By Diane Lederman, The Republican
May 31, 2010, 9:05PM
AMHERST – The School Committee is hoping a lawyer will provide some answers Wednesday night regarding its more than century-old relationship with Union 26.
That relationship has stirred some tension among the three committees involved in the Amherst Regional District last month and officials are hoping that they will move past those disagreements.
There is the Amherst Regional School Committee, which is composed of the five member Amherst School Committee, and representatives from Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham and Union 26, which is composed of the three members of the Pelham Committee and three of the Amherst Committee. The Union and the region vote on the hiring of a new superintendent.
But with a law change earlier this year, the Amherst School Committee wants to look at the agreement. Some feel that Pelham has too much say in the hiring of a superintendent.
The disagreement grew from a March meeting when the Union in a 4 to 2 vote approved the hiring of Maria Geryk as interim Amherst Regional School Superintendent for a term of 16 months. The regional committee approved that hiring but when the Union voted – the three Pelham members supported the motion, while only one Amherst member did. Opponents wanted to appoint her for four months and then conduct a search for an interim leader for a year.
That vote raised questions about Union 26 for the Amherst members: Just what is the union agreement and can it be changed.
Members are concerned about representation – why Amherst, which has the largest percentage of students in the district, has the same number of votes as Pelham, said Amherst School Committee chairman Irvin E. Rhodes.
Rhodes and other Amherst members were upset that the regional chairman Farshid Hajir and Geryk placed a discussion about the future of the Amherst-Union 26 discussion during a regional committee meeting May 11 meeting. Rhodes said he was never consulted.
“I do believe (there was) a lack of consideration and courtesy to the Amherst School Committee members and me in particular because I wasn’t consulted,” he said.
He also was angry with Hajir because he said the item should not have been on the region’s agenda and with Geryk for not taking it off. Hajir disagrees. “Any change to Union 26 affects the region.”
Rhodes, meanwhile, had asked Hajir to resign. Hajir, who was elected chairman by the committee, said he plans to remain.
Hajir is upset the way Amherst members have talked about the union and wishes the questions about the union were brought forth in “a more collegial less secessionist” way.
“I’m trying to make sure that people know what their roles and responsibilities are and know what the boundaries are,” Hajir said. “There are some things the School Committee can’t control. It’s one thing to be a very active policy-making committee; it’s another thing to be going after a power grab.”
Member Catherine A. Sanderson, however, believes the committee is being responsible to the town by looking at the union agreement. She said out of the 71 towns that are in a union Amherst is the largest, Pelham the smallest and yet only has 50 percent of the say.
“It seems very clear this is advantageous to Pelham.”
She said the change to the law, which went into effect earlier this year was initiated by the Shutesbury School Committee chairman and no one criticized that move but people are critical of Amherst for looking into its agreement. She said the way is structured is Pelham gets a 50 percent say in hiring a superintendent but Leverett and Shutesbury only have a 25 percent voice.
Hajir, meanwhile, said the regional committee has been looking at the creation of a regional system for the entire district kindergarten through Grade 12 and that report is expected to be ready for a June meeting. That report also looks at the governance of the region.
“My perspective is we are one school system, one superintendent, once central office.” He believes that a spirit of cooperation benefits the entire district.
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.