Friday, January 13, 2012

Out With A Bang

Maria Geryk, Rick Hood, Catherine Sanderson, Irv Rhodes, Steve Rivkin

Former 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...

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

the school budget is larded up with new administrative hires with job duties that one can only guess at. how many new positions have been added since marks meadow was closed -- at a time of declining enrollments? and the superintendent descibes the school budget as decimated....

Anonymous said...

These central office administrative positions are as old as the hills. How come it took Rivkin so long to notice them? What has he he been paying attention to?

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:41 pm:

What have YOU been paying attention to? Steve's been asking these questions for years.

But the Superintendent has waited out the questioning and has come out the other side into a new age of complacency about our schools. Breath the fresh air of freedom from citizen oversight, Maria.

Anonymous said...

Could we find a way to fit the chart about the $85K club on a lawn sign?

In time for, say, a 2013 override campaign?

LarryK4 said...

I'm not sure they make lawn signs B-I-G enough.

Anonymous said...

what is the cost per pupil in amherst?

LarryK4 said...

$16,413 for elementary schools, $17,144 for Regional Middle and High Schools.

Anonymous said...

What is the percentage of special ed/ESL for each district?

LarryK4 said...

And you wonder why our friends in the Hilltowns are complaining about the Regional assessment for the High School.

If the Shutesbury Library vote should end up passing on the Override recount then those complaints will escalate dramatically.

(And if two towns don't support the assessment...)

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:51,

Your sense of years and mine are quite different.

Those big ticket CO jobs have been around a lot longer than Rivkin's brief tenure here in Amherst, and they will be around long after he leaves.

The people who have these jobs are running the show. It's like congress. Do you think they will cut their own job?

Anonymous said...

anon@2:31

you can find all the demographic data you want at
http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/

Anonymous said...

I think we can also conclude that the large number of highly paid Administrators is who can be thanked for appointing Ms. Geryk and who will never give her a poor review, they have a symbiotic relationship. You rub my back, I'll rub yours. The only folks in any position to alter this relationship is the SC. Given the current members, that is unlikely to change

Anonymous said...

From MA DOE:
Amherst regional: 24.4% Low income and 20.5 SPED.

NoHo: 28.9% Low income and 19.1 SPED.

Ed said...

I suggest that someone do something similar to what I once did -- get the entire salary list (admin/teach/para/etc) and sort it in Access and print it, in descending order and 100 point font, and tape it to the side of a building.

The median HOUSEHOLD income in Amherst is $49,187 so at least list everyone over that -- or better figure that the benefit package costs 1/3 of salary so list everyone over $32,463 -- as that is what others get without the state/town benefits.

List teachers too -- they are paid a whole lot more than they were when we were in school, and some of the not-so-good ones deserve the public embarrassment.

Ed said...

0ne other thing -- this really was a turning point for public education in Amherst --- two reformers tried and failed, and it will be a signal to all that hope is lost, to give up and not even try to improve the vast wasteland.

It will be a very Pyrrhic victory for Team Maria because we are at most five years away from efficient home schooling that effectively challenges the concept of consolidation. Other than sports, a Pelham could pull out completely and offer all 12 grades in the same building, and if it is trying to keep its school at all costs, it might just do that.

And the higher ed bubble is going to burst folks - it has to -- which means that the student housing becomes Section 8 housing -- which means the majority of children in Amherst schools will be poor.

At a certain "tipping point" the middle class parents will pull out and all you will have will be those children whose parents are either too poor or don't care enough to send their kids to private school or home school or whatnot.

At the same time you have fewer and fewer taxpayers caring about what the schools are doing, and with the property values in town declining, a greater pressure to cut the allocation.

This is what happened to K-12 in the late '70s -- does anyone remember the term "RIF"? Adjusted for inflation, teacher pay peaked in 1972 and then declined dramatically throughout the latter '70s and only started to really go back up around 1994 or so.

I don't know how many more years Maria G has before she can retire, but I doubt her empire will last that long. And the saddest thing is that this will be a "slash & burn" approach -- with the good going out along with the bad...

Anonymous said...

You are a fool, Ed. People who don't work in the schools don't have benefits over and above their salaries????

Anonymous said...

ED..... STOP.... I say again STOP!! MOVE ON! MOVE ON! GET A FUCKING LIFE!!!!!

Anonymous said...

maybe the district can hire steve rivkin to the report on why amherst schools cost so much more. the report is two years late and the district can't seem to get it done so why not hire him?

Anonymous said...

Ed really knows how to bring a conversation to a screeching halt!! I don't know why you continue to allow him to post such drivel, Larry.

Anonymous said...

Within my lifetime I expect the percentage of SPED students to exceed 100%. ARPS will again be a national trailblazer.

bach said...

thanks to cinda for visiting the gallery and buying my work
....much appreciated

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about Ed. Be patient. The inside skinny says he'll be graduated and gone by June.

Anonymous said...

Cinda now has 8 million reasons to buy something from your gallery.

Anonymous said...

I never got the impression Steve or Catherine were concerned with positions/ salaries or saving money taxpayers (

Their focus seemed more to be about curriculum and the performance of the schools and students. They supported overrides to pay the excesses (salaries, top of the line health benefits, and nonstop supply purchasing)

Anonymous said...

I heard she needed something for target practice

Anonymous said...

anon@10:30,

wrong about the override and costs. Steve and Catherine did not lend their support to the override, this is what lead to the 'great schism' btwn the bearites and those who supported the reform efforts of of Steve and Catherine. I think that both believed that there is actually lots of money in the system, much that could be redirected towards direct student-teacher interactions (and not costly and ineffective administrators).

Anonymous said...

Rick definitely supported the override:

"Rick said...
I will be voting yes. As a potential School Committee member, I want as much money as possible to work with as we work to improve our schools."

and Catherine did not say whether she would support it but was quoted saying "We need the money"

They added fuel to the overspending in the schools

Sammy said...

This calls for some charts, Larry, show the readers what the numbers look like with graphs. I think this kind of reporting is what separates your blog from others and is what you do best. keep it coming. Still staggered by the difference beween Noho and Amh and I still have friends who say they want to live in Amh for the schools...really do you?

Anonymous said...

@ anon Jan 13th 3:35: wondering what you mean by "appointed her"

i searched back and everything seems to suggest geryk won the super position after a nationwide search initiated and run by cathy sanderson. also... didn't geryk have overwhelming public and town services and town government support during the search process?