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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Future of One Small School

This is an article that appeared in the Gazette last fall, and I didn't post it on my blog at the time -- but as I've been thinking more about the unique Union 26 arrangement (in which Amherst and Pelham each have an equal vote about the superintendent), I thought this article would help educate my readers about some of the complexities of this relationship. This article notes that as of this year, Pelham has only 76 elementary school students living in their town, and thus is entirely dependent on school choice students for continuing to operate (and it is pretty clear that Amherst is the likely source of many of these students, at $5,000 per student).


Anonymous said...

Thanks for spelling this out. I really don't think a lot of people "get it" how Pelham is draining our pockets. Thank you for doing this research.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, can you find out how many of those 48 school choice students are from Amherst? With Pelham in that situation, it really does make sense for them to join Amherst in one elementary district and spread all the Amherst and Pelham kids across the four schools. Too bad it couldn't have been done this year as part of the larger redistricting exercise for our schools.

TomG said...

48 of the 76 students enrolled in Pelham elementary are not from Pelham, they are school choice students (for which $5000 each is paid to Pelham.) Does that money come from the state or the education budget of the town(s) the students live in?

Total: $240,000 per year.

"A recent regionalization panel with 12 members from Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury recently considered closing the Pelham school, but eventually concluded that such a move would have little financial benefit."

I think this conclusion may be worth re-visiting. Is there a rewritten report?

As a member of Union 26, do we have the right to vote on motions brought to the Union 26 by elected members?

Can we look at the cost of running the Pelham elementary school on a per student basis versus other Amherst elementary schools and decide whether the education the kids are getting is a good value for Amherst taxpayers?

TomG said...

Make that 48 of 125.

Michael Jacques said...

The article says that Pelham has Spanish. So if we have the same superintendent why didn't we have Spanish years ago? I am sure Pelham is a great small school. I suspect most small schools are great. Unfortunately 3 different school committees that have an impact on the Amherst School system is clearly to many. I don't know what the best alternative is but it must be addressed. Thank you to all of the School Committee volunteers who take the time to address these issues for me.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 11:34 - thanks for the thoughtful comment. I just think Amherst residents need to understand this association, and seriously contemplate whether it is in Amherst's best interests.

Anonymous 1:20 - the last numbers I have show that 14 of those 48 are from Amherst (17 are from Belchertown, which is the most common town, but Amherst is second -- and the next largest is Sunderland with 4). Unfortunately, Pelham is in a different town than Amherst, so it wouldn't have been possible to do a redistricting that included Pelham, unless the two towns had formed such an agreement (of course, this could still happen, but there would be a lot of thinking to do on the part of both towns to figure out if this made sense).

Tom G - the money for school choice comes directly out of the sending town's school budget. So, this year, the Amherst elementary schools lost 14 X $5,000 = $70,000.

The report has not yet been released, but is expected soon. There is an article about it I just posted a link to on my blog, however!

I certainly believe that Amherst should examine the cost/benefits of the Union 26 agreement -- in terms of financial costs and education.

Mike - what a good question! Yes, I found it interesting that Pelham had Spanish, and apparently that wasn't any concern (there SC wanted it, and that was fine). But when the Amherst SC wanted Spanish, this discussion was much more controversial (and it certainly wasn't clear that the superintendent entirely supported this initiative). I think this speaks to the real differences involved in running one small school with an almost entirely white and middle class population in a very small town, and running four much larger elementary schools in a much more diverse town. I just don't think the interests are really the same, and it seems highly likely that these towns would want different things in their superintendent.

Anonymous said...

The amount that we lose to school choice seems difficult to calculate accurately because we pay the school of choice but we also lose state funding when our enrollment numbers go down (I think?).

Then, when I looked at the DOE website


it said that in FY10 Amherst lost 29 pupils to school choice at a cost of $248,000. But 29 x $5,000 does not equal $248,000.

So, how can we get an accurate estimate of what we are losing?

Anonymous said...

If the $100K difference is SPED related costs, then why are families choice-ing out of Amherst's SPED programming? What is preferabl about Pelham's SPED programs vs Amherst's?

I'd like to see an answer to that. Do they have a reputation for supporting certain problems better than Amherst? Clearly there is some kind of choice being made to exit Amherst SPED in favor of Pelham SPED. Yet Amherst still has to pay.

Unless I am misreading this info, but I'm pretty sure CS said that the difference of $100K was SPED costs.

Where does Pelham ES get its out of district specialized services from? Amherst? HEC? Private contractors? I think I recall that some Amherst specialists also visit Pelham (eg reading, maybe OT). So in a sense the money isn't exactly going out of district (literally) if the same staff who also work in Amherst schools also service Pelham ES.

This is complicated -- I hope someone who actually knows can speak to how this works.

Ed said...

I think I recall that some Amherst specialists also visit Pelham

This is interesting. Is the Pelham share of these folk increasing as the kids shift over to there?