Regional Agreement Working Group last night
After three years of meetings you would think the 12-member Regional Agreement Working Group, made up of three representatives from all four towns in the current Middle and High School Region (Amherst, Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury) could figure out a workable plan to simply extend what we already have now in grades 7-12, down to kindergarten level.
You would think. But nooooooo.
The Regional Agreement Working Group wants to present a plan to the Regional School Committee sometime soon (actually more like a year ago). Last night's meeting, however, was still not to be the last.
Next meeting, and hopefully last, is scheduled for October 15.
The current 9 member Regional School Committee (5 Amherst, 2 Pelham, one each from Leverett and Shutesbury) will have to support the proposed educational expansion by a two-thirds vote (not hard to get) and then all four towns will need a majority vote of their Town Meeting's in order to amend the Regional Agreement (very hard to get).
Tricky part is Shutesbury has already opted out of the expansion but wants to have the option to come in somewhere in the future. And since their Town Meeting yes vote is mandatory for the entire project to go forward, the other three towns are trying to keep them somewhat happy.
Last night the group voted to allow a town already in the 7-12 Region (say, Shutesbury for instance) to join somewhere in the future as long as any "negative impacts" are mitigated. The words "by right" were stricken and replaced with "welcomed," but only if the negatives are overcome.
Thus the other three towns still have the option to say "no" if the negatives are not dealt with to their satisfaction.
1st Resolution passed unanimously previously, 2nd passed last night 8-0-1 (abstention)
By having this "on ramp" built in to the Regional Agreement now it simplifies the process in the future when only a two-thirds vote of the (new) Regional School Committee will be required to allow the town entry.
RAWG also approved other procedural concepts: Elementary school closings (for the economic good of the Region) would require a "supermajority" of 8 votes, thus Amherst with its proposed 7 committee members cannot invoke their tyranny on a smaller town all by themselves. Hiring a Superintendent to lead the district would also require 8 vote supermajority.
They unanimously supported the current status quo for amending the Regional Agreement: two thirds vote of the Regional School Committee and then a positive vote in all four Town Meetings.
Since Amherst makes up 88% of the current Region the forced rational for "fair" representation with only a little over 50% of the slotted positions on the Committee reserved for Amherst, is the concept of "District Wide Election."
Voters in all four towns would vote for all members (even candidates from the other towns) of the new Regional School Committee. Thus, theoretically, elected members will think more as a regional representatives rather than putting their town first.
Which of course flies in the face of human nature.
Amherst voters are already unhappy with the way the our expensive schools are running, so they are not going to be enthused about expanding the operation, especially when there seems to be no discernible cost benefit.
In fact it will probably increase the cost for Amherst, which already has a cost per student 30% over state average.
The initial vote to make this happen could also prove problematic in a Keystone Cops sort of way. Theoretically only two towns, say Amherst and Pelham, could vote to join the new Region.
But the other two (Leverett and Shutesbury) who don't join now (but still have the on-ramp option down the road) would still have elected members on the new Regional School Committee who could block any major decision requiring a supermajority.
Can you say "confusing"?