyone else is trying to play it straight with us, however they come out.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Rick - two key things here. First, we've been looking at cut list, but what some of us (Steve, most of all) has been saying is we don't want to see a cut list -- we want to see a "thinking out of the box" list. It is quick and easy to say "we have this much money, and we spend this right now, and we therefore have to cut X". That's a cut list, and yes, we've seen it. What I'd like is a "what could our schools be" list: what would it cost to get to ZERO study halls (and what might that do to class size), what would it cost to get art back in 7th grade, what would it cost to add K to 6 world language, what would it cost to get instrumental music BACK to 3rd/4th and not 4th/5th, what would it cost to add universal preschool/summer school? We've seen NONE of that, with the exception of something very helpful from Mike Hayes about two weeks ago in which he literally went through the music/PE trade-off for money/time in 7th/8th. That type of thinking was super useful -- I haven't seen much of it.

Now, how are we supposed to give a number in 3 days when we don't know what those things cost? The cut list at elementary school leaves needing $170,000. That sure doesn't get universal preschool or much else ... what if we decide in March that we'd really like that, but we can't afford it because the override amount was set on February 12th? That is the type of discussion we haven't had and I think we should have in fairness to the voters. It seems pretty odd to me to give the SB a number (which inherently will represent just adding back cuts, NOT thinking about new ways of doing education), and then it seems really odd to ask voters to support that number on March 23rd but to tell them that we'll figure out how we're going to use that money later on.

Anonymous said...

I think the main issue here is that the SC did not know until Tuesday that for the override to be on the ballot, the language had to state that they supported the override for $X amount.

If they had known (or understood) that in advance, then you can be sure it would have been on the SC's agenda to periodically review their progress on making that decision.

Plus, as I understand it, the public support of the trustees or SC was not a requirement for the 2007 override. So why is it a requirement for this override?

I would love to see the notes or the TV segment where the SB says early on "For us to put the override on the ballot, we have these specific requirements of the Library and SC boards." and then to see the subsequent parts where this requirement is communicated to the Library Trustees and SC. The SB should certainly be able to point to the place in the notes where the Library/SC accept their responsbilities. It seems like all 5 of the SC members did not understand the SB's requirement of them for putting forth an override. All that should be public, right?

Given that it apparently hasn't happened (successful communication about the SC needing to publically support the override by Y date for X amount for Z services) - the SB can

1) just not put the override on the ballot (and blame themselves and/or others for faulty communication). And/or say that there is not enough support from the Library/SC to warrant the $1.9 million override, and instead just limit it to a Town Override.

2)Or put the issue on the ballot without the public support of the SC and Library. Are there enough petition signers to warrant an override on the ballot? Or is the petition completely meaningless in a legal sense?

Rick said...


It seems to me that the reason you have not seen a "what could our schools be" list is because there is not enough money for any of those things you mention. For example, “universal preschool/summer school” – where would the money for that come from?

Now, one place it could come from is this:

Take some of the green and yellow cuts, that would be restored if there is a successful override, and cut them anyways and replace them with “universal preschool/summer school”.

Is that what you are saying you want to do? If so, I understand that – so why not propose it?

There have not been any specific proposals made by any SC member to replace items that would be added back if an override passed (the green and yellow cut items).

Rick said...

Anon 5:52:

”…the SC did not know until Tuesday that for the override to be on the ballot, the language had to state that they supported the override for $X amount.”

The language does not have to state “they supported the override”. The BCG wanted the SC to support it but they don’t really need that support. They can recommend whatever they want to the SB based on the numbers that have been presented to them by all town departments during their meetings.

Regardless of what is happening with overrides, it's clear that the timetable for passing a budget was February 9:

“After extensive discussion, consensus was that the Regional School Committee will discuss the detailed budget cuts at the January 12th meeting, host a public budget hearing on February 2nd, and agree on a budget proposal at the February 9th meeting.”

Joe said...


The idea of a "what our school could be list" is just an enhanced version of a zero-based budget approach.

Clearly it is important to understand how dollars would be spent if we were building the schools from the bottom up and making decisions based on priorities.

In using a zero-based budget approach there may not be enough dollars to fund all the potential programs, but it would be much clearer how many more dollars you might need to add specific programs and readjust priorities (not to mention a specific number for an override could fall out of building a budget in this manner).

A zero based budget for each of the schools and a line-by-line budget of how dollars have been spent the past few years would be the most helpful documents for the school committee members and the public to make the budget decisions. Although documents of this type have been suggested/requested by SC members and others over the last 2 years (maybe longer), we have yet to see the administration producing these reports. Instead the administration controls the agenda and continues to create confusion by providing budgets with mixed levels of detail and using a cuts-based approach based on "level services".

Of course more dollars from an override or any source would help, but it is sad that discussion about an override, predicting how many dollars we might get from the state, focusing on cuts proposed by the administration, etc. distract us from producing the more important information described above.

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

So where are we?

As Rick stated, there was a very clear appeal from the other towns in the Region at today’s Four Town’s meeting that they need to know the results of Amherst’s override vote as soon as possible. I believe that essentially closes the door on the question of delay. BCG already recommended keeping the 3/23 date, and with 4 SB members present today to hear how important an earlier date is Region-wide, I can’t imagine that we would opt to do otherwise.

So let’s assume the date is set.

Per the issue of SC not knowing it needed to support this: Frankly, I think we need to get by this. I’m not sure how many different ways I can say that the BCG believed that it was proceeding down its extremely clear and well-defined path with the majority support of the SC. Last week, it became clear at BCG for the first time that this might not be the case. BCG then wanted to know: are we asking voters for money on your behalf with your support or not? We thought we had that support – not unanimous, but majority – good enough to be able to say there was SC support for this.

My goal on Tuesday was to help BCG and SB figure out how to proceed from here. Imagine this from my perspective: without unambiguous support from the SC for asking for more money for the Schools, should the Select Board do that? What if the SC were strongly opposing our doing that – should we do it anyway? Probably not. So now we’re somewhere in the middle – the SC is obviously not expressing strong support, nor is it expressing actual opposition. I honestly don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. (Suggestions are welcome – please!) Tuesday I was seeking clarity, something to be able to hang a decision on. I’m still hoping to get that.

Per all the new thinking stuff – re-envisioning curriculum, trimesters, what the arts and language programs should look like, etc. – I love that these questions are being asked, and I hope you find productive ways to explore all of these and more. We’re talking about significant potential changes that require lots of information and input , and sometimes, union negotiation. It’s big-picture stuff, and we should never lose track of the big picture.

But as to how these relate to addressing the current budget shortfall, for me, it keeps calling to mind an analogy. Imagine that you are thinking of getting a new car, but you’re not quite ready to do that yet. In the meantime, you still have to put gas in your current car. Depending how soon you might reasonably expect to purchase the new car, you might also have to incur some expensive maintenance and repair. You can’t not fund those things just because there is probably a new car on your horizon. If you were all set to buy the new car tomorrow, you wouldn’t do expensive maintenance today, but if you need to keep this car for weeks or months still, you need to keep it going. And you might even decide to keep this car for a lot longer – there are still a lot of questions about a new one – so maintaining this one is crucial.

I’m sure this is a faulty analogy in many ways, but that’s what I keep thinking.

It’s too bad, Catherine, that neither you nor Steve could be at the meeting today. Very important dialogue among the towns – clear expression from them about the need for an override in Amherst, the need to do it sooner rather than later, and incredible willingness to help each other out to find a financial solution to enable all the towns to be able to afford whatever budget the Regional School committee ultimately recommends. The next Four Towns meeting is scheduled for April 3rd, when we’ll have our override result and a local aid resolution from the State legislature (we hope,) and we’ll figure out what comes next.

--Stephanie O’Keeffe

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

A couple other catch-up replies:

@Mike: John Musante’s projections for FY12 and 13 show sustainable budget growth (i.e., not unreasonable considering the uncertainty of numerous variables) with or without an override. Nutshell: reasonable (conservative) explanations show us to be able to sustain what we do next year for the next few years. The question is: is the level we sustain going forward closer to what we have now, (with key restorations allowed by an override) or diminished from current circumstances (with all the cuts we would need to make to balance the budget for FY11)? My goal is that the community gets to make that decision.

The FY12 and FY13 projections docs are here
Got to pages 13 – 18.

@Property Owner in Amherst: Thanks – I think. Imagine being Mayor of Amherst! In the immortal words of 80s icon Mr. T: “I pity the fool!”

@Rich: Here are the draft summary points from Thursday’s BCG meeting re: Menu:
• That after considering pros and cons of different question structures, the group’s support has generally aligned around a single ballot question specifying the amounts for Towns, Elementary Schools, Regional Schools and Libraries.
Consideration was given to a Menu style; with points raised in support including:
o It lets voters choose the areas they prioritize for funding;
o It allows voters who might oppose one budget area to support the others without having to vote against the whole thing;
Points raised against a Menu included:
o A single question presents an opportunity to bring the community together to support all its services, instead of potentially pitting one against another;
o The potential for divisiveness leading up to the vote, and the bitterness afterwards if some budgets win and others lose, is damaging to the community;
o A single question is consistent with the cooperative and coordinated BCG process that considered the budget needs and priorities of all Town services.
o That as Town leaders seeking an override because we believe the projected revenue shortfall makes it impossible to adequately fund core services town-wide, our recommendation to the voters should offer a town-wide solution.
Brief consideration was given to a Pyramid style, in which a higher and lower number are offered to voters, and that was regarded as antithetical to our process of trying to identify the smallest possible amount needed to maintain vital programs and services.

@Larry: I respectfully disagree with your characterization of Andy and Farshid’s position on delay: they were responsibly representing the concerns that had been raised at SC, but asserted no position.

@Those asking about the petition: it has no legal standing, it is just a show of support. Many types of questions can be placed on the ballot by gathering signatures -- overrides are not among them. It also does not compel the SB or SC to act in any way.

-- Stephanie O’Keeffe

Concerned Taxpayer said...

A few questions and comments.

First, Stephanie, I do NOT buy the argument "Shutesbury, Leverett, and Pelham are all pressuring Amherst to decide on an override" and I think it is insulting to the citizens of Amherst to even present such an argument! Are they going to be paying our ever-increasing taxes? No! I do understand that they have to balance their budgets too, but they will just have to do it without knowing what is going on in Amherst, just like we all are having to balance our budgets without knowing what is going on with the state funding. Period. Please do not use that argument again to justify anything. If the SB feels as if it is in the best interest of Amehrst taxpayers to have an override vote on March 23, please do it, but please do not do it because it benefits the other three towns.

Secondly, I appreciate Catherine, Irv, and Steve pressing the school administration for more thinking. I would like to see override money going toward things that would benefit the MOST kids. For example, how much would it cost to get them all out of study hallls and into instructional time? And while I agree that class sizes of 25 are not horrible, I would not sacrifice class sizes of 21 to save things like jazz and hurricane singers which (sorry but it is true) benefit relatively few kids. Plus, they could continue to meet and perform their music on their own as a club, just as the fabulous DTE dance club at ARHS does.

Third, I am really troubled by an override that gives only $170,000 to the elementary schools and $90,000 to the library! This doesn't seem proportional to me, especially when the elementary schools are trying to expand their preschool program and reconfigure themselves into three schools while the library just got a huge gift that adds to their coffers. Please reconsider the prioritization of the override money.

Anonymous said...

I think the SC's idea (and goal) of purusing a zero based budget and building from the bottom up the schools we really want instead of cutting what we have is great!! Just what we need to do. I totally understand Catherine and Steve's position that if they are going to pursue building the school budget that way we won't know how much the schools will need going forward for quite some time. I also understand the SB's position of pushing for a March 23rd override vote date. I also understand why the other 3 towns are pushing for an earlier date - they cannot set their school budget until Amherst sets theirs. That has been pretty clear for many many years.

Based on all of the above this is my question: What would be the likelihood of having an override vote 2 years in a row? This year's vote for town services and the library and next year's vote for the schools. I dont'know if either vote would be successful. But, for the schools, the voters will know that what they are voting on has been well thought out and that the schools are coming to the voters with a request that can be totally defended.

My fear is that if the schools are included in this year's override it will fail. I am sure alot of people in town have been paying attention to this discussion and know that several SC members think its premature to say whether the schools need the extra money or not. So, voters will vote down the override this year. But voters may indeed agree that they want to support an override for town services (not sure if there is support for the library at this point). So, 2 override votes, 2 years in a row might have a better chance of succeeding. And who knows, if the school budget can be built from the bottom up, maybe we won't need an override to maintain what the schools think they need to educate the students in Amherst.

I'd like to hear what people think about this suggestion?

Anonymous said...

I see so much media pressure on the teachers of this town to give back their cost of living adjustments and step increases.

Did anyone notice that if there are 100 employees in the schools, who earn above 90,000/year, as the paper stated, that the 1.3 million dollar target could be reached by each of them taking a $13,000/year salary cut (which is, by the way, more than a paraprofessional makes in a year)? Now that would be leadership I would really respect and admire—the ability to look at a budgetary problem and say, “I have enough; take mine. Let’s get on to the business of educating our students.”

It’s much harder to do that at salary levels that fall within 300% of the poverty line. It seems wrong to look to the teachers to make up the difference when the contract was negotiated and agreed to by district administration. It's the administration's duty to solve the problem they created, not the teacher's.

I wouldn't count on those $ coming back.

Michael Jacques said...

Independent of what happens with the override I truly believe that a bottom up rebuilding of our schools is critical to their future success. It will give us the opportunity to look at new teaching methods for both traditional and SPED students. It will allow us to look at new ways to improve our schools that cuts and restoration just don’t do.

Irv championed this many months ago but it seemed to fizzle out. It is far to late for this to impact whatever override decisions are made, but the SC and the Administration need to take this on. I would be happy to volunteer my time for this.

A few weeks ago in the paper one contributor wrote how significant research had been done to implement the trimester system. I would love to get that report and see, what problems it addressed, what were the give and takes to this change, and what measures were used to determine the success of the change as the trimester system as it is still in effect. If like the writer suggested significant research was done I have to believe that this information is out there we just have to know who to ask.

Also there is a review of the SPED program that should be complete around May. These are just a start to the types of information we can use to rebuild our schools returning so much of what we have lost and gain efficiently in the process.

kevin said...

Clearly, this is a filibuster, in which, out of respect for the process (called a "super majority") enough votes do not exist for closure. They could pass it with a simple majority but, out of respect for the the process, they would ask for a vote of support or confidence.

But Amherst does this all the time. Like, with the parking garage -- we hired the best people to give us the best advice and [being the World's Smartest People, as my friend says] did something entirely different. And then we, literally, talked it "into the ground", losing $1.25 million by the time it was over. By the time the dust settled.

There are structural problems in our process which will need to be addressed, at some point. Not now, but eventually. The function of the Amherst School Committee as a a subset of the Regional School Committee seems to have worked okay when planning was on a five-year basis, but consider that, in this crisis phase, those five folks on the ASC have sat through twice as many mind-numbing meetings as the rest of the RSC. And borne the main focus of personal attacks on them and, unfortunately, affecting their families. Give them a break.

Therefore, as much as the ASC functions in parallel to the Four Towns elementary school committees and we are truly a regional community, I think that offering voters separate choices for Amherst [elementary] School Committee would more closely resemble the reality of the situation. Perhaps this would be best left for another day.

Finally, before we talk this into the ground, let us try to stay focused on the task at hand and remember what our Aunt Stephanie said,

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

But as to how these relate to addressing the current budget shortfall, for me, it keeps calling to mind an analogy.

Imagine that you are thinking of getting a new car, but you’re not quite ready to do that yet. In the meantime, you still have to put gas in your current car. Depending how soon you might reasonably expect to purchase the new car, you might also have to incur some expensive maintenance and repair. You can’t not fund those things just because there is probably a new car on your horizon.

If you were all set to buy the new car tomorrow, you wouldn’t do expensive maintenance today, but if you need to keep this car for weeks or months still, you need to keep it going. And you might even decide to keep this car for a lot longer – there are still a lot of questions about a new one – so maintaining this one is crucial.

I’m sure this is a faulty analogy in many ways, but that’s what I keep thinking.

--Stephanie O’Keeffe
February 6, 2010 8:48 PM

Good luck, everyone. This is not a parking garage, this is real people with real families.

Stay focused, people.

Kevin Collins

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:00:

I completely agree that we need to look at highly paid administrators, ask them to absorb losses and share pain with the rest of us (children,families, educators who spend time working with children).

In my corporate world we pay executives for making good judgments that lead to enhanced profitability or efficiency. (I hear the groans of those decrying Wall Street - but I am referring to medium sized businesses that base compensation on performance.) When they fail, they are fired.

The truth is that our relatively highly paid cadre of administrators have failed in their task of applying skill to resolve problems. They have abdicated much as the prior SC did when ignoring problems that were clearly presenting themselves three or four years ago. Perhaps they were taking their lead from SC leadership at that time. However, now we have leadership with intelligence, backbone and an interest in making hard decisions.

I hope that they consider what you suggest - looking at administration. No sacred cows here - look at SPED administration and practices, look at sports administration and practice, look at maintenance practice and approach, look at everything and see where we can convert waste into teaching dollars.

In my view, those condemning the teachers union are misguided. In fact in the development of those elements of the contract that are unsustainable and plain bad for Amherst they had a complicit partner: the old SC.

Let's support Rhodes, Rivkin and Sanderson in their selfless efforts to clean up the mess and plan for the future.

Amherst Advocate

LarryK4 said...

Geeze Rick,
I'm sooooooo happy you finally figured out there's this thing called "new growth".

Funny thing is, back when you were attempting to lead the last Override attempt (and did not get the concept) it was more like 2% added to the legally allowed (and always taken) 2.5%

Anonymous said...

Another snide comment from Larry Kelley that adds nothing to the discussion.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 5:52 - I have attended every single SC meeting with the exception of the meeting two days before Thanksgiving, and the SC was never told that we would have to vote to put an override on the ballot. BCG may have discussed it a ton, but the SC never did (Amherst or elementary). I learned this on February 2nd (7 days before our final budget numbers were due), and you can bet I would have pressed for a lot of different numbers if I had been told that I was going to have to take a position in order to even get an override on the ballot.

Rick - two things here. First, we are talking about adding in another 1.6 million to the schools -- of course there is plenty of money for universal preschool that figure. But universal preschool doesn't appear on a cut list because we don't have it now! What the principals and administrators have done is taken our current schools and subtracted whatever we are doing now that we have to be cut to maintain level services -- and that is a lot easier than really thinking through how we might do education in Amherst in a new way (e.g., spending more on K to 6 than 7 to 12, moving to a semester to give kids more class time for the same dollars, pondering whether we should really offer 6 world languages in middle school, pondering whether we should add preschool/summer school). I don't know if you've seen all SC meetings, but Steve has talked repeatedly about summer school and preschool. Kathleen has talked repeatedly about K to 6 world language. Those may or may not be good ideas, but they sure haven't been addressed. I've asked for 2 years to get the world language report (done in the summer of 2008, I believe) presented at a SC meeting so this issue could be discussed. So, these things have been raised (repeatedly) by SC members, but we are not having the opportunity to discuss them or see budget numbers associated with them, in part because we have a new superintendent and new leadership in the majority of our schools -- and we don't know what ANY of those things would cost without information from the administration. I know you believe that we can just pass an override now and then decide later how we are going to use the money -- but there are two really big problems with that: first, people aren't going to vote for an override that they don't understand, and second, regional funds are spent at the region and elementary funds are spent at elementary. If you feel that passing an override that gives 1.1 million (58%) of funds to the region and 8-9% (170,000) to elementary is a good split, then you should support an override. But as a member of both the Amherst and Regional SCs, this feels irresponsible to me.

Stephanie - I'm going to go with the new car analogy -- with the idea that to keep your current car going while you ponder a newer car, you have to do some maintenance (e.g., pass an override). So, people are telling me "just pay for the repairs we need" but once you pay for those repairs to keep the current car going another year, I then have less money to spend on the new car I really want. So, if we pass an override now to keep class sizes of 21/22 in the high school and keep Russian/German in the middle school, we sure aren't going to have money in a year to fund universal preschool or summer school or K to 6 world language. A decision to spend money now on one thing means we have less money to spend later on something else -- and that is particularly true since part of this override proposal is NOT to ask for another override for several years. In effect then, I'm saying it is more important to me -- as an elected SC member -- to make sure that 7th graders can take Russian next year than that low income 3-year-olds can have preschool for the next 3-4 years. That feels pretty rotten.

timing said...

My feelings on "a zero based budget and building from the bottom up" - needed, important but not timely.

I think we ought to be doing this in conjunction with the effort to weigh the decision about making K-12 a regional system. It seems to me that floating this idea now as the reason to oppose a March override is just a way to block the March override, because there could be no way with committees made up of volunteers that this effort could be successfully started and completed by May or June. It seems to me that the process of doing this does not go from idea to completion in 2 months.

So much as I would like to agree I think the override for THIS coming year is just for this coming year... stop the bleeding and give some time to the system as is. Perhaps next year at this time the school committee has an entire re-worked budget for the next year. That would be refreshing and important.

So let's cheer the concept of building up a school budget. But let's recognize that suggesting it at this juncture and expecting it to be completed in as thoughtful a way as it should be will require more than what's left in this fiscal year. So let's start the process of what may be needed and entailed in doing this with timeframes. The ball needs to get rolling. It needs more time if it is to be done in the thorough and thoughtful way.

Abbie said...

I am confused. Isn't there a SC rep on the BCG? If so and the BCG discussed the need for the SC to "buy-in" then why wasn't this related back to the SC?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, continued:

And I guess I'm troubled by the word "sustain" because I think that applies really well to fire/library/police, but I'm not sure it applies so well to our schools. Do we want to just "sustain" what we've been doing (and if so, it is easy to come up with a number) or do we really want to think about how we are doing things (which in turn could mean spending less or more than what we are spending now). I am asking for more time to figure out if I (and the community) want an SUV or a convertible or a mini-van (and those have different price tags associated with them).

Concerned Tax Payer - I share your view that the Amherst SB and Amherst SC need to focus on the concerns of Amherst. Personally, I'd love to see how much Leverett, Shutesbury, and Pelham are prepared to pony up in terms of funds before I vote on an Amherst override! I also share your belief that the distribution of funds as determined by the BCG is less than ideal.

Anonymous 7:15 - at the risk of facing major attack, I think this is a great idea. I've been asking for a while for a delay on the override vote so we could really figure out what we want our schools to look like and a lot of information is still coming out -- how expensive will it be to operate three schools versus four (elementary), what will the special ed evaluation reveal about costs, what will the new contract look like next year (which will could an option to ponder the high school schedule), etc. I think we will know a lot more in a year, and frankly, I wonder whether it would be possible use some reserves to get us through a year (e.g., borrow some gas from a neighbor) so that these important conversations could occur -- and then we could potentially rally the whole SC around an override vote in a year that really gave appropriate amounts of funding to both elementary and regional schools. I'd be totally comfortable with waiting a year, as long as we could get some assistance (school reserves? town reserves? state aid?) with covering the things I think we really don't want to lose (but this totals much less than 1.3 million).

Mike - the SC did ask for zero-based budgeting, and that occurred on the elementary level - meaning that the schools here are REALLY stream-lined (and only need $170,000 to keep level services). That did NOT occur at the MS/HS, and hence the level services estimates are massively higher for roughly the same number of kids.

I have asked for a report on the trimester system for 2 years and haven't ever seen one (so, I really don't think it exists). We even paid someone to conduct a survey of parent/student/teacher views on the trimester, and these data were never released.

I share your interest in the results of the special education evaluation -- and believe this could have major budget implications.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Still more from me:

Kevin - I'm all for not wasting time (e.g., see my rapid decision-making last year re. MM). But I also believe asking voters to pay more taxes has a different level of responsibility than deciding how resources are allocated -- closing MM was a way to use our elementary resources more wisely. Asking people to pay more taxes is a bigger responsibility for me, and thus the bar the evidence has to clear is higher (particularly in tough economic times). I don't want to put myself on the line asking for an override until I'm convinced that the quality of education in our schools will truly suffer without it. And different people define suffer differently -- is suffer having to choose from 4 world languages instead of 6 in 7th grade? Is suffer having to sit in class rooms of 24 kids versus 22 kids? Is suffer having to choose from 10 social studies electives versus 16? Different people would answer those questions in different ways.

Amherst Advocate - thanks for the support, and I agree with your thoughts.

Timing - well, zero-based budgeting has been pushed by the SC for months ... this isn't new. And given that the override plan includes NOT asking for more overrides for a few years (at least), there is potentially a cost of having an override this year to basically sustain all current services/class sizes/languages 7 to 12 and gives K to 6 virtually nothing (and in fact, the override plan leads to an INCREASE in K to 6 class sizes and DECREASE in 8th grade classes and no change in 7th and 9 to 12 class sizes). One more thing: I also think zero-based budgeting really did take place at the MS (Mike Hayes did a very good job of this) ... but really not at all at the HS. So, where does that leave us for making decisions about next year? I'm not sure.

Abbie - there are three BCG representatives - Andy, Irv, Farshid - to the SC. But these representatives never told the SC that they would have to vote to support an override, nor did they ask members of the SC whether they would support an override (because I believe the support of the SC was simply assumed).

Nina Koch said...

There are not 100 employees in the schools earning $90,000 or above. There might be ten but I would doubt even that. Let's not spread false information.

Anonymous said...

Q to Stepahnie O'Keefe:

Why did you and BCG think you had the support of the majority of the School Committee?

You wrote:

" I’m not sure how many different ways I can say that the BCG believed that it was proceeding down its extremely clear and well-defined path with the majority support of the SC."

"We thought we had that support – not unanimous, but majority – good enough to be able to say there was SC support for this."

timing said...

Catherine: "zero-based budgeting has been pushed by the SC for months"--- pushed is not explored and I would urge you to consider this. Exploring - with all the moving pieces - will take MORE than a month or 2.

You make a good point that the decision making process of the school committee may not match with what others in town are looking at for in an override. Maybe the town should look for an alternative to an override (the temporary debt exclusion option) which would be for one year and include town/school/libraries, and consider a (permanent) override next year. In the meantime, have the school committee weigh the pros and cons of building up, look at a regional system (what's the timeframe on this?), and address issues in a teacher contract that is coming due.

If we are going to create a "build up" budget and school, we will need every community to be ready to participate and share their perspective and ideas.

Sadly, it looks like an override this year will further polarize and infuriate an already polarized, infuriated electorate.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, You are laying out a vision for a school system that I will happily support. It moves us forward, helps all Amherst kids and forces overdue structural changes. I will pay more taxes for that. But I will not pay more taxes for the educational system we now have. It is just not good enough.

Stephanie O'Keeffe said...

@ Concerned Taxpayer. What an interesting way to interpret the meeting with officials from the other towns in our region. The Regional Schools belong to them as well. Amherst’s decisions affect their decisions, and as a region, we’re all in this together. Depending what Amherst decides, it very much affects their budgets and their taxpayers. And more than that, it affects their kids. They have just as much at stake here as any of us do.

Also: a successful override will give as much or as little to the Elementary Schools and Regional Schools as those committees request. They can make those numbers bigger or smaller. They can lump them together and redistribute them later. The current recommendation, as put forth by the Superintendent and Principals, is what is being worked with now; the School Committees will continue to refine those Monday and Tuesday nights, and they can come up with any numbers they want, and they have the full authority and freedom to recommend spending up to or less than those amounts as they continue to create their FY11 budgets.

Also: If the Libraries requested more money, that number would be higher. As I explained in my long original multi-part post, the total of all the requests for restoration was $1.9 million – a number that BCG felt could be fully supported. We didn’t recommend reducing or redistributing anyone’s request – the numbers we are working with are the full totals requested by the budget makers of the Town, Schools and Libraries.

@ 11:19 anon, re: assuming support of the majority of the SC: because it was inconceivable that with two members of the SC (who are obviously both members of the Reg SC,) the Reg SC Chair, the Superintendent, and the School’s Finance Director all on BCG, that they were moving forward without either explicit or implicit support from the majority of their committees. Again with the summary points: BCG was sending info back to every home committee about exactly what the plan was and what we were doing every step of the way. I can’t speak to how that fell apart back at the SCs, but BCG’s process was all about checking in with the committees at every step.

And here’s a point I should have made earlier: A $1.9 million dollar override would increase the taxes on the average home in Amherst (assessed value $334,600) by $298 per year. Houses assessed higher would pay a little more, and lower would pay a little less. And for those who itemize their Federal income taxes, the net cost ends up being less, depending on your tax bracket. John Musante created a worksheet that shows the different costs at different assessed values and different Federal tax rates, and it can be found on page 19 of this document.

Seems reasonable to support letting people decide if they want to pay less than a dollar day to prevent the loss of services they value.

Was this a perfect process? It wasn’t. Is the timing perfect? It isn’t. But really – could either ever be? It is unrealistic to think that next month, next year, whenever, we would achieve perfection. The process and the timing would be imperfect in different ways. As I said Tuesday at the SC meeting, we risk letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. There has been a lot of good that went into this, and the potential for a lot of good to come out of this. I would hope that most of us could support that.

-- Stephanie O'Keeffe

Anonymous said...

The Marks Meadow cut, minus the one-tear transition costs, are included in the elementary school cut list for FY11. (Town reserves are funding MM during FY10 in anticipation of that cut.)

The regional school budget cut list doesn't have the benefit of anything like the built-in MM cut.

kevin said...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Kevin - I'm all for not wasting time (e.g., see my rapid decision-making last year re. MM). But I also believe asking voters to pay more taxes has a different level of responsibility than deciding how resources are allocated -- closing MM was a way to use our elementary resources more wisely.

I agree, Catherine, the clarity you showed us, the courage to accept change, was what the situation called for and you stepped up, when no one else would. At that moment, I was proud of Amherst, that someone, one of us, would step forward, out of the sea of despair.

Asking people to pay more taxes is a bigger responsibility for me, and thus the bar the evidence has to clear is higher (particularly in tough economic times). I don't want to put myself on the line asking for an override until I'm convinced that the quality of education in our schools will truly suffer without it.

It is not really about the money, I think. It is more about feeling in control at a time when everything is out of control. We're talking what, cost of a $1.9M override to average Amherst homeowner, $214? Less the tax-deduction, say 33%, $140? On top of a $5,000 tax bill? I can't control the $5,000 but I can control the $140 part. In times like these, people will fight to the death over $140.

Did you know that Amherst spends more on wetlands management than energy management? In other towns, they hire an energy coordinator to get funds to homeowners to get energy bills down. We were in Somerville looking at houses last summer when a bus drove by with a big billboard on the side that said, 'Get up to $40,000 free for energy improvements, call the Somerville Housing Office'. Why isn't Amherst Housing on it? If everyone bought a clothes drying rack, turned off their coffee maker when it finished brewing in the morning, and put a $6 timer on their TV, you would have your override right there.

kevin said...

To continue…

And different people define suffer differently -- is suffer having to choose from 4 world languages instead of 6 in 7th grade? Is suffer having to sit in classrooms of 24 kids versus 22 kids? Is suffer having to choose from 10 social studies electives versus 16? Different people would answer those questions in different ways.

We are, actually, very, very, and I mean very, lucky. Real estate values around here have actually increased. And unemployment in college towns, nationally, is the lowest anywhere, around 3%. While many of us took a big hit to our savings (speaking as someone who just lost all of his savings keeping my business open the last two years so I could keep the eighteen music teachers who work there for when things come back), we, in Amherst, do not have rows of empty houses and acres of empty factories staring at us. No one here is going to suffer. They like to cry a lot, though. Maybe we could get Super Nanny.

It is unfortunate that you weren't on the SC before the crisis, to get a feeling how things are during normal times. Since we came to Amherst in 1963, there are have been many swings of the pendulum, this being the worse, but the pendulum swings both ways. The current configuration of classes is an inheritance. As you pointed out to me before, "the SC sets policy stuff (e.g., we can have a policy about class size), but we are NOT choosing what classes stay and what classes go (and this would be the work of the principal…)" Normally, you would be working longer term. You are saying all the right things and they are desperately needed. Most people can't see past Friday and you, Catherine, get it.

As my mentor once told me, the job of the school committee is to plan eight years out, to look at the children entering the system now and figuring out where you are going to put them, i.e., desks and chairs, classrooms, enough teachers. The job of the school committee is to allocate resources." You know who I mean.

kevin said...

Therefore, I put would this in context of a five year budget, which we are in the middle of. Half the $140, $70 will go to mistakes we already made. And the other half will pay for mistakes we are about to make. In construction, 10% waste is considered exceptional, 20% normal (it is cheaper to grab a clean board than pay a contractor to climb down the ladder, sift through an enormous pile of scrap until he finds one that may or may not fit, figure out how to cut it, and climb back; what the builder who trained me said). Over five years, a $1.9M down payment on the FCCC projected shortfall of $23M to $38.7M (sans cuts) is brilliant.

If Dr. R says he can do the job with that, let him do his job. My two cents.

As I do, and continue to encourage others to, I trust your judgment in this, completely and implicitly. You are far more immersed in and part of this process than any one of us could, or will, or would ever want, to be. I look to you for guidance. The care you show in embracing the future in its fullness should give each of us courage to step across what has been shown to be only a visual barrier.

Hugs to you in the days ahead.


Marcy Sala said...

I have a lot of respect for the questions you're asking and the "out of the box" thinking that you and Steve are encouraging. I think many of the ideas being proposed could have great long term benefits for our schools, both fiscally and programmatically. What I don't understand is the urgency of considering them at this stage of the budget cycle... this year. As Larry Kelley likes to point out, a successful override is the gift that keeps on giving. The dollars gained for an override this year (to sustain the level services that our principals and superintendent feel are most needed at this point in time), will still be there next year. Can't the restructuring ideas you're suggesting be proposed then, after more careful consideration and with the added benefit of being able to consider them in relation to the findings of the Special Ed evaluation? There is nothing stopping things from a potential cuts list now, being put on a potential cuts list down the road is there? This may seem like I'm suggesting that we just ask for money now and decide how to spend it later, which is not the case. What I'm saying is, we have needs now that require funding. The nature of those needs may change down the road, but the need for dollars to fund them won't. What we would be postponing is the trade-off discussion on large initiatives. And by postponing that discussion, we not only give ourselves time to be thorough with it, we give our school personnel time to both stabilize a bit more from past cuts and adjust to the other big changes already taking place next year, which are considerable. In my view, there's a potential win/win here between the thoughtful analysis pertaining to change that you're proposing and additional dollars raised through an override that could put us in a better position to fund it going forward.

Rick said...

There is much talk about “zero based budgeting” above. While it’s definitely a good idea, it’s a red herring in this discussion.

How do we know that ARMS did this and ARHS did not? I doubt if either of them really did true zero based budgeting. The end result of both efforts was a cuts list. The end result of zero based budgeting would be the same, though there might be more cuts and more “adds” to replace those extra cuts.

Zero based budgeting – which imagines that you start from nothing (including the buildings) – is great for longer term thinking and budgeting, but it’s not very good for just going from one year to the next in a relatively short budget cycle, or at least certainly for the first year you attempt to do that. The minute the 2011 budget is done, the zero based budget process should be started for 2012 – that would (barely) be enough time to do it right by the time we end up here next year.

I have heard nothing but praise from all SC members on the thoughtful job the principals and administration has done with coming up with these cut lists and I have not heard anyone say “scrap these cut lists; this is not what we should be doing”.

I am lost as to why the SC can’t just proceed with revising these cut lists to come to a final budget number.

E.L. said...

3:35 Marcy
"In my view, there's a potential win/win here between the thoughtful analysis pertaining to change that you're proposing and additional dollars raised through an override that could put us in a better position to fund it going forward."

WOW! This makes a lot of sense.

Ed said...

I've heard some on this blog (and elsewhere) that SC members should simply advocate at all times for more money for the schools -- but with that perspective, we should ask the voters yearly for an override, and we should aim for class sizes of 12 in all grades, and try to get a 5 million dollar override passed this year.

And why stop there? Why not class sizes of 5 and a 12 million dollar override?

To those who argue for more money for the schools - the unquestioned blank check - I ask at what point will you say "enough"? At what point will you say that while you could spend more, you have enough?

Or is this like the hopeless alcoholic, liver shot and bankrupt, who pawns valuables for yet another drink?

Is there no fiscal sanity????

Ed said...

Nina Koch said...
There are not 100 employees in the schools earning $90,000 or above. There might be ten but I would doubt even that. Let's not spread false information.

Fine. Lets post the salaries (and related compensation) for all to know. They are public record.

Actually, I think I might drop a Sunshine Request on the Supt and post them myself...

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Nina - I agree that 100 employees making over 90,000 is hard to imagine. But it is definitely over 10 (not teachers, but adminstrators).

Timing - I have asked many people (including Stephanie O'Keeffe, and Rick Hood, and Andy Churchill) for over a year to delay an override for the schools for a year, because I thought the schools would be in a much better position then to state what our long-term needs are. Now I'm left in a position of either having to guess at what we need NOW (which may be too much or too little), if the March 23rd date is impossible to move. That doesn't feel great to me, and yes, I'd be far more comfortable with using reserves or other temporary measures BEFORE we went to the voters with a request for higher taxes.

Anonymous 11:53 - I hear from a lot of people like you ... it is one reason why I think an override would be MUCH more likely to pass next year than this one.

Stephanie - I am very glad to let the tax payers decide whether they want to pay more taxes and have the override on the ballot on March 23rd. I just can't in good conscience say that I'm personally prepared to endorse an override on March 23rd, because I'm not yet confident in how much money we need or how it would be spent (nor did I understand until last week that this level of commitment would be required from the SC).

Anonymous 12:20 - closing MM was certainly a good (out of the box) decision. But it isn't clear to me that this type of thinking on some level wasn't possible with the regional schools -- moving up the 6th grade would have saved the region money (and cost Amherst money), as would moving from trimesters to semesters (that would have saved $300,000), as would making a decision to increase in class size ($500,000). These would have been big changes (not as big as MM, but still substantial) that have not been recommended at the regional level but certainly would have had budget implications.

Kevin - thanks for your thoughtful words (and hugs), which I really, really appreciate it.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Marcy - thanks for the thoughtful email, and I share your enthusiasm for thinking through what types of schools we COULD have! I see two problems with just getting the money and then deciding how to spend it.

First, I don't know how much it would cost to do some of (many of) these things (e.g., universal preschool, summer school, expanded art/music, K to 6 world language, etc.). So, maybe 1.9 million would cover these things -- but maybe we would need MORE money (after all, we don't know what the special ed review will say, and that certainly could have budget implications). Thus, I don't feel comfortable giving a number since I might be wrong (and being wrong in terms of too high a number is OK, but too low a number really means we couldn't do these things -- particularly since part of this override plan is to say "we won't ask for another override for several years"). Thus, we could decide we want K to 6 world language and universal preschool, but we can't pay for it since the elementary schools have only $176,000 in the override. I'd rather ask for a real amount AFTER figuring out what we want and what those things cost.

Second, we are in a regional system -- which means that we can't take money allocated to the MS/HS and use it for elementary. That means that we have a harder job than if we were a single K to 12 district -- and it means that Amherst could very well not be able to re-allocate money given to support the MS/HS to the elementary schools since different committees control these different budgets. That's a big problem.

Third, and relatedly, an override that fails does no one any good. I talk to a lot of people, and what I hear from many is like what an anonymous poster said earlier -- they will support an override WHEN that override is going to things they want. But we need time to develop this plan and assess these costs so that people feel confident in voting for an override. I know some people (you, perhaps, certainly Rick and Rich and Stephanie) feel comfortable voting now to give the schools additional funds and then waiting to see how these funds will be used. But I don't think this view represents the "average view" of people in Amherst -- who want to see a real clear plan of what the schools will be like IF they pay extra taxes. I think we need time to develop that plan to increase voter confidence in supporting an override -- that is why I really wish the override could have been on the ballot in 2011, and not 2010. Maybe I'm wrong and many people will vote for it now and it will pass. But if I'm right, we would have a better chance of getting the money IF we waited until we really had a plan people could buy into (and I think that plan should be more than just "restorations" of current cuts).

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me (again):

Rick (at 3:39) - two quick things. First, the data presented for the MS and the ES was much, much clearer than the data presented for the HS. That has been stated repeatedly in SC meetings for months. We have a much better sense of what the day/week/year looks like in both the ES and MS than in the HS, and that is what leads me to believe that zero-based budgeting did occur in these schools and not the HS.

Second, I'm not sure how many SC meetings you've attended, but we've now spent three meetings with the entire SC saying in unison that we'd like larger class sizes and fewer losses of electives (e.g., music ensembles, wood carving, etc.). I wouldn't describe the SC as being satisfied at any level with the cuts list in the HS (and we are now 48 hours away from voting on this budget).

Third, once you vote the budget, you can move cuts around. But you can't increase the budget. And that means the regional budget stands to benefit 1.4 million dollars in an override and the Amherst budget stands to benefit less than $200,000 (and lets remember that the elementary schools have far more students who need intervention and ELL and special ed). I'm very uncomfortable voting a budget which devotes so many more resources to MS and HS at the cost of younger kids -- this goes against all research on the benefits of early intervention -- and given our regional system, once we vote these numbers, we can't just move regional money to Amherst.

E.L. - I too think Marcy raises some important points. But I still have concerns about this approach, as I outline in my response above.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that there is any convincing of Catherine that can be done here, either from Marcy, or Rick, or Stephanie, or Alisa, or me.

When she states "I agree that an override will be needed sometime soon", what is the significance of that statement?

For me, that means that we know NOW that we will need the money eventually, a point that can't be determined with precision but is looming out there some time in the future.

So, if this is akin to the asteroid out there which will hit the Earth at some unclear time, isn't it time to begin steering out of its way? Or do you want to continue to argue about when to begin?

For me, this is NOT about Catherine's sincerity. It's about the quality of her judgment on this limited issue. The arguments about a) the timing, b) the amount, c) the allocation of the amount, d) "there's too much at stake in losing to do this now" strike me as one or two arguments too many in her personal brief against an override now. Does anyone else see some inherent contradiction there in the thicket between those points?

For those of us who remember the Parking Garage ordeal, we know what "making the perfect the enemy of the good" looks like. We dodged that bullet with the Mark's Meadow closing because it was a 5-0 vote on SC.

But I think that she's dug in here and her friends are not digging her out. And, I'm happy to be corrected on this: I haven't seen her budge on this since it began to loom on the horizon several months ago.

It's too bad because I think that her bigger agenda for the schools is riding on her call here. Her opposition will be viewed as enough permission to vote "no" for many. They won't look at the nuance in what she's saying. They won't assess the soundness of the basis for her position. And some override supporters will blame her if it's defeated, without looking at the other reasons the vote would fail or the other good work she's been doing up to now.

I would observe that in 2007 both Anne Awad and Hwei-Ling Greeney opposed the override. Ms. Awad then moved out of town and left Select Board several months early. Ms. Greeney was defeated in the next election when she ran for reelection, amidst many claims from her supporters that she was treated unfairly in the campaign.

Marcy argued this as a "win/win" situation better than I ever could, and I sign on to her argument. But it's also been made by Andy Churchill and others. And she doesn't see it. By facilitating the discussion on this blog, she's allowed us all to lead her horse to water, but we can't make her drink.

Rich Morse

Concerned Taxpayer said...

I trust Catherine's judgement. I also trust Irv Rhodes' silence. She has been working in the heart of the school matters for a while now and if she says "I'm not sure now is the time," I believe her. Irv has been working actively in town for many years with the budget (Finance Committee, FCCC) and if he isn't leaping up to say "we need an override," then I infer from his silence that we do not.

If we vote an override, no matter what they say, they will assess the tax and spend it. I think what Irv and Catherine are trying to do here is make sure that we really DO need the money in our schools THIS YEAR to save our CORE educational values. They don't just want to tax us so we can continue to spend money on things that will likely continue to put us in a poor budgetary position in future years.

Trust Irv and Catherine...they were not on the School Committee that voted for unsustainable raises (between STEP and COLA, most teachers are getting over 5% raise this year) but are the voice of the future.

Ed said...

I would observe that in 2007 both Anne Awad and Hwei-Ling Greeney opposed the override. Ms. Awad then moved out of town and left Select Board several months early. Ms. Greeney was defeated in the next election


If I am not mistaken, those who opposed the override (Larry K being one) also was a vocal opponent of Awad and I kinda think not overly supportive of Greeney.

Facts matter folks - and one needs to look at the whole picture and not just little pieces. After all, which way did Ms. Awad's husband go on the '07 override?

By facilitating the discussion on this blog, she's allowed us all to lead her horse to water, but we can't make her drink.

Maybe she sees something that you and others don't. She does, after all, work in the private sector.

Anonymous said...

I can trust Catherine and Irv, and I can disagree with them. Making it seem like an either/or is really wrong and what an earlier poster called "polarizing". If we're to try and fix the schools together, making people choose which "camp" they're in doesn't seem to support progress for Amherst.

I think the belief that "If we vote an override, no matter what they say, they will assess the tax and spend it." demonstrates a lack of trust that people like Stephanie O'Keeffee have not earned.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich - so, a few points here. I don't feel "dug in" -- I feel like I have a responsibility to be honest with the voters and to make a decision based on the evidence I see, NOT on the basis of the calls I hear from parents/teachers saying "without an override, our schools will be destroyed." I don't see that, and I can't pretend to see that, and that may be where I fall on a different line than you/Marcy/Andy/Rick.

Here's what our regional schools look like next year WITHOUT an override: choices of four world languages in 7th grade, music instruction every single day in 7th and 8th, class size averages ranging from 22 to 25 in the high school, class size averages of 20 in the middle school.

Here's what our regional schools look like next year WITH an override: choices of six world language in 7th grade, music instruction every day in 7th and 8th grade (this doesn't change), class size averages of 21 to 22 in the high school (smaller than in 3rd to 6th grade), class size averages of 20 in the middle school (this doesn't change with an override).

OK, so to be clear -- support for an override this year is designed to save German and Russian at the middle school AND reduce high school class sizes by 2 kids a class. There are definitely some other adds if an override passes, but these are really big ones (e.g., we can save the band director for $40,000, which could be found if we were willing to make some trades on these cut lists -- like increasing 8th grade class size to its CURRENT level).

If those seem like important adds, then you should support an override. But these don't frankly seem like cuts we can't live without (or that change the nature of the high school forever -- there is basically no impact on the MS or the ES).

And, and let me repeat this point, if we pass an override on March 23rd, we are saying that we won't ask for another override for several years -- and that means that we are in effect saying we want to spend 1.4 million maintaining programs/class size at the high school for the next few years MORE than we want to really expand options and programs K to 6 (e.g., universal preschool, K to 6 world language, increased music/art, summer school) -- because once this budget passes, these amounts are set -- and the elementary schools get $170,000.

That's a big decision to me. And until I feel like I can say it is more important to have Russian offered in 7th grade and smaller classes in the high school (smaller than they were in 2003-2004), I don't feel right supporting an override.

We are in the midst of a massive health care debate as a country, and one of the key things that makes health care in the US so expensive is that we spend no money on prevention (e.g., wellness care) and so much money on end of life care. That is, in effect, what we are seeing with this budget. Let's keep all the bells and whistles at the high school but let's have bare-bones elementary schools (while we remember that the elementary schools serve about twice as many low income kids than the regional schools). That choice doesn't sit well with me, as a parent of a 5-year-old, as a School Committee member, or as an educator who has read a lot of research on the benefits of early intervention.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me, continued:

Rich -
Will this position cost me a re-election bid? Potentially, yes. But I have to take the positions I feel are right for all kids, even if they are very politically unpopular. And I still can't justify any override that provides 5 times the resources to 7th to 12th than it does to K to 6th. That is why I've asked for more time -- so that we could really consider our K to 12 system and go to the voters asking for more money when we truly understand what it would cost to have the system we want.

One final thing - let's remember that I'm not alone in this thinking. Steve has clearly indicated he's not comfortable with supporting an override, and I believe Irv shares this view. We therefore have 5 people on the SC: Kathleen and Andy are the only ones supporting this override (and they have been on the SC the longest, and clearly have a different view about the role and responsibility of the SC in engaging in real budget oversight).

Concerned Taxpayer - thank you for your support here. And I'll just add here that once you pass an override to save certain things, it becomes harder to change your budget priorities. Rick Hood commented yesterday that "there's no money for universal preschool" and sure, that's right -- because we have prioritized smaller high school class sizes and 6 world languages OVER preschool. And as soon as you pass an override to save those things, it becomes harder to say "well, we have now decided that we really need X" because then there isn't money for X (because we funded the override for something else AND promised the voters we wouldn't ask again for a while).

Ed - I have no idea if I'll win a re-election bid or not. But I would hope all voters elect the person they feel best represents their view about how the schools should be and how to get there. I believe SC members have a responsibility to make tough (even unpopular) decisions if they feel those are right -- like closing a school, redistricting, and yes, even failing to support an override IF they don't feel this is the right timing/amount/distribution.

Anonymous 7:41 - thanks for the wise words. I believe good, smart, and reasonable people can disagree about whether this is the right time to ask for an override. I respect and trust those on both sides of this issue, which is a very difficult one for many reasons.

One final thing: I would support an override in 2011, as I've said repeatedly, IF that override would lead to fundamental changes to our schools in ways that benefit all kids. I just don't have enough information to say how much money would be needed and what our schools would look like -- and I think getting that information THIS year with a new superintendent was pretty much impossible (a point I've made repeatedly to many on SB and SC and the leaders of the override fight for several months now).

Anonymous said...

These last two posts, more than any others, convince me not to support an override this year. I will, however, support one next year, after the SC and the administrators have had a chance to really look hard ad the ES and possibly make some revolutionary, well thought out and excellent changes to the ES. CS's reasoning makes alot of sense. And those who are paying attention will be more likely to support an override if the reasons for the override are presented after a thorough and comprehensive review of the progams in the ES, MS and HS.

The last couple of years have been busy ones in the schools with the closing of MM, and the resulting redistricting. Now the SC can focus on looking at our schools and really deciding how we want them to look, not what we want to cut and save.

I have been on the fence about how I will vote for the override up to now. I am now off the fence and on the vote no side.

Concerned Amherst Parent said...

So now I'm hearing a decidedly pro- ES at the expense of the MS and HS from you, using the "every child" rationale. Your description of the high school as "end of life care" seems highly inappropriate, insensitive, disrespectful to high schoolers, and hyperbolic. In fact it's objectionable on many levels.

Can't you make an argument for ES initiatives without attacking the high school?

You may be good at a lot of things, but drawing parallels between your work on the regional school committee and national debates and discussions is not one of them. And though I personally support larger class sizes at ARHS, a reduction of languages at ARMS, and a delay in a school related override, I feel disappointed that no parent with a middle/high schooler is running for school committee. I am becoming concerned that those of us who have kids in those schools may not be represented well by the current majority of SC members.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 9:13 - I agree that a well thought-out plan would bring MANY voters to support an override. And that we just haven't had time to do that this year, for many good reasons (e.g., closing MM, redistricting, new superintendent, many new principals, a missing MS principal). However, to be clear -- I'm not trying to tell people how to vote on the override, and I believe everyone needs to make that decision on their own. I'm just trying to use this blog to explain to voters my own thought process.

Concerned Amherst Parent - three things here. First, I have a 6th grader, who will be in the MS next year -- in fact, I'll be the only SC member (from Amherst) who has kids in the regional schools. So, I certainly care on a personal level about the quality of programs and resources at the regional level (e.g., what will his class sizes be, will he be able to take a particular language, how much music/PE is offered). Second, as an SC member, my responsibility is to ALL kids, not just some (or my own). I voted to close MM although it was distinctly possible that my own kids would move schools, because that was the right thing to do. It doesn't feel right to me to spend 1.4 million on 7th to 12th and 170,000 on the elementary schools -- because that doesn't feel right to all kids and it doesn't fit with my read of early intervention work. Third, you describe my position as "pro-ES" ... but all I'm saying is that I think we should have a balance (which is not 10 to 1)! That isn't pro-ES ... it is pro-balancing ES and MS and HS! Remember, we have a limited amount of resources -- we have more resources if the override passes, but we will ALWAYS have a limited amount of resources, and thus we ALWAYS have to balance how we spend these resources. Spending more on the MS/HS means we have less to spend on the ES. Now, if you, or others, think that the right way to spend this money is to spend 10X on the MS/HS as on the ES, then you are comfortable with this budget. But it's not realistic to say "let's pass a 2.9 override to give a million to both ES and MS/HS" so we have to choose.

For me, I'd be a lot more comfortable if the schools allocation was more like 50/50 than 10 to 1 (that is NOT pro-ES ... that is pro-balance). That's it -- I'm sorry if you disagree with my analogy, but again, I think lots of education research suggests we should be spending more K to 6 (and even birth to K) than 7 to 12, so I find the current proposed allocation of resources very troubling. Given that resources are limited, we are in effect saying it is MORE important to have Russian/German in 7th grade, and more sections of ceramics and photography, and more social studies and English electives, and smaller MS/HS class sizes THAN to have summer school for low income kids, universal preschool, or K to 6 world language. You may think this allocation is fine, but lets not pretend that we aren't making choices: spending more on something means we spend less on something else. That's the key thing that we all need to remember, regardless of where you stand on these cuts or on an override.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:13 here - Plese know, Catherine, that you have not told me how to vote on the override and I apologize if you or anyone else got that impression. The point I was trying to make is that I have been reading the back and forth here, other places, and talking to many people. And your points, as well as some others, have helped me to make my own decision on how to vote. Which I think is how voting works in a democacry, - you listen to all sides of an issue and then make your own decision which side is most persuasive and vote accordingly.

Rest assured, you have not told me how to vote - you and others have simply informed me and I have chosen. Believe me, no one ever tells me what to do!! Espcially when it comes to voting!

Rick said...


I get that you want to continue to work on what items the budget funds and that’s fine.

But the total amount of money needed for the budget is more or less known – it’s just a matter of replacing some items with other items as you continue that work within that total amount.

You probably can’t ask for more money because everyone has been told they simply have to cut and where that line has been drawn (at around $800,000 cuts) is probably about it.

You could ask for less money, but why would you do that when there are things you want added that cost money, unless you really think there are so many items more that could be cut that you can fund additions and cut more?

I don’t believe you have to vote a final budget this week. I don’t recall the final date for that but I believe it’s a month out. So you have more time to adjust the details.

I feel that all the SC needs to say or vote on is “at this point in time we believe we need this amount of money” in order to give the best advise you can to the BCG and SB.

Where that money comes from is mainly nothing to do with the SC. It’s up to SB to say if they want to use an override or reserves; and some of the money may come from union givebacks.

kevin said...

As we say in Aspen, Catherine, watch out for the turkeys.


Just Confused said...

I am finding this all very weird. Town leaders (elected and self-appointed) launched an override movement where most of the money goes to the high school without talking to the Amherst School Committee first.

Several School Committee members aren't convinced an override is needed this year but may want money next year for the elementary schools which won't benefit much from this override.

And now the override push continues without the support of the School Committee itself -- or the majority of the School Committee members individually.

And then School Committee members are being criticized for not supporting an override they weren't asked to support, didn't ask for, may not need and doesn't pay for the programs they want.

What's up with all this?

TC said...

Reading all the discussion about the override, some points come to my mind:

1) With the redistricting, we are going to have 3 new elementary schools in Amherst next year. Kids, teachers, and staff are going to switch schools, and I believe we have a real opportunity here to reassess and rebuild each of the schools, to make them better for every kid in this town. That big change, together with the already mentioned facts that we have a new Superintend and new principals in the elementary schools, results in a lot of change and a lot of uncertainty. In that context, I must agree with Catherine that delaying the override for the schools would give us the opportunity to know better what we need/want for the elementary schools. We have a golden opportunity here to build 3 schools where our kids can have excellent education, and if we pass an override this year that will only allocate 170.000 for the elementary schools, and with the promise that another override won't come in many years, we might compromise the town's ability to fund our new elementary schools.
2)If, as Catherine says, the difference in the Middle School and High school with our without an override are only these:

Here's what our regional schools look like next year WITHOUT an override: choices of four world languages in 7th grade, music instruction every single day in 7th and 8th, class size averages ranging from 22 to 25 in the high school, class size averages of 20 in the middle school.

Here's what our regional schools look like next year WITH an override: choices of six world language in 7th grade, music instruction every day in 7th and 8th grade (this doesn't change), class size averages of 21 to 22 in the high school (smaller than in 3rd to 6th grade), class size averages of 20 in the middle school (this doesn't change with an override).

Do we really need to pass a 1.4 million override for the regional schools? Can someone please explain, because I don't see how these changes can cost that amount of money.

In conclusion, the idea mentioned by one of the posters of having a town override this year and a school override next year makes much more sense to me.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. Everyone is talking about what the difference is with and without an over ride at the MS/HS level and ES Level. The list includes differences in music, class size etc. however there has been no mention about services to students who need them most...SPED services, Math Plus, PE restoration etc. Are we not forgetting something in how the schools will and will not look. I know it is not popular to mention SPED etc but I fear that without more funds the kids who need the most help will take the brunt of the cuts be it through no longer having professional teachers to help and using parras in the classroom to not having PE which helps all students release energy during the day. I know that we are having an audit of SPED and as a SPED parent it is way overdue...I just question all the talk about what the schools will look like with and without an over ride with no mention of those services it is a bit misleading.

Anonymous said...

> universal preschool

Line 18 of the restoration/cut list for the elementary schools has "Add Pre-K school (3)", with $90,000 shown in red because it's an "add".

The elementary school restoration/cut list is on pages 7 and 8 of the "BCG Report to SB 02082010" in the 02-08-2010 Select Board Packet. (Restorations from the top; cuts from the bottom. Cuts include those attributable to Marks Meadow, minus one-year "Moving/Transition costs" of $90,000 shown in red.)

Lines 9 through 21, shown with a light green background color, are what school administration is proposing to restore if there's a successful override.

Lines 22 through 58, shown with gray background, will have to be cut whether or not there's an override.

Lines 1 through 8, shown with dark green background and above the "Assumes -5% State Aid" line, are expected to be restored under a conservative assumption that half the Governor's proposal to level fund local aid survives the legislature.

The regional school restoration/cut list is on pages 8 and 9.

Anonymous said...

I am THRILLED to see that you are a supporter of more public PK. As a PK professional (among other qualifications) I was SHOCKED to the core to discover, upon entering employment in the Amherst schools, that there was limited school district provided PK for kids from low-income homes.

These were often (though not the only) kids who arrived w/no literacy skills, unable to use a scissor (in this day and age, in a community like Amherst! For shame!),socially immature and not ready to learn. Didn't know their colors, couldn't count to ten, not fluent in English (though born here), etc.

Thus, many Amherst kindergarteners were and are a handful. Universal PK would be a HUGE, HUGE help now that kindergarten curriculum is akin to pushed down first grade (reading encouraged, if not expected).

Four world languages is two more than most middle schools have. German and Russian are a luxury. Amherst is clearly out of the luxury business for now. Just get over it, folks.

As much as it is social justice to provide universal PK (with transportation), it will also make for a better classroom experience in kindergarten for the kids who are ready to learn.

Abbie said...

I haven’t posted because I have been trying to formulate my position on the override and trying to understand CS (and Rivkin’s) position. I unreservedly support an override. I think CS’s and SR’s current position has reduced the chances of it passing this year and if it doesn’t pass this year then next year’s opportunity will be scuppered. This is my reading of the tea leaves. So as this train is already steamed and ready to head out the door, CS and SR are essentially killing the opportunity for an override this year AND next year.

I think I understand CS’s position in that she doesn’t want to ask for money which is earmarked for certain things IF that is where it HAS to go. If I understand correctly, CS doesn’t want to get locked into the distribution of $1.1 million to MS/HS and $176,000 to the ESs. They think that we need more time to consider the zero budget (how we WANT our schools to be instead of how do we keep them as exactly as they are now).

As I understand it, override allocations only stand for FY11 and the increase in the budget (or rather less of a cut) can be allocated HOWEVER in subsequent years. I understand that this year has been brutally busy for the schools and administrators (at least the ESs) and maybe this could account for some of the slowness in examining the HS and best practices, as well as the ongoing current SPED review. I fear, however, that CS and SR are using the override as some sort of leverage to FORCE the schools (MS/HS) to consider the changes that they desire (some of which I agree with). I think this is playing hardball where the losers are kids.

Next year I believe negotiations open with the teachers union. I think its critical to understand (at much as possible) what kind of money will be in the budget going into those negotiations. If the override was to be postponed until next year (or fail this year and be resurrected next year), we wouldn’t have clue. This would make negotiations really difficult. Am I wrong in the timing?

I, personally, can say that our experience has been that the budget cut to the ES was devastating but won’t speak more to it publically. When Meg Rosa says that it has been devastating to her child’s experience, I take big notice. Meg has always shown herself to be a loyal school supporter, when she says cuts are unsupportable for her child, then I believe it. Could some of these problems be avoided without an override? Maybe, but the fact is, they haven’t and they are a DIRECT consequence of last years cuts. So I take issue with CS’s view that the cuts have been painless. Maybe her kids were lucky, but believe me, a sizable number weren’t.

It will take time to make structural/programmatic changes. An override will buy some time and potentially (after FY11) pay for some of the new programs on CS and SR want.

A question, where does the 1:10 ES:MS/HS number come from CS? I can’t come up with anything close to that ratio... 170,000:1.1mill isn’t 1:10 (its 1:6.4) and the ES budget vs the MS/HS budget also isn’t close...

I suggest, as others have, that we seriously consider the phrase “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”. It seems, however, that CS and SR positions are immutable, which is sad because I fear that it makes impossible an override this year or the next. The override horse is heading out the door, next year the stall will be empty.

Anonymous said...

"I think CS’s and SR’s current position has reduced the chances of it passing this year and if it doesn’t pass this year then next year’s opportunity will be scuppered."

Can you please explain why you think this is true?

Anonymous said...

Just watched the Feb. 2 Select Board meeting. Is Kathleen Anderson nuts????????????? Who does she think she is????

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, she is not going to be reelected!!! She is so one-track-minded, it is truly scary. It is obvious from her statements that she is not "for every child, every day" but only for a small segment of children in town. It is also clear that she doesn't even try to tone it down or be collegial, even when her fellow SC members are going overboard to make sure her thoughts are taken into consideration. At least after that meeting we know that there will be TWO seats up for grabs at this next election. Bring on the change!

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