One of the main goals of my blog has been to provide information to the public about issues impacting education in Amherst, and I think it is clear that the association between Amherst and Pelham is quite complex. In particular, the Pelham school is entirely dependent on school choice in order to continue to exist, and 30% of the school choice kids in Pelham come from Amherst.
Here are some key numbers:
As of May 1, 2010, the Pelham school enrolled 126 kids, including 79 Pelham residents and 47 school choice kids. Of those 47 school choice kids, 17 are from Belchertown and 14 are from Amherst. The district with the next highest enrollment by choice into Pelham is Sunderland (4). So, the vast majority of kids choicing into Pelham are from Belchertown (which has just amount the same number of students K to 12 as does Amherst, but of course Belchertown has its own superintendent) and Amherst (which shares a superintendent with Pelham at the elementary level).
As of May 1, 2010, the Amherst elementary schools lost 29 kids to school choice, and of those 29, 14 went to Pelham (virtually half), making Pelham the district that by far takes more Amherst kids. The second most common districts for Amherst kids to school choice into are Hadley and Sunderland, which each take 4 kids from Amherst.
Pelham began taking school choice kids in 2004, and since that time, Amherst has lost an increasing amount of money to school choice. In 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, Amherst lost 15 kids a year to school choice. In 2006-2007 and 2007-2008, that number climbed to 23. This year, it is 29.
Now, that is a serious amount of money, since we lose $5,000 per kid when they go to another district ($5,000 X 29 = $145,000). However, we also have to cover any additional special education costs for students who choice into another district, so the number is actually higher than $145,000. Last year, we paid $248,000 in total to other districts; and of that $248,000, $161,665 went to Pelham (65% of our school choice tuition is paid to Pelham).
So, the Amherst elementary schools actually pay 12.3% of the Pelham elementary school's budget (their total budget is 1.31 million, and Amherst pays $161,665 of that). And in turn, Amherst loses the equivalent of three teachers -- meaning as of next year, an extra teacher (intervention, or music, or Spanish) in each building.
This extreme reliance on school choice to maintain the Pelham school, and in turn its drain on the resources for the Amherst schools, may be why Rob Detweiler, the business manager for the Amherst, Pelham, and Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, recommended that Pelham take fewer choice students. Here are the Pelham Select Board Meeting Minutes of May 11, 2009 (which you can google and find in full on line):
School Committee: Huber reported that the committee will be presenting a budget at Town Meeting of approximately $1.64 million, of which Pelham will be responsible for $1.31 million. He further reported that Rob Dettweiler, Director of Finance and Operations for the Amherst Pelham Regional Schools, has advised the committee that Pelham needs to make a decision regarding school choice students. Dettweiler recommends “weaning off” of the number of School Choice students accepted by Pelham Elementary. The Committee, however, voted to raise the number of school choice students so that now forty percent of students educated in the Elementary school will be from out of town. Dettweiler projects that by 2012, Pelham will have 76 students from Pelham and 80 School Choice students. Huber suggested that the Selectmen should consider meeting with the Finance Committee to determine “where we’re going” in the next five years in regards to funding for the Pelham Elementary School. Fred Vanderbeck, of the Finance Committee, told the Board that the FinCom is scheduled to meet on May 21st at 6 p.m. at the Rhodes building and that the School Committee has been invited to attend.
As you can see in these minutes, the Pelham SC rejected the advice of the business manager, and instead opted to increase the number of school choice kids. Given the very clear information on where increases in enrollment come from (Belchertown and Amherst), it seems clear that the Amherst schools will continue to pay an increasing amount to maintain the Pelham school. If Rob Detweiler is correct, and 80 school choice kids will be in the Pelham schools by 2012, Amherst kids will presumably make up 30% of this total (or 24 kids), which would cost the Amherst schools well over $100,000 a year (and very likely considerably more).
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.