Amherst School Committee in the hot seat
While not exactly hostile last night -- and Town Meeting can be pretty hostile on occasion -- the questions from the floor about our Sacred Cow schools were a tad more probing than in years past. Transparency is a good, although sometimes painful, thing.
Declining enrollments are a major contributor to stress on a system that, like a big old aircraft carrier, was designed to carry a l-a-r-g-e population.
Is the decline simply a byproduct of a lower birth rate or consumers choosing alternative means of education like Charter Schools, School Choice or Homeschooling? Because this is after all America, which was built on competition.
Interestingly School Superintendent Maria Geryk did acknowledge the rather obvious fact that Amherst "Is an expensive place to live," so perhaps families with children simply cannot afford to live here. Thus we end up with single family homes converted to (college) student rooming houses.
And most college-aged youth do not have school-aged children.
Since the schools account for $50 million -- the lions share -- of our $68 million dollar municipal budget they alone are the number one factor pushing our tax rate to almost twice that of neighboring Hadley: In 2011 average cost of education at elementary level in Amherst, with a property tax rate of $20.39/$1000, was $17,116 vs Hadley, with a tax rate of $10.22/$1000 at $9,770 per child.
The budget Town Meeting passed last night for the elementary schools works out to a whopping $19,563 average cost per child to educate, so things are certainly not moving in the right direction
Hadley is home base to the Amherst elementary school's number one competitor, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, which currently has 54 Amherst children as customers. Since Charter Schools receive revenues based on the "sending district" average cost per child, it's far more lucrative to attract an Amherst student than it is one from Hadley.
Kind of like UMass/Amherst now targeting more "out of state" students because the revenues are higher than in state students and UMass gets to keep the money rather than passing it through to the bloated bureaucracy in Boston.
Currently the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School is the #1 competitor for Amherst Regional High School, attracting the vast majority of 67 regional children who attend charter schools at the expense of the Amherst Region.
But the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School has been granted permission to e-x-p-a-n-d through high school starting in September thus becoming a potential Death Star for our entire K-12 system.
Time to innovate!