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.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Comparing Massachusetts School Unions

There have been many questions over the last few weeks (on my blog and others, at School Committee meetings, etc.) about school unions, so I wanted to share information on school unions in Massachusetts.

First, here are the basic facts:
  • there are 17 school unions in Massachusetts, which include a total of 71 towns
  • these unions each include between 2 and 5 towns
  • these unions include schools with enrollments ranging from 0 (New Ashford, Monroe) to 1321 (Amherst)
  • Amherst is one of only 3 towns with enrollments more than 1000 in a union (the others are Southborough with 1208 and Kingston with 1180).
Second, of these 17 school unions, only 6 unions include just 2 towns:
  • Northborough & Southborough (300 & 1208 students, respectively)
  • Amherst & Pelham (1321 & 125 students)
  • Freetown & Lakeville (533 & 742 students)
  • Dover & Sherborn (572 & 450 students)
  • Berlin & Bolyston (212 & 377 students)
  • Lanesborough & Williamstown (270 & 426 students)
What is very clear from these numbers is that in the majority of these two town unions, in which each town has 50% of the vote in choosing and evaluating a superintendent, the towns are quite similar in school population -- meaning in only 1 case other than Amherst-Pelham (that would be Northborough-Southborough) does one town have more than twice as many students as another town. In the Northborough-Southborough Union, one town has only 25% of the kids compared to the other town; in Amherst-Pelham, one town has fewer than 10% of the kids compared to the other town. In other words, of all of the 2-district school unions in the state of Massachusetts, the Amherst-Pelham district has by far the greatest disparity in terms of population.

Third, I examined the size of towns in unions throughout Massachusetts. As you can tell in the numbers presented above, Pelham is the only town with fewer than 200 students in a 2-town union in the state of Massachusetts: All other towns with fewer than 200 students are in unions with more then 2 towns. Here is the complete list of towns with fewer than 200 students and their unions:
  • Union 26: Amherst (1321), Pelham (125)
  • Union 28: Wendell-N. Salem (144), Erving (174), Leverett (165), Shutesbury (154)
  • Union 38: Conway (175), Deerfield (490), Sunderland (186), Whately (132)
  • Union 43: Clarksburg (140), Florida (82), Monroe (0), Savoy (42)
  • Union 54: Brewster (503), Eastham (225), Orleans (189), Wellfleet (147)
  • Union 61: Brimfield (344), Brookfield (304), Holland (251), Sturbridge (920), Wales (169)
  • Union 66: Southampton (559), Westhampton (140), Williamsburg (165)
  • Union 70: Hancock (41), New Ashford (0), Richmond (133)
As you can see in this list, Pelham is the only town with fewer than 200 students that has 50% of the vote in choosing a superintendent. All other towns of this size have between 20% and 33% of the vote. For example, Shutesbury and Leverett each of 25% of the vote in choosing a superintendent for Union 28, although Shutesbury and Leverett both have more students than does Pelham.

Again, I'm not taking a position on whether Union 26 should be dissolved or modified. But what these numbers clearly indicate is that the Amherst-Pelham Union is unique in this state -- Amherst is the largest town in a union in Massachusetts (and only 3 of the 71 towns have enrollments greater than 1000), the Amherst-Pelham union has a greater population disparity than any other union in Massachusetts (by a pretty wide margin), and Pelham is the only town in Massachusetts with fewer than 200 students that has 50% of the vote in choosing a superintendent.


Anonymous said...

And until now, that has not been a problem in Amherst. Until this particular Amherst SC decided to make it a problem.

Why aren't we waiting for the regionalization report, due in a matter of weeks? Why the rush by this Amherst SC to spend money in retaining a lawyer? Why the adversarial action? Why the secrecy? I still have not seen adequate answers to these questions? Why are we being so heavy handed in this?

I think the Amherst residents deserve an answer to this question. I also think Pelham residents deserve an answer to this question.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 7:50 - well, whether it has or has not been a problem in Amherst depends on your view about whether an agreement in which one town pays 94% of the bill and one town pays 6% of the bill yet each have equal votes is fair. You don't see it as a problem. Others might.

The regionalization report doesn't examine the Union 26 arrangement at all, so it won't be informative. And once the Amherst SC voted to get information, why wouldn't it move to get information? Are you suggesting we should have voted to get information, and then not acted to get a lawyer for a few months? I'm not clear why that is helpful, since we need the lawyer to get the information. Is getting legal advice adversarial? I guess that depends on your view -- I see it as being responsible to the citizens of Amherst.

And what secrecy are you talking about? The vote to get a lawyer took place in a meeting covered by the press, attended by the public, and shown on TV. I can't imagine anything less secret than our approach!

What is heavy handed? A unanimous School Committee vote to seek advice from a lawyer?

But given that you believe Amherst and Pelham residents deserve an answer, why don't you also sign your name and state the town you live in, just to avoid secrecy (much as I use my name in posting my thoughts on my own blog).

Anonymous said...

How is the SC not waiting for the regionalization report?

Consulting a lawyer and retaining a lawyer are 2 different things - how has the SC retained a lawyer?

How has the SC acted in secrecy?

How has the SC been adversarial?

How is the SC being heavy handed?

What question do Amherst and Pelham residents deserve an answer to?

Anonymous said...

Beneath all the sound and the fury, let's not lose sight of what has actually happened: the Pelham SC faction has become impulsive, inconsiderate, and brutish.

Amherst may be deliberately out of the mainstream, proudly,... but Pelham is off the reservation, with its ill-conceived and provocative agenda, and is - for now - getting its way not because the Pelham ideas are sound, but for one reason only: because (under Union 26) "It Can."

It is time to change the charter.

Anonymous said...

could someone give specific examples of how pelham contingent has become "impulsive, inconsiderate, and brutish."

TomG said...

CS's presentation of the research is informative and does not advocate a course of action. Nonetheless Anonymous at 7:50 leads with his/her left as though a decision contrary their preference is being advocated or has been made. Wait Wait. We don't know the other information. a straw man! (Who says we aren't waiting?)

CS: I think presenting information on this blog without advocating a position is a good way to inform your readers of the facts prior to voting your vote on the SC. There are just far too many reactionary types poised to argue the contrary but not necessarily in a constructive manner, imo.

Supportive Taxpayer said...

Regarding money spent, it is only $3,000. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall budget and as a taxpayer, I have no problem with this whatsoever.

The numbers are fascinating, Catherine, thank you. Looking them over, I really don't see why Pelham doesn't join Union 38 with Leverett and Shutesbury. That would really make the most sense.

As a taxpayer of Amherst, it is becoming increasingly obvious to me that we are subsidizing (although subtly) not only Pelham but also Leverett and Shutesbury. I mean financially (although yes, I do agree that the proportional representation problem is there not only in the Union but also in the Region). This is unacceptable to me. Amherst is large enough to support its own K-12 school system. It does not need Leverett, Shutesbury, and Pelham.

I understand that the current agreements are best for those three towns (and for their children) but what about our children? Wouldn't it be easier to align our curriculum K-12 if Amherst kids were all in the same single district?

And financially, if Amherst had a K-12 district, wouldn't it be less complicated to produce one budget per year (maybe this is why Northampton has a much easier-to-use budget than we do)? Couldn't we save on administrative costs? We could also combine the middle and high schools, offering a lot more flexibility for middle school kids who want to take high school classes. It would also expand the sports offerings for the younger kids. Not to mention saving the cost of a principal, vice-principal, and other support staff.

I really hope the SC presses ahead with examining the possibilities for dissolving Union 26 and also hope it is looking into forming our own K-12 district. We elected you to manage our money (the schools spend the majority of Amherst's money) and to look out for the education of our kids. A single K-12 Amherst-only district is the most responsible way to go.

Anonymous said...

And I would like to know what is "Pelham's ill-conceived and provocative agenda?"

Anonymous said...

I suspect that Anon 8:30 is having a little fun with us.

I hope that the Amherst SC recognizes that, if this is a precursor to blowing up Union 26, they are way ahead of public opinion in Amherst on this. Jim Oldham is right: there's no clamor for this. That doesn't make the inquiry wrong, however.

I also hope that the Amherst SC recognizes that the recent Charter elections demonstrate that there's a deep fondness in town for outmoded, traditional political arrangements, like Town Meeting, that impede change. Embedded in that fondness is a great deal of good old New England pastoral fantasy.

So changing Union 26 represents a very big political boulder which will be difficult to move without more public support on the lever.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 8:05 - good questions. I hope that even anonymous posters raise specific concerns/questions based in fact ... instead of make false accusations and implications (e.g., accusations of secrecy for discussions that occur in public and on TV).

Anonymous 8:30 - I'm not sure of the intent of your post ... maybe you could also add some clarification.

Anonymous 10:09 - I think that post might have been a joke, though I'm not sure, so I posted it.

Tom G - thank you for the wise words. I will continue to post information and look forward to discussing this, and other, issues with people on my blog.

Supportive Taxpayer - thank you for your words. And yes, it is VERY clear that Amherst could indeed have its own K to 12 system, which would likely be cheaper to operate in terms of administrative structure AND also increase the ability of the district to have horizontal and vertical alignment. Right now, all of the four towns could have different curriculum in elementary schools, which in turn leads to problems at 7th grade when all students come together.

As you note, the current system benefits the small towns ... and it just isn't clear to me at all what benefit Amherst realizes (and I am, after all, an elected official from Amherst). I'd like to understand the pros/cons of both the Union 26 and the regional agreement, and I'd like to have a full discussion with the community about how best to proceed. But first, we need information, which the Amherst SC is indeed trying to get.

Anonymous 7:43 - I assume this might be a joke?

Rich - I may be naive here, but my assumption is that the VAST majority of Amherst residents have no idea what Union 26 is, nor do they understand that this union gives Pelham 50% of the vote in choosing a superintendent at the elementary level (although they pay 6% of the costs and have less than 10% of the population), nor do they understand that the Amherst-Pelham gap is the largest in the state of Massachusetts of all two-town unions. So, I guess I'd like to make sure that voters who are fine with the current arrangement actually understand the current arrangement first! Now, if Amherst residents do understand this arrangement, and believe that it is in the best interest of Amherst to continue to have such disproportionate representation in choosing and evaluting a superintendent, I will listen careful to that preference. But first I believe residents should understand the situation and its relative uniqueness.

I guess what I find odd is lets play out our situation in a make-believe town in Alabama. Let's say there's a small town made up of almost entirely white, middle/upper-middle class residents that has a union with a town that is 10 times its size and has a very diverse population (e.g., many more students of color, many more low income students), and that each of these two towns get an equal say in hiring and evaluating the superintendent (although the large town is more diverse and pays more than 10 times as much of the budget). Now let's say the large and diverse Alabama town said "hey, we really deserve more say in making the decision about a superintendent" and the small White Alabama town says "no, this is a good arrangement and it has been this way since 1903." I believe there would be ridicule in Amherst about this totally unfair and backwards Southern town, yes?

Anonymous said...

Why is it that the representation is disproportionate, but the administrative costs are proportionate? If Pelham wants to be equal to Amherst in votes, wouldn't it make sense for them to pay 50% of the costs?

I am not suggesting this as a solution because I believe as most people do in proportional representation and taxation.

Anonymous said...

Supportive Tax Payer said, "Couldn't we save on administrative costs? We could also combine the middle and high schools, offering a lot more flexibility for middle school kids who want to take high school classes. It would also expand the sports offerings for the younger kids. Not to mention saving the cost of a principal, vice-principal, and other support staff."

I do not understand how having a strictly Amherst K-12 system makes it easier to:

1. Combine middle and high schools (and I am not sure why we would want to do that anyway)
2. Save the cost of a principal and vice-principal. Where does this saving come from? Combining the middle and high schools?

Seems to me that in the regional system that we have now, if it were our desire to combine the middle and high schools we could do that now. I don't know why we would want to do that, but there does not seem to be anything, under the current system, stopping us from doing that.

Could you explain more fully why Amherst being its own K-12 system makes it possible to do some of the things you mention?

Anonymous said...

Catheine, Your Alabam analogy has nothing to do with the Amherst/Pelham Union 26 debate. It is a VERY poor analogy.

Anonymous said...

How about citing some examples of how the Alabama analogy so very poor?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 11:03 - it is actually a very inequitable situation in many respects. Pelham has 10% of the population, but pays only 6% of the bills (so, they are under-paying based on student enrollment), yet has 50% of the vote. In addition, Pelham costs the Amherst district $160,000 a year through their option to allow School Choice.

Anonymous 11:09 - I agree that some of the things the earlier poster suggested could occur in our current system (e.g., combining middle and high school). However, it is definitely clear that having this agreement is more administratively costly -- Andy Churchill suggested this might be why the Amherst schools spend $4,000 more per child than the Northampton schools (which have a K to 12 district). It is also clear that having to report to three SCs and go to three sets of SC meetings is NOT a plus in terms of attracting a superintendent. So, if Amherst had a K to 12 system, that might in fact increase our ability to attract a good superintendent and/or pay him/her less!

There are others ways in which the current system also does restrict what can occur - if, for example, Amherst wanted to move its 6th graders to the MS (a possibility suggested by all superintendents over the last few years and all MS principals, including current MS principal Mike Hayes), the regional agreement makes this much more difficult. I'm not saying whether this would or would not be a good idea -- but this is an idea that in Northampton (or any other K to 12 district) could be decided at the SC level in one town ... and in Amherst would have to be decided by 4 towns.

Anonymous 11:12 - why is this a poor analogy? This is precisely what is occurring now -- we have two towns that differ dramatically in size and diversity, yet this agreement gives each town an equal voice because the agreement has existed since 1903. Clarify what you find problematic about the Alabama analogy, because I actually think this is quite apt.

Anonymous 11:24 - thank you. I look forward to hearing Anonymous 11:12's response on why this analogy is inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you actually need to use an analogy to describe the situation. Just talk about Amherst and Pelham...and leave fictional towns and states out of it. It does nothing to contribute to the conversation.

We are not in Alabama and our towns are what they are. Let's just leave it at that and continue the discussion.

Anonymous said...

And if Amherst were to leave Union 26 would that end Pelham accepting School Choice children from Amherst? Why do you keep harping on how much Amherst pays to Pelham for School Choice. If you are so against Amherst paying Pelham for school choice slots then we should stop accepting school choice slots from other towns. Period.

Whats bad for the goose is bad for the gander.

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Catherine, about the difficulties in moving 6th grade to the middle school under the current configuration.

What I do not understand, however, is why Amherst is moving unilaterally at this time vis a vis Union 26? Why don't we wait for the regionalization report and then look at the whole situation wholistically? I think this quesion has been asked here on this blog before, and perhaps you have already answered it and I missed the answer. If that's the case, my apologies.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Anonymous 12:15 - I continue to believe the analogy to Alabama is very apt ... it is precisely what is occurring here, but it is easier to personalize the local situation (e.g., the people from Pelham are great, and we love them, and surely they would feel the same as Amherst voters about all things anyway). The analogy is to show that we might in fact see things in very different ways if we could look at the situation more objectively.

Anonymous 12:17 - I think the school choice thing is highly relevant, because this is where there is a direct conflict of interest for the superintendent. The Pelham school is supervised by the same superintendent as Amherst, yet Pelham takes School Choice kids from Amherst (and needs to, in order to survive) but Amherst doesn't take School Choice kids from Pelham. Thus, Pelham benefits from this arrangement and Amherst loses. I think it is hard to tell what the impact on school choice numbers would be if Amherst weren't in a union with Pelham. However, just to be clear: the Amherst schools do NOT take School Choice kids from any district (including Pelham). So, Pelham is playing by different rules in this respect than is Amherst (hence what is bad for the goose/bad for the gander isn't apt here).

Anonymous 12:21 - good question, and I don't think I have fully answered it before. There are two reasons for the discussion of Union 26 now, before the regionalization report. First is that the regionalization report doesn't consider the specific Union 26 agreement (so it just isn't relevant). Second, there are very different rules for dissolving a union versus a region. We already know how to get out of the regional agreement (this is in a policy already stated on the ARPS website) -- and it is really, really hard (e.g., three of four towns have to agree, has to go through all town meetings, etc.). We don't know how we could exit/modify the Union 26 agreement. So, I think having this information is a first step, and the regionalization report is the second step. I believe both steps are important.

Abbie said...

to anon@1217:

it is my understanding (and CS can confirm), Amherst cannot STOP families from opting into a school choice slots at Pelham, if offered by that school. Amherst has NO power to stop that loss of $160K/year if Pelham offers those slots (which they essentially need to do, to keep costs (for them) at a reasonable level). As I understand it, if Pelham and Amherst were no longer part of Union 26, then Pelham cannot offer school choice positions to Amherst. Is this correct???

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - you are basically correct: Amherst can't stop studetns from choicing into Pelham (or any other district that allows choice, such as Leverett). If Pelham became its own district (e.g., hired its own superintendent) or joined with another union (e.g., Union 28, with Leverett and Shutesbury), then those kids could also choice into Pelham.

However, there are two key things first. First, if Pelham joined the Amherst district and we became one district with 4 (as of next year) schools, then Amherst kids wouldn't be able to choice into Pelham (or if they did, then no money would be transferred, just as no money is now transferred if someone chooses Crocker Farm over Fort River), so this would be a net increase for the Amherst schools. Second, choicing into Pelham for Amherst families may or may not be less appealing if Pelham made a different choice. For example, if Pelham joined the union with Leverett and Shutesbury, Amherst families with kids in the middle/high school would then have somewhat different school schedules (because the Union 28 schools often start/end on different dates than the Union 26 schools, have different curriculum days/school conference days, different snow days, etc.). Again, these are all options that I assume Pelham SC members and residents would be able to fully discuss if Amherst were to consider doing something different than the current arrangement, and I don't believe it would be appropriate for me, an Amherst resident and SC member, to propose what the best solution for Pelham would be.

Anonymous said...


I thought we did have School Choice slots in Amherst and that we did take school choice kids from other towns? We don't?

Thank you for clarifying.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 1:20 - sorry, this is also confusing. The region DOES take school choice kids -- so, there are kids from other towns in 7th through 12th grade. The Amherst SC has voted not to accept school choice kids (this is a vote each SC makes every year and Amherst hasn't taken choice kids for years), so there are no school choice kids K to 6 in Amherst (or in Shutesbury, which has also voted to not accept choice kids). Both Pelham and Leverett do accept school choice kids.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that clarification, Catherine. It's hard to keep track of all of this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Why is there a child in my Wildwood kid's 4th grade class being bussed in from Chicopee? In a van marked "van pool".

Anonymous said...

After the Alabama analogy, it sure sounds to me like you have a position.

So when you continue to assert that you don't have a position, it almost sounds like you think we can't hear or understand your actual position. And in that way, when you maintain you don't have a position, while advocating one, it makes me feel that you're either being dishonest, or you're condescending to me/the reader.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 1:37 - no problem -- I didn't understand any of this until I'd been on SC for some time!

Anonymous 4:02 - I can't comment on individual cases, which I don't know about -- all I can say is that the Amherst SC has voted not to accept school choice kids, and we don't.

Anonymous 4:18 - I certainly have the belief that the current arrangement is unfair to Amherst residents, and merits examination. That is precisely why I voted to get information on our legal options. I don't think I've been subtle about that view (on this blog or in meetings). What I don't have a position on is the solution (e.g., what should we do), because I don't have information (yet) on our legal options. And I've been very clear on that as well, which is neither dishonest or condescending. But I'd like you to remember that I'm using my name here in an attempt to have an open dialogue, and I find your post inappropriately hostile -- if you want to make such statements again, I'll look forward to you attaching your name to them.

Dan Viederman said...

Hi Catherine - Dan Viederman here. First, I think you should disable anonymous posting on this blog. there's nothing worth saying that one can't say with one's name attached!
aside from that, i think you make a reasonable case for looking at the Union agreement. i also think that you and others who wanted to look at the agreement did a downright poor job explaining why and bringing the others on the SC along with you. As a result all the talk is about the process not the content. And that means wasted energy and wasted opportunity.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

Regarding the possibility of moving the middle school to the high school if we had an Amherst K-12 district, we could do that now but it is not clear if there is enough room. Maybe the point was if we had only Amherst kids in our middle and high schools, there would definitely be enough room to combine the two. Either way, I think it is something to consider. Many local districts have a 7-12 school and I think we should take a look at how those schools work and how much money that would save (regardless of whether it was a regional school or an Amherst only school). It would also solve some of the problems cited about having a two-year-only school.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Dan - thanks for using your name! So, to respond to your thoughtful points:

First, I wish people would all post using their names, and I'm very appreciative when people do (such as Gavin Andreson, Alison Donta-Venman, Abbie, Janet McGowan, Mike Jacques, Nina Koch, Rick Hood, Larry Kelly, Joel Wolfe, Caren Rotello, Rich Morse -- and I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting). I agree that people should be able to sign their comments, and I think the discussion would occur at a higher level if ALL people did that.

However, I've also heard from people that they fear posting with their name due to potential consequences (I've heard this from parents and teachers), and I guess I feel that I'd rather have these contributions (which can still be thoughtful) than to exclude them. I have gone (within the last two months, at the suggestion of an anonymous poster!) to moderating all posts, so I can now at least avoid publishing anything that is personally attacking, inappropriate, etc. I will continue to give my policy of allowing anonymous posting thought and if others have thoughts about this they'd like to share, I'd welcome them.

Second, I'm glad you agree that looking into the Union 26 agreement is worth doing. I look forward to getting the information, and then from discussing various options with the community later this year.

Third, in terms of the way this issue was presented -- here is the chain of events, just to be clear:

For the April 7th Amherst SC meeting, the agenda item "look into the Union 26 agreement" was placed on the agenda. This was a regularly scheduled meeting, and the meeting was shown on TV and the public was present. The agenda was created by the chair of the SC, Irv Rhodes, and the superintendent. Although the minutes for this meeting have yet to be posted, here is what I posted on my blog:

"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."

So, this was a unanimous vote -- meaning I'm not sure about your comment that "bringing the others on the SC along with you". It seemed like all of us agreed that this was indeed something to look into.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me to Dan (continued):

Then the legal services subcommittee met on April 23rd (these minutes are posted), and we chose a firm that we believed would be good to represent us. This was also a posted meeting.

Next, the Amherst SC met on April 27th (public meeting, on TV) and discussed this agenda item (again, this item appeared on the agenda). Here are what the official minutes describe: "Ms. Sanderson noted that the Legal Issues Subcommittee has developed a recommendation for the full Amherst School Committee regarding potential law firms to consider hiring. Mr. Rivkin then made a motion to request guidance from an attorney, to be recommended by the legal services subcommittee, regarding alternative arrangements to the Superintendent’s Union 26 with Pelham. Mr. Spence seconded and discussion followed. Mr. Rivkin noted that he believes the Amherst and Pelham Superintendent’s Union presents a number of issues, one of which is that Amherst pays 40% and Pelham pays 3% of the Superintendent’s salary. Despite the differences in the number of students and financial burden, both towns have equal voting representation in hiring a Superintendent and Mr. Rivkin believes the current arrangement is negative for Amherst. Mr. Hood asked if the main reason for hiring an attorney is to get advice on what alternative arrangements can be made with regard to the Union 26 Agreement. Mr. Rivkin noted that is the intention. Mr. Hood stated that he hopes the district will not spend too much money on the review. Mr. Rhodes stated that the attorney should be able to complete the review and interpretation fairly quickly so it should not cost a great deal. He noted that if a decision is made to make a change in the agreement, that will require additional time and those costs will be spread out during the FY11 fiscal year. Elaine Fronhofer, community member and attorney, expressed concern about the years of cuts to the schools and where money is being spent. She noted that the new law regarding school unions is complicated, and she believes it will take more time to review than the School Committee is assuming. In addition, she noted that the former law was designed to ensure that small towns have some representation in choosing Superintendents. After further brief discussion, the School Committee unanimously approved the motion. Ms. Sanderson then reported on the meeting of the Amherst Legal Services meeting that was held last Friday, April 23rd. Of four firms that were previously vetted by the Regional Legal Services Subcommittee, the Amherst subcommittee recommends hiring Kopolman and Paige, which has a Northampton office and the least expensive hourly rate of $170 per hour. Ms. Sanderson then made a motion to secure the services of Kopolman and Paige to secure the services noted in the earlier motion. Mr. Spence seconded. Mr. Hood expressed his discomfort with approving this motion without having an idea of how much the work will cost. Ms. Sanderson proposed that the full committee agree on a dollar figure cap for FY10 and direct the Amherst Legal Services Subcommittee chair to contact the firm to get an estimated cost. If the estimate is greater than that amount, he would be required to come before the School Committee again. Ms. Sanderson amended the motion to read “I move to secure the services of Kopolman and Paige to provide the services noted in the earlier motion at a cost not to exceed $3,000 in FY10.” Mr. Rivkin seconded. The revised motion was approved unanimously."

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Me (still continued) to Dan:

So, this was the second Amherst SC meeting at which this topic was discussed, and both times the entire SC voted unanimously to seek legal services to gain information about this question. Both meetings were announced, public, televised live, and covered by the press. I believe statements made by members of the SC are quite clear as to why this information might be valuable.

So, I'm totally not trying to waste energy or opportunity -- but I'd also like to know specifically what you think we could have done better (remembering that given open meeting laws, the SC couldn't meet in secret to vote on whether it wanted to do this and then communicate that privately to Pelham; all of this discussion HAD to occur in public). I know that we have been accused of handling this poorly -- but I'm also wondering if these concerns are really about the content of the discussion (e.g., should we change the Union 26 agreement), and not so much about the process. So, I'm listening -- and if you (or others) have thoughts on how this all could have played out better, I would appreciate hearing them!

Alison - yes, that's an interesting idea -- and we certainly would have more options with fewer students (e.g., if only Amherst students attended the MS and HS). However, I'm pretty sure the regional agreement includes having students from the three towns attend these schools -- and I think Pelham (but perhaps not Leverett/Shutesbury?) actually paid some time ago to help build one/both of these schools (?). So, I'm also not sure how possible it would be to make this change (in contrast to forming a K to 12 regional agreement with all four towns, in which case all students would continue to go to the MS and HS).

Anonymous said...

"Unions" are not the only partnerships between towns' schools.

Four regional MA High Schools come to mind: Acton-Boxboro, Concord-Carlisle, Lincoln-Sudbury, Dennis-Yarmouth. There are sure to be more.

To properly examine the consequences of money spent vs the political clout of individual towns in each region, it would behoove the SC to consider all regional high schools, not just those that fall under the "Union" nomiker. Unless, that is, the aim here is only to present information that supports the legal avenues for dissolving the Amherst-Pelham union under the rules governing unions.

If it is not, this data presented by Ms. Sanderson is incomplete as far as town and school partnerships in MA are concerned.

Anonymous said...

Just want to leave a brief comment about public opinion regarding Union 26.

The talk around the proverbial water cooler (ie school pickup, the soccer / baseball / lacrosse field, etc) is OUTRAGE that there isn't proportional representation in Union 26 - that Amherst pays 94% of the bill but has only 50% representation.

This is one more thing that many Amherst citizens feel has been hidden from the public. Whether there is a public outcry for investigation is a moot point. Our school committee would not be doing its ELECTED JOB if it did not look into this situation. Public displays at School Committee meetings and editorials in the bulletin should not be what drives the agenda of the School Committee. I commend the Amherst School Committee for pursuing this matter.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:31 - I absolutely agree with you that we should consider whether to examine the regional agreement, and that comparisons to other towns would be essential to examine. However, that is actually a very different situation from the union 26 agreement for two reasons. First, the regional agreement already has clear legal rules for changing it (these are posted on the ARPS website now), so if Amherst wanted to make a change, the steps necessary are already known. In contrast, we have no idea how (or whether) the Union 26 agreement could be changed, which is why we need advice from a lawyer. Second, regional agreements can be changed in any way that the towns agree -- as of now, Amherst has 5 votes, Pelham has 2 votes, and Leverett and Shutesbury each have 1, but that could change if towns agreed to a change. In contrast, the rules around unions require equal representation from each town, meaning it isn't legally possible to change to a "4-2" or "5-2" vote on Union 26. That makes deciding how to proceed much more complicated, since some changes in the voting proportion, as we already have in the regional agreement, aren't possible.

Anonymous 12:52 - this is certainly what I'm hearing ... in contrast to those who have spoken at meetings opposing looking into this arrangement, people I've talked to continue to be amazed that Amherst and Pelham each have equal votes at the elementary level, and are definitely appreciative ot the SC for trying to learn more about our options.

Again, I see this as very similar to what happened with the Marks Meadow decision -- those who opposed it came to meetings and wrote to the Bulletin, whereas those who supported it were much quieter. As you note, you simply can't judge the majority view based on who attends SC meetings or writes to the Bulletin (or, for that matter, posts on blogs).

TomG said...

" makes me feel that you're either being dishonest, or you're condescending to me/the reader."
Anonymous May 16, 2010 4:18 PM

Congratulations on identifying two possibilities, both of which are unsupported assertions and both of which cast you in the mold of a victim and Catherine in the mold of an untrustworthy, dishonest and hurtful school commitee board member.

You have a problem. You might want to get some help with it.

Cathy Eden said...

So, I've been a little hung up on this $160K that Pelham gets from taking Amherst school choice students. And, I've just realized what an incredible conflict of interest it is to share a Supt in this situation. For example, when Pelham goes to their Supt with their budget and comes to the conclusion that they cannot continue without making difficult cuts or taking in more revenue (school choice) their Supt has to advise them knowing that if they advise them to take school choice students that many of those students will be from Amherst because it is one of the closest towns. I'm curious to hear what people who are so opposed to the idea of looking at the Union 26 agreement have to say about this situation? What if Pelham's enrollments go down or their expenses (inevitably) go up? Does our Amherst Supt tell Pelham to take more choice students knowing that they will mostly be coming from Amherst?!

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Tom G - thanks for pointing out the nature of that comment!

Cathy Eden - that is precisely one of my issues about this arrangement ... and because Amherst and Pelham each share the same superintendent, we actually advertise on the ARPS website for school choice seats in PELHAM! Obviously that is any parent's choice, but we do not advertise the availability of seats in say, Granby or Northampton, because obviously that would seem inappropriate. So, we have a situation in which the survival of the Pelham schools depends on getting kids from the Amherst schools to opt out of the Amherst schools -- which in turn costs Amherst $5,000 per students -- and thus we lose the equivalent of a teacher in each of our three elementary schools. It is clearly a conflict of interest for our superintendent, which Steve Rivkin pointed out at the last meeting. This is another reason why the Amherst SC voted unanimously to get information on what the options are in terms of Union 26, and why I am still having trouble understanding why some people are opposed to this vote.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, in response to your last post:

- Do you think, if the vote to have Maria Geryk cover the superintendent role for 16 months had gone differently (say, to hire someone from the outside to come in as an interim) that the SC would be taking up the Union 26 issue right now? I honestly don't think so. And that makes me suspicious about the SC's motives. The fact that the Union 26 agreement may be flawed is not as disconcerting as the sense that the SC is responding to individual members' hurt feelings/hurt pride over not having the superintendent vote go the way they preferred.

There are many possible permutations for our district and neighboring towns, and many pro's and con's to be considered. However, even among the various restructuring possibilities, it seems unlikely to me that the Union 26 issue is the most important.

I voted for you because I thought you were focused on improving academic excellence in the schools. It's difficult for me to see evidence of that platform in the Union 26 initiative.

Finally, cost is a relative concept. As far as legal fees go, $3,000 isn't much. But, $3,000 can go a long way for teacher supplies, enrichment activities, professional development, etc. I honestly feel like the money (and energy) being spent on this issue is a waste.

It might be hard to believe that, after reading my post, I think that the arguments for breaking the Union 26 agreement seem to have some merit. But, this problem seems much less important than the ones the SC itself has already outlined (absorbing the changes prompted by the Marks Meadow closing, integrating the changes in Dr. Beers' report, hiring a permanent superintendent, etc., etc.); and the context in which the Union 26 issue has been raised leaves me feeling like this whole endeavor is reactive and ill-conceived.

Anonymous said...

And I imagine is Amherst unilaterally decided to pull out of Union 26 we would still advertise Pelham school choice slots on the APRS web site, because Pelham is a member of the Region. And I also imagine that if Amherst unilaterally pulls out of Union 26 there will be more parents trying to choice into Pelham...simply to show support for Pelham. I know I would certainly consider it for my child.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 12:30 - well, I actually agree that the Union 26 thing would not be being discussed if the superintendent hire on March 9th occurred the way it did. But I disagree with the "motives" behind the discussion: it isn't "hurt feelings" that led to this examination, but rather it was a very clear demonstration that the interests of those elected to serve Pelham might well differ from the interests of those elected to serve Amherst. And given that these interests were quite divided (100% of Pelham SC members voting to appoint an interim superintendent for 15 months without any public comment; 80% of Amherst SC members -- and all of those potentially running for re-election -- not wanting to make a 15-month appointment without any public comment), it then seemed quite odd that at the Union 26 level, both Amherst and Pelham had 50% of the votes. I heard from a number of parents who were really concerned about this, and felt that their voting for candidates they supported in Amherst was basically useless, since ultimately, Pelham could block any superintendent hire.

Second, we are spending $3,000 to learn about options which could ultimately save the district considerable sums. I've heard repeatedly from administrators and SC members that we have to pay the superintendent more because we require that person to go to three SC meetings and report to three SCs and manage three separate budgets. That's in part why our superintendent gets paid a lot more than Northampton. So, examining the Union 26 agreement could lead -- if changes were made to this agreement that would decrease the number of SCs the superintendent has to report to and meetings he/she has to attend -- to dramatic cost savings in the district, worth FAR more than $3,000. I therefore believe this is money VERY well spent.

One more thing: the Amherst SC has NOT said "the single most important thing on our agenda is learning about Union 26 and that is all we are focusing on." We made a simple motion (unanimous support) to get more information. And we are getting more information (which doesn't involve time from anyone on the SC or working in our schools). We are certainly continuing to work on many things that focus entirely on academics: implementing a K to 6 Spanish program, reviewing K to 12 math, etc.

Anonymous 8:20 - actually, we currently don't allow the posting of the school choice seats in Leverett, which is ALSO a member of the region, so it is quite clear that if the current superintendent didn't also supervise Pelham we would NOT advertise such seats. But certainly, all families have the right to choose where to send their children, and if you believe that you'd like to show support by sending your child to Pelham, you should certainly opt for that school.

Abbie said...

Hi CS,

all this talk of Pelham reminds me that the Pelham ES principal was charged with reviewing the K-6 curriculum. I don't know if she was paid extra for this work. Seems like this was at least a year ago. If this is correct, has anything come of it? A document? It feel off my radar...


Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie - good question (and on education!). Yes, Rena Moore was also hired (and paid extra) this year to evaluate K to 12 curriculum, and I look forward to seeing her report. I haven't seen anything, but will ask about the status of this work at tonight's meeting.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I sent this email to the Amherst School Committee and Superintendent Geryk and thought it might be of interest to this discussion:

Dear Amherst School Committee members...

I am writing in support of your inquiry into withdrawing from Union 26. It is clear to me that the current arrangement is not in the best interests of Amherst students, Amherst taxpayers, and frankly, the administration. I believe in proportional representation and the Union is clearly not set up that way; Amherst is an an unfair disadvantage. I also believe we need to look anywhere and everywhere for cost reductions and efficiencies that do NOT directly impact the students in the classroom. The current need for our Superintendent to serve three separate districts, attend multiple School Committee meetings, and try to juggle the sometimes competing needs of three separate districts (for example, the issue of school choice into Pelham) make the job unnecessarily complicated, potenially unattractive to candidates, and requires a higher level of pay than is truly sustainable.

I also believe that there are many other good options that can better serve not only the needs of Amherst students and taxpayers but also those of Pelham. Forming a regional K-6 district, for example, would continue to have the benefit to Pelham of sharing a superintendent but would solve the problems of "serving multiple elementary masters" for the Superintendent, eliminate the school choice money leaving Amherst problem, and help with curricular alignment. If this is done now, as the schools prepare to reform into three Amherst elementary schools, perhaps instead they could reform into four elementary schools with one located in Pelham. There are many Amherst students who live closer to Pelham elementary than to Fort River, so redrawing the boundaries to include Pelham might help mitigate some of the potential crowding problem in our remaining three elementary schools. A regional K-6 district would also solve the proportional representation issue.

The best solution of all, though, is to form a K-12 district. That would be administratively and financially the most efficient as well as allowing the best curricular alignment (both vertical and horizontal). I hope the School Committee takes on the task of seriously evaluating this possiblity, including the possibility that Amherst seeks to form its own K-12 district if Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury are uninterested in joining us. You were elected to serve the needs of Amherst students and all citizens and it is in our best interest, and the best interest of our children, to form a K-12 district.

As always, I appreciate all your hard work and willingness to listen. Best of luck with this work.


Anonymous said...

Great job, Amherst SC. Once again! I am a voter, a taxpayer, a property owner, a parent with children in the schools, and I am extremely thankful to you for shining light on this issue, explaining it to us, and getting legal advice on it.

It is simply an old system that no longer fits. And it is a huge disservice to Amherst residents and taxpayers. We simply do not have the same demographics, interests, and financial issues as Pelham. What is really comparable? Not much in my view. What is shocking to me is that it has taken this long to make some progress on this issue. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

TomG said...

I'm glad Anonymous @ 12:30 (who is suspicious of motives) raised the questions of priorities.

CS, What is your assessment of the Amherst School Committee's priorities (initiatives) at this time? What is the committee working on, and what are they working toward, say in a one and two year horizon?

If you can't speak for the whole committee, can you provide an opinion about it from your perspective?

For me, Union 26 is a threshold issue. It's specific structure, as opposed to its general existence, is an issue going forward with regard to elected Amherst School Committee members having appropriate and proportional authority in the hiring process of a new super. From the feedback I've read here, it seems like some people support the union if not the 50-50% proportion of elected officials on it. I'd like to hear from them about what Union 26 delivers that they value.

Maybe the way to move forward is to make the representation proportional, leave authorities in tact, and examine administrative overhead and the pros and cons of the union separately on a longer time line.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Alison - thank you for your thoughtful email to the SC. I agree that the current arrangement is not advantageous, in terms of curricular alignment as well as budget efficiencies, and I'm particularly mindful of this in light of the announcement yesterday that Northampton will ALSO be seeking a superintendent next year! Who would prefer to work in Amherst, attending three sets of SC meetings with three different SCs evaluating performance and setting goals and managing three different budgets?

Anonymous 10:04 - thank you for your thoughts. I agree that looking into this issue is really important, and in fact is our responsibility to the voters in Amherst.

Tom G - two points here. First, we are going to discuss goals for the upcoming year at our June meeting (I believe June 15th), so we will have a sense from the whole SC at that time. Personally, I see improving K to 6 math as essential (and look forward to getting the independent review of this later in the month), initiating the K to 6 Spanish program (which will be discussed by Sean Smith, head of world languages, at tonight's meeting), examining the K to 6 science program (which the superintendent has indicated will be reviewed next year), and evaluating our intervention support (including what programs we have, and when, and for which kids, and to what outcome). Those are four priorities I think are front and center, and I believe work on each of these is well underway by the administration.

Second, and this is a key thing in response to your point that "maybe the way to move forward is to make the representation proportional" -- we are not allowed, according to Massachusetts General Law, to make the representation on a union proportional: each town has to have EQUAL representation. This is one of the key problems -- this is not just something Amherst and Pelham can work out on their own. So, there is NO WAY to stay in a union and allow proportional representation ... which is why we need legal advice on what our legal options are.

Anonymous said...

Like TomG, I'd like to read the Reasonable Person's Brief on maintaining the Union as is (and I truly believe that there's one out there).

But I'd like to read one from a named person, rather than sniping from the shadows by anonymous posters.

What's the argument other than "we hate the Amherst School Committee and the way that they behave?"

Rich Morse

Nina Koch said...

Hi Rich,

I don't know if I qualify as a reasonable person or not, but here is my argument. It's not so much about whether the Union should be maintained but more about a sensible order of proceeding. We have a group looking into regionalization and I think that group should present its findings first. If we end up going to a K12 four town district, then the point about Union 26 becomes moot. So we don't need to spend time, money and angst on it.

Overall, I would support something which simplifies the current structure. But it does not make sense to me to break up the Union before other things have been figured out. I don't see that anyone has made a case why that needs to be done in such a hurry.

Alison Donta-Venman said...

I think the case for getting things done "in a hurry" is that we will be hiring a new Superintendent next year and it would be nice to know what his/her duties and responsibilities will be beforehand (regarding number and types of districts). Nina's point about regionalization is a good one, though; I would love to see a decision about that made before advertising for a Superintendent as well. But given that no decision may be made on that front in time, I think moving ahead on a parallel track of examining the Union 26 agreement is wise.

Abbie said...

Dear Nina,

Knowledge is power (in a good way). Knowing all your options is the best way forward. If you don't know your options, then in practice, they don't exist.

I know lots of folks who are unhappy with the the 'process' that occurred wrt to Union 26. The fact remains that it deserves examination. The legal opinion might say 'there is nothing Amherst can do wrt to Union 26'. Hence there would be NO reason to discuss Union 26 with Pelham. But Pelham knows very well why Amherst is examining the Union, they would have to be brain dead not to understand why. They don't NEED to be spoon-feed the reasons why Amherst wants to examine the Union. That is all political posturing, IMO. Maybe things could have been done differently (and I'm sure fault would still have been found), but the folks involved are PEOPLE who are VOLUNTEERS with strengths and weaknesses. Please consider giving everyone (all parties) a break and focus on the issue.

Anonymous said...


I'll consider giving the Amherst SC members some slack when they start doing the same towards Pelham SC members.

Nina Koch said...

Hi Alison,

I don't think it's possible for us to have a definitive answer on district structure ready in time for when we start advertising the supt position next fall.

In terms of hiring, I think the best thing we can do in order to attract quality candidates is to demonstrate that we are capable of engaging in constructive discourse that moves things forward.

Abbie said...


I followed along with M. Hayes' discussion of 'extensions' at the SC mtg. And I have a question about something he said. It might be more appropriate to post this question later, when you post on last night's ES SC mtg but I will ask it here anyway.

Has ANYONE other than M. Hayes seen this 'data' on extensions, which I have now heard him mention 2 times now. Has anyone on the 'regional SC' seen it? Have any MS parents seen it? As an Amherst tax-payer, how could I gain access to that 'data'?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Rich - yes, good point. I am STILL waiting to hear why information is bad.

Nina - two quick things here. First, the regionalization report did not examine the Union 26 arrangement, and any moves on regionalization would take a LONG time (this is something that would have to get approved by all town meetings). So, regionalization is AT BEST 5 to 10 years off -- it certainly isn't something we can count on, just as soon as we get that report. Remember, we heard last year that we shouldn't close Marks Meadow because we were about to get that regionalization report! Second, no one has decided to "break up the Union before other things have been figured out." Not a single person. The Amherst School Committee has requested information on how arrangements could be modified -- that's it.

Alison - yes, good point. And again, there is ZERO chance that regionalization will be decided prior to hiring a superintendent. The rules for changing the nature of that arrangement are very clear, and I think the process is extremely lengthy. In addition, I've attended various updates from the regionalization committee, and it is clear that that committee formed under pressure from the state to study this issue (not out of any burning desire to regionalize on the part of any of the towns), and I'm pretty sure that report is NOT going to recommend a K to 12 regional system. I imagine the report will ultimately recommend further study!

Abbie - well said. I agree with everything you wrote. I think there is a lot of focus on the "process" of asking for information (kind of like the focus on "tone") because that is frankly easier to criticize than requests for information (which kind of seems reasonable).

Anonymous 10:27 - can you clarify what kind of slack we should give Pelham? I understand the current system is GREAT for Pelham, so I understand why they don't like the idea of any changes being considered. But that doesn't mean that Amherst shouldn't seek information.

Nina (at 10:43) - well, if superintendent candidates watch the Amherst SC meeting from last night, they see an active group full of energy and focused on education. Last night, in 2 1/2 hours, we talked about the new Spanish language policy, the K to 12 math review, goals for next year, intervention support, afterschool programs, and K to 6 science. It was done with active dialogue and participation with all SC members and the superintendent. Very clearly the Amherst members are indeed ready to focus on education and constructive dialogue moving forward.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Abbie (at 10:51) - I too have heard about this data on the benefits of extensions from Mike Hayes, but I have never seen any data on its effectiveness presented -- not as a member of the SC or as a member of the Math Curricular Council or as the parent of a 6th grader entering the middle school in the fall. I share your interest in seeing that data, and will try to ask about that at the next Regional Meeting.

Anonymous said...

I thank Nina for her sincere attempt at the Reasonable Person's Brief in favor of the Union 26 status quo. As someone who wasn't even thinking about this before, say, three months ago, I get it.

And your point about "a sensible order of proceeding" is meaningful to me.

Ultimately, I think that the Amherst SC will have the burden of proof with Amherst residents on either staying in or getting out of the Union. Whether he knows it or not, Rick Hood's position will be crucial in gaining public acceptance IF the decision is to get out, given his identity as the most conservative, most cautious, most conflict-averse member of the Committee. (In short, he's in the Churchill seat.)

Like the Mark's Meadow closing, any move out of the Union will need a unanimous vote to insulate the SC from the customary endless recriminations around town.

I still believe that the Amherst SC membership is entitled to think about so momentous a matter before they should be compelled to discuss it. They are not required to "think out loud" in a hastily called Union 26 meeting. For me, that is the unfairness of the other night's meeting, including Ms. Farnham's unwillingness or inability to table the matter gracefully.

Rich Morse

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Rich - your point is well-taken. And let's remember, when I made a motion (seconded by Kathleen) to close Marks Meadow in a year, Andy was very hesitant to support it. However, after we spent two months reviewing the data on the benefits, he joined all other members of the Amherst SC in voting unanimously to close it. I think it is impossible to judge how ANY member of the Amherst SC would vote on the Union 26 matter until we have advice from an attorney on what our options are, and what the costs/benefits of each might be. At that point, each of us will have to consider how we want to proceed.

I will note that contrary to the comments at the last few meetings that consisted only of those clamoring to not get out of the Union 26 agreement, four parents spoke at last night's meeting urging the Amherst SC to get information about the nature of this agreement. I believe it is important for the public to understand the arrangement and our options, and I'm very glad that all members of the Amherst SC (including Rick) continue to believe this is important information to have.

Anonymous said...


They did not need to think out loud about whether to get out or not. All Pelham was asking them to do was to say why, out of the clear blue, the Amherst members of Union 26 were even thinking about it at all. What event precipitated the thought process to begin with.

Pelham was NOT asking them to do anything more than that. What is so hard about that?

Irv, or Catherine or Steve could have said very simply "we are thinking about this because we are not happy with the way the vote to hire Maria Geryk went."

Simple. End of story. Would have taken about 10 seconds. If something like that had been said, Tracy would have called an end to the Union 26 meeting and the Regional meeting would have continue. It would have taken about 5 minutes in all.

I still do not understand this simple thing. Why Amherst could not say why the thought process was begun in the first place. I do not know how I feel about Amherst pulling out of Union 26. I may support it. I may not. But I do know that I do not support the way the Amherst SC members handled things at the May 11th meeting.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to mention, Catherine, that you, Steve and Rob are all Fort River Parents. And 3 out of the 4 people who spoke in support of looking into the Union 26 agreement are also Fort River parents.

Not exactly an objective crew of parents showing support. I think that's an important fact that needs to be added each and every time you tell us of all the support you have.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response:

Anonymous 5:51 - there was a very, very clear quote in the paper regarding why Amherst was interested in this issue, and thus voted unanimously to get this information. In addition, all of our meetings are available on TV (and on line) and minutes are posted, so all Pelham members have for over a month had full information about why Amherst was taking this step. In addition, and I'm going to quote Abbie here, "Pelham knows very well why Amherst is examining the Union, they would have to be brain dead not to understand why. They don't NEED to be spoon-feed the reasons why Amherst wants to examine the Union. That is all political posturing, IMO." The point is very, very obvious: one town pays 94% of the bill and has 50% of the vote. Some people think that is odd (and it is the most disproportionate union in Massachusetts). That's it, and it isn't a subtle point nor one that is hard to understand.

Anonymous 5:54 - OK, so here is what is odd to me. People who support looking into getting out of Union 26 came to a meeting, spoke in public, and used their names. They are owning their comments because they believe they are right. You are posting anonymously on a blog -- why in the world wouldn't you use your name in this case, just as Rich Morse has done, and Nina Koch, and Abbie, and Cathy Eden, and Alison Donta-Venman, and Dan Viederman. Just USE YOUR NAME to share your views, because on this issue, I can't see not using your name -- you aren't going to offend a teacher or a student, etc. But when you imply that those parents stood up at a meeting and spoke on TV and in public because three Amherst SC members convinced them to do so (e.g., the Fort River link), it is really insulting to not only SC members, but those parents. Own your comments and say who you are.

Abbie said...

Dear anon@554

are you the same anonymous that keeps claiming a great conspiracy occurred and some people were kept from commenting at the SC mtg? The 'invisible' raised hand'? Seen by no one apparently, but by the individual with the invisible hand (maybe they should get that checked).

The fact is any rational person would want to examine a contract formed over 100 years ago and decide whether those obligations are in the best interests of those currently served.

I will say it here, as I have other places. I supported hiring Ms. Geryk for 16 months (and still think that was a pragmatic, good decision) AND I want Union 26 examined. These two opinions are ENTIRELY independent of each other.

Finally, I imagine it must be very easy to sling such accusations from the cover of anonymity. So spiteful...

Barbara said...

Mr. Rhodes did see this person's hand go up and as soon as he saw it raised he said "I'm not taking amy more comments." This was said just before he went into his response to Farshid.

Anonymous said...

I am not anon 5:54 but I do share his/her concerns about the Ft River slant of the SC. I also am concerned that there are no members with kids in the regional system.

Abbie said...


If that is the 'hand' claimed to have been raised, then it was raised AFTER the request at the beginning of the meeting for people to raise their hands if they want to speak. This 'hand' was raised DURING the comment period, long after the earlier request, and thus, Irv's appropriate comment. This isn't town meeting or an open forum.

And thanks for using your name. I do disagree on occasion with CS, SR, and IR and I have yet to hear of any contracts put out on my life...(or by anyone else for that matter...)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Abbie (at 2:44) - thanks for the good point. And again, can someone explain why people need to anonymously note that someone wasn't called on? Is that a big issue that demands privacy?

Barbara - I believe Abbie responds to your point here (e.g., this person did NOT identify that they wanted to speak when Irv initially asked for who wanted to talk). There is no grand conspiracy to deny people the right to talk, as I think has been pretty clear at all meetings.

Anonymous 3:08 - well, there is an easy way to resolve the make up of the Amherst SC -- vote for different people when they run for SC! I'm up for re-election this spring, so hopefully someone will run against me from a school other than Fort River (and with kids in the regional schools).

Abbie (at 3:13) - thanks for clarifying this point re. the timing of the hand raising. Also, I am still trying to figure out how to use this power I apparently have to punish those who identify themselves and then disagree with me on my blog/other blogs/in the Bulletin. If anyone could give me a heads up on how I can accomplish this, I'd really appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

Catherine "so hopefully someone will run against me". Have you decided to run for re-election?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.