Friday, February 15, 2013

"...here for our kids"


Kathy Mazur (left) In the Hot Seat 

While they may not have carried pitchforks and torches, sixteen concerned parents showed up to voice their strong concerns this morning at a coffee hour with rookie Amherst School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz, who is also the parent of a Crocker Farm second grader.

But the session became more of a give-and-take with Superintendent Maria Geryk's right hand person, Director of Human Resources Kathy Mazur, who found herself defending the budget decisions of the MIA Superintendent.

One major complaint was the decision to promote former Crocker Farm Principal Mike Morris to Director of Teacher Evaluations and moving him to "Central Office," not that anyone was complaining about the job currently being done by co-Principals Deryk Shea and Anne Marie Foley.


 Co-Principal Derek Shea at Crocker Farm concert

To which Mr. Shabazz responded, "Crocker Farm took a hit and that has not been acknowledged by the Superintendent (Maria Geryk)"

Amherst School Committee member Amilcar Shabazz also UMass Du Bois Professor of Afro-American Studies


The move to Central Office by Morris also sank the idea of turning Crocker Farm into an "innovation school."

EJ Mills questions an $80,000 Grant Writer


Amherst has a reputation for being top heavy with administrators so it was only natural the new budget proposal, which calls for two additional administrators in Central Office but cuts teachers and para professionals, would be controversial.  

At $17, 916 Amherst has one of the highest costs per student in the state  (compared to neighboring Hadley at $9,770) and an "administration" cost per pupil 65% higher than state average.

 
Amherst Schools by the (state) numbers

67 comments:

Anonymous said...

do you know why so much > 3 million is paid to "out of school districts"? what is that for?

Anonymous said...

Look at all the administrators making over $100k and ask how many have actually worked in their position before. Were they successful?

Anonymous said...

anon@1237: I believe those are payments for out of district care/education of kids with extreme special needs.

Anonymous said...

The special needs don't need to be that extreme!!!!

Anonymous said...

anon @113: that is what the admin has lead us to believe, ie they are students with special needs that cannot be reasonably accommodated by the Amherst schools. Do you know otherwise?

Anonymous said...

When did the administration say that the out of district placements ALL had needs that could not be met in district? I have never heard that comment. Actually, I think the schools are not allowed to talk about individual cases so they most likely have never made such a statement. I know I have never heard it. May be true, but I have never heard it.

Anonymous said...

Maria G comes out of SPED -- she isn't even certified as a regular classroom teacher.

One would think that someone with her background would actually be bringing SPED kids in from other districts (at their expense) and not sending kids out. That someone with her expertise would be able to meet these needs...

Anonymous said...

Larry, glad to see you covering this important topic and asking questions that most other media sources aren't. It is outrageous for the Superintendent and her high level staff to continue to spend more and more on high paid administrators while saying that the schools should absorb cuts made because of declining enrollment. Plus some of the high level positions that were created for specific tasks, such as the Mike Morris' hiring for creating and implementing the new teacher evaluation system don't seem as though they now need to be added to the bottom line forever more. Also, my read of the budget suggests that some central office administrators have gotten promotions, with significant salary increases, over the past few years. The district doesn't usually release specific salary information unless it is required to. It may be time for someone to make a public information request for the salary data so that the tax payers in Amherst can better see where their tax dollars for the schools are being spent.

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah, I'm working on a public records request for salary info both for town and schools.

Anonymous said...

Do the payments to out of school districts include reimbursement for school choice students? The $2.65 million total for these payments in 2011, and the $19K+ per student suggest to me that payments are not just for SPED students/services. Out of district SPED placements cost much, much more than $19K per student.

Anonymous said...

glad you are requesting the salary info. I still use the info that you got through a public information request in 2011 to think about school and town salaries, though of course, many of the salaries have gone up since then. A side-by-side comparison of whom has gotten the biggest increases would be interesting indeed; my bet is a number of central office school administrators would be near the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

So very interesting that Mazur was present at the monthly PGO organized coffee w/the Principals (and invited SC guest). She was never listed on the postings about the coffee as a person to be expected to be present. The principals are usually present. Were they not in attendance? Hmmmmm? Also interesting that it, as you have stated, evolved into a give and take with Mazur and the concerned parents. Was she controlling the dialogue? Why?

Anonymous said...


Elementary School Performance
Massachusetts School Rankings by 2012 MCAS schools
source: http://www.schooldigger.com/go/MA/schoolrank.aspx

between 2011 and 2012,
Fort River went up in the rankings by 138 places
Wildwood went up 64 places in the rankings, and
Crocker went down 51 places.
Not good for Crocker and this was even before Mike Morris departed for his district-wide administrator job.

Larry Kelley said...

Both co-principals were present and managed to get a word or two in.

Anonymous said...

anon 4:34 why do you assume Kathy Mazur was controlling the dialogue. Maybe she was actually answering questions from the parents. Can't win with you folks. You would be ranting if she didn't answer questions and you are ranting that she is answering questions.

Folks on this blog have no interest in the schools...they are just interested in mean-spirited attacks on the schools. Where were all of you when Jere Hochman was the Superintendent?

Anonymous said...

As a parent who attended the Crocker coffee, I believe that Mazur was there in part to keep an eye on Shabazz, who had offered to discuss with parents how they might be able to advocate most effectively against proposed school budget cuts. I really like Shabazz on the School Committee. He is the only one at many School Committee meetings who questions the adminstration and he does so respectfully. I wish we had more School Committee members like him. One FR parent and concerned, Katherine Traphagen, is now running for the vacant School Committee seat. Hurray! Ms. Traphagen, who has had two recent editorials in the Amherst Bulletin about the schools would be the kind of School Committee member that Amherst needs more of.

Anonymous said...

Actually the Amherst schools meet the needs of more SPED students than most school systems and actually try to keep out of district placements to a minimum. But if a SPED parent gets a lawyer and pushes for an out of district placement there ain't much Maria can do about it.

Larry Kelley said...

There was a pretty major redistricting after Mark's Meadow closed.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the adminstrators should take a 20% paycut to finally get in line with local salaries and keep teachers in classrooms "for our kids."

Anonymous said...

It's Kathleen Traphagen, not Katherine.

Failing even ourselves said...

"There is a tremendous amount of hostility toward me in the community, which makes it unlikely that I could have any real impact as a member of the School Committee in the future. If I said I thought we should have healthier food in the cafeteria, then there would be public accusations that my brother is an organic farmer, that this change in food was just for my kids, and that this change was all about me. It has never been about me. My career is as a college professor, not a school committee member (and certainly not a politician). For me it has always been about what is best for all the children: Not what feels good, but what yields good educational results.

Some events of the last week have made it clear to me, and to my husband, that whether I would win or lose, running for School Committee would make it untenable for my children to stay in the Amherst public schools. It is not about the superintendent selection; it is about mean personal public attacks, including attacks from school personnel."


What a sick and ignoble little village.


Fail.








Anonymous said...

I would like to know specifically what Marta Guevara does. I have been told that most of her former duties have been given to other administrators,and that no one really knows what she does, other than translations and hiring bilingual paras. In my dealings with her, she has been less than competent and very unprofessional. As one of those administrators making over $100,000, I think we should know what she does for that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see job descriptions for everyone other than teachers. I have had issues with the regional schools when trying to get answers or help. Nobody knew who's responsibility it was!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that someone who has a SPED background, and is our superintendent of schools, is farming out so many of the SPED children. You'd think she'd not only keep them in the district, but would be trying to get more in from other school districts. Also, one way to cover up the fact that she doesn't have a clue how to run a school district is to hire a buffer of administrators to surround her. Hmmmmm

Anonymous said...

Larry-Nice job with the this story.

When you request a wage listing, you need to ask for 2012 paid earnings and 2013 projected earnings. Otherwise you are only going to get base compensation as of January 2013.

Those base compensation numbers don't tell the whole story. It will leave out taxable benefits, overtime pay, detail pay, lump sum payments, etc., deferred compensation, you name it. You need those 2012 earnings paid and 2013 projected earnings numbers to tell the whole story.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what is included in Student Services?

Dr. Ed said...

The thing to be remembered is that Shabazz is coming out of the UMass Afro-Am Department, which not only is separate from the School of Education but in a completely different college with a different dean.

They aren't saying it loudly, but one of the things I have heard out of that department is essentially what Bill Cosby is saying -- a general concern about how the young Black men of today simply aren't getting the education they got and don't know the stuff -- the basic reading, writing & math stuff -- that they need to know.

I've never heard anything bad about him, either. He might have the political powerbase to do what Catherine Sanderson tried to do.

And this is a social justice issue folks -- our children deserve a good education.

Anonymous said...

Deval Patrick makes $139K/year.

Walter Graff said...

Shabazz is a wonderful man. His kid plays soccer in the league with mine and he is an active parent.Great soccer player himself. I was at one of the first meetings when he took the seat for the first time and saw from day one he was not going to last. He is too honest and has character.

This town has a strange allegiance to educational systems even if they are broken, corrupt or incompetent. Shabazz has asked questions and raised questions that no one in his position is supposed to. The School committee is supposed to seem like an independent group that shapes the landscape. In reality it is nothing more than a sham that simply follows what the Superintendent says.

I find it interesting. If there where used hypodermic needles in the playground at Crocker Farm parents would be lining up in the parking lot demanding they be cleaned.

But inject a slow needle into the same kids, sort of a representation of their educational future slowly being changed for the worse and no one does much but thinks writing letters to the fortress called the administration is going to change anything.

The ink is already drying on the cuts and while the administration dangles a carrot in front of parents, the real numbers will come out and everyone will be in shock saying how could they do this we wrote all the letters and did as much as we could.

It's mostly the administrations fault but it's also the parents fault for letting this system get to where it is and not doing enough to fundamentally change what is obviously broken and will not get better on it's own.

Walter Graff said...

"Deval Patrick makes $139K/year."

He'd make far more if he worked in the Amherst school system. And if he had no real purpose and job to do Führer Geryk would have given him a nice bonus.

Anonymous said...

Well, Walter, with your over-the-top Fuhrer comment you have shown vert clearly why no one should take anything you might say seriously.

Anonymous said...

Our last adventure with dissent about the Amherst school system established this:

You must be black or Hispanic in order to have your criticism of Amherst public education get any traction. Otherwise, a very strict (some would say loaded) code of ettiquette is used against you. This is a school system whose employees know how to utilize the political resources available to suppress dissent. Ms. Geryk is tremendously skilled at it.

One of those resources is the desire of just about every educator in Amherst, at whatever institution, to be left alone to do his or her job without interference. These folks vote and they don't like to be told what to do in their own classroom, wherever it is.

So the desire for autonomy (i.e. "to do what I want in a classroom") is something to be drawn upon to put down the periodic questioning, and make it go back into its hole.

Therefore, Mr. Shabazz is very important. The usual rules of civility and tone cannot be used against him, simply by virtue of the fact that he is very clearly a black guy. He is right now the indispensable man.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why a parent with kids in the school would want to get online and say such unfounded, ridiculous things, like Walter chooses to do.

Dr. Ed said...

I don't get why a parent with kids in the school would want to get online and say such unfounded, ridiculous things, like Walter chooses to do.

So in other words, you intend to retaliate against his children. How cowardly, how unprofessional and how much of an embarrassment to the educational profession you schmucks are.

Anonymous said...

Therefore, Mr. Shabazz is very important. The usual rules of civility and tone cannot be used against him, simply by virtue of the fact that he is very clearly a black guy. He is right now the indispensable man.

Do not forget that he is in the UM Afro Am Department -- which means that Team Maria's Minions in the School of Education will have little if any influence over him.

Anonymous said...

Ed, Why do you assume Anon 11:48 is a teacher, you schmuck?

Anonymous said...

I think Shabazz is EXTREMELY RUDE. He NEVER looks at anyone he is talking to. NEVER. He never pays any attention to folks speaking during public comment. He spends most of the school committee meetings looking at his ever-present tablet. And I don't give a hoot if he is black, white, green or purple! When you are talking to someone, look at them. When people are making comments to you at public comment, look at them - don't fiddle with your table and look down.
I don't have much use for Shabbaz.

Walter Graff said...

"When you are talking to someone, look at them."

Then Mr. Shabazz is not alone. I've been to a number of school committee functions and none of then look you in the eye. Then again in that situation its often difficult to focus on one person in a crowd.

Walter Graff said...

" Anonymous said...
I don't get why a parent with kids in the school would want to get online and say such unfounded, ridiculous things, like Walter chooses to do."

I have a right to say anything I want. Free country. If you don't like what I say, then educate me to something I am not aware of. As it is, the Amherst school system stinks as I see it. For such an educational town, it sure is a statewide embarrassment.

And those who are afraid to identify yourselves, you a perfect example of what is wrong with Amherst. You hide behind your anonymity. And that works perfect with the Amherst school system that doesn't like it when a parent stand up to them. They do their best to discourage or ignore you when you do.

A few of us seem to actually advocate for our children. The rest complain and complain and do little more than send letters, something that has never worked here. The rest of us aren't afraid to speak the truth, out loud. And you'll know who we are as we are not afraid to put our name out there. But for you nameless people the mantra seems to be "if I stand up for my child or say something wrong, they would see me as a trouble maker". I'll be a troublemaker any day when advocating for my child rather than let this ridiculous system walk over me or my child.

As one administrator said -- "you are not a trouble maker, but a good advocate for your child, and if more parents were like you things would be better".

Unfortunately we are few and far between in the socialist country of Amherst. And with that the townsman love to get the pitchforks and torches and burn you at the stake. Too bad they don't put as much effort into their children.




Anonymous said...

Walter says that the other school committee members also do not look at the speakers. That is a patently false statement. Not an iota of truth to it.

Anonymous said...

There it is:

The first claim that someone who is critical of the school system is rude.

Won't be the last.

They don't use nightsticks here. They use their convenient code of ettiquette.

Anonymous said...

I would think he was rude even if he was the school's most vocal supporter. Rude is rude. People should have the curtesy to look at you when talking to you. I have actually been very surprised at the way he acts. I was not expecting such behavior.

Anonymous said...

It's so much easier to focus on School Committee members' manners than it is to examine how well or poorly our schools are doing.

After all, when it comes to courtesy, we have our standards.

Anonymous said...

It's OK to criticize arrogance. It doesn't mean there are not other issues that are also of concern.

And what I meant when I said I was surprised by Walter going online saying his unsupported opinions... it's his tone and language. I would have been ambarrassed if I was a kid trying to have a normal life at my school and my dad was doing shit like he is doing.

Larry Kelley said...

But you would have been an Anon kid, so no worries.

Anonymous said...

I also find Shabazz arrogant and self-focused. It is reflected in his arrogant manner and words, and in the way he adorns himself.

Anonymous said...

You're right about that, Larry, there are times when it's most prudent not to identify yourself if you are given that option (by your publisher, for example.)

Larry Kelley said...

I am the publisher (and reporter, photographer, headline editor, ad rep, etc).

And I'm a lot more impressed when somebody has the balls (or ovaries as the case may be) to stand up publicly for their beliefs.

"Prudent," eh? Sounds like you teach French.

Anonymous said...

That's what is so funny, that you are more impressed by, and have more respect for, people like Ed and Walter and the guy who did the "Spiral Jetty" ripoff than you are by someone like me. But this is the way you set things up.

Anonymous said...

But Larry, you're all about being a tough guy, with "balls". I don't wanna be a tough guy. What if it's not strategic to be a ballsy tough guy? You do your thing, dude.

Anonymous said...

Let me put that another way...

A guy like you--smart, sober, knows about writing and physical fitness, trustworthy around kids, energetic and with time on his hands, willing to work now and get paid later--why don't you come over to the light side, and volunteer your services with the kids, interact with me in a respectful, non-anonymous manner, and leave the idiots behind?

whaddya say?

I know the administration would be receptive to a Larry Kelly run Karate Club...

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to think that the first refuge of a political scoundrel in Amherst is to criticize the other guy's manners.

Ponziville's a cash cow said...

"and leave the idiots behind?"


Offer him cash, like you do everybody else.





Anonymous said...

The Amherst Schools have more administrators administrating to the administrators under them, and they all have secretaries who all have assistants. It is a zoo~the keeper holding the highest salary of them all. So while 'cuts' are being made by firing teachers, & paraprofessionals, & eliminating the arts, & closing a high performing school, the pockets of allll those administrators continue to get fatter & fatter ~ all at your expense~the Amherst taxpayer~the King(s) who gave the tailors/administrators aaaalll that money to make him new clothes.

Anonymous said...

What arts are being eliminated?

Anonymous said...

Cutting positions doesn't necessarily mean someone gets fired.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of an Amherst public school student, I am dumbfounded by the vicious tone of some of these comments and particularly outraged that no one sees the racism of personally attacking an accomplished and gentle scholar and dad giving freely of his time to help our schools. It's also disgusting to use Nazi terms to insult the Superintendent, no matter how much one may disagree with her. I guess cutting off constructive dialogue has some pretty nefarious results!
We have some great administrators and some great teachers, and like most places, some not-so-great ones. What is unique here is the unspoken code that cuts off dialogue and ignores perfectly reasonable questions about the District's budget, the academic outcomes of the students, and the involvement of parents and the community in the Amherst Schools. If Dr. Shabazz appears frustrated might it have something to do with the fact that information is so hard to come by even for SC members?
Even though standardized exams only tell one part of the story, they do tell us something about basic proficiency. See for yourselves: http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/mcas/subgroups2.aspx?linkid=25&orgcode=00080000&fycode=2012&orgtypecode=5&

Where do we go from here?
Qualified people who are committed to improving the education of ALL of our children will not be willing to run for office after witnessing how dissent is silenced with personal attacks. The children continue to pay the price.

Anonymous said...

Whether or not the people who Shabazz represents find him to be arrogant in his conduct on the sc is important. Perhaps you weren't around when past sc member's attitudes and behaviors did not allow them to work productively and appropriately with other sc members and school administration--a painful three years where nothing got accomplished. Perhaps arrogance ought not be an important characteristic when judging our candidates and representatives, but it is and it's an important fact to consider if you are thinking of running or running again in Amherst, particularly in light of our recent history. Just like in the real world.

Larry Kelley said...

Oh I don't know ... maybe you were not paying attention over the past few years. Head stuck in the sand no doubt.

I believe the closing of Mark's Meadow Elementary School, thus saving $600,000 annually, happened under Catherine Sanderson's watch.

Anonymous said...

Even though she called it "My School Committee", it wasn't Catherine's watch, there are seven SC members, and Sanderson had almost zero to do with the closing of MM...that plan was in the works before she even slithered on board. It happened in spite of her sc tenure.

Larry Kelley said...

Well if that isn't the most uninformed, dead wrong statement I've seen over the past few years from a Cowardly Anon Nitwit, I don't know what is. Yikes!

Next you will be telling me the SC (immediately prior to Ms. Sanderson's tenure) $200,000 purchase of portable classrooms for Mark's Meadow was a wise investment.

You know, the ones that were never actually used as classrooms and now still sit there on UMass soil, rotting.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:05 pm.

Congratulations. You are a finalist for the title of Most Historically Inaccurate Comment of All Time on Larry's blog. (You are still way down the list for Dumbest Comment of All Time. We know who the multiple nominee for that title is. Larry, you're not eligible, so don't worry about it.)

The idea of closing Mark's Meadow was first posed years earlier by Nancy Gordon in Town Meeting to a chorus of gasps and tut-tuts from the audience.

And then the idea had no traction for years, until Professor Sanderson committed political suicide by pushing it.

Anonymous said...

~Beg to differ with you Larry~the portable classrooms for Mark's Meadow were indeed used for classrooms in which classes (Sped) were actually taught daily. Check your statements before you publish them here. $200,000 for these~Wowie! They were purchased fairly recently, before the closing~How does a system allow this sort of wasteful spending? And please~what proof do you actually have that $600,000 was actually saved by closing this high-performing elementary school? In the book "Only Connect", by Rudy Crew~he states that no school should ever face the threat of closure~no school in America~It is an outrage when you look at how well children performed there, to have taken this away from them! And I strongly disagree @Walter~One can actively advocate for their child(ren) and remain anonymous. There are many reasons a person may not want to come forth, especially in this system~how they chop you to no pieces left!

Larry Kelley said...

Funny thing is School Committee members Andy Churchill and Elaine Brighty really wanted twice as many of the portables. Double yikes!

Anonymous said...

11:25 pm: Wrong.

The then Director of Pupil Personnel (Maria Geryk) was advancing the issue for two years before Sanderson stepped on board, at which time she adopted the issue at Geryk's request. And I can produce documentation to prove it.

Larry Kelley said...

Let's see it.

Anonymous said...

All things in good time.