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.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Amherst panel has lingering questions on school budgeting

Hampshire Gazette
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.

No answers

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.


Anonymous said...

I know the Amherst SC expressed their thanks to the CBAC for their great work. I to want to express my thanks. What a wonderful job they did!!! I hope the committee is reconstituted soon so that it can continue to help us all understand the very complicated topic of school budgets. I would possibly even be interested in volunteering to be on a newly constituted CBAC.

Thank you Alison and committee for a job well done!!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 9:23 - I agree completely -- Alison's group did a FABULOUS job, and I absolutely agree that they should continue their fine work. We will definitely be looking for more parent/community volunteers (they have particular recommended "subcommittees" for people to work on), and I really hope you (and many others) will participate.

LarryK4 said...

Of course when they fill out their "Citizens Activity Form" to volunteer for a newly constituted CBAC they will have to use an honest to goodness name.

Anonymous said...

Which I will when the time comes, Larry.

Michael Jacques said...

I also would like to thank CBAC for all of their hard work. I did actually read the report and it was very helpful. It would be great to see their work continued and hopefully completed. I think it is very important for the residents to have the transparency that the completed report would provide. We owe it to the 40% who voted against the override as well as those who supported the override like myself but were uncomfortable with the school budget.

I really would like to know where the value is in the extra $4000.00 we spend per pupil. I would also like to know why we have decreased the general education budget over 30% in 10 years (10+ % of the whole budget) and raised the SPED budget by 1%-3% of the whole budget over the same time. Clearly there were cuts identified this year that could have been made to SPED, Intervention, ELL if the state cut funding by 10%. Yet the general budget continues over a 10 year period, to take the bulk of the cuts even though it educates 80% of the population. I am not suggesting that SPED, intervention, or ELL are not more difficult or don’t need more funding per pupil just that the pain of cuts should be more evenly felt by all departments. Even a 2:1, Gen:SPED cut ratio would seem more fair. I hope we continue the process and maybe even get it completed by next year.

Anonymous said...

> I would also like to know why we have decreased the general education budget over 30% in 10 years (10+ % of the whole budget) and raised the SPED budget by 1%-3% of the whole budget over the same time.

Do state (or even federal mandates) require that level of increase in the SPED budget?

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Anon May 15 8:05: Good question!! We asked that but did not receive a clear answer. Much about special education was unclear, even after we asked detailed questions. It is complicated, both programmatically and financially, which is why we suggested immediately appointing a citizens' committee to work closely with the outside consultants evaluating our special education program. This committee would help pose questions for the consultants to look into and would have been specifially focused on budget implications of our current special education model. That suggestion was not acted on in a timely fashion and apparently the consultant has concluded their data intake and is now working on a report. I hope it does address financial as well as programmatic issues.

Melissa Paciulli said...

Alison - I am trying to get up to speed on this issue, which consultant are you referring to for the SPED analysis?