Friday, June 13, 2014

Regional School Mega-Committee?

RAWG votes unanimously on governance  8:30 PM

Last night the Regional Agreement Working Group (RAWG) voted unanimously to recommend forming a system of representation via committee that significantly shortchanges Amherst, a college town where our #1 industry is education.

Currently Amherst makes up 88% of the population in the Amherst Regional School District, where all four towns participate at the Middle and High School level.  Yet if all four towns should decide to regionalize in the Pre-K to 6th grade level, the new Regional School Committee will consist of 13 members, seven from Amherst and two from each of the three Hilltowns.

Or as percentages go, Amherst with 88% of the population gets only 54% of the vote in governance. The rationale for circumventing proportional representation (one person one vote) is that Amherst voters will get a chance to weigh in on candidates from the other towns (and vice-versa) in a district wide, single ballot election.

Of course that doesn't help much if each of the Hilltowns only has two candidates running for the two open seats.  

And as part of this endeavor our elementary schools will no longer be overseen by the Amherst School Committee, because the Amherst School Committee will no longer exist. Although once rubber stamped by the current Regional School Committee the new arrangement must be approved by all four Town Meetings even if the town does not plan to join the new Region.  

RAWG also discussed at length the budgets and how a Regional Assessment would work.   And clearly it will be more expensive for Amherst -- by as much as $347,901 in the first year of transition.

Amherst Region Public Schools -- at $18,688 -- already have the highest per student cost in the area,  well over the $13,636 state average.

Even though RAWG in one form or another has been meeting for almost three years the sense of urgency in the room last night to get this Leviathan operational was almost palpable.

Andy Steinberg briefly handed off Chair duties to Kip Fonsh so he could speak freely.  Steinberg, who was most recently elected to the Amherst Select Board, acknowledged the controversy over proportional representation for Amherst but spoke in support of the motion as made.

Superintendent Maria Geryk then announced the janitor was leaving the building at 9:00 PM, so the meeting had to be over by then.

The Regional Agreement Working Group soon came to a unanimous vote supporting the 13 member committee, with Amherst getting 7 seats.

But is that any way to lay the groundwork for a $42 million regional entity?

Although, the janitor seemed pleased.


Kiss your savings good bye! said...


-Squeaky Squeaks

p.s. "grunt"

Anonymous said...

So the people who represent my interests as a resident of Amherst want to give away my voting rights? Being able to vote for someone in another town seems kind of ridiculous.

If the other 3 towns where all purple and the people of Amherst where all green, that would mean that the purple peoples voice counts 6 times more than the green people.

Now imagine if we substituted purple for rich or white and green for minority or poor. No one in Amherst who understands what they are giving up should vote for this unjust concept.

Anonymous said...

Average teacher salaries are as follows:

Amherst $75,452
Leveret $60,887
Shutesbury $54,678

I can't believe that the teachers in Lev & Shute are going to keep their lower salaries when the other unionized teachers in their district make more money. If all pay is equalized then payroll goes up and so does retirement for all towns.

It seems like the only people who win are the teachers who get a raise, assuming their schools don't get closed like Marks Meadow.

Anonymous said...

Shutesbury will never vote for this. They are sure that some of their favorite special programs will be cut much like art and music were in Amherst.

Caren Rotello said...

I am having trouble seeing any benefit for Amherst. The costs are dramatically higher and our representation is decreased. I can see advantages for the other towns but no reason for Amherst residents to support regionalization.

Dr. Ed said...

Now imagine if we substituted purple for rich or white and green for minority or poor. No one in Amherst who understands what they are giving up should vote for this unjust concept.

I absolutely no doubt that just one complaint from just one Black Amherst resident to the US Dept of Justice would bring a Voting Rights Act Enforcement action.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean Shutesbury is going to join K-6 after all. In the paper a while back it said they were not joining but they are still involved?

Larry Kelley said...

No they are not joining.

But they still want to be involved for a possible entry in the future.

I'm told it's down to pretty much two towns -- Amherst and Pelham -- joining for K-12.

Anonymous said...

It's the "vice versa" that concerns me. Voters from the small towns, in all their socioeconomic diversity, are going to be able to vote on the representatives who come from Amherst, right?

If you love how the current Regional School Committee operates (and one should watch the videos of some meetings just to get the flavor), you're going to love this?

Anonymous said...

We already have a net exodus of young families with children from Amherst, yet school budgets continue to go up.

How much more disadvantaging of Amherst property taxpayers can we do?

It's time to stop the bleeding.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see what cuts to the town budget or elementary school budgets get made to pay for this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:48

I'm not sure how you want to stop the bleeding? Do you think this mega committee is good or not?

Anonymous said...

So if a person is on the fringe of what people in Pelham want, but have a lot of friends in Amherst that vote for them, they could get elected. Then they can do what they want against the will of the majority of the people in Pelham, right?

Anonymous said...

I fail to see why the committee would recommend regionalization. We were told it would cost less, the table indicates it will cost more (for everyone but Pelham). I'm assuming this added cost is in the base and thus every year forward would cost Amherst an extra $400-500K. For what exactly? Less say in how our schools function? A superintendent and admininistration that already claims over burden to be even more burdened? Imagine regionalizing with just Pelham that has something like 75 elementary students. How would the representation work with that? I have lost respect for Brewer and Steinberg and am baffled why they would recommend regionalizing. It makes NO sense whatsoever.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:46

I don't know whether the mega committee is a good idea or not. But if it involves some upfront costs that fall disproportionately on the Town of Amherst, given what we're spending now in terms of per pupil costs (which send budgets up despite declining enrollments), I don't know how Amherst voters, or
Town Meeting, can be expected to go along with that.

But Alisa Brewer and Andrew Steinberg are entitled to be heard out on this proposal.

I'm tired of the notion of having to "be a sport" for the other "struggling" towns in the Region.

Anonymous said...

IF we do this does that mean we have to coordinate the elections for the 4 towns from this point forward. Do we have special and costly separate elections for School Committee. Do residents of each town have to travel to other towns to vote? How does this work and does the 4 town process cost us even more money?

Anonymous said...

Michael DeChiara pushed for the library in Shutebury and he is pushing for this. That is enough for me to vote No.

Anonymous said...

If this agreement and the process are so important why are the web sites lacking so much information? The old RSDPB has not been updated in a long time nor has the RAWG site. Is this agreement on a public document yet?

Larry Kelley said...

RAWG only voted to bring the proposal to the full Regional School Committee on June 24th, where it will no doubt be adopted and then will become more public.

Technically the motion that passed unanimously has been a public document since around 8:30 PM Thursday night.

But for now you will only read it here.

Anonymous said...

There is an assumption that there's a community or commonality of interests among the four towns, that there's something in our values about education that binds us together.

I wonder if that is true.

Anonymous said...

Yea only Amherst parents want the best education for their kids. The parents in the other 3 towns either don't care or just want a mediocre education for their kids.

Anonymous said...

Doesn’t everyone lose in the arrangement? All the towns will eventually end up paying more. Our current excessive spending administration will control more schools. The teacher’s salaries in Leverett and Shutesbury are going to go up along with the retirement cost. It is only a matter of time before a school like Pelham or Leverett get closed from declining enrollments.

Amherst can not get it’s curriculum right on the elementary level. I hear that Leverett, Pelham, and Shutebury elementary work really well. Why would they want to get on board with us if we have not followed their model after all the years of influence from them? If their ES methods work maybe we should try them, yet we don’t.

Most important if Leverett and Shutesbury are not going to join why should we do anything at this time. Those people sat on the board and got what they want but the agreement is not good enough for them to join. That is just crazy. I think our Amherst reps must have been asleep at the wheel or desperate to reach an agreement for some misguided sense of value.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:24,

I think everyone generally wants there kids to have a good education from all of the towns. The problem, from my perspective is that we all have different standards and different ideas on how to reach those standards.

I know parents who honestly don't believe in the value of homework at the ES level. I know others that think re-enforcement at home is critical to supporting the teacher's work during the day.

When it comes to curriculum I know some parents think Algebra in the 9th grade is quality and others who think not having honors 8th in 7th grade spells disaster for their child's future.

We (all 4 towns) are as diverse in our belief of education as we are diverse in our backgrounds, at least in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

If Shutesbury and Leverrett don't want to regionalize their elementary schools why do they get to vote on the Amherst and Pelham elementary schools? How cockamamie is that?

Anonymous said...

Leverett residents, run, save our schools, this agreement is horrible for us.

Larry Kelley said...

Leverett is currently ranked #81 on the Mass School Building Authority grant/project list.

So if they are requesting state money for an elementary school renovation, how are they going to feel a few years down the road when the new super committee decides to close down their school for the good of the region?

Anonymous said...

I'm skeptical of the numbers presented if I understand correctly. Amherst (and Pelham) see the most savings if just those two towns form a union. The numbers seem unrealistically large, in that case. How could nearly $500k be saved by folding Pelham into Amherst? I can't see those kinds of savings.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to understand how this committee got here. Let's start from the fact that almost all regional school committees in Massachusetts are based on proportional representation. That means the each town elects school committee members onto the regional school committee based on its population.. If a town makes up a third of the population, it gets a third of the members on the regional school committee--or a a third of the votes on the committee. Each town votes for its members. These regional school committees work well throughout our state.

On the Frontier Regional School Committee the number of members is based on town populations. Recently a new member for Sunderland was added since Sunderland had grown larger.

Southwick-Tolland Regional District has weighted voting. Each town to elects fixed number of school committee members -- with their members' votes weighted to reflect the town's percentage of the total populations. The Tolland school committee member has less than a full vote. (Resident populations: Southwick 9,000, Tolland 500, Granville 1500). The superintendent of Southwick lives in Amherst and he and the Tolland regional school committee member came and talked about how well this works.

From these normal ways of selecting the number of regional school committee members, the RAWG/RSDPB committee has gone from considering a pre-K to 6th regional school district for all 4 towns, to a Pre-K to 12th regional school district for all 4 towns, then to a pre-K to 12th school committee for just 3 towns, with Shutesbury entering for 7-12, and finally to a pre-K to 12th grade school committee for just 2 towns, with Shutesbury and Leverett entering for just 7-12th grade. The regional school committee bloats from its current 9 members to 12-to 13 (a number the school attorney called unworkable last year).

And I've been told that proportional representation for Amherst has never been on the table.

So instead of Amherst getting 88% of the seats or votes on the regional committee, it witll get about 52-54% of the votes.

And now, remarkably, school committee members from Shutesbury and Leverrett will vote on issues for Amherst and Pelham elementary schools! These towns do not want to regionalize their elementary schools with us -- and yet want to vote on how ours operate.

And when it comes to each town to voting for the regional budget, only 3 of 4 towns need to approve. Amherst can be outvoted, giving it 0% of control over the regional budget.

So Amherst will lose our current 100% control over our elementary schools and their $22 million budget. All in order to……do what? Help fund the costs of small, high performing, expensive, hilltownn elementary schools with declining enrollments? A chance to unify curriculum with Pelham elementary school (which we already do)? Share a central administration with Pelhman (which we already do)? Get the input of Shutesbury and Leverett on Amherst's elementary schools?

What cuts will we make to our town and school budgets to make this all happen? Why would we allow this to happen?

And, again, how did the RAWG/RSDPB get us here?

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Janet, all excellent points. I'd just like to add another. At one point, I believe, the small schools were reassured that their autonomy in controlling their curricula was to remain. Thus any touted benefits (dubious at best anyway) of aligning elementary schools is gone.

Again, despite what they probably believe is their best efforts the RAWG has done a pretty poor job. The benefits of regionalizing are so entirely and obviously unsupported for ANY of the schools (except perhaps Pelham), so who exactly is pushing for it? Ms Geryk? Why?

Anonymous said...

I think it is important to point out that looking at regionalization is not a new concept. Various iterations of the Amherst and other town school committees have looked at this topic over the past several decades. So no, Ms. Geryk is not pushing this. Sorry...can't blame everything bad that happens on the Superintendent.

Anonymous said...


Great points well laid out.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

to anon 12:56, this is anon @12:26: I just queried if Ms. Geryk was supporting the regionalization- jeez. Since there is very little basis on the part of the RAWG to support it, I am simply asking who is the person(s) pressing for this idea? Since virtually no materials are available wrt to the deliberations of the committee, the only way the public would have an idea about what this committee is thinking is to attend their meetings. Just an FYI, I believe that discussions of regionalization have never in the past made it this far- thus all the more reason to question why it is moving forward at all, with all its very apparent flaws.

Anonymous said...

I didn't add that Amherst elementary schools and Pelham elementary schools are already joined in a superintendency union, Union 26, where they share the same central administration but bear the costs of their own elementary schools. They share the same curriculum, SPED program, etc.

I just don't get how this new confusing configuration helps Amherst elementary students in any way.

Our elementary schools are well-funded, we have the same administrators pre-K to 12, etc. The 5 Amherst Elementary School Committee members all live in from Amherst, have or have had kids in our elementary schools so they are much more likely to know other parents, students, teachers, principals, etc. Amherst voters are likely to know school committee candidates--or someone knows them.

Why would we want to vote for 4 to 6 more school committee members from Shutesbury, Leverett and Pelhem --with the Shutesbury and Leverett members having votes on Amherst elementary schools when their elementary schools are not part of the region? It's all awkward and baffling.

Anonymous said...

No one is pressing for regionalizaton..the working groups have been researching it. The state has been encouraging schools to regionalize across the state. No one is pressing it. The committee has been studying it and concluded that there would be savings and so now they are working on figuring out how it would work and what are possible scenarios. It may very well be that all 4 towns vote it down and it goes no where. That is what has happened in the past. Shutesbury very early on said they did not want to be part of it but wanted to stay on the committee discussing it. I don't think Leverett has said as succintly that they don't want to be part of it. The committee has done it's work for the past 2-3 years and is nearing the end...almost ready to present for a vote. If it goes down it goes down...and everyone moves on.

Anonymous said...

It would be ironic if all 4 towns voted the agreement down. That after 3 years of compromise the committee has created something that no majority body of a town can stomach.

Clearly the lack of trust from the 3 towns for the Amherst political system played front and center to the endless number of compromises Amherst made to get this done.

What is really funny about Amherst compromising is that the towns who originally pushed to have regionalization, Leverett and Shutebury, did so to get away from a superintendent that resigned. To add to the irony, both of those towns don't sound ready to commit to the agreement that they insisted on creating. An agreement that unjustly gives disproportional power to them.

So who did Amherst compromise for? Beats me. The whole thing is filled with the irony that is the tail wagging the dog.

Anonymous said...

anon@3:59, perhaps I am misunderstanding what Larry posted (or he is incorrectly interpreting) but it seems like the committee is "recommending" regionalization with the representation they have come up with (and some (questionable) amounts of costs and savings associated with various configurations). If that interpretation is correct, I can't see how your position holds, either the committee "owns" their work (as unbalanced and unworkable as it seems) and recommends approval or they don't. How can it be both? Happy to hear your thoughts...

Anonymous said...

This is anon 359. I stand by my post. Pushing an agenda is much different then making a recommendation. Pushing implies and all out, vociferous campaign to get something approved. Much different then making a recommendation for a particular way forward after many months studying the issue. Pushing implies you have an agenda. Making a recommendation after a long study is just that...the body has studied the issue and after looking at all the options determined this is the best way forward.