Amherst School Committee: in the hot seat
Town Meeting went pretty much as planned Wednesday night. The Elementary and Regional School budgets all passed rather handily after a fair amount of discussion, but not a whole lot centered on cost -- as reflected in the (not so)average cost per student.
The Elementary Budget of $21,490,563 represents an average cost per child of $19,136 and the Regional Middle and High School budget of $29,618,478 represents $20,328 per student. State average is dramatically lower at $13,636 per student.
Or another way of looking at it is Amherst spends at the Regional level $6,692 more per pupil than state average. Thus the 1,457 students projected next year cost almost TEN MILLION DOLLARS ($9,750,244 to be exact) over state average.
One reason for the high cost (which are fast approaching private school price points) is "administration cost" is 66% over state average. And even though an overhead showed a slight increase in the percentage of the elementary budget eaten up by administration, it generated no discussion from the floor.
Early in the Elementary School budget discussion Town Meeting member Walter Wolnik read a statement praising the financial prowess and presentation skills of Rob Detweiler, the Schools Director of Finance who mysteriously disappeared three months ago.
Wolnik wished to know if and when he would return to his duties?
School Superintendent Maria Geryk and Sean Mangano (Dettweiler's replacement) listen to Walter Wolnik's statement
Detweiler was on paid Administrative Leave for six weeks (costing taxpayers $15,000) and is still on unpaid Administrative Leave. School Superintendent Maria Geryk confirmed that he, "will not return in his role ... I appreciate your support of Mr. Detweiler, however I will not be speaking further about the reasons why he is no longer in this role."
Typical layout of classrooms at Wildwood. "Temporary walls" (going on 25 years now) don't go all the way to the ceiling
Article 17 was also an expensive school item, a $1 million Feasibility Study of Wildwood Elementary School (built 1970) with 60% of that picked up by the state. As usual some folks had sticker shock over the $1 million price tag even though it's really only $400,000 of town money.
But the motion passed with a solid two-thirds majority, solid enough that no standing or tally vote was required. And the very next article, to rescind a $400,000 appropriation from last year for new boilers for Wildwood School, passed after a long discussion, thus covering the town's share of the feasibility study.
Since that study will eventually lead to a new school or major renovation (with the state picking up 60%) it doesn't make sense to replace the boilers now at 100% town cost.
Amherst Elementary Enrollment Trends (going down, down, down)