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.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hood, Spence Join School Board

Hampshire Gazette
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

AMHERST - Richard Hood, who got the most votes for School Committee in Tuesday's election, sees himself as a bridge builder.

Robert Spence, who was also elected, said that as an emergency room physician he can bring to the School Committee his training in "using data to make decisions and taking care of patients at the same time."

Hood received 2,418 votes and Spence got 1,964. Incumbent Kathleen Anderson will leave the committee after coming in third with 1,475 votes. Vince O'Connor got 1,342 votes and Ernest Dalkas 597.

Six-year committee member Andrew Churchill was not seeking re-election.

Hood and Spence, who have been attending most School Committee meetings, will get started immediately. The committee has meetings tonight and Thursday night to discuss the budget for next year.

"My main thing is to bring people together and get away from focusing on personalities," said Hood. "We need to get back to the district's goals and what we need to do to accomplish those goals."

Hood, 52, is self-employed in Web site development and graphic design. He lives at 48 Farmington Road, has children who are 23 and 21, and moved to Amherst in 2001. He said the fact that he's no longer a parent of students in the schools will not lessen his sense of urgency.

"My kids got a good education, and this means I'll have more time to devote to it," he said. "I'm not on the committee to not get something done."

Hood has a blog at but it has been dormant during the campaign. He said he plans to revive it.

"I want everyone to be in love with the schools," he said. "There are parents who are not in love with the schools. I want teachers to be involved, and I don't want people to leave the schools; I want to attract them."

Hood said Amherst has good teachers and principals and he is happy with interim Superintendent Maria Geryk. "There's no reason not to go forward to make improvements in the schools and listen to parents and give the schools' customers what they want," he said.

Before the results were in, Churchill said that Hood would be an effective successor. "He has the temperament and experience at the high school and the interest in data," he said. "I felt like he'd be a productive member of the committee and get along with everyone."

While Hood supported the override, Spence did not take a position and received an endorsement from a leader of the "no" campaign. He had supporters on both sides of the override, and this created "a level of trust between people who felt strongly that I can work for everyone to make strong schools," he said.

School Committee members Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin were at Spence's victory party Tuesday. He denied that they will form a voting bloc, though all three are "vocal about academic rigor and using data to evaluate how to do things" and they want to compare Amherst's performance to other districts, he said.

The committee's first goal should be "to help hire a strong, experienced, excellent superintendent" after "casting a search far and wide and not settling for anything less," Spence said. Another goal is "to constantly re-examine whatever we do to make sure it's as good as it can be," he said.

Spence, 39, lives at 16 Bayberry Lane and has children who are 4, 6 and 8. He came to Amherst in 2004. As an emergency room physician at Wing Memorial Hospital in Palmer, he works a shifting schedule but said he can block off the nights he needs to for his School Committee work.

Sanderson said she's confident she can work well with both Hood and Spence, whom she's known for several years. "I have great respect for both of them," she said. "Rick and Rob both care about academic excellence."

Hood and Spence will join Sanderson, Rivkin and Irv Rhodes on the Amherst School Committee, which governs the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools. All five also serve on the Regional School Committee, which is in charge of the secondary system.


TomG said...

Thanks to all the candidates who ran for the SC. Congratulations to Hood and Spence. I think they are both great additions to the team, a team which will make excellent decisions about the direction of our schools.

Ed said...

School Committee members Catherine Sanderson and Steve Rivkin were at Spence's victory party Tuesday. He denied that they will form a voting bloc

What the ideologues on the left (and, unfortunately now, increasingly, the right too) fail to understand is that principled people often vote alike because they have INDEPENDENTLY come to the same conclusions on things. And respect the judgment of the others enough to tip the balance if they aren't sure.

This is NOT a voting block. It is not lockstep conformity. And the ideologues will never understand this. Mitt Romney are you listening, we really were serious about inviting Kerry Healey to speak to the UM Republican Club....

Anonymous said...

How did you get this article? It's got today's date on it and yet it came out here at 11:30 p.m. last night?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

TomG - I agree with all you said!

Ed - indeed. I think it is funny that we are being accused of being a voting block -- are the Democrats a voting block trying to pass health care reform? Of course people who all care about having excellent schools that engage and challenge every child might vote in precisely the same way on policies/programs that work towards that goal.

Anonymous 7:15 - the Gazette publishes on line material the night before. It is available to all on their website.

Anonymous said...

Here's how I read the election results:

Most of us want intelligent school committee members who care about academic excellence.

Many of us are leery of a solid voting bloc with a fixed agenda. (Yes, I know you've addressed this perception elsewhere in the blog.) We'd like to see careful reflection, listening, and flexibility, even as we pursue the goal of excellence.

Anonymous said...

Here's how I read the election results:

Most of us want intelligent school committee members who care about academic excellence.

Many of us are leery of a solid voting bloc with a fixed agenda. (Yes, I know you've addressed this perception elsewhere in the blog.) We'd like to see careful reflection, listening, and flexibility as we continue to pursue the goal of excellence.

Anonymous said...

Are you talking about the voting block that put Maria Geryk in for the next year and a half as superintendent? I agree, that should have involved more reflection and listening. There wasn't even an opportunity for public comment. Except of course if that public happened to be the school administration.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Democrats do not vote in a bloc. That is part of the reason that even though they had a solid 60 member majority they still could not pass health reform.

It's the Republicans who always vote in a lockstep bloc...and always vote NO.

I am very fearful of ideological bloc voting on all SC matters that need a vote by Catherine, Steve and Rob. The ACE folks do have an ideology and its unfortunate that, at least on the Amherst SC, they will now be able to force through every thing they want. At least on the Regional level we will have some diveristy of thought. It is not healthy to have so little diversity of thought on the Amherst SC.

Anonymous said...

What I think that we should be bracing for is the Regional School Committee overruling the Amherst School Committee going forward time after time.

Watch for it.

Anonymous said...

Could you find out and post how the teacher givebacks will be used. Some of us think it will go to lower the tax increase since the town officials said if any additional revenue was found they would not tax to the full levy limit. I have heard others say it will go to the school budget to reverse cuts.

Anonymous said...

If the other three towns don't pass overrides, will the Regional budget have to be cut to a level that the other towns can support? If that happens, what will happen to the funds voted in the override?

Anonymous said...

I share the concerns about the ACE team taking over the Amherst School Committee. Since the open meeting law will make it impossible for the three of them to discuss educational issues in any setting other than a posted School Committee meeting, maybe it would help if all three would resign from ACE.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 10:10 - I am glad you believe voters want "intelligent school committee members who care about academic excellence." I haven't seen any evidence of a "voting block" at all on any issues during the last year, when there were three Amherst members who had signed ACE: me, Steve, Irv. My recollection -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is that virtually all votes were unanimous, and in the few that weren't, the divides were different (e.g., Kathleen, the non-ACE member, joined me/Irv/Steve, the ACE member, to ask for a more open process to hire a superintendent; Andy, the non-ACE member, joined me/Irv/Steve, in supporting a particular redistricting plan).

Anonymous 10:53 - good point. I'm wondering if people are worried that there seems to be a voting block of non-Amherst members on the regional committee, particularly given that these members answer to far fewer voters?

Anonymous 11:00 - look at the ACE list at Note the signatures. Note the range of different views represented -- that those signers include me, Irv, and Steve, as well as Stephanie Gelfan, Baer Tierkel, Clare Bertrand. Some ACE members supported the override, and some didn't (and that could be said for virtually every issue facing our schools -- the 9th grade ecology class, extensions, the elementary math curriculum -- ACE itself had a diversity of opinions!). There isn't an "ACE view" -- other than the view that we should have excellent schools that work for all kids -- and that is probably a view shared by many people in town! And I'm still not sure why Irv Rhodes is never identified as a member of ACE -- he has been since the beginning! So, were you concerned last year when ACE first had the voting block on the Amherst SC? Rick has ALSO signed ACE, so now all members of the Amherst SC share a goal of having excellent schools that work for all kids -- I guess I don't find that very scary.

Anonymous 11:02 - the challenges facing the Regional SC are considerable, and I really hope that people aren't going to vote in blocks -- but will vote in ways that reflect careful consideration of what is best for kids -- and pay respect to the public. I believe the vote to appoint a superintendent for 16 months without allowing any public comment was disrespectful of the public.

Anonymous 11:25 - my understanding, which could be wrong, is that the teacher givebacks will be used to restore additional cuts (e.g., to save teacher/staff jobs). I believe it will NOT be used to reduce the size of the override, which I think was a condition of the giveback.

Anonymous 11:29 - Shutesbury already has the money to spend, and Leverett plans to ask for an override, which their town officials believe will pass. That will force Pelham to find the money.

Anonymous 11:33 - I assume you are sending this email to Irv Rhodes as well, because he is a member of ACE, and has been since its inception? And I will be glad to resign from ACE as soon as you send a letter (signed with your name) to Baer Tierkel and ask for Irv and Rick to come off of the Sustaintable Amherst list that he runs -- which for years has included me, Steve, Irv, and Andy. It is interesting that there is so much concern about ACE ... which actually NEVER has never met! Again, I'd like to focus on the issues -- if you disagree with my views, or how I vote, tell me -- but simply stating that "there is an ACE block" is silly, just as it would be to say there is a "professors block" or a "people with elementary kids block" or whatever. Can you talk about the issues, or just the people's associations with groups that somehow you dislike?

LarryK4 said...

Umm...The Teacher giveback darn well better go toward reducing the recently passed Override as that is clearly what Andy Churchill stated at the crusty Gazette/Bulletin forum last week.

In fact, he made is sound as though the Override had ALREADY been reduced because of the giveback and the state cutting local aid by only 4% rather than 5%.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:02AM, regarding the non-Amherst members of the Regional SC voting against the Amherst SC members, I believe we have already seen that happen at the School Committee meeting where Maria Geryk was hastily appointed for 16 months as our interim Superintendent. Four of our five Amherst SC members voted against that. As an Amherst citizen and Regional School parent, knowing that we represent 80% of both the students and of the budget, this really concerns me.

Anonymous said...

And I think its great that we have a diversity of thought on the Regional Committee.

kevin said...


I am for taking for responsibility for ourselves, me for me and you for you.

LarryK4 said...

Umm...The Teacher giveback darn well better go toward reducing the recently passed Override

Umm...That would be up to Town Meeting, Lare. And, last time I checked, you are a TM member. So, that would be up to you.

If the override failed, we would be using those reserves Stan showed us exist to cover this year's budget shortfall.

Wasn't that what the debate was about, how to fund the shortfall? Stan said 'we have the reserves', Andy said 'they won't cover it'. Didn't Stan say we could use the 'toilet fund' to cover the shortfall.

At $1,000 each, the teachers volunteered to, essentially, take a four-year override, each. At $264, you only got one year. They are working more -- fewer teachers and bigger classes -- for less money. Isn't that what you wanted?

Now is your chance to do what you said you were going to do and cover the difference out of reserves. If NMO's won, that was what you said you were going to do, fund the shortfall out of reserves.

So, do it. Knock off some of the amount voters approved using reserves. No one is going to stop you.

Just do what you said you were going to do. That sounds like a plan.



Did Andy say that? And Stan didn't catch him? Darn. I hate it when that happens.


Anonymous said...

Kudos to you Anon 1:29.

We should really examine why Ms. Geryk was appointed by those from out of town. Note her salary increased by $33,000 (~25%) (those from outside Amherst proper may not be as concerned because their constituents are only responsible for ~$6600 of this.) Note that Geryk's resume is slim and largely confined to her experience running Amerhst SPED off the rails. Thanks to the non-Amherst members and A. Churchill we have mediocrity at the top for the next 16 months. (Thank you again Andy for your parting gift.)

Congrats to the new members of the RSC. To Mr. Hood I want to highlight your comments on this blog promoting the override because you wanted as much money as possible to improve the schools. Now that you have the cash from our pockets we are watching. You are now on the inside and responsible to those of us who are funding your improved communications project. I wish you the best of luck and support your efforts.

Dr. Spence, I hope that you stick to your principles and stand up for the students and their community by insisting on accountability from the school administrators for whom you are now responsible. It is time for you, Mr. Hood and the others on the RSC to take back the reigns of this system, provide clear guidance, and use the resources provided by a generous Amherst community more wisely than in the recent past.

C.L. said...

Catherine's response to Anonymous 10:53 - "I'm wondering if people are worried that there seems to be a voting block of non-Amherst members on the regional committee, particularly given that these members answer to far fewer voters?"

A few sincere questions:
1. are you saying we should be worried about an alleged voting block of non-amherst members at the regional school committee?
2. are you questioning a regional system where those members have equal influence to Amherst members despite the fact that they represent less voters?
3. what do you wish would happen as a result of this post/response?

kevin said...


When this school committee began in August, there was a promise made to get trained by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC).

May I suggest that Amherst adopt a policy that new members be requested to get trained, before they begin their term?

Perhaps, starting with this new crop?

And, maybe... everyone?

Now that the worst is behind us?

You said you would, just a reminder.



Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Larry - again, I could be wrong, but my understanding is the teacher give-back was designed to be used to save teacher/staff jobs, and thus reduce the cuts ... and that it would NOT reduce the size of the override. I will try to get clarity on this tonight.

Anonymous 1:29 - we have heard similar concerns from a number of parents.

Anonymous 1:34 - can you give me a sense of the diversity of opinions that we have on the regional SC? I'm just trying to clarify, since all non-Amherst members voted in a block (with Andy Churchill) to select Maria Geryk to a 16-month superintendent's position without hearing any public comment. Is that the type of diversity of opinion you are looking for?

Kevin - I'm lost here ... and will try to clarify how the giveback will be credited!

Anonymous 2:21 - I agree with you that ALL members of the SC (regional and Amherst) have a responsibility to make sure that the community's resources are used wisely. And I have every confidence that both Rick and Rob will be thoughtful and wise in how they use this responsibility.

CL - to answer your questions:

1. I have heard a lot about an "ACE block" so since people are worried about "blocks", I am just wondering if they are concerned about all types of "blocks" or just the ACE one.
2. I do think the current system is disadvantageous to Amherst voters. In choosing a superintendent, Amherst gets five votes, and Pelham gets three votes (Leverett gets 1, Shutesbury gets 1). So, Amherst has 50% of the choice, yet 80% of the kids (at least), and a huge amount of the tax burden. Remember also, running for SC in Amherst is tough - you campaign, have debates, pay for lawn signs, etc., and you need close to 2,000 people to get elected (and trust me, a lot of those 2,000 people then contact you with issues you shoudl solve). In the small towns, people get elected with 100 votes and run unopposed, and don't answer to the same number of constituents. So, yes, I think it seems really odd -- and unfair to Amherst residents -- that Amherst only has 50% of the choice in selecting a superintendent.
3. I'm not wishing for anything to happen -- I'm just responding to a post, as I do with some regularity.

Kevin - this is actually required in member's first years, and I'm sure Rick and Rob will do so very soon ... but the first meeting is tonight, and they will be asked to serve and vote!

JMC said...

ALL of them should get trained, so that everybody is on the same page as to the best policies and practices that a school committee should follow.

I think that people are concerned about an ACE voting block, because although Rick Hood and Irv Rhodes may believe in educational excellence for all students, they are not perceived as having the same agenda as Catherine, Steve, and Rob re: how to reach the goal of excellence. In addition, the public perception for many is that Catherine, Steve, and Rob are friends and colleagues who (did in the case of Catherine and Steve, will for all 3)put their heads together to talk bout these issues outside of the parameters of their duties and have a certain shared vision about how the Amherst school system should look. for many people that I know, based on our experience with this committee for the past couple of years, that is a truly frightening thought. Hopefully, you will all prove me wrong and I can only hope that with the addition of Rick Hood, calmer heads (with good communication skills and an understanding of how to deal with all types of people)will prevail and the we can do something positive for our children and return Amherst schools to the gems that they once were and where some, good qualified principals and superintendents will want to work. They are still decent schools with good teachers, but definitely not what they were when my younger siblings were in school here. And the one school that is a true gem is closing at the end of the school year. I am hopeful that people will do the right by our children, now that Amherst has passed the override.

kevin said...


Congratulations and best wishes to Rick and Rob.

Many thanks to Kathleen and Andy for their wonderful and caring service. May they enjoy long and happy evenings at home with their families.

They earned it.



Anonymous said...

Catherine, in terms of your feelings about the regional system being disadvantageous to Amherst... is there data or evidence to show that the existing process has hurt Amherst students? Thank you for your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Yea! I have now voted for every current school committee member. I have faith in each and every one of you. Please keep up the good work, please be yourselves, individuals and don't try to "consensus" everything and PLEASE keep your fiscal responsibility in mind with every decision.

Thanks for volunteering all the hours you have done so far and the future years.

Anonymous said...

If we are serious about our kids' education, we should hire people who are experienced and respected educators that have worked in other districts an have had or are in the middle of successful careers. It's clear from the Dr. Breers report that there has been no leadership at the MS for a while and they need a shot of new energy and inspiration. Nothing personal, but Mike Hayes has been part of the school and the problem for too long, so he doesn't seem to be a legitimate candidate at this point. The same is true for the Curriculum Director. Let's bring someone who has done the work already and can teach something to the principals and superintendent. We should stop being the training school for administrators and bring some proven expertise.

Anonymous said...

JMC and others:

Are you really concerned about Rivkin, Sanderson and Spence "voting together?" I mean you don't care what the vote is about -- or whether the vote is correct -- just so long as they don't vote "as a block?" for "their agenda" ? You would feel better if one of them didn't vote with the other two, even if everyone else on the school board joined the two?

You don't point to any specific votes or issues or explain "the agenda" or the "frightening experience" of the school board for the past few years.

What the heck are you talking about?

Please give some details and explain what ideas you disagree with and why you differ.
What do you think is "their agenda?'

Is it you just don't want these three people to vote together because they signed a letter a few years ago? Rhodes signed it too and often votes with Rivkin and Sanderson, but no problem there because....?

Surely there must be some content to your concerns. I'm thinking that you disagree with specific votes of Rivkin and Sanderson. Well, what votes? Just say so.

Here's an idea: talk these school board members directly and give them your views. Listen to their positions, maybe even have a discussion.

Or write your own letter and get over 300 parents to sign and people will sit up and really listen.

And speaking of that letter that has bothered so many. What a horrendous act -- PEOPLE WRITING A LETTER STATING THEIR VIEWS AND SENDiNG It TO THEIR ELECTED SCHOOL COMMITTEE! How can this be possible? Call Fox News! That U.S. Constitution, right to speak, to petition the government, vote and all that -- what a nightmare, really almost from the start.

Speaking of the start, didn't those Founding Fathers write their own letter to King George? But at least they weren't voting as a "block" -- or able to vote at all. Well, one war later, they did have officials who "voted together," in "blocks" and created a country, drafted a Constitution, Bill of Rights, etc.

People really need to start focusing on the real life questions that help and hurt the education of children in this town. We need an honest debate about facts and ideas. Let's start soon.

Curious Observer, wondering if what is going on.

Anonymous said...

What we are seeing are people dying to keep political momentum going by trying to identify a demonized "THEM" that they can then organize an US against

The THEM that Mr. Tierkel and others have fixed on is ACE.

The only hitch is that the voters aren't cooperating.

Which doesn't stop Mr. Tierkel from taking a swipe at them in victory last night.

As Henry Adams put it aptly, "A friend in power is a friend lost." And Mr. Tierkel is definitely feeling the power these days.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

JMC - OK, so I've got to ask what is the basis for your statement that the idea of an "ACE block" of people dedicated to excellent schools for all kids is "for many people that I know, based on our experience with this committee for the past couple of years, that is a truly frightening thought"? What concerns you? The fact that we closed Marks Meadow (unanimously, including non-ACE signers Andy and Kathleen) to preserve small class sizes and elementary music? Or is it frightening that the SC unanimously voted to have schools redistricted based on equity instead of maintaining a school with over 50% low income kids? Or is it frightening that we've adopted a policy (unanimously, including all members of Amherst and Region) to evaluate our curriculum, or give exit surveys to families when they leave our district? Or is frightening to have set a list of 18 goals for our district, such as evaluate our special ed program, conduct a review of K to 5 math, or evaluate our middle school? I'm just trying to understand the really scary things the ACE block has done to further their agenda of having excellent schools, and also how the ACE block has apparently convinced so many non-ACE members of the SC (Amherst and Region) to go along with our tricky agenda.

Kevin (5:55) - thanks for the nice words for Kathleen, Andy, Rick, and Rob -- I agree with all you said!

Anonymous 7:16 - I think the democratic process works when voters get to elect SC candidates who share their views -- and I think Amherst voters' views are under-represented on a regional SC when Amherst makes up 80% of the budget/enrollment, and only 50% of the voting. This is especially true because the Amherst and Regional schools actually look very different in many respects (e.g., the Amherst schools have a very different population of students, more challenges in terms of MCAS and making AYP, etc.). So, one could imagine that the type of superintendent/district goals that Amherst voters would prefer might potentially differ from that of SC members from small towns.

Anonymous 7:37 - hey, that's great! I agree that this is a time of great opportunity for our schools, and I appreciate your good advice about our responsibility.

Anonymous 9:09 - I think it is clear that there are very different views about the benefits of hiring inside versus outside people for key roles in our district (principals, curriculum directors, superintendents). I imagine this will be an on-going discussion in our community, and on the committee.

Curious Observer - you raise a number of very important issues ... and in particular, I have been trying to think of a single split vote (with the exception of the 6 to 4 appointment of Maria Geryk as interim superintendent) over the last year! I believe on one Amherst SC meeting, Kathleen voted for a different redistricting plan than the other SC members (Andy joining the ACE block of Irv/me/Steve). I believe on one meeting two years ago, Kathleen and I voted together (one ACE member, one non-ACE member) in favor of an on-line suggestion box, with all other members opposing. Oh, and a few weeks ago, I abstained on a motion that everyone else voted "yes" on (regarding the amount of the budget shortfall at the region) -- in this case, I left my ACE block of Steve/Irv to vote with all other members of the regional committee. I literally can't think of another split vote on the committee (Amherst or Region) at any point in two years, so I'm just confused about what my "agenda" is, and how I'm now going to be able to enact this (thanks to Steve/Irv/Rob), and how this differs from the "agendas" of other people on the committee? Again, it is easy to throw out attacks like "their agenda" ... and I share your interest in learning specifics about the frightening things the ACE block has done on SC over the last year. I hope to hear back from JMC soon!

Anonymous said...

Catherine, could you please explain what you mean when you say:
"So, one could imagine that the type of superintendent/district goals that Amherst voters would prefer might potentially differ from that of SC members from small towns."

How would it differ? How has it differed? Did it affect the SC vote on Supt. Rodriguez? How? Did it affect the vote on Maria Geyrick?

Thank you for taking the time to explain.

Anonymous said...

I think that the grousing about the power of the small towns in the region is unnecessarily negative and divisive. There is a reason they have that power- so they won't get railroaded by the majority. And lest we in AMherst forget- those small towns bring lots of cash and high-performing students to our schools. The kids are overwhelming middle-class and english-speaking and consume for less SPED and intervention services. They increase test scores for the schools as a whole and in effect subsidize those very, very expensive services for SPED and ELL studeents from Amherst.

Anonymous said...

The way I look at the Regional SC is that it is more like the US Senate than the US House of Representatives. In the Senate, every state, no matter how big or small, has 2 senators. The representation is not based on population and each state gets an equal say in voting.

Based on that idea, Amherst is actually over represented on the RSC. And as I think about it more, the RSC is more a blend of the senate system and the House of Rep system.

I have no problem at all at the level of town representation on the RSC. And the idea that the Amherst SC members would have different goals than the other towns is ludicrous. Isn't the general goal to provide the best possible education for all of our children within the confines of the budget? How could one think that the SC reps from Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury would have a different goal.

C.L. said...

Catherine- What votes or positions has the regional SC taken that have been against the interests of Amherst voters, residents or students?

Frustrated Parent said...

One problem with the current voting situation (and regional system) is the effect on policy decisions like regionalizing K-12 and moving the sixth grade to the middle school. K-12 districts are usually more efficient to run and a three-year middle school model is the generally-accepted model (and one mentioned by Dr. Beers). In order for either of those things to happen, though, we need buy-in from three different towns, each of whom has their own elementary school and two of which (Shutesbury and Leverett) are in a different K-6 district entirely. (I never figured out why they just didn't stay in that district for 7-12.) So even if it made sense for the Amherst elementary kids to have the 6th grade in the middle school (and would remove any worry about crowding in our now-three schools), the Regional SC first has to get the approval of three other towns representing two other districts. These three other elementary schools are not crowded and see no reason to move their 6th graders.

I am not arguing for or against moving the 6th graders but just wanted to use this as an example of how our regional agreement has effectively tied the hands of the Amherst School Committee when trying to make policy decisions that would be best for the kids of AMHERST. The town which pays 80% of the cost of the regional schools and central administration and which heavily subsidizes the expensive transportation of students from the hill towns.

Rick said...

Can I suggest that we all push the reset button and stop talking about ACE, and maybe even forget you ever heard the word.
Forget about voting blocks. It’s not going to happen.
Let’s get the focus off of personalities and back onto what it is we need to do. Think WHAT not WHO.
As a reminder, here are the district goals: All that should matter is are we accomplishing those or not.

Anonymous said...

The RSC is not analogous to the US Senate.

The US Senate was a compromise designed to balance a bicameral legislature. The Senate was created as a compromise to get the likes of Rhode Island and Delaware to join Virginia and Massachusetts and form the Union.

There is no balance in our Region. Amherst pays the lion's share of the bills and we are under represented on the governing body.

The small towns around Amherst bear little of the financial burden (or consequences of mismanagement) yet make many of the decisions. They represented half the votes during the last few years of fiscal mismanagement yet are only paying for 22% of the result.

At a minimum Amherst should be guaranteed administrative control of the RSC - i.e. the Chairmanship. Optimally the RSC would be re-configured to mirror the contributions of the participants in the most democratic way possible. In my book we call the current situation taxation without representation.

I believe that we should invite the towns to participate in the Regional school committee. If they don't like the way it works I would suggest forming their own Regional system. Let them withdraw.

1) we would control our own system in a politically rational and fair manner;
2) we would reduce transportation costs of the region;
3) Amherst would stop subsidizing Pelham, Shutesbury and Levrett.

Anonymous said...

Those waiting with your knives out for Professor Sanderson -- this is actually what she wrote:

" So, one could imagine that the type of superintendent/district goals that Amherst voters would prefer might potentially differ from that of SC members from small towns."

Now do you want her to imagine differences that "might potentially be" between Amherst voters and the school committee member the smaller towns? Then you can chew on those differences she imagined and go after her some more.

Are you reading what she actually wrote or what you think a terrible person like Sanderson would write?

Isn't it getting a bit weird?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:14, there are plenty of middle class kids in SPED. Are they outnumbered by those from low-income families? Yes, but still they are definitely part of the SPED picture.

LDs, ADHD, autism spectrum -- these are not "class conscious" challenges.

If you are going to make the claim that he kids from Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett upgrade the quality of the ARPS student body, I want to see some actual data. If there isn't any, ask for it.

Rick said...

The teacher givebacks ($175,000) are going to reduce the amount that the tax levy limit will be raised in the coming year and not directly for reducing cuts because of an agreement that had been made at town level (BCG, etc.)
However, the teacher’s probably didn’t realize that when they voted for the giveback.
The solution on the table (as of last night) is to use $175,000 of the regional school’s reserves (which are called E&D) to replace the teacher giveback money that cannot be used to reduce cuts.

Ed said...

When this school committee began in August, there was a promise made to get trained by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC).

If candidates themselves wish to promise to run through downtown wearing pink leotards with purple polka dots, this is still a free country (NObama NoCare notwithstanding) and they can promise to do that. But it is inherently undemocratic to place restrictions on who may run for or serve in an ELECTED office.

Would anyone have a problem saying that you had to have a college degree to serve on the school committee? How about saying that you have to have a grad degree in Education? (Ironically, that would mean that *I* could serve, but neither of the two recently elected members would be able to.)

May I suggest that Amherst adopt a policy that new members be requested to get trained, before they begin their term?

This would be highly illegal. The voters have spoken, the new members ARE members and have the full rights and privleges thereof. And no outside body has the right to accredit the ability of the voters to vote.

Imagine, if you would, if service on juries was limited to those with a valid bar card....

Ed said...

I think Amherst voters' views are under-represented on a regional SC when Amherst makes up 80% of the budget/enrollment, and only 50% of the voting.

Hmmm.... This is EXACTLY the type of situation that went to SCOTUS with the case of Baker v. Carr. See

Also (in English, not lawyer-speak):

The voters in Memphis, much like those in Amherst, suffered "a "debasement of their votes" and were thereby denied the equal protection of the laws guaranteed them by the Fourteenth Amendment." SCOTUS (Brennan) ruled that the principle must be "one man, one vote" and that the US Constitution requires that one voter's vote count as much as the next voter's vote.

A vote in rural Tenn could not count more than one in the cities, no more than a vote in the hilltowns count more than one in this city -- even if it once did...

those small towns bring lots of cash and high-performing students to our schools. The kids are overwhelming middle-class and english-speaking

So the votes of White people who speak English count more than those of minorities speaking other languages?!?!? Do any of you realize the implications of this?

Does whoever who wrote this realize the implications involving the Federal Voting Rights Act? Anyone prepared to defend this to the US Attorney?

the US Senate than the US House of Representatives. In the Senate, every state, no matter how big or small, has 2 senators. The representation is not based on population and each state gets an equal say in voting.

The Massachusetts State Senate (remember that some of the same people wrote both the Massachusetts and US Constitutions) was designed along similar lines for counties. To this day, senators serve from counties -- except that after Baker v. Carr, the districts had to be based on population and not county line.

(The US Senate was exempt because of Article I of the same Constitution...)

Further - and this gets into the exact sort of thing that happened in TN, while representation might have been equal 40-50 years ago, Amherst expanded in the 1970s and then starting with the Cambodian resettlement of the 1990s and vast expansion of the Section 8 program in the 2000s and now the building of 705 housing (Watson Farms Part II) and other things, Amherst has grown.

And the board has not been reapportioned....

And the current membership arrangement is in violation of the US Constitution.

And the current arrangement favors White English-Speaking, American-Born voters over members of groups explicitly protected by the Federal Voting Rights Act.

Boys 'n' Girls, I think we have a problem here....

Anonymous said...

LDs, ADHD, autism spectrum -- these are not "class conscious" challenges.

Actually, yes, they tend to be. Right on down to a significant increase of ADD/ADHD in children (of all SES) who are adopted. (See Hallowell who goes so far as to indicate it as a risk factor.)

Second, things like fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal drug syndrome and shaken baby syndrome (when not fatal outright) tend to be vastly overrepresented in low SES groups. I don't know why - reason would indicate that the more money you have, the more booze & drugs you could purchase, the more parties you would likely be going to...

Third, disfunctional family structure and disfunctional parenting (not the same thing) are overrepresented in low SES groups.

(And fourth, functional parents with personal resources can and often do provide SPED-type resources to their children independent of the district and often without the district's knowledge. And there is often a very fine line here - where is the line between the tutor to help the child get ahead and the tutor for issues that could be defined as LD or (quite often actually are) mild ADHD?)

(And maybe the fetal alcohol/drug children of the wealthy are quietly outplaced into expensive private venues which is why we don't see them. Again, I don't know.)

Now the above are facts. What the facts MEAN are open to debate. One could argue that economic circumstances cause this. One one the other side of the spectrum could lay the blame at the foot of the welfare state. Personally - and this comes from 10 years dealing with some aspect of public housing - I think that there are some underlying (non economic, non racist/genderist/etc) causes of poverty in the first place. And as we are increasingly learning of a tendancy of these SPED issues to be genetic, not unlike hair and eye color, one could speculate backwards to some of the parents.

And anything that impacts on your ability to earn a living will tend to make you low income...

And the thing that people in Amherst fail to understand is that as it drives the college kids out of town, as it expresses a preference for "families" over "students", the low-cost housing stock will increasingly become Section 8 housing and Amherst increasingly become the magnet for the poor of the entire Commonwealth. And the school budget will inexerably increase as a result....

And while no one has ever calculated this (to my knowledge) but there is a relationship between student SES and SPED needs in a district....

Anonymous said...

Rick, it sounds like they used incorrect information to encourage voters to vote yes, then used money that they could have used anyways. Yes?

Anonymous said...

This number ($175,000) seems about half of what was reported on March 15th. Why is this?

Anonymous said...

I really hate where this conversation is going. Now there are people on here who want to stop being a regional school district and have the schools all to themselves???? Tell Shutesbury, Pelham and Leverett to hit the road? What is wrong with the people on this blog? Its getting down-right depressing here. Time for a break from reading this blog.

LarryK4 said...

Hey Rick:
The "teacher givebacks" were heavily advertised/promoted as being $350-K. What's up with this sudden reduction of 50%

Why are we starting fights? said...

the argument against being in a regional school system seems to be made up and pretty recent. I don't remember any concerns being raised about us bring part of a region. Why are we starting fights?

Is it because the small towns disagreed with CS on Maria Geyrick?

I want evidence that being part of a region at the high school and middle school is causing some harm to students.

Anonymous said...

This fixation on ACE and who is associated with it seems to have a hint of McCarthyism about it.

"Are you or have you ever been a fellow traveler of Catherine Sanderson?"

It's all a substitute for real thought.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

So, I've had a busy day working at my actual paying job, so I haven't responded to all of this - and am in another SC meeting tonight at 6:30. Thus, two quick responses:

1. The $350,000 teacher give-back is being split (appropriately) between Amherst and Region -- thus $175,000 to each. The recommendation (which has NOT yet been voted on, but will be tonight) is to use some money from reserves to cover additional things. This option had not been mentioned previously.

2. Reasonable people may disagree on what proportion of votes Amherst should have at the region. Right now, Amherst makes up 80% of the population and the cost, and has 50% of the representation in choosing an superintendent. If that feels fine to voters, great -- you should be pleased with how things currently are. I know some people who don't think this is fair to Amherst residents because they are under-represented. And, as others have pointed out, this certainly has consequences (e.g., can't move to a K to 12 school system which almost certainly would be cheaper, and almost certainly would lead to improvements at the MS since kids then would be coming in from a single school district instead of two different districts -- which could have different math curriculum, etc.).

Anonymous said...

A block could also be called a coalition, a term always pleasing to progressives.

Also, posters on a blog making statements is not a fight. They are just coments or they could be called viewpoints or opinions.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:54 am said:
Now the above are facts. What the facts MEAN are open to debate.

MEAN -- yeah that's a good word to qualify your post. Glad you put it in all caps.

Facts? I don't think so.

Hmmm, I worked in SPED in one of the Amherst elementary schools for two years. I think I worked with about 20 children, and 5 that I can recall were adopted.

But so they were -- so what? They're entitled to the same services as anyone else regardless of their origins, which are nobody's business.

What's your point?

People shouldn't adopt? Adoption costs school districts money, money that would be better spent on your not-adopted child?

Be careful what you say. Your post was offensive to this reader.

Anonymous said...

"Be careful what you say. Your post was offensive to this reader."

Perhaps these words should replace the book and the plow on the town seal.

Amherst: Where Taking Offense is An Art Form

Amherst: How Many Different Ways Can We Say "Just Shut Up?"

Anonymous said...

Since when is it wrong to speak up? The poster blathered on and on about various groups which, in that poster's opinion, are sucking up precious resources, making sweeping generalizations without stating sources of factual information, with implications that adopted children are a drain on school resources.

The same things have been said about immigrant children, foster children, children from low-income homes, children from single-parent homes.

The fact is that each child -- REGARDLESS OF BACKGROUND -- is entitled to a free public education that meets his or her needs. As teachers and educators we do not, thank goodness, mentally write off the last, the least and the lost.

If you are a parent at one of the Amherst elementary schools which has a particularly large population of adoptees and it's ticking you off -- I think your understanding of what free public education is about needs a refresher.

It's hard not to take offense at statements such as, "Adopted children are this that and the other thing," because in the context of public education it is an irrelevant fact, unless you are ticked off that those danged adoptees are sucking up the resources you'd rather see spent on your child. Never mind the fact that SPED funding is NOT FROM THE GENERAL education budget. It's not like the money would be freed up for 8th grade calculus or The American Political Novel for Fifth Graders if only "those" kids weren't using it all up.

And yes, STATISTICALLY, certain groups of children who were adopted have a higher statistical incidence of ADHD. But that doesn't mean that any individual child who was adopted will have ADHD. Did you take stats???? Apparently not.

I'd be sure to tell my (adopted) college roommate who is now an art professor that she's supposed to have ADHD, but I'll bet she's already heard that helpful stereotype.

Abbie said...

Ed says a lot of outrageous things (IMO). I think lots of folks have learned to ignore his comments in the hopes of staying focused on the issues. My (our) silence, hopefully, is not taken as tacit agreement with his views.
If everyone responded to Ed's posts then this blog would be entirely swallowed by tit for tat, at the expense of discussing what educational policies best serve (all) the kids.

Anonymous said...

Although I disagreed with a lot of what that poster said, I was glad that he/she said what they really felt. Others probably share these views. Perhaps a bit more tact would be helpful but dialogue doesn't always look pretty. I can live with that. Now other posters can respond, with heat or cooly, to these statements.

Anonymous said...

But the "dialog" this person was initiating is useless at best and insulting at worst. Armchair sociology has no policy function. No school decisions or choices can be made based on this kind of thinking.

Honesty is fine, but it has nothing to do with educational policies based on information.

So tell us, Anon 1:07, how this kind of generalizing has a function in SC decision-making.

"Everyone" knows that Hilltown kids spruce up the school scores....everyone knows adopted kids have problems...everyone knows single mothers raise kids with issues...of what possible use is this kind of talk? It's the sort of thing you might whine about as you're taking a power walk with another mom, but it's not POLICY informing.

Anonymous said...

I'm not taking up Ken's role as the arbiter of correctness here, but that post was just ... mutton trying to look like lamb.

Also it wasn't an ED post, although I do agree with you that the best strategy for frequent off-topic posts is IGNORE.