I've just posted a new question on localocracy, because I realized from reading the responses (and in particular the reasons given) that my first question wasn't really clear. Once again, if you are an Amherst registered voter, you can go on this site and vote (and you can vote anonymously if you want) or you can ask a question to get more information (http://amherst.localocracy.org/activity). I've pasted my entire localocracy post below, just FYI -- and I'd be glad to hear thoughts/questions here as well (though will look to localocracy to see how the tally of actual registered voters goes). As always, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
So, I have read through all of the very helpful reasons/questions given on my last issue, and realize that a number of people were confused about what precisely that question asked … hence this question will be similar, but a bit more direct to help voters learn about the key issue, and to hopefully provide more useful feedback. Much of the information I posted on the last issue is still relevant (e.g., Amherst is in a union with Pelham, votes are shared equally on hiring/evaluating the superintendent, there is currently no written formula in terms of how those costs are shared, etc.), but I’m also presenting some new information about an option that I’d love to get feedback on.
Basically there are three options – Amherst can stay in the current Union 26 situation (this has pretty mixed support — some feel it is fine, some feel it needs to be fixed), Amherst can form its own K to 6 district (although this might be possible, the state would certainly come in because Pelham would need to find some new situation, and that probably isn’t fast/easy), or Amherst and Pelham can form a joint elementary regional district (like the current 7 to 12 arrangement, but with 2 towns instead of 4). I’d like to get feedback on the desirability of exploring this third possibility, forming a regional elementary district, for three reasons.
First, many of the people who supported staying in Union 26 expressed support for maintaining a strong relationship with Pelham. Having a regional agreement would actually strengthen the current arrangement, as there would be a single SC making all policy decisions for the Amherst and Pelham schools (e.g., like we have 3 schools now in Amherst, this would just be 4). This would make curriculum alignment and sharing of resources easier (e.g., right now the Amherst schools have Spanish and Pelham does not, both SCs could adopt different math curriculum, etc.). It would also simplify the superintendent’s job somewhat (e.g., managing two budgets, not 3; reporting to 2 SCs, not 3).
Second, many of the people who supported getting out of Union 26 expressed concern about the inequity in voting (e.g., a town with 10% of the population having 50% of the vote in hiring/evaluating a superintendent). A regional agreement would mean the two towns could get a different number of school committee seats, and thus would not require equal representation.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, it seems that it is impossible to know whether either Amherst or Pelham would like a regional elementary agreement unless these two towns starting talking to each other in terms of what the terms would be (so that we could see if mutually-agreeable terms could be reached). For example, the towns would have to agree on how costs would be divided, if students living in one town could attend school in the other town, the number of School Committee seats each town would have, and the rules (if any) governing major changes (e.g., closing a school could require the support of Town Meeting of that town). I’m sure there are other details, but these are the types of things that would have to be discussed before either town could know if a regional agreement was in fact a good idea. It might therefore make sense for such discussions to start sooner rather than later so that both towns would know whether a regional elementary agreement might be a viable option moving forward.
And one important point for all to keep in mind: because of the various details and logistics that would have to be worked out if and when a decision was made to change the current configuration in any way, such a change could not go into effect until next summer at the earliest (e.g., none of this could impact the upcoming superintendent hire either way).
So, my question is whether the Amherst School Committee should ask the Pelham School Committee to explore the the benefits of a regional agreement for both towns. A “Yes” vote means you believe this exploration should occur, and a “No” vote means you believe this exploration should NOT occur (meaning you could believe that the current situation is preferable to a regional elementary agreement and no discussion should happen regarding changing it, OR you believe Amherst should form its own district that doesn’t include Pelham). I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
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.