Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wag The Dog

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:


Anonymous said...

The hard cap on extra financials costs (to Amherst) is only for one year. After that…….

Larry Kelley said...

There was some mitigation in year two, but yes, after that ...

Anonymous said...

>>The first year of transition could cost Amherst (who makes up 88% of the Region) an additional $357,000.

Why should Amherst vote for this again? (& where will the new costs be paid from beyond the initial help?)

and is Amherst really a "sure thing"? Won't this need Amherst town meeting approval? (and couldn't TM vote no?).

Larry Kelley said...

I meant as recommendations from the RAWG to the Regional School Committee.

Yes, it is going to be a very hard sell at Amherst Town Meeting.

Anonymous said...

I haven't heard much to suggest that any of the 4 towns will vote for it when it comes to town meeting. Mainly, I've heard the opposite.

Anonymous said...


So if I understand this correctly. This agreement will cost Amherst more money and we will continue to give up proportional representation and our representation proportionality may get worse when and if Shutesbury joins.

Good news for those other towns is that Amherst continually votes for lots of stuff that is not in its best interest. I hope the taxpayers of Amherst like paying for everyone else's schools.

If this goes through Amherst will get less voice on the committee and pay more of the bill. Now that is a win win.... For the other guy that is.

Anonymous said...

Is it true that at this meeting Pelham rep Baptiste compared regionalization to knocking up your girlfriend? With people like him working to move this dumb idea forward, it's sure to fail at town meetings.

Dr. Ed said...

I say again, all it is going to take is just ONE Black Amherst resident (who doesn't even have to have children in the schools) and a 49 cent stamp to bring in the Voting Rights Division of the US Dept of Justice.

Black votes are being "diluted" and that's a violation of the Voting Rights Act. All it would take is just one letter from one Black Amherst voter and all hell would break loose.

I doubt the DOJ would stop with just "one person, one vote" -- I think they'd mandate "minority/majority" districts and other stuff that folks would really not like.

I also doubt the DOJ would stop with just the regional school board -- I can see a mandate for district-designated members of the Selectboard and it is almost inevitable that the Town Meeting would be shut down -- it's "too White."

Let me conclude with what I say to college kids who nonchalantly drive drunk: You may have gotten away with it so far, and you might get away with it some more, but you will eventually get caught, and the consequences are severe. It's not a good idea to continue doing it.

Anonymous said...

What's in it for the dog (i.e. Amherst)?

According to the Amherst representatives on the RAWG, financial sustainability is a key reason to regionalize-the only problem being it's not for our financial sustainability. At this meeting, Andy Steinberg pointed out that Amherst Elementary Schools are economically sustainable.

A primary purpose of regionalization, in his view, is for Amherst taxpayers to financially buttress Leverett and Pelham Elementary schools with their declining enrollments and high costs. This will stop, he believes, the future possiblity of Leverett or Pelham voting down the 7-12 regional school budget when their elementary schools get prohibitively expensive. (Of course, at the point these towns would be voting against their own older student. And only 3 of the 4 towns have to approve the 7-12 regional budget anyway.)

Here are my questions:

How much will this cost Amherst taxpayers? If this is the core reason for regionalization, let's talk numbers and hear more about what is going on in Leverett and Pelham and what future projections show. The RAWG finance committee could provide information on this so we can all see what is on the table for Amherst taxpayers. In a sense, regionalization is like a corporate merger, so let's do our financial due diligence.

Also, if Amherst wants to give money to Leverett and Pelham, why not just give it to them? Why regionalize our elementary schools?

Why give up our 100% control over how our $22 million elementary budget is spent?

Under this committee's proposal, there will be a new, awkwardly large 13 member regional school committee with 2 members from Leverett, 2 from Pelham -- and 2 from Shutesbury which will keep its own elementary school committe. (So 2 Shutesbury school committee members then will vote on the budget and policies for elementary schools they have no kids in!)

Why give up our 100% Amherst representation on our elementary school committee? Our school committee members are focused on the many issues facing our elementary school kids. In the meetings I've attended I haven't heard members from other towns talk about the needs of Amherst elementary school kids, just their concerns about keeping their programs and their schools open. Maybe Amherst elementary needs were brought in meetings I didn't attend. But In the 13 member committee, Amherst's voting power drops to a bit over 50%, although we represent almost 90% of the population. Why give up our 100% voting power on our elementary schools?

Are there other ways for Pelham and Leverett to solve their financial problem?

Maybe Leverett and Pelham can combine their schools. Also, it's no secret that the 60 or so Pelham elementary kids could fit into Fort River and I would guess that Leverett's 100+ kids could fit into Amherst elementary schools, since they also face declining enrollments. Is this solution on the table, especially if Wildwood is rebuilt? This could benefit the kids and the taxpayers?

Janet McGowan

Dr. Ed said...

I will say what Janet McGowan didn't -- "Representation without Taxation"?

Anyone prepared to explain to Eric Holder why the votes of Black Amherst voters are being "diluted" by two board members who aren't even part of the district?

That should be fun.

And I've never seen something like this before.