Maria Geryk, Rick Hood, Catherine Sanderson, Irv Rhodes, Steve RivkinFormer Amherst School Committee member Steve Rivkin exited like he came in, asking the tough question no one comfortably ensconced in the current establishment wishes to answer: why do our schools have platinum costs with only base metal performance?
Comparing Amherst to Northampton he comes up with a compelling difference in number of highly paid administrators, where Amherst has ten times as many as Hamp earning over $100K (even worse when you set the bar lower at $85-K).
And anyone who has run a small business knows all too well, labor cost is you're biggest overhead--particularly in public schools, where it accounts for 90% of the budget. And in the current Fiscal Year the schools account for 53% of total town spending.
Almost two years ago when this Amherst/Hamp school cost comparison first came up, then acting Superintendent Maria Geryk told the Gazette "Sometimes comparisons are not helpful. It's not negative to look at other communities and reflect on our costs, but it takes someone very skilled at looking at finance and data reporting. It's complicated."
Interestingly, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee--chaired by someone skilled in data analysis--was formed to get to the bottom of the problem of high cost per student compared to Northampton but essentially gave up due to a lack of cooperation by the school administration.
Kind of like the hen house shunning the fox. Geryk told the school committee, "this question is still under analysis and there will be a report soon."
Two years later, they are still waiting. And the cost difference has gotten worse. In 2009 Amherst spent $15,846 vs Northampton's $11,699 or a difference of $4,147 per elementary school child; and last year Amherst spent $16,413 vs Northampton's $12,068 or $4,345 per child, times 1242 students that difference comes to a whopping $5,396,490.
Conservative Stan Gawle pointed out, "People make comparisons when they go to the grocery store to shop, and when you see such disparity, it's incumbent on the schools to explain why."
We're still waiting...