We had a long but productive meeting tonight -- and to answer the questions I've had from people regarding the cancelling of last night's meeting -- that meeting was cancelled (at the request of Irv/Steve, in their roles as Chair/Vice Chair) because the SC didn't receive budget documents until 3 pm yesterday (it has been our practice to receive budget info 24 to 48 hours in advance so that members can have a chance to review the materials PRIOR to having to discuss them at a meeting). I believe this was the right decision, and commend Irv's leadership on this front. However, that did make for a long meeting tonight -- which I will now do my best to summarize.
First, we had 3 people give public comments. Ernie Dalkas spoke about rumors he had heard regarding members of the SC attempting to do various things (choose the MS principal, choose a curriculum director, etc.). He expressed concern about these rumors, and his respect for the SC. (And on one side note, I've heard these rumors as well, including one spread by several members of the community widely that said "ACE SC members are planning to overthrow the interim superintendent" and another one suggesting that I was calling for the SC to ask for the resignation of Mark Jackson!). I would hope that people take the time to actually investigate the veracity of rumors before spreading them to others -- the rumors that I've heard have all been completely false, which I was glad to clear up as soon as someone had the courtesy to contact me directly! Michael Aronson then read a statement regarding his concerns about the special education evaluation (he has posted these concerns using his name in the comments on the prior blog post -- where I have the agenda -- so I'm going to refer you to those words directly). I have been contacted by several parents about the nature of this evaluation, and look forward to hearing a response from the administration about these issues at the next meeting. Third, Tess Domb Sadof (ARHS student) presented a report she had conducted in 6th grade regarding bullying, and expressed her hope that an anti-bullying initiative could be implemented in our schools.
We then turned to the superintendent's update, which was brief. Ms. Geryk noted she will hold a coffee tomorrow, Thursday April 8th, from 12 to 1 pm, and that the district (under the leadership of Dr. Guavara) is working on an anti-bullying initiative.
Next, we turned to continuing business. We voted to continue our policy of not accepting school choice seats, and then turned to discuss whether the Amherst SC should look into getting legal service to investigate our options for leaving the Union 26 agreement (in this agreement, Amherst and Pelham are in a "union" in which each town has three members). The Union 26 agreement thus gives Amherst and Pelham equal representation at the elementary level, and the superintendent is hired by both Union 26 and the Regional SC. The SC voted unanimously to have the Amherst legal services subcommittee (me, Irv, Rob) look into our options regarding legal services. We then had a brief quarterly budget update from Rob Detweiler.
Finally, we turned to the "big topic" of the night, which was the recommended budget. It was announced that the sum total of savings from closing Marks Meadow is $840,554. The superintendent recommended a few changes to the budget (given the override passage), which include adding 1.2 intervention teachers ($60,000), a computer teacher ($50,000), afterschool/summer support for struggling students ($15,675), .6 instrumental music ($33,516), 1.0 world language ($50,000), and curriculum materials ($40,000). These increases would mean that each school would have a full-time computer teacher (right now there are two positions shared in the four schools), a total of 12.7 intervention teachers (3.5 at CF, 4.4 at FR, 4.8 at WW -- and this is in addition to staff members who focus on ELL -- 3 to 4.5 positions in each building -- and those who focus on special ed -- 6 to 7.4 per building), and 1.55 to 1.8 music teachers (combining instrumental and classroom). The world language teacher would be a single teacher shared across all three schools, meaning world language would only be provided to kids in a couple of grades (this position could be in Spanish, but could also be in a different language).
There was then a long discussion about these budget priorities -- which I will encourage you to watch on ACTV to get a full sense of! However, I will share what I said, which is that I believe this budget is doing a ton of stuff for struggling students, which I think is great (educationally and morally). This budget adds a preschool class for low income kids (which includes free transportation), a summer enrichment program (for struggling kids, which also includes free transportation), and afterschool care (for struggling kids). And I believe that the budget needs to reflect very tough choices among things that many of us would like -- including art, music, computer, and world language.
But I also believe, and I stated strongly at the meeting (as did Steve), that we should add K to 6 world language, meaning a dedicated teacher in each building. Right now, CF has about 60% of the kids compared to the other schools, and thus some staffing at CF is at .6 (e.g., the art teacher, the PE teacher). Thus, one could imagine easily that we could provide K to 6 world language in all the schools for just an additional 1.6 positions (a cost of $84,000). There are lots of ways we could prioritize this in our budget -- going to a .6 computer teacher at CF (instead of a 1.0 position) would save .4. So could reducing instrumental music at CF (it is now at .8, the same as the other schools, although there will be fewer kids), or a reduction of a .4 intervention teacher in each of the schools (still providing staffing of 3 to 4 intervention teachers in each building). I believe that K to 6 world language would be very valuable, in multiple ways, for our community, and I really hope the superintendent considers how we could implement this program fully this fall. If you have thoughts about this proposal (pro or con), please email the superintendent (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or the SC (email@example.com).
We voted a final budget line (which we need to give to the town), but noted that we would return to the issue of budget priorities and specific lines at a later meeting.
Our next topic was new business. We voted to allow the CF playground to be named the CF Rotary Club Playground IF the playground receives a $25,000 rotary fund donation they have applied for. We voted to accept a gift (for a WW student to register for camp). We discussed having a "retreat" of the SC to focus on working effectively with the administration (and co-led by the MA School Committee Chair and the MA Superintendent Chair, as the SC did last summer after the arrival of Dr. Rodriguez). We discussed having a line item budget, as is seen in Northampton, and it was agreed by all that this will be the approach now used. Interestingly, Rob Detweiler noted that the practice of the SC at the time of his arrival four years ago had been to have a line item budget, but the SC had found this too "headache inducing" and preferred a more summary form.
Finally, we discussed subcommittee reports. Irv added himself to the policy subcommittee (since I'm now alone on the subcommittee with Andy's departure). We tabled a discussion of a wage/salary review. We briefly discussed a proposal submitted to the Joint Capital Planning Committee of the town of Amherst that the town build a $250,000 addition onto the South Amherst Campus to allow for the merging of the two alternative high schools. This topic was tabled (since it is a Regional issue), although I spoke (as a member of JCPC) that I had asked for a regional SC meeting to be convened this week so that the Regional SC could discuss it, and that apparently was unable to happen. Thus, I noted that I will not be able to speak on behalf of the SC at the final JCPC meeting this Friday, which had been requested by this committee at the last meeting. We then briefly discussed items for upcoming meetings, which included an update on the superintendent's goals (and progress), a report on the state of the special education evaluation, and the potential for moving our meeting back to 7 pm (from 6:30 pm). I think that was all!
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.