By NICK GRABBE
Friday, May 14, 2010
AMHERST - Citizen volunteers who met twice a week for four months in an attempt to decode the school budget have disbanded, with a long list of unanswered questions.
The panel has recommended that the School Committee immediately create a new citizen group to continue the work.
The Budget Advisory Committee collected questions about school spending from the public and sought information from administrators.
The task was to have a "just the facts" approach and to "translate (the information) into something usable," said Chairwoman Alison Donta-Venman.
"I didn't feel our job was done," she told the School Committee Tuesday.
While thanking the nine volunteers for their efforts, several committee members said their energy, expertise and independence were valuable and that the effort should continue.
"This has been a great committee that will be hard to replicate," said School Committee member Steve Rivkin. "You're free to quit, but your charge is not complete."
For example, the group was unable to specify the reasons why Amherst's per-pupil expenditures are $4,000 a year higher than Northampton's.
Interim Superintendent Maria Geryk said this question is still under analysis and there will be a report soon.
The panel was also unable to say why the per-pupil administrative costs don't decrease as the size of the student population increases.
It doesn't know the estimated savings of creating a K-12 school district, though a different committee is expected to give the School Committee a report on this next month.
There were no answers on combining services between the schools and Town Hall, or getting more money out of local campuses, such as to pay the cost of children who live in tax-exempt housing and attend local schools.
"How do we restart the engine on this machine?" said School Committee member Rick Hood. Rivkin compared the citizen panel to the Congressional Budget Office, which provides nonpartisan advice on federal economic proposals.
Farshid Hajir, chairman of the Regional School Committee, said there will be a discussion of goals in about a month, and cautioned about "adding a burden to the administration."
School Committee member Catherine Sanderson said it would be too bad to lose the momentum the panel has established, and creation of a new one should be on the agenda for the June 8 meeting.
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.