My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Amherst Regional School Committee votes on budget tonight

Hampshire Gazette
By NICK GRABBE
Friday, March 26, 2010

AMHERST - Now that pressure on the regional school budget has eased, several School Committee members want to cut in half the number of study halls at Amherst Regional High School next year.

The Amherst and Regional School Committees will meet jointly tonight at 6:30 in the library of Amherst Regional High School. The Amherst committee will choose a new chair and set dates for its budget discussion, and the regional committee will vote a budget and decide how many students living outside the district to accept next year.

The regional schools could spend up to $678,000 more than expected because Amherst residents approved an override of state limits on property taxes on Tuesday. In addition, teacher union givebacks will provide an extra $175,000, the schools could spend $175,000 in reserves, and state aid is expected to be $96,000 more than expected.

School Committee member Steve Rivkin proposed at Wednesday's meeting that study halls be cut from two to one next year to increase instructional time. Members Catherine Sanderson and Rick Hood agreed with him.

"Having gone to the town (for the override) and having a budget of $16,000 per kid, we should provide an education where kids can take advantage of all opportunities," Rivkin said.

Sanderson said, "It's a shame that students are spending so much time in study hall." Hood, who was elected to the committee Tuesday, said, "A lot of customers are asking for that."

The cost of making the change is estimated at $330,000, mostly for elective teachers, or the committee could decide to increase class sizes. The School Committee must also weigh the importance of about $175,000 in programs, mostly in special education, that are still at risk.

But many potential cuts - including academic teachers, physical education, the Family & Consumer Science Department, and the technology/business/computer department - will probably not be made because of the extra money.

Note from Catherine: Steve made a motion to strongly recommend not requiring high school students to take more than one study hall as of the 2010-2011 academic year. This motion passed 6 to 3, with all of the Amherst members voting in favor (Sanderson, Rivkin, Rhodes, Hood, Spence), who were joined by Kristen Luschen (Shutesbury). The two members from Pelham (Farham, Weilerstein) and the Leverett member (Hajir) voted no.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like the Amhers SC has been listening, thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea. Instead of 2n study hall, kids could take another elective, PE or English course. If they want another study hall they can take that too. Kids on teams may want that second study hall to get homework in before practice.

At a meeting at the high school on social studies program, Principal Mark Jackson said there's a big difference between choosing to take a second study hall and being required to -- and his preference was not to have a second required study hall. I couldn't agree more. Here's his opportunity to make that change.

If there is some extra money, Catherine, is there a chance of restoring Art to the 7th grade? The middle school has been cut pretty thin and now students only get one trimester of art in the 8th grade. It would be great for 7th graders have a chance to do some art, learn in a different but important way and continue all the great art they do in elementary school.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

I wonder why 3 members voted against a second required study hall. It seems to be a highly desirable thing. Are there any potential problems with not requiring a second study hall?

Anonymous said...

They didn't vote against a second required study hall; they voted to allow the schools (Superintendent, Principal, schedulers, etc.) to do the best they could not to schedule a second study hall when a student didn't want it and report back to the committee with their findings about how feasible it was, what problems they encountered when trying to do so, as well as what types of unforseen cascading effects cropped up as they tried to carry out the mission. In short, they voted to trust the educators to do the best they could with a focus on what was best for all kids in the district.

Tired Parent said...

Again, I am troubled by the fact that the SC representatives of the hill towns differ in policy views from the SC representatives from Amherst. Someone recently posted that the hilltowns want different things from our Regional schools than do Amherst parents/representatives and I am starting to believe that is true.

I honestly don't see the problem with reducing the number of mandatory study halls to one (still more than required than in all other local districts). Under that new model, students who wanted to take two study halls would still have the opportunity.

Catherine, can you explain more about the reasoning of the hilltown SC members who voted against this motion? Thank you.

Curious and now frustrated observer said...

Here's one of the ways I look at this issue - I don't mind paying the highest taxes and having well-paid teachers (the second highest teachers's salaries in the region). I do mind that our students are in class the least amount of time. I mind that Greenfield and Hadley are doing better by their lower-performing kids than we are. I want that for our Amherst kids too.

If the administrators were able to adjust the high school schedule to install a second mandatory study hall, surely they can remove this study hall and go back to the previous schedule.

Of course, there will be problems (cascading or not) with removing a second mandatory study hall. There are problems (or adjustments) with any change. I bet there were scheduling problems each time a mandatory study hall was added. Or when the schools went to trimester system. (In fact, it's harder to put together a trimester and balance class sizes than with a semester schedule.) That's what our administrators are hired to do -- sort it out problems.

But to wait and wait to discuss every possible problem in the next weeks will ensure that this change is not made for next year. The for another year, Amherst high school kids will sit in two study halls whether they want to or not.

Rick said...

”Are there any potential problems with not requiring a second study hall?”
It’s mainly a tradeoff between higher class size and one or two study halls. If money (more teachers) can be added to the solution, that reduces the tradeoff. I argued for using the $175,000 in givebacks for this.
“Someone recently posted that the hilltowns want different things from our Regional schools than do Amherst parents/representatives and I am starting to believe that is true.”
Please don’t go down that path too quickly. Those who voted against it probably view small class sizes as a higher priority which is not a crazy position to take by any means. Also, you can only vote yes or no and those votes do not show how close the decision may have been in their minds.

Anonymous said...

It seems like a "no brainer" to have the least number of mandatory study halls possible. Why does the SC have to push for this?!

Tired Parent said...

Rick, you state that "Those who voted against it probably view small class sizes as a higher priority." Is that what they said? Was that their stated reason for voting against the reduction in study halls? I am just trying to understand why.

Regarding class sizes, I thought now that the override had passed, we were NOT going to be increasing class sizes...and that cutting a study hall would mean being able to take extra electives? Am I just confused? I looked at the class sizes this year and there are many classes under 20 students. Couldn't you just open those up to students in study halls those periods to fill the classes and get rid of one study hall? Or at least offer the kids that option?

I am tired of having to fight to get my kids what most area kids get--full day instruction every day of the week in elementary school (no early release days) and a full day of instruction every day in the high school (no mandatory study halls). We pay more for it, why shouldn't we get it?

Rick said...

”Is that what they said?”
I actually don’t recall exactly what they said – it should be in the minutes when they come out ( http://www.arps.org/node/283).
”Couldn't you just open those up to students in study halls those periods to fill the classes and get rid of one study hall?”
Yes, that is exactly what they are doing. The only problem with this is whether or not seats are available in classes that a student may wish to take instead of a study hall. And the number of seats available is dependent on the class size one allows classes to grow to.
”We pay more for it, why shouldn't we get it?”
We are paying more, but even so, cuts of $1,065,214 are being made (which would have been $950,000 higher without the override and teacher givebacks). In order to reduce study hall time, without affecting class size, you have to add teachers. We have subtracted teachers over the years with budget cuts.

Rick said...

But there is a debate about this:

1. Are we spending money in places that that we should not be, and could we shift money back to hiring teachers instead?

2. Can we live with higher class sizes than we are?

There are those for who the answer to both is obviously “yes”. But this is tough and not as obvious as people might like to think it is.

For example there are many who think we spend too much on SPED. That may be true, but what is definitely true is this:

1. You have SPED administration exercising control over the process to try to hold down costs because of budget pressures.

2. You have parents of SPED children who hate this because they want the SPED teachers making the decisions.

3. You have people saying we spend too much on legal costs to fight parents of SPED children who want “too much”, and then you have people who say we spend too little and thus are not holding down costs enough.

4. In the meantime, state reimbursement has been reduced from 75% of the amount over $30,340 (per child) five years ago, to 42% of the amount over $37,328 today. So a SPED child whose expense is $50,000 now costs the district $44,677 (net) whereas five years ago it cost $35,255.

The enemy here is the state and federal governments with their cuts to school funding and their unfunded mandates. That’s a fact of life we have to live with, but it’s important to understand where the main source of the problem is.

Given the budget situation we are in, I really think the administration is trying hard to do what it can. However, they may not be bold enough in trying to reduce or shift costs. That is hard to do and I think we as SC members need to encourage them to take bold action because given the lousy circumstances we are handed by our state and federal governments, it’s required to be bold.

Anonymous said...

Rick, you are a hero for wading through all this. Really.

Anonymous said...

From Ricks post:
”Couldn't you just open those up to students in study halls those periods to fill the classes and get rid of one study hall?”
Yes, that is exactly what they are doing. The only problem with this is whether or not seats are available in classes that a student may wish to take instead of a study hall. And the number of seats available is dependent on the class size one allows classes to grow to.

I have not seen that option for my kids since study halls became mandatory. Is this really available?

Anonymous said...

CS-

How common is it for 7th graders to not have ANY fine art instruction? In the region? state? nation? Just curious.

Rick said...

”Is this really available?”
Yes it is, but your question makes me think it needs to be made a lot more obvious how to go about doing this. I will check and get back.

Anonymous said...

Questions Amherst voters and parents should not have to ask:

1) is this really available?
2) how do people find out about that?
3) why didn't I know about "x" being a requirement for "y" until after it was too late for my child to do "x"?

Unfortunately overrides don't correct this.

But websites can.

Anonymous said...

Rick, we have "SE administrators" trying hard to keep the costs down? If each of them earns the equivalent of two teachers, shouldn't we just have one SE administrator and use the money for the students' actual needs? What is the opposite of Special Education? How many administrators do we hire for that?