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.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Update on Localocracy Voting

So, the localocracy voting has been fascinating -- and apparently there has been more action on this topic of Union 26 than on other topics they've posed! The voting is pretty much tied as of now (though with relatively few voters on either side -- 10 to 15 people on each). I am finding two things very informative:

First, the reasons people give for getting out of Union 26 are pretty much what one might expect -- concerns about Amherst subsidizing another town and concerns about Amherst tax payers being denied equal representation. However, the reasons people give for staying in Union 26 largely focus on two issues: it has worked well for years (this strikes me as somewhat debatable, given that Amherst does subsidize Pelham!) and that we don't like/trust the current SC. It is obviously fine to dislike me (or Steve, or all of us), but I hope all voters remember that this isn't about the current SC and whether you like them. It is about whether you believe Amherst voters should have the right to vote in SC members they do like, and then whether you believe those SC members should have the right to choose a superintendent (since Amherst pays 95% of the superintendent's salary and has 90% of the kids). I hope that everyone who votes to stay in Union 26 is sure they would still support that vote if in a few years they really liked the new Amherst SC.

Second, the majority of people who have voted to stay in Union 26 have clear ties to the current school administration, whereas none of those who believe Amherst should exit Union 26 have such ties. Several current or former teachers/principals - or their spouses - have voted to stay in Union 26 (Aaron Kropf, David Mullins, Russ Vernon-Jones, Carol Sharick), as have several former SC members (Elaine Brighty, Alice Swift). It is clear that the Union 26 arrangement has felt quite comfortable to those who have long ties to the Amherst educational system.

It is clear from the voting patterns, and reasons provided, that some people in Amherst are really split on this issue (and probably on many), although it is entirely unclear where the silent majority really falls. I continue to believe that public officials need to hear from as many people as possible - hence my desire to do this blog - so I really hope that all of my blog readers who live in Amherst will sign up for localocracy (go to, which just takes a minute (they ask for your name and birthdate and address to verify that you are a registered voter in Amherst). You can then read the full issue I've proposed, and you can vote YES or NO (and give a reason if you want). Before you submit your vote, you can choose whether to use your name or to be anonymous (so, I was wrong about this before -- you CAN vote anonymously) . Again, there are many people in Amherst whose voice is not being heard, so I encourage all my blog readers to vote (either way -- I want honest and objective information on what the public thinks) and to send the localocracy link to their friends/neighbors/colleagues and encourage them to sign up and express their thoughts as well! This is a very easy way to participate in politics in Amherst (even anonymously!) and we all benefit from hearing more voices.


LarryK4 said...

Amherst has been run for the past 20 years by a dedicated core of perhaps 1,500 voters who seem to give a damn, and get out to vote no matter what.

That is less than 10% of the TOTAL number of registered voters in town, most of which only seem to care about the Presidential election every four years.

Localocracy only appears to have 120 registered Amherst residents--or less than 10% of the activist minority who seem to care--so I would not put all that much stock in this poll.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Larry - you make a very good, though really depressing, point. I hope that we can (a) get more people to vote regularly in Amherst, and (b) get more people to sign on to Localocracy so we have a better sense of what the true majority thinks. That seems beneficial for those of all political persuasions, yes?

Curious observer said...

What matters is what the majority of voters think -- and that thinking is in their votes. They elected the Amherst School Committee to hire the superintendent and set policies for the schools. They think those elected officials should do this job as they see best. (And they didn't vote for the Pelham School Committee though maybe they should be able to considering the say those members seem to have over Amherst affairs.)

Anonymous said...

I find it disturbing that you feel compelled to question the motives of those who feel Amherst should remain in Union 26. I know a couple of people you mentioned on the pro-Union 26 side and they are highly ethical -- not "yes men" for the status quo, as you seem to imply. Your positions in general would have a lot more credibility if you didn't feel compelled to engage in ad hominem attacks. (Btw, I am an Amherst resident who feels you should devote your energies to curricular issues.)

Anonymous said...

That's a good idea. Maybe we should be able to vote for hill town school committee members since they get to say what goes on in Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, what happened to not ID'ing school employees on your blog?

Anyway, all of the folks who voted on Localocracy are Amherst Voters and Amherst Taxpayers, why does it matter where they work or whether they served on the School Committee? I would think that previous school committee members and school employees have a greater stake, care more, and have a lot of experience, therefore their opinions should be listened to carefully.

Look at the "NO" column and you'll see a similar pattern, folks with a long history in this town, "the usual suspects." (I only point this out in response to your choice to start pointing fingers and naming names. It is not the way to have a discussion about issues!)

If you want a more democratic sense of feeling on this issue, put it on the ballot. Have a real discussion, not a one-sided one. The localocracy poll is a joke anyway because most of the NO voters are your blog readers, they are a self selected group whose opinions are already well known!

When the current Amherst members were elected, this topic was not even on the radar. To claim that you have a mandate to upend the union agreement is really a stretch. If ending the agreement is better for kids, it will be better for the kids after the next SC election as well. Put it out there and see if it gets you re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Why not disclose that Bart Hollander is your husband- a clear tie to a school committee member or that Larry Kelley sends his kid to a charter school and that Ali Burrow and Joel and Traci Wolfe send their kids to private schools. Maybe their opinions should be discounted for those reasons.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

More from me:

Curious observer - I agree with all you said ... and that is precisely how democracy works.

Anonymous 7:47 - I'm not questioning the motives ... I am stating that many of those who are pro-Union 26 have direct ties to our schools. That is factual. I have no idea how this is an attack?

Anonymous 9:10 - what I see as the problem with the current system is that voters in Amherst can't elect SC members who can in turn hire the superintendent they want. That seems like a major problem in a town that pays 87% of the superintendent's salary.

Anonymous 9:54 - I have a policy of not posting comments that criticize staff/teachers by name based on personal information. That's it. And I think it is useful to note that many of the supporters of Union 26 have long-standing ties to our schools. As you note, that could be considered a real strength -- which I didn't say it wasn't. I just noted it as a fact. And in turn, many of those opposed have young kids in our schools -- some of these are "the usual suspects" but others aren't (I certainly don't know all of the people on either side).

And one more thing - as an SC member, lots of things come up that you don't anticipate will. When I ran, I didn't talk about closing Marks Meadow, or redistricting, or Union 26. And Union 26 wouldn't be something we could bring up if Michael DeChiara (Shutebury SC chair) hadn't gotten a state law changed to allow Amherst to exit! I'm going to do what I think is in the best interest of education in Amherst -- and both my blog and localocracy have been useful sources of information to me in terms of what people think. Frankly, I've paid more attention to the reasons given on localocracy than who gave them. It strikes me as fascinating that many who oppose making a change focus on how they don't like the current Amherst SC, and that to me is a very, very short-sighted reason. I believe people's thoughts re. Union 26 should be the same regardless of who is on the SC ... because it is a much broader issue about representational democracy. So, you might hate me, but how about if the current SC was your "dream team" -- would you still not want them to have the power to choose a superintendent for a town paying 87% of that person's salary?

Anonymous 2:06 - I don't believe anyone's opinions should be discounted ... but I believe we should understand the connections people have to the issue. Many of the people who oppose Union 26 are frustrated with our current schools -- hence they have, as you note, left our public schools for private school or charter schools. They likely believe that the public schools would be better if the Amherst SC could choose the superintendent. That isn't wrong or right -- it is just factual, and yes, I believe that having this information is useful.

LarryK4 said...

Yes (Cowardly-Nitwit) Anon 2:06, my daughter Kira does indeed go to a "charter school"--the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School to be exact.

And I (as well as my wife, who is currently in China) was one of 15 "Original Founders".

But Kira, as well as her sister Jada, both happen to be native born Chinese.

The venerable Amherst schools had a golden opportunity to implement Chinese language in a meaningful way, but they squandered it.

And now it has come back to bite them in the, errr, posterior.

Anonymous said...

To Curious Observer:
I, an Amherst voter, voted for Amherst School Committee members with the understanding that we were part of a Union that included Pelham and that the voting for our shared superintendent was a shared vote. I am comfortable with that arrangement. So please don't go putting words in my mouth about what I want from my elected officials (several of whom I voted for).

And Catherine: To your comment "I believe people's thoughts re. Union 26 should be the same regardless of who is on the SC." ... It is the people on the present SC who are raising this as a question and for political reasons (who has the most voting power). Being upset about and disagreeing with the political motives behind this initiative seem like legitimate reasons to oppose it. Prior and I hope future school committees seemed to feel comfortable letting the arguments for and against the leadership qualities needed in a superintendent stand on their own merit. I'd much rather see the power of persuasion get put into action than the gerrymandering that's going on to try to establish power in numbers.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 4:09 - I believe in proportional representation. If you don't, that's fine and you should just be honest about that. But I believe a town which pays 87% of the bills and has 90% of the students should get more say. If you don't like current members of the SC, then vote them out and elect people you do like. But the broader issue is DO YOU WANT TO BE ABLE TO EXERCISE THIS CONTROL? As a resident of Amherst, I want to be able to elect SC members who agree with my view and can exercise their choices accordingly. That is how I have power as a resident of Amherst in influencing the schools. If you are comfortable with having no real power to influence the schools, then you should be comfortable living in a town that pays 87% of the bills and yet doesn't have control over the selection and evaluation of a superintendent -- because that is what this is about. It isn't about me, or Steve, or anyone else on the SC. It is about whether you believe in proportional representation (e.g., why California has more electoral votes than North Dakota in selecting a president). You can make this about me or Steve, but the power (or lackthereof) of Amherst SC members in Union 26 will also be the same ... and there will be many years in which neither Steve nor I will be on this SC. Just keep that in mind when you form your view -- because it really does impact the future of Amherst resident's power for shaping our schools in a very real and fundamental way.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, there isn't proportional representation in the U.S. Senate. Densely populated states like California have the same number of senators as sparsely populated states like North Dakota. So you've got a precedent for Union 26 right up there in the highest reaches of power!

I voted for you the first time out but will not do so this spring. You are spending so much time on this one issue and demonizing everyone who gets in your way.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 6:45 - to the best of my knowledge, when we choose a president, each state doesn't get two votes; larger states with more people get more votes. That might be why Amherst is the ONLY town with more than 1200 students that is in a union. It might be why other towns of our size have decided they want to choose their own superintendent and not defer that power to a very, very small nearby town.

And I think all residents of Amherst should vote for the SC candidate who they believe best shares their goals for the schools, and I feel very proud of what I've done: closing a school in the midst of intense public pressure not to do so (and many highly personal attacks on my blog and in the press) to save a million dollars a year, redistricting for the first time in 30 years to achieve equity in all of our elementary schools, implementing a new Spanish elementary language program, instituting the first outside review of our math curriculum in a decade, and instituting the first outside review of our middle school in a decade. These weren't easy things to do, but they were the right things to do, and I know that my efforts have improved education for kids in Amherst. I am very proud of what I've accomplished in my 2 1/2 yeares on the SC, especially given the very tumultous leadership we've had. And I absolutely respect your right to vote for a candidate who will do the things you wish a SC member would do (or, as the case may be, not do).

Tom Porter said...

I don't always agree with you, but I always appreciate your stamina and dedication in articulating the issue at hand, as well as your forbearance with the incessant personal attacks. Look forward to more of these, but remember that there are many ((the silent majority"?) who read this blog, don't comment, but draw their conclusions in part from how people conduct themselves here.

Thanks for keeping to the high road when some cannot. Clearly drives 'em crazy.

Re: Union 26, let's keep discussing here, let's have Localocracy widen the debate, let's vote on it, and let's get on with proportional representation.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Tom - thanks for the thoughtful remarks. I know some people (including you) disagree at times with my views, but I think it is really important for the public to understand what elected officials think and why ... and my blog clearly allows me to do that.

I'm really finding localocracy interesting as a way to gather information ... I know (as Larry wisely points out) it is a tiny group of registered voters, but I've certainly learned lots already about why people think what they do, and that is useful information for me to have going forward. I have a whole new question ready for localocracy once the interest in this particular topic dies down!

ed said...

Three things:

First, with modern relational databases, date of birth and address are what social security number used to be and I do NOT give it (at least the correct one) to *anyone* over the internet. It is STUPID to do this...

Second, there is a real issue about how Amherst posts the home addresses and dates of birth of all registered voters on the internet (or makes them available so they can be posted.

Third, forget "fair", think "legal" -- Union 38 is a ticking Voting Right timebomb that *will* go bang and then....

Anonymous said...

Union 26 disenfranchises a super-majority of Amherst residents.

It is a primary cause of the acrimony sighted by many commenting on this issue. Without U-26 the will of Amherst voters is expressed simply by voting preference.

With U-26 a tiny minority of non- Amherst taxpayers imposes a blockade on the will of the 90% majority, converting an honest debate into an internecine battle.

Amherst has voted to change the nature of its school system.

Today Union 26 subverts this change.

Michael Aronson
Posted on Localocracy as well.

Conor White-Sullivan said...


Amherst does not post voters' names, addresses, or dates of birth online, and neither do we.

The information is in our database, and we use that information for confirming user's identity so they can post.


If we want to look at this statistically, given the current sample size of 71, a total population of 15,000 and a vote count which is bouncing back and forth around 50 percent, the margin of error is around 12 points according to

So, with 95% certainty, what we can tell you right now is... there is a good chance it is a pretty close issue.

I would hope you can see that there is a lot more value to civic engagement and public debate than polling data though.


After four days, with 71 votes and 51 reasons, this issue is now the top issue in Localocracy history, and it's only growing from here.

Thank you for posting this Issue and spreading the word. Opening yourself up to constituents the way you do takes courage.

I'm not active in Amherst one way or the other, but I sincerely hope we see more elected leaders from every party and persuasion moving in the direction of openness and engagement across the country in the coming years. Our democracy needs it.

Thank you,


Conor White-Sullivan
CEO/Co-Founder, Localocracy

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Conor - thanks for the kind words. What I like about localocracy is that voters do have to be Amherst residents, and that means I'm getting real data from my constituents. That is helpful to me in understanding what at least some people think -- and I do believe it is a more random sample than those who write to the Bulletin or come to SC meetings or post on my blog.

I also think (correct me if I'm wrong) that you've probably seen an increase in new registrations on localocracy -- and that means perhaps more people are getting involved and getting informed. I believe all residents of Amherst benefit by understanding the issues facing our town, including Union 26, and I think Localocracy provides a valuable way of getting out that information AND letting people act on that information (e.g., vote) if they so desire.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:06--I was fascinated to see that because we've moved our kids out of the schools, we no longer have the right to have any opinions about how the District is run. No matter that we are Amherst tax payers. No matter that we believe that everyone has the right to an excellent education. That's right, we should simply pay our money, and shut our mouths.

But that's not being a community member and involved citizen and it wouldn't be a very good example for our kids (you know, the ones who we're now paying all that tuition for).

I find your post to be incredibly insulting, but I defend your right to post it. Thanks for confirming my right to continue to have a voice in Amherst.

Traci Wolfe
(by the way, I put my name on things--why can't you?)

ed said...

Amherst does not post voters' names, addresses, or dates of birth online, and neither do we.


How exactly did my super-sensitive apartment number wind up on the internet then? Much of UMass doesn't even know what it is. Yes it was 2nd party contractors, but where did they get the info?

And how can you verify that I am a real Amherst inhabitant without having access to this sensitive personal info to verify what I tell you against?

If you are registered to vote in Amherst, absolutely everyone knows exactly where you live -- which strikes me as problematic...

LarryK4 said...

Last I looked the population of Amherst was 34,000 although yes, registered voters are only about 17,000.

Either way, a margin of error of 12% is big enough to allow passage of an Amtrak train.

But of course I see the value of public debate over simple polling data. If you believed polls (and pundits) Dewey would have handily defeated Truman.

Anonymous said...

About anonymous voting: While you can vote anonymously (my vote did not show up on the list where everyone who supports the vote is on the left and everyone who opposes it is on the right), people can still see how I voted.

When I clicked on my name, I could see that the way I voted was listed.

So it's not really anonymous voting. For someone to know how I voted, they just have to click on my name.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 12:36 - that is just because you are logged in as you. That information isn't available if you don't log in first, or if you check on my name or anyone else's name.