Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Amherst Schools Reorganization?

Amherst School Committee (from rt): Lawrence O'Brien, Kathleen Traphagen, Rick Hood

Last night the Amherst School Committee voted unanimously (with two absent) to approve a  $21,869,835 elementary school budget, which is $100,000 below Finance Committee guidelines for the second year in a row.

With a projected population of 1,176 (including 64 preschoolers) that works out to a total cost per student of $18,597, a tad over the state per student average of about $14,000.

The "level services budget" calls for the elimination of 16.5 para educator positions (saving $343,500) but is offset by the addition of six "professional staff for co-teaching" positions (adding $360,000). 

Another $63,000 had to be added to the budget to make up for the loss of grant funding to the kindergarten program  Partial cuts to three positions in Central Office personnel also brought savings of $117,000.

During a discussion about the Owner's Project Manager for the upcoming Wildwood School renovation project Superintendent Maria Geryk floated possible reorganization scenarios if a new school should be built:  Crocker Farm Elementary School (currently 422 students pre kindergarten through 6th grade) would become a pre-K through 1st grade only, and the new building would hold 2nd grade through 6th grade.

At previous meetings school administrators also floated the idea of closing down the Middle School and moving all the 7th and 8th grade students into the High School.

As if there were not enough expensive scenarios floating around the School Committee also voted unanimously to "Authorize the Superintendent to submit to the Massachusetts School Building Authority the Statement of Interest Form for the Fort River Elementary School, located at 70 South East Street."

Yes this is in addition to the seemingly-on-the-fast-track endeavor to renovate/expand/or build a new school to replace Wildwood Elementary School on Strong Street.

Last year Town Meeting voted $1 million to study the proposal with a projected state reimbursement of 60%.  Last night school officials confirmed the reimbursement came in higher at 68% so the town's share of funding falls from $400,000 to $320,000.

The Wildwood School Building Committee interviewed ten OPM candidates for the ambitious project.  They will go before the Mass School Building Authority in Boston on April 6th seeking final approval for their unanimously chosen candidate, Joslin Lesser, the last woman standing.

 Sparsely attended meeting.  Sean Mangano, Finance Director, in front

Superintendent Maria Geryk and Finance Director Sean Mangano outlined a timeline that would have Amherst Town Meeting voting final funding in the Fall of 2016.

School administrators did take note, however, that the Wildwood School project shares a short list of expensive new building projects on the horizon including a South Fire Station,  DPW building and Jones Library expansion.

Although they forgot to include the much talked about new downtown parking garage. 


Anonymous said...

It would be nice to see real reporting about the Amherst schools, instead of propaganda put forth by ARPS. Example, today's promotional piece regarding the switch to all IMP Math. I believe the % currently taking IMP is less than 25% and closer to 10% (not nearly 50% as stated in the article). say goodbye to STEM prepared ARHS students (there is more than one right answer? what?). Also I take issue with Hood's recent comment that our budget problem is greatly impacted by reduced state aid "in 2000, the state provided 50% of the budget, today it is 35%"). That is meaningless information, you need to look at it as per student- has it gone up a few % per year? Since our per student costs are so enormous it is entire possible that the state has kept up just fine, it's the denominator that has grown disproportionately as our student numbers have plummeted (ARPS: 2000, 2047 students: 2014, 1441 students). Let's look at those numbers and state aid per student over the time period and see if it has changed much?

Anonymous said...

Larry, why is it that the Gazette article on IMP math ( isn't behind a paywall, like the other articles in that section? Did ARPS pay to publish?

Larry Kelley said...

No, it was written by the Gazette's new education reporter.

Probably just a run of the mill screw up at the Gazette.

Anonymous said...

I shaved for this!??!

Anonymous said...

How odd. Wildwood is much newer than Crocker Farm, so why does it need to be replaced? The Middle School is a decade newer than the High School.

Anonymous said...

using the data provided by the Sup (supposedly used by Rick; on page 33 of chapter 70 funds have increased from $4325/student in 2001 to $6412/student in 2013. Actually seems to have been a big increase in state aid, not a drop (unless I missed something). I don't think Rick can place any budgetary shortfalls at the feet of chapt 70. Umm, where else might it come from? The graph sure is misleading, wish we had folks on the SC who questioned this sort of use of "data".

Anonymous said...

"The "level services budget" calls for the elimination of 16.5 para educator positions (saving $343,500) but is offset by the addition of six "professional staff for co-teaching" positions (adding $360,000)."

Apparently, the district is hiring many more special education teachers. At least in the elementary schools, there will be one special education teacher at each grade, and that person will co-teach with one of the classroom teachers. This is being described as a full co-teaching model. When parents and teachers have asked for more information about this, they have been told, "We don't have all of the details worked out yet."

Another major initiative from the top levels of administration that is being forced upon parents and teachers without proper planning or attention to detail? "Trust us," they say! "This is what is best for the children."

Anonymous said...

Crocker Farm was renovated and expanded approximately 10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't splitting off k-1 grade double transportation costs for Amherst?