Friday, March 9, 2012

Could be worse

Former Mark's Meadow Elementary School.  Returned to UMass

With the elementary schools once again facing a budget deficit of just over $200,000 and the white elephant modular classrooms at the former Mark's Meadow Elementary School safely refinanced and swept back under the rug, I thought it perhaps timely to look back on the most contentious issue of the past decade:  Closing Mark's Meadow Elementary School.

Three years ago, then interim Superintendent Maria Geryk told the School Committee:  "At this moment in time, given the information we have, given the time-frame we have, I would not personally go down that road."

According to the  3/4/09 Gazette (one of the last articles penned by Mary Carey.  Emphasis added):

Some of 60 or more parents who attended the meeting clapped after hearing that view, and some School Committee members agreed the district should beware of doing anything so decisive prematurely. "I'm delighted we're being so cautious and careful," School Committee member Elaine Brighty said.

Recently, in response to my public info request, Kathy Mazur, ARPS Director of Human Resources, wrote:

"Regarding the closure of MM, we had initial, conservative estimates of about 500K to close the school.  At the time, I was closely involved with the planning, and I was confident the amount would be higher than the 500K.  When we actually closed in preparation for the 10-11 year, the amount of realized savings was a bit over 800K.  However, that year we had just 63 classrooms in the 3 remaining schools.  This year, we have 69 classrooms."
She continues:
"It is difficult now, to make a solid determination of what is being annually saved.  Since we have more classrooms now than we did that first year, you might conclude that those additional 6 classrooms cannot be counted toward annual closure savings.  If you agree with this, then you would have to subtract about 360K from the original savings just for the classrooms.  With the additional classrooms also comes additional support (FTE) in the areas of aesthetics, SE, etc.  What we can state for sure is that we annually save the cost of a building principal, 2 secretaries, a librarian, a nurse, a guidance counselor, custodial staff, and probably some paras.  Roughly, the real $ savings at this point is under $300K."

But here are the figures the administration presented to the School Committee three years ago:

Reduction in district classrooms from 67 (FY10) to 64 (FY11) $162,000
Reduction of principal and 2 secretaries $170,000
2.5 custodians $55,000
1.0 ELL teacher $54,000
1.0 Special Education teacher $54,000
1.0 Intervention teacher $54,000
1.13 paraprofessionals $15,000
1.0 LPN $35,000
1.0 librarian $54,000
1.0 IA paraprofessional $20,000
Total Reductions $673,000

Hmm...Just the reduction of the principal, 2 secretaries and 2.5 custodians ($225,000)--when you add in employee benefits--would easily hit $300,000. 

But even if the lower figure is accurate, the huge $200,000 hole the schools are currently in would be a $500,000 canyon.  And that's exactly where we would now find ourselves if not for former School Committee member Catherine Sanderson becoming a Joan of Arc to lead the charge in a unpopular crusade. 

Of course, like her patron saint, Ms Sanderson was roasted at the stake.


Anonymous said...

I think much/some of the increase in the number of classrooms is due to preschool classrooms, which is a good thing in the long run. This would have happened regardless of MM closing (or would have if we'd had the $$). So the cost savings are still much higher. Why am I not surprised that Ms Mazour didn't realize this or if she did, failed to mention it...

Anonymous said...

We have NOT added 6 pre-school classrooms. 2 have been added, at the most!

Anonymous said...

I could be wrong, but I believe before MM closed there were 2 preschool classes at CF. Now there are 5 plus a early education classroom. These are highly staffed classes (ie costly).

"The Early Education Center at Crocker Farm School offers 5 half day preschool classes for up to 85 three and four year old children living in Amherst and Pelham. The program services both children with special education needs and general education needs in integrated settings. There is a maximum of fifteen children in each class. General education students are selected to balance boys and girls as well as three and four year old children. Each class is staffed by a Head Teacher, an Assistant Teacher, a part time Speech and Language Therapist and other adults as indicated by the needs of each child.

The Early Education center also houses a new readiness classroom for 4 year olds who will be enrolling in the Amherst Public School Kindergarten the following year. This class offers a longer day and families must be eligible for free or reduced lunch. The class is staffed by a head teacher and 2 assistant teachers."

Don't get me wrong, these are GREAT things and very needed. I'm just pointing out the you can't simply look to before and after to compare cost savings...Some things have been added that should have/would have been added even if MM didn't close.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are wrong. There were 5 preschool classes at CC 3 years ago when my kid went there.

Anonymous said...

People seem to be missing the point. Sanderson helped the town save a fortune by closing MM. If Churchill, Brighty, Geryk and other had their way, MM would be open and the budget deficit would be substantially bigger.

In other words, following the advice of the Amherst Center types and Geryk is costly. We got ride of Sanderson and Rivkin and that's a bad thing, although the teachers and administrators were probably jumping for joy. They didn't like any oversight of any kind.

Anonymous said...


What's that?

I just love our schools and everything about them and shame to people who ask questions about how they are run.

Anonymous said...

Gratitude for Ms. Sanderson's service is not something we are going to see anytime soon.

So what other potential cost savings are we not being told about?

Beware the School Committee candidate(s) who tells you he/she "runs with no agenda". We seem to have five of those sitting there already.

The Gazette featured it again recently: check out our per pupil costs versus those in Northampton. Please tell us it's all in the accounting or tell us what we're getting that Hamp is not.

Anonymous said...

My child went to CF pre k 7 yrs ago and there were 5 classes then. Still only 5 now. A readiness class was added (making 6 classes) for one yr. Budget forced back to 5 classes. One of the 5 classrooms is used in the afternoon to support 4 year old students in need of an extended day readiness program. The bldg. addition to CF was finished in 2002 w/4 pre k classrooms. So somewhere between 10 -7 yrs ago the program expanded from 4 to 5 classes. Therefore, the increase in the # of classes post MM closing has nothing to do w/pre k.

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of the salaries listed are pretty good. LPN for $35,000? The going rate at most places is about $24,000. Intervention teacher? What the hell is that? Isn't that pretty much the "enforcer" for the school, which should be the vice principal's job. Lots of places to cut there. Another one is their benefits. They can kick in some on their health benefits. The rest of the working people have to. I don't know anyone who gets free health benefits. We all have to contribute towards them and retirement. What a gig, getting hired by the Amherst Public schools!!!

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:33, the ignorance exhibited in your post is stunning! If you don't know what you are talking about you should really refrain from taking up space here. No, an intervention teacher is not an enforcer!

I gotta admit, though, your post is pretty standard fare for this blog, which I read strictly for its entertainment value. Little to no intelligent discussion of issues happens here.

LarryK said...

You are of course exempt, a higher authority out slumming it for "entertainment value".

Thanks for the entertaining comment.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the new budget gap in elementary completely due to hiring the math coaches and new central administrators? Adding new positions increases costs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:20 am:

You read "strictly for entertainment value", but then you feel the need to respond.

Your condescending expressions of indifference are not particularly convincing. Nice try.

I'll bet you read Playboy, but only for the articles, too.

LarryK said...

Dating yourself there fella. (Not that I care.)

Anonymous said...

How can it be that the heads of the Amherst School Committee, the Regional School Committee, the Superintendent and the Finance Director don't know why Amherst per pupil spending is so high? So they need a committee to figure this out and tell them? Isn't that the tail wagging the dog? Or pushing the bad news past the school committee election?

Anonymous said...

No one "got rid" of Sanderson and Rivkin. Sanderson decided not to run for school committee again.

She could have run again. She would have lost by a landslide, and maybe she wanted to be spared that embarrassment.

Rivkin took his grumpy mood and left town. How did anyone make that happen besides himself?

Yes, these two have people in town who favored their approach but you people are a distinct minority, no voting block power.

Maybe you should change your tune a bit if you want others to start thinking like you do and help you vote someone else onto the shcool committee.

Oh, wait, there are two spots open for election next month. Get campaigning to see if your positions actually have any legs in Amherst.

I doubt they do. Sanderson's aggression tainted that water for the foreseeable future. I see her approach as similar to Gingrinch, same modus operandi.

The Ponzivillers speak said...

"I see her approach as similar to Gingrinch, same modus operandi."