This article examines the Union 26 discussion held at tonight's Amherst School Committee meeting; I will do a blog post sometime tomorrow on the whole meeting, and will post Steve Rivkin's presentation. Overall, I think it was a good and productive meeting.
I'm not sure if this link is going to work (which I've heard from the Gazette), so they've now given me permission to post the whole story.
June 15, 2010
By Nick Grabbe
AMHERST - The prospect of severing the tie that binds Amherst and Pelham into one elementary school union got more definition Monday, but the ensuing discussion continued to be contentious.
Amherst School Committee member Steve Rivkin said Amherst is the only town in the state with more than 1,300 students that is part of a union. Most towns in school unions have student population ratios to their smaller towns of 3-2 or 5-3, whereas Amherst has 11 times the number of students that Pelham has, he said.
Yet Pelham can veto the hiring of a superintendent because of the union with Amherst, and it has equal say in the superintendent's evaluation, Rivkin said. The two towns have divergent interests, such as the 14 Amherst children who attend the Pelham Elementary School under the "school choice" program, he said.
Amherst schools have underperformed on standardized tests, and a growing number of the town's children are attending charter or private schools or schools in other districts, Rivkin said.
If Amherst withdrew from its union with Pelham, it could share its superintendent with the regional district, the two towns could form a regional elementary district, the four towns that comprise the regional district could extend that district to include the elementary schools, or Amherst could form its own district from kindergarten through 12th grade, Rivkin said.
Committee Chairman Irv Rhodes plans to schedule a joint meeting of the Amherst and Pelham School Committees to go over the options. This discussion takes place as a report on four-town school regionalization is due to be presented late this month.
"We're nowhere near doing any of this," said Rivkin.
Public comment at Monday's meeting brought some support for a change in governance but also some cautionary statements.
Ed Cutting of Amherst said the fact that the two towns have equal representation on the committee that oversees the union violates the "one man, one vote" principle. A voter's challenge to its legality could be a "potential land mine," he said.
Mike Jacques of Amherst said that under the current arrangement, the superintendent has three different supervisors, making it difficult for one person to satisfy all three if they have different agendas.
Andy Steinberg, chairman of the Amherst Finance Committee, questioned whether the four towns - Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury - can continue to support six elementary schools, considering declining enrollment and state aid.
Mary Keily of Amherst said Rivkin's report was too speculative, and she called his reference to the quality of the schools "misleading and irresponsible."
Andy Churchill, until recently the chairman of the Amherst School Committee, said the reason for the current discussion is the March vote to have Maria Geryk serve as interim superintendent for 16 months.
"A couple of members were outvoted on the superintendent and are trying to change the process so that doesn't happen again," Churchill said.
Pelham School Committee members Kathy Weilerstein and Debbie Gould attended the meeting but did not speak.
Rhodes said he hoped that there is "some modicum of trust that we're not out to destroy Pelham, that we're not Darth Vader, and we have the interests of children at heart."
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.