Tuesday, August 30, 2011

First thing we do, revive all the lawyers

One of the very few things I like about any of Amherst's fifty some odd boards, committees, commissions or the occasional task force is that they often have on their agenda an open "public comment" period, where the general public can extemporaneously address committee members, ask questions, praise, chastise and generally get things off their chest.

Take for instance the Regional School Committee meeting this evening (a joint Meeting of the Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees no less), where a concerned citizen wondered why the Schools would rehire a recently terminated lawyer at $220/hour to handle a complicated case--meaning lots of billable hours--when the current lawyer could handle the extra case for no additional cost?

Good question.

Good Evening,

I am Michael Aronson, Amherst taxpayer.

I was forwarded an email written by Mr. Hood on Monday August 8 expressing his opinion that it was - “less expensive” to hire an outside attorney to litigate a Special Education matter even though the School District has a pre paid contract with an “In House” attorney.

I don’t know where you learned math, Mr. Hood, but I can assure you that the $3000 dollars you pay your in-house lawyer per month is less than that $3000 dollars PLUS the fees for an outside attorney hired to do the same thing.

EVERY MEMBER OF THIS COMMITTEE should be up in arms about the administrative decision to waste precious education dollars in this way.

Mr. Hood, as Chairman of this committee, you should be making very public inquiries into why the decision to hire an outside attorney was made.

Tell us, WHO is responsible for this violation of the public trust and why you consider it acceptable?

Your negligence, and that of the administrator who made this decision is hurting our children and our community.

This is shameful, malfeasance, and terrible policy.

Parents who come to Amherst for their children’s education, and pay handsomely in taxes for the privilege, are appalled at the tremendous waste this kind of decision represents.

Let us be clear, you have failed them.

Thank you for your time.
I of course asked Mr. Aronson (since I was not there) how committee members received his forthright statement. Apparently not very well:

To the School Committee:

Knowing full well that the School committee is fully committed to denying any possibility of error in its judgments, I send to you and all contacts on this list my response to Mr. Rhodes and Ms. Luschen's full throated defense of administrative malfeasance.

Mr. Rhodes and Ms. Luschen argued that Amherst administrators need retain the duplicative legal services of Regina Tate due to her familiarity with existing legal cases. This argument is spurious on a number of grounds.

1) Ms. Tate was removed from her position litigating Special Education in Amherst because a majority of the School Committee found her services deficient. If you want to know the “cause” of her dismissal, ask those who voted to remove her - including Mr. Rhodes.

2) There is evidence that the historic case to which they referred at tonight's meeting was filed on 1 December 2010 - the same day Dupere was hired under a fixed contract. In other words, Tate did not have time to become too familiar with this case. It was filed on the same day she lost the contract to Dupere.

3) Litigants often change attorneys. There is ample precedent for one attorney taking over a case from another in situations far more complicated than those of Special Education. Special Education cases are limited in legal complexity, and are even outside of the normal judicial process. If Amherst wanted their new attorney to be informed about existing cases, they should have hired Tate to brief Dupere on those cases. That type of legal expense would have been unimpeachable. That in which the District now engages is profligate.

The Regional School Committee is entering perilous territory. Any outside observer would characterize such wasteful use of educational resources for unnecessary litigation that you explicitly condone (and defend) as a failure of fiduciary responsibility. Just ask the 9th grader who needs extra help in math, or kids who can't take AP Physics for a lack of a qualified teacher.

We all should ask, is the committee incapable of seeing the truth, are you at all interested in working to improve this district ?

At this time the answer is a resounding "No!" As a body you are rejecting of the facts on the ground.

And our community suffers.

Michael Aronson


Anonymous said...

Why don't you leave these professionals to run their school system as they see fit? We aren't talking big bucks here. In a budget of millions the extra lawyer only costs a few thousand a month.

If the Super can shut up a few annoying residents with expensive children in her system, maybe that's better for everyone else. They can move to Holyoke and get them out of our system.

Isn't that what we really want?

Anonymous said...

I like how people get up and make sanctimonious, vicious attacks, full of loaded phrases and then wonder why people don't react kindly to what they are saying. It's a wonder any community minded citizens even have the stomach to sit on these boards.

Anonymous said...

So, Larry, where is your reporting of the reason why Ms. Tate's firm is handling this case. When the SC hired Dupere and Dupere as the new SPED lawyer, it was wih the understanding that Ms. Tate's firm would continue to handle all cases that had started before the change to Dupere and Dupere. This case that Mr. Aronson refers to falls into that category. This fact was made very clearly by the two current members of the sub-commitee who oversaw the choice of a new lawyer.

Again, you prove by your lack of presenting all sides of the story that you are not a journalist - just a hack blogger.

Anonymous said...

Our community suffers because of people like Michael Aronson. He is quite clearly a hate-filled, sanctimonious person who hurls unwarranted vicious attacks. These attacks do nothing to move the schools forward.

Anonymous said...

The extra legal expense makes no sense. People switch lawyers all the time and paying Tate extra dollars when the school has competent experienced attorneys that will take her cases for no extra money can't be justified. Tate was taken off special ed cases for serious reasons and yet here she still is at extra cost.

Anonymous said...

Attack the messenger for style, anger, poor posture, whatever -- all so no one has to address what the person is saying -- or the facts. It diverts attention from the real issues.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:29

This is Michael Aronson -

Share with me what about my comments are sanctimonious (definition: insincerity by virtue of pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have)

In fact, I am quite sincere in my comments. Unlike you, who prefer anonymous attacks, I am standing up for our children and our taxpayers. I am willing to stand up to snide anonymous attacks like yours that are as cowardly as an administration making decisions in secret that are profoundly malfeasant.

I was one of the residents in this town who publicly advocated for the removal of Regina Tate from the legal quiver of the administration. We were successful. Tate was fired for cause. Taxpayers in Amherst were supposed to benefit because legal budget of the schools for SPED was now limited. Forcing all to work together.

Now we have a school committee committed to continue using the administration's attack dog from Quincy.

So tell me -

1) what phrases were loaded ? I pulled no punches. I stood up and called out Rick Hood for his foolishness. I put my name out there and stated the reasons why Rhodes and Luschen's response to Rivkin were spurious.

2) I am part of your community whether you like it or not. The difference is that I am willing to stand up, and you hide behind anonymous criticism.

Michael Aronson

Anonymous said...


I am afraid it doesn't matter how one addresses the SC or school administers. Either way, it is highly unlikely they will be listened to. Many of the folks who offer "attacks" have tried other avenues less offensive but have reached the end of their patience and civility. Can't wait to see the MCAS scores... prediction- another record low in the elementary schools. It will be brushed off by administrators as just a consequence of unsettled kids due to redistricting.

Anonymous said...

Why not just ASK them why? Accusing people of betrayal, etc. is just childish. Irv Rhodes is an honorable guy. Why not lower the volune level to a conversation rather than a diatribe.

Anonymous said...

Isn't this like one of those horror movies where the monster keeps coming back although it's already been killed over and over? Then there is a knock at the door and someone LET'S THEM IN AGAIN!! And the monster comes in again, kills and gets killed again and then...

How can ANY change come to this school district, if no one can implement the simplest alteration? The powers of inertia, the do-nothings and insiders to resist any change is remarkable. And then there are the school committees, just sitting, not even noticing when their decisions are ignored. It's all just fine.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the sarcastic, ironic remarks could be italicized?

Say what you want about Mr. Aronson, but, at a time when many have bagged up the equipment and gotten off the field and gone home, he's still fearless.

The person who called Mike Aronson "hate-filled" has obviously never had a conversation with him. He's fearless, but completely civil.

Anonymous said...

I admire Mr. Aronson for his courage if nothing else. We have seen the treatment meted out to anyone who dares suggest that there might be something wrong with the emperor's wardrobe in this town.

Rick Hood made in Amherst's image said...

"Now we have a school committee committed to continue using the administration's attack dog from Quincy."

God, if people only knew...

And Cap'n "toot toot" Hood took over the family row boat business in 1991 and by 96 had nearly ~single-handedly~ run it straight into the friggan ground.

Ask him where his company is now.

Ask him ~exactly~ how he was able to off-load it.

Ask his former employees if they know any good jokes about Rick Hood.

Ask them.

Anonymous said...

from Gazette:"Beth Graham, the curriculum director, said that between 90 and 100 teachers volunteered for professional development in math over the past summer." Surely there is a mistake in the numbers here. I cannot believe we even have 90 teachers involved in math (elementary teachers ~ 70 and then dedicated math teachers in MS and HS). These numbers must be inflated or a simple mistake.

Kathy P. said...

Kudos to Michael Aronson for having the the courage to continue to expose the truth about our School Committee and the Administration while there is still an elephant in the library. that everyone pretends isn't there.
So many parents have been terrorized into silence,while their children are abused and just pushed through the system. As a parent of a child still trapped at ARHS I know the lies and avoidance tactics that are used to get parents to shut up and go away. We can no longer allow for cover-ups and bait and switch tactics. Our children are waiting for some true role models at school.Thanks, Michael and Larry K.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks, Michael and Larry K." I agree. We need to change this situation.

"Irv Rhodes is an honorable guy." Have you ever observed how patronizing Mr. Rhodes is to people? Have you ever had him demand that you drop what you're doing because he wants attention? Have you had him tell you how to do your job and make it quite clear that he thinks you're inferior to him?

Anonymous said...

I thinks Rhodes wants to do what is right. He just doesn't get that those who cross the administration end up suffering abuse.

What is truly sickening, watching the meeting, is seeing Appy close off a discussion of the problem when signalled by Geryk to do so.

We don't need any more lap dogs on the SC. We need someone willing to ask questions, tough questions, and expose irresponsible management practices.

Anonymous said...

Amherst schools: love 'em or leave 'em.

There is no in-between.

Anonymous said...

Steve Rivkin is going to go down fighting, but let's face it:

The Town is in great shape.

The Libraries have weathered a storm and are coming out the other side, with some new sane Trustees.

But the Schools are stuck knee-deep in a quagmire of complacency, with no solid ground in sight. With, come next year, no one on School Committee calling attention to the problems, perhaps they will simply go away?

Maria's got her fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

Let's just stop saying only 10% of the tax based are commercial properties when 55% of the tax base is from landlords and business owners. Let's talk with facts. Only 45% of the tax base is from homeowners, not 90%. The landlords could be taxed at a higher rate.

LarryK4 said...

Oh, I think if you asked the town assessor for a breakdown of the Amherst tax base he would use the 90.5% residential, 9.5% commercial formula.

Anonymous said...

Yes and half those residential properties are business properties owned by landlords not homeowners. 55% of the properties are owned by businesses of some form. Not a bad ratio. So stop complaining that Amherst doesn't have enough of a "commercial" tax base.

LarryK4 said...

Amherst does not have enough of a commercial base.

Why don't you ask the Town Manager. But then you would have to leave your name.

Anonymous said...

What percentage of business owned properties is the correct one then?

Argue the Ideas not Identities

Anonymous said...

From the entries is this blog page, one thing is clear. Your community appears to be so divided that you may never be able to work together. There are some loud voices like Aronson who seems to be using the readers to achieve his personal agenda. However, I think he is mistaken in both his approach and his understanding of legal representation. School law is very different from other types of law from what I understand.

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Aronson did use a public process to petition the school committee to have Tate removed as attorney for special ed. Many parents with children in special education joined him. The school committee agreed, voted not to continue to use her services and here Tate still is. Just a personal issue of Mr. Aronson? Or a public issue of tax payer money being used in a way the school committee decided it shouldn't be? Why? The firm that replaced Tate specializes in school law. People should be blowing their tops about this waste of money on an attorney that many parents have had difficulties with.

Ed said...

The person who called Mike Aronson "hate-filled" has obviously never had a conversation with him. He's fearless, but completely civil.

The problem is that the political is the personal for some, hence the fact he is saying something they disagree with inherently defines him as "hatefilled" if not worse.

All sheep and no shepherd
Everyone is the same
Everyone wants to be the same

Anyone who is different goes voluntarily to the madhouse....

Anonymous said...

So many parents have been terrorized into silence,while their children are abused and just pushed through the system. As a parent of a child still trapped at ARHS I know the lies and avoidance tactics that are used to get parents to shut up and go away.

UMass does the same thing.

Try being at UMass with a disability -- it is not pretty...

And remember where Team Maria came from....

Ed said...

Folks, read the last line of this, as to whom the Amherst committee's attorney is...


Anonymous said...

So, Ed...what is the big deal about who the SC's attorney is? Is this news to you?