We had two meetings this week (Wednesday and Thursday), so I'm going to summarize these two meetings together (since both largely focused on the budget and ended with a vote on the budget for 2010-11).
NOTE: This meeting was unfortunately not taped with audio, and hence will NOT be available on ACTV. I'm doing the best I can to summarize the meeting, but I'd encourage you to also check out the minutes once they are released for a fuller accounting.
First, Farshid and Irv both gave thanks (in their roles as Chair of Region, and Vice-Chair of Amherst) to Kathleen Anderson and Andy Churchill for their service on the SC, as did Maria Geryk. We also congratulated Rick Hood and Rob Spence on their election to the SC, and Kathy Weilerstein -- who will be taking Debbie Gould's place on the Regional SC while Debbie is away for the next few months.
Next, we had some public comment: Ernie Dalkas suggested that we try to move to one study hall (given the passage of the override), Tim Sheehan (teacher at FR and Chair of the Teacher's Union) said it was good to have Maria Geryk in place for the next 16 months to get the focus back on education, and Michael Silverstone (WW teacher) thanked Kathleen Anderson for her service/congratulated Rick and Rob on the election/expressed appreciation for Maria Geryk serving for the next 16 months.
We then turned to the Superintendent's Update, which was quite long (I believe 12 minutes), so I'm going to hit the highlights, which were basically initiatives that Maria is working on. These include working on completing answers to the Citizen's Budget Advisory Committee (CBAC), updating the district website, holding coffees with the superintendent, an anti-bullying initiative, announcing winners of the Pioneer Valley Excellence in Teaching Award, coordinating the Special Ed review, working on hires for the MS principal and curriculum director, working on a district-wide safety initiative, visiting the two MSAN districts in MA (Brookline and Cambridge), working on K to 6 English Language arts curriculum alignment, creating an on-line system for K to 6 report cards, and working with Amherst and Regional data teams.
We then turned to the big topic of the night, which was budget. We had a pretty lengthy discussion about the budget recommendations and priorities, based on the new information of resources available: $175,000 in teacher givebacks (at the REGIONAL level), plus an additional $96,859 (moving from a 5% to a 4% cut in state aid), plus $678,141 (override funds for region). This amount got us to add back approximately $950,000, which was the amount agreed upon at the last meeting (e.g., the identified budget short-fall). In addition, the superintendent is recommending use of a TOTAL of $255,000 from reserves, which is an additional $175,000 in reserves than had initially been intended ($80,000 was initially recommended as use from reserves), which would allow us to bring back the following positions: 1.4 HS special ed, .2 HS librarian, .2 HS dean of students, .2 HS prep academy, $6,000 professional development in the high school, and 1 or 2 special ed teachers/paras at the MS.
The discussion by the SC centered largely on two issues. First, we discussed the level at which we should hire a person to head up curriculum. The superintendent has recommended a curriculum director, with an approximate salary of $90,000. Some members of the committee suggested that this person should be hired at a higher level in title (e.g., Assistant Superintendent) and/or salary ($115,000 - as the position was advertised last year). There was a fair amount of discussion about the advantages/disadvantages of each, and the superintendent is going to report back on her recommendation. Given that a budget amount needs to be voted very soon (24 hours), it was noted that one could use the money now allocated for program review ($20,000) to pay a higher salary, and thus additional funds wouldn't necessarily be required.
Second, we discussed whether we should go to one study hall in the high school, given the additional resources now available -- and in particular whether we should prioritize moving to one study hall (at an estimated $330,000) over some of the other things that are now getting funded (following the passage of the override and teacher givebacks). This was a pretty long discussion -- which continued on Thursday night -- but basically the committee agreed that one study hall was a good idea.
We then had a pretty brief discussion about admitting additional students for school choice at particular grades in the MS and HS, and tabled the vote for the next night.
We also had a brief update on the Beers report, which included information that the School Council is now working on a data-driven School Improvement Plan, and that Dr. Beers is willing to come back in May to see where we are with this plan. She believes hiring a permanent principal will help with the goals of consistent leadership and providing feedback to teachers. The MS staff are eager to discuss the challenges of being a two-year school. Maria also announced that she was going to continue with seeking bids for a K to 12 math review, and noted that extensions would specifically be a component of that review. She requested that SC members alert her to other topics to be covered in this review; I suggested reviewing the IMP program (an alternative to the traditional math program) in the high school (Farshid agreed this would be a good addition).
Finally, we discussed items for upcoming meetings: Irv suggested an update from the legal services committee, and Steve suggested an update on the district goals (with a particular emphasis on the high school science program).
This meeting started with an Amherst meeting (which I will summarize in a separate blog posting), and then turned to three items of Regional business: the quarterly budget update, the budget for 2010-2011, and the school choice vote.
The quarterly budget update provided information showing where we were in terms of budget lines at this point of the fiscal year -- basically we are on track.
Then we had a LONG discussion about the 2010-2011 year, which again focused on the two issues from the prior night: the curriculum director position and the number of high school study halls.
Views on the curriculum director position were very mixed -- some believed we should hold on this search since it may be difficult to find people who want to accept such a position given that they don't know who their boss will be in a year; others believed this is a crucial position and we should make every effort to hire someone; others believed that the pool of candidates will be smaller for a curriculum director than for an assistant superintendent of curriculum, and thus the search should be re-opened. Maria noted the search had already been posted, but she would think more about how to place it in the central office administration. Steve noted that we currently have several high-paid administrators in special education, and maybe attention needed to be paid to creating a different organization in central office.
Mark Jackson and Annie Leonard then presented information about the possibility of going to one study hall in the high school. They believed scheduling difficulties would make it impossible to only require one study hall for all students, but they believed they could try to require only one study hall for some students (others would need to take two study halls) and that they intended to start by offering seniors, if possible, the option to take an additional class.
Steve then made a motion that "the Regional School Committee strongly recommends that Amherst Regional High School students be required to take not more than one mandated study hall during the 2010-2011 academic year." I seconded this motion, and we then had considerable discussion. Steve spoke in favor of this motion, based on the numbers presented at the March 1st meeting by Assistant Principal Annie Leonard. Specifically, this presentation showed that if the override passed, it would be possible to proceed with certain cuts (e.g., HS copy paraprofessional, small decreases in Department Head time, 2.4 HS special ed teachers, .2 cuts to HS librarian/Prep Academy/Dean of Students, MS Adjustment Counselor) and add a few elective teachers and then move to a 14 block schedule (only one study hall) with average class sizes of 21 to 24 (almost the same as we currently have). I supported this motion, noting that we spend as much as (or more than) other districts, yet I can't find other districts that require any study halls in HS, so I don't understand why we need to require two study halls. I also thought it would seem odd to have some students taking two study halls and others taking one, and I just didn't know how that was going to seem to parents and students.
There was then a broader discussion, with basically everyone saying one study hall would be good, but people differing on the extent to which they believed this was worth giving up other things (e.g., is it better to have smaller classes by one or two students or an extra study hall; is it better to focus resources on providing more classes or on other services such as special ed or intervention).
We then voted, and the motion passed, with 6 members voting FOR this strong recommendation to the administration (Hood, Luschen, Rhodes, Rivkin, Sanderson, Spence) and 3 members voting AGAINST this recommendation (Farnham, Hajir, Weilerstein).
Next, we voted on adding Regional School Choice seats -- with seats being added at grades 7, 9, and 10 only.
Finally, we made subcommittee appointments. Rick Hood was appointed to join the budget subcommittee.
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.