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, March 31, 2010

Final Recommendations from the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee

Note: This email was sent to the School Committee, and I thought would be of interest to my blog readers (and it is a public document -- therefore I can post it). I want to express my thanks to all members of this group, including current School Committee member Rick Hood, School Committee candidate Ernie Dalkas, and the superb chair of this group, Alison Donta.

The Budget Advisory Committee reports that, with the posting of the composite report of questions and answers on, the Committee has fulfilled its current charge as written. It is our recommendation that the current committee’s work be concluded and that you create an expanded committee to follow up on this work. The goal of this new committee would be to inform not only the current budget process but also to inform budget-related decisions pertaining to the upcoming contract negotiations, the special education review, and the hiring of two key positions—a curriculum director and a superintendent.

We recommend that this new committee be formed immediately, soliciting volunteers from the public, and should focus on specific areas we have highlighted as having a large potential impact on our current and future budget situation. Those areas are:

  • Production of a line-item budget for each district
  • Increasing transparency and improving communication around this budget
Contract review
  • Salaries, including COLAs and STEP increases
  • Health insurance
  • Additional contractually-negotiated items
  • Outline of current structure
  • Understanding role of each administrator within system
  • Goal for system under new superintendent
Special Education
  • More thorough understanding of current special education budget and services
  • Liaison with outside evaluators currently conducting review
“Middle School Identity”
  • Explore context of two-year middle school
  • Investigate educational and budgetary implications of moving the middle school to the high school
  • Investigate educational and budgetary implications of moving the sixth grade to the middle school
  • Investigate educational and budgetary implications of expanding to a K-12 district
  1. Including all four towns
  2. Including Amherst and Pelham only
  3. Amherst only
  • Explore issues of
  1. Curricular alignment
  2. Transportation costs
  3. Current Regional Agreement

We further recommend that this newly-formed committee solicit volunteers to work on a specific item above, taking advantage of the different types of skills and interests of various citizens. Ideally, the committee would meet as a whole to create a plan to tackle each of these items and then form subcommittees of 2-3 citizens. Each subcommittee would work to investigate a specific topic, using data from our districts, data from comparative districts, conversations with the public, and information from town managers and school administrators. The goal of each subcommittee is to thoroughly investigate one area above and to produce reports that will inform the decision-making process of the School Committees and which can be posted on the web site for public consumption. The chair of the committee as a whole will help coordinate the work of the subcommittees and serve as the main liaison with the School Committee.

It is our recommendation that this work be commenced immediately and be concluded in time to inform these upcoming decisions facing our districts. Proposed timelines for subcommittee work are outlined below:

  • Budget—April 2010 through June 2010
  • Contract Review—April 2010 through August 2010
  • Administration—April 2010 through August 2010
  • Special Education—April 2010 through December 2010
  • “Middle School Identity”—June 2010 with preliminary report by December 2010, potentially continuing pending results of initial study
  • Regionalization—June 2010 with preliminary report by December 2010, potentially continuing pending results of initial study
The members of the current Budget Advisory Committee have expressed an interest in playing a role in this new committee but feel strongly that the School Committee should form a new committee under a new charge and issue a call for volunteers to serve. Members of the current Budget Advisory Committee could then be considered for membership along with any new volunteers coming forward.

We have appreciated the opportunity to serve our school districts and to provide useful budget-related information both to the public and to the School Committees.

Respectfully Submitted on behalf of the Committee,
Alison Donta-Venman, Chair, Budget Advisory Committee


kevin said...


Big thanks to Jim Chumbley, Joe Cullen, Alison Donta-Venman (Chair), Joe Gensheimer, Jennifer Holme, Rick Hood, Ernie Dalkas, and Stan Gawle


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Yes, I agree! Well said!