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 14, 2010

Presentation: Background and Framework for Union 26 Discussion

Prepared by Steve Rivkin
June 14, 2010

Slide 2: District and Superintendent Institutional Arrangements

  • Town school district with own superintendent (e.g. Northampton)
  • Towns combine to form regional school district
  • Town school districts form a union to share costs of superintendent (e.g. Amherst and Pelham)

Slide 3: Governance and Financial Considerations

Town district with own superintendent

  • Town control over all aspects of school governance
  • Small towns may face higher costs per student

Regional school district

  • Town representation on school committee roughly proportional to town share of total population of all towns in regional district
  • Combining towns into single district may reduce costs per student and enable additional educational offerings

Slide 4: Governance and Financial Considerations

Town district in superintendent union

  • Town control over school policies
  • Towns have equal representation in a super-intendent union regardless of population
  • Union may reduce central administrative costs, particularly for small towns
  • Sharing makes administration more complicated, likely raising costs (e.g. processing payroll) as well as the salary necessary to hire a superintendent

Slide 5: Governance arrangements in Massachusetts

Town Districts with 1,000 – 1,500 students

  • 17 have own superintendent
  • 3 are in unions
  • Unknown number of towns in regional districts
17 superintendent unions with 71 towns

  • 68 have fewer than 1,000 students
  • Amherst is only town in union with more than 1,300 students

Slide 6: Representation in two town unions

  • Lakeville (742) & Freetown (533): 3 to 2 ratio
  • Williamstown (426) & Lanesborough (270): 3 to 2 ratio
  • Dover (572) & Sherborn (450): 3 to 2 ratio
  • Boylston (377) & Berlin (212): 5 to 3 ratio
  • Southborough (1,208) & Northborough (300): 4 to 1 ratio
  • Amherst (1321) & Pelham (125): 11 to 1 ratio
17 to 1 ratio (excluding students who choice into Pelham)

Slide 7: Amherst-Pelham Union 26

Town of Amherst

  • 35,000 residents (23% nonwhite; 20% poor)
  • multiple elementary schools with 1,321 students
Town of Pelham

  • 1,400 residents (4% nonwhite; 5% poor)
  • 1 elementary school with 78 students from Pelham and 47 choice students including 14 from Amherst
Amherst and Pelham Elementary Districts together pay half of central administrative costs (Amherst-Pelham Regional School District pays the other half)

Slide 8: Union 26 History and Governance

  • Union 26 was formed more than 100 years ago
  • By Massachusetts law the Union 26 governing body has 3 members from Amherst and 3 members from Pelham

Slide 9: Benefits and Costs of Union 26 arrangement for Amherst

Governance – loss of local control

  • Pelham can veto hiring of superintendent and reject a salary
  • Pelham has equal say in superintendent evaluation
Financial benefits and costs uncertain

  • Pelham pays 3 percent of elementary union share of central office costs. Question is whether costs would be 3 percent lower in the absence of central office having to administer an additional small district (likely small in magnitude in either direction)
  • Additional district and school committee (Pelham) likely increases salary necessary to attract a superintendent of a given quality
Slide 10: Possible Divergent Interests and Considerations for Amherst and Pelham

  • Pelham accepts school choice students including 14 this year from Amherst at a total cost of roughly $160,000
  • Multiple Amherst schools with diverse student body require curricular alignment, coordination with teacher/program evaluation, and decisions regarding allocation of students, teachers and programs among schools
  • Superintendent role more limited in town such as Pelham with single school, one class per grade and more homogeneous population
Slide 11: Evaluation of the effectiveness of Union 26: State of the Amherst Elementary Schools

Academic Achievement: Amherst schools failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) last year due to insufficient share of children passing math or reading MCAS tests (aggregate and in some cases subgroups)

Enrollment: Growing number of Amherst children attending charter or private schools or schools in other districts

Curriculum and Program Structure:

  • Lack of horizontal and vertical alignment within schools and between schools
  • Lack of systematic evaluation of teaching
  • Lack of systematic evaluation of programs and curriculum (prior to adoption and following a period of use)
  • Particularly detrimental to struggling and low income students (Roz Taylor)

Slide 12: Considerations and Budget

  • Lack of transparency (no line item budget)
  • Schools spend over $16,000 per student (far above state average for elementary schools)
  • Concerns about administrative structure and high administrator salaries
  • Concerns about negotiated contracts (substantial raise granted despite grim budget outlook; teachers given control over important working conditions; parents must now request spring parent-teacher conference unless teacher requests a meeting)

Slide 13: Alternative Superintendent Arrangements

Maintain current Union 26 arrangement

Amherst withdraws from Union 26

  • Amherst Elementary District shares superintendent with regional district
  • Amherst and Pelham form a regional elementary school district and share superintendent with region
  • Current 7-12 regional district extended to K-12
  • Amherst forms own K-12 district

Slide 14: Amherst Elementary District shares superintendent with regional district

  • Much greater control over governance
  • Cost implications uncertain but likely small
Slide 15: Amherst and Pelham form a regional elementary school district

  • Town representation of school committee proportional to population
  • Complex financial and structural issues
  • Other towns could also join
Slide 16: Amherst and Pelham form a regional elementary school district

  • Town representation of school committee proportional to population
  • Complex financial and structural issues
  • Other towns could also join
Slide 17: Current 7-12 regional district extended to K-12

  • Likely substantial savings from closing an elementary school
  • Towns would have proportional representation on school committee
  • Loss of local control over elementary schooling for all four towns (more important for smaller towns that would have less representation on Regional School Committee)
  • However, regional agreement makes it very difficult to change the current structure
Slide 18: Amherst forms own K-12 district
  • Enhances local control and flexibility for Amherst
  • Would likely reduce salary necessary for attracting a superintendent and possibly reduce central office costs
  • However, regional agreement makes it very difficult to change the current structure

Slide 19: Summary
  • Highly unusual for town as large as Amherst to be in a superintendent union
  • Extreme underrepresentation for Amherst voters in Union 26 arrangement
  • Serious concerns about performance and cost effectiveness of Amherst elementary schools under current structure: the effect of the Union 26 arrangement on quality of schools and efficiency of resource use is unknown
  • Alternative arrangements to Union 26 might be in the best interest of Amherst children and residents


Anonymous said...

I have a question concerning the first bullet point in slide 17, "Likely substantial savings from closing an elementary school." Which school would close under this scenario? Pelham? (I.e., the school which outperforms all Amherst schools PLUS Shutesbury and Leverett on the MCAS??)

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Pelham has FAR fewer kids than the other schools, so yes, this is the school that would most likely close IF a school needed to be closed. Do you imagine that their MCAS scores are highest because they are a small school? Or are located in Pelham? I'm not sure of this causal link you seem to be making. I wonder if it might be, for example, the fact that Pelham has very few low income kids and virtually no ELL kids (who are at greater risk of struggling on standardized tests)?

Anonymous said...

I think you may dismiss or minimize the impact of a small school on MCAS scores, and other academic measurements. Marks Meadow also had high MCAS scores and they have a pretty good share of "low income kids and virtually no ELL kids (who are at greater risk of struggling on standardized tests)". What does the research show for small vs. large schools and academic achievement? Thank you for all you do.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Elyse - thanks for the kind words! I posted a lot on the effects of small schools this time last year -- if you read through my blog from spring 2009, a lot of this research is described (and the research is hard to interpret, since people aren't randomly assigned to go to small versus large schools, small/large is often confounded with urban/rural, etc.).

HOWEVER, it really isn't clear Marks Meadow on the whole has better MCAS scores, which is often what is claimed. Marks Meadow failed to make AYP in ELA in 2009 for all students (the aggregate), whereas both Wildwood and Fort River made AYP. Marks Meadow, as a small school, doesn't report subgroup performance for ANY groups (other than white students) whereas the other schools all do, which also means their MCAS performance isn't hurt if subgroups do worse because there aren't enough members of subgroups to count.

Anonymous said...

Leverett is a far more affluent community than Pelham and demographically very similar in other respects. Yet it's been marked as a "needs improvement" district due to poor MCAS scores. In other words, it's not just demographics that lead to high achievement. Excellent teaching and exemplary leadership from a school principal play a role, and those characteristics have certainly made Pelham the school it is today. Close Pelham and you're getting rid of an academic gem.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 3:42 - the Amherst SC has nothing to do with whether Pelham closes. That would be a decision in Pelham. The regionalization report, as I understand it, may make the point that the Pelham school isn't sustainable, as enrollments are seriously, seriously declining. But that isn't within the Amherst SC's control or purview.

Anonymous said...

Steve's conclusions are specious. The Union 26 agreement has no little or no bearing on the effectiveness of the Amherst schools. This whole issue is a red herring that members of the SC seem to be using to attack the superintendent.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we need to think about the possibility of Pelham being a part of a K-6 district. Then, we could redestrict some of the kids that go to FR who are a stone's throw from Pelham and, in the process,
relieve FR and WW of some of the
counterproductive crowding that comes with those school's populations projected in the next few years.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:39

That makes perfect sense!

And, under those circumstances, $ won't be drawn from Amherst for "choice" kids attending Pelham.

Free Legal Advice said...

Why shouldn't it be up the 5 school committee members? Isn't that why we voted for them? SAM