School Superintendent Maria Geryk, Andy Steinberg, RAWG Chair
Shutesbury, a partner in our Regional Public School School system for over half a century -- but only 4% of that region by population -- is holding firm to their demand that the new pre-K though 12 Regional expansion should include an "on ramp" for their entry somewhere down the road.
Shutesbury representative Elaine Puleo was as clear as ice that it's an absolute deal breaker. Even facilitator David Singer, after over an hour of sometimes heated discussion, tried to get the committee to agree to it, calling the lack of an on ramp a "show stopper."
Regional Agreement Working Group (3 members each from all four towns)
Why should the other three towns, who make up 96% of the Region care? Because this new expanded educational Leviathan needs the approval of all four towns to amend the current Regional Agreement (which covers Middle School and High School).
Yes Shutesbury -- even though they do not plan to join the expanded Region -- still has to support it via their Town Meeting, and the three representatives stated unequivocally last night that would not happen without an on ramp.
The first hour of the meeting was taken up discussing overall "savings" and how they would be distributed. The first year of transition could cost Amherst (who makes up 88% of the Region) an additional $357,000.
The committee, citing "equity", voted unanimously to place a cap on savings to individual towns and to distribute savings over that cap to the town (Amherst) that faced increases. Or what Pelham rep Jeff Osborn described as, "Robbing Peter to pay Paul."
The 2nd item of discussion, an "on ramp" for a non-participating town, was far more divisive.
The participating towns are concerned that the first few years of the new Region is a formative time, although Shutesbury seemed amenable to a "protected period" (three years) where they could not suddenly attempt entry.
But their representative argued strenuously that as long as they are willing to absorb any impacts they should be allowed entry at any time in the more distant future. Especially since they are already a long-time partner in the current Region.
Trevor Baptiste, Pelham rep and new Regional School Committee Chair, described it as a "trust issue," likening it to a (hopefully successful) marriage.
2 Regional School Committee members -- Rick Hood and Lawrence O'Brien -- observed from a safe distance
The motion that almost gained consensus called for a provision in the Regional Agreement to allow the on ramp but with a "protected period" (possible three years), an impact study, and then good faith negotiations to mitigate those impacts.
Amherst rep Alisa Brewer wanted it clear the answer could still be "No", if they fail to mitigate those impacts.
The meeting adjourned at 9:40 PM, with only 1 of 5 agenda items voted on. Next meeting is scheduled for September 2 (location to be determined) at 6:00 PM. RAWG wants to make their recommendation to the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee by the end of September.
And a two-thirds vote of the Regional SC would send the issue to all four Town Meetings to vote on two articles: The first simply allowing the Regional Agreement to be amended, and the second article calling for an expansion of the current grades 7-12 Region all the way down to pre-Kindergarden through 6th grade.
All four towns have to agree to amend the Regional Agreement, but do not have to agree to join immediately. At this point, within the Regional Assessment Working Group, only Amherst and Pelham seem to be a sure thing.
Know your reps: