Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Regionalization Round Up

Andy Steinberg, Katherine Appy, Alisa Brewer

Maybe it was the snow squall that hit about an hour before the scheduled 6:00 pm start or maybe parents were busy getting dinner on the table, but last night's turnout for the 1st public forum on school regionalization since the Regional Agreement Working Group issued their three-years-in-the-making final report was less than encouraging.  Way less.

In fact Amherst School Committee and wanna be candidates for same and Select Board members outnumbered parents or Amherst Town Meeting members, the main target demographic for the forum.

 Empty chairs outnumbered spectators

Amherst School Committee Chair Katherine Appy extolled the virtue of an "aligned" curriculum.  Currently when the elementary students from Leverett and Shutesbury hit the Regional Middle School at 7th grade it reportedly takes months "to get them on the same page".

Although Ms. Appy was careful to say they were not less fit as students.

Currently Superintendent Maria Geryk has to prepare reports/budgets for three different school districts:  Amherst and Pelham elementary grades and the Region grades 7-12.

Each district requires 110 reports or 330 total.  Blending them all into one region would reduce those state mandated reports by two-thirds.

The 7-12 Region is comprised of four independent towns -- Amherst, Pelham, Leverett, Shutesbury -- all of them proud of their non-aligned elementary schools.  Thus they are like Greek city states prior to the Persian invasion.  Happy with their ethnocentric independence.

Andy Steinberg presented the economic argument which he described as "A lot harder to explain."  The first year of full regionalization would only see a 2% savings and that's probably a best case scenario.

Savings come from state regional transportation reimbursement and two towns -- Leverett and Shutesbury -- breaking free of their current Union alliances with other districts.  But those savings are pretty much offset by teacher pay increases for bringing their elementary teachers up to the current pay scale of the Amherst Region.

Steinberg worries that with revenues not keeping pace with expenditures, two of the partner towns may someday vote down their assessment for the Regional 7-12 budget in order to help fund their elementary operations.  The Regional Agreement requires 3 of 4 towns approval to pass the budget.  

The Regional Agreement also requires unanimous approval in order to amend it.  All four Town Meetings would need to approve the newly expanded Region, after the Regional School Committee has supported the idea with a two-thirds vote.

Shutesbury has already all but declared a "NO" vote, which alone kills the idea.  Since they could vote yes to allowing the region but then vote no to joining it, why would they spoil the parade for other three towns?

Probably because they fear the newly expanded Region would not be as cost effective as advertised and would lead to an increase in their grades 7-12 assessment, which is hard enough to pay under current conditions.

Last night Katherine Appy was vague as to whether the Regional School Committee would even come to an official vote at their upcoming March 10 meeting.

And with their next scheduled meeting after that not until April 14 -- too late to get the issue on  Town Meeting warrants in all four towns -- March 10 is pretty much do or die.

Or I should say, do or delay.  


Anonymous said...

If this ever passes, which I doubt, it will the be the costliest decision for all 4 towns. I suspect it will bring Pelham to its financial knees first and the other 3 towns will follow.

This is why. Andy S. keeps talking about the give backs the state will do. Those are all good. However the elephant in the room is teachers salaries. Shutesbury and Leverett pay significantly less to their teachers on average, not saying it is good or bad, just what it is. When all 4 towns join and the teachers union has those 4 towns bargaining together you will have to pay all teachers with similar time and education the same rate. Amherst teachers are not going to take a pay cut. The other towns will of course have to raise their pay scale. The increase is going to be spread across all 4 towns.

That is not even the real problem. The real problem is retirement and benefits. Go look at any town spending chart. You will see how retirement and benefits are gobbling up the budget. No one has a solution. Towns are supposed to be paying into a fund to handle this liability but few are doing it. Those who are putting money into a fund, which I believe Amherst is, are going very slowly with it.

So they also talk about curricular alignment, which Amherst can not do school to school or even classroom to classroom in the same grade. How will they ever get 6 elementary schools to align. Lets be honest, its never going to happen.

We can talk about initial cost savings, but in the end those cost are just a pipe dream and an empty promise.

Couple all that bad stuff with the incredible voting inequity of the agreement (personally I think it borders on criminal and completely unconstitutional), and you realize this agreement in any of the considered forms is garbage.

Andy, Alisa, and Appy, (hmm the 3 A's, never saw that before) need to work to disband the committee and move on to more important matters.

I'll say it one more time, This agreement is horrible, let the idea of regionalization go. Move on with your lives. You gave it a great effort, but its over, go home now.

Are you still here? Go home already!

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, I think the chances of this passing are right up there with Amherst supporting a Republican candidate in the next Presidential election.

Anonymous said...

I think the lack of public interest is in direct proportion with the public's belief that this agreement will ever go through.

This was dead before it ever started. When it all started they had a report from 2009ish where a new region was studied. The same problems they saw are the same problems they still face. Few good ideas came from this committee. Few if any of them really pushed to find common ground. It was all or nothing for each of the towns.

Again this is DOA. Go find an owl, turtle, or salamander to save. It will be time better spent, really.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Appy seems to be real good at doublespeak. On the one hand she talks about the Leverett & Shutesbury students needing time to come up to speed when they enter the middle school because those two schools "stress other things" and "their focus and ideas are different" from the Amherst schools (this is a load of crap), and on the other hand they assure us that each school will be able to retain its individuality. And then, of course, is her insistence that the proposed regionalization has to do with education and finance, not governance, and she didn't really want to address the governance issue, which, after all, could be the main reason why Leverett and Shutesbury vote this whole mess down. As far as I can tell, this is all about Amherst finances, and when it comes down to it they could care less about the other issues as they relate to the other towns. Educationally speaking, Leverett and Shutesbury are doing better than just fine. Financially speaking, joining up with Amherst will surely mean their elementary schools will be shut down and they won't have the votes to counteract it. Appy? Andy? Go take a hike.

Anonymous said...

The arrogance of this committee is mind-boggling. Do they really expect us to believe that it will cost nothing administratively speaking to add two elementary schools to the region? Really? Amherst hires administation at the drop of a hat, whether needed or not. If you folks out there buy into that one, I have a bridge to sell you...

Anonymous said...

*Off topic- What ever happened to the Dispatch Regionalization that town manager and fire chief were boasting about? Haven't heard anything at all since they said it was happening, "soon"

Rob B.

Larry Kelley said...

At the Finance Committee last month to discuss APD budget, Chief Livingstone sounded pretty resigned to the fact it was not going to happen

Anonymous said...

to me, having Pelham elementary school become part of the Amherst K-6 district makes way more sense than expanding the elementary region to include Leverett & Shutesbury as well.

The Pelham school shares the same superintendent & central office as the Amherst schools. Plus, it is so close to Amherst, & so many Amherst kids attend the Pelham school there already as choice students. I think it will be very challenging for Pelham to survive as its own elementary district...

question: If this goes to town meetings for a vote (& yes, it sure doesn't sound like that will happen this spring), will town meeting members be able to vote from among the regionalization options or will the choice of which option(s) is being considered be determined by the regional school committee?

Larry Kelley said...

Choice will be determined by individual town meetings. If all four towns vote yes to both the question to amend the Regional Agreement, AND the question to join it then that's what we get.

Actually Amherst will only vote on the first question because built into is the notion that Amherst will join.

But if only one town of the other three votes no to the first question about whether the Regional Agreement should be modified, then it fails completely.

Larry Kelley said...

For instance Amherst and the other three towns vote yes to question one, which then opens up the Regional Agreement.

Then Leverett and Shutesbury can vote NO to joining it, and we would then have a new expanded Region of Amherst/Pelham K-12 and Leverett and Shutesbury still part of 7-12.

Anonymous said...

Won't the proposed changes to the regional agreement (what the School Committee & the town meetings would vote on) include changes to the governance structure, the number of school committee members, & related topics that the RAWG leaders said were off-topic for last night's forum. Those are some big topics to cover & some of the most contentious I have heard re: K-12 regionalization. Does this mean that future forums where those topics will be covered are being planned? & that there will be opportunity for the public to comment on them? I would certainly hope so.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen anything that really substantiates these 3 schools joining together.

What about the alternatives, 5 schools, 20 schools, splitting the existing schools, all school under one Fed leader and system.

Where is the comparison to the alternatives and the understanding of the impact on education.

I thought it was universally understood that less students and less superstructure is better.

When you kid is really having trouble in their 20-30 person class, folks like to hire a tutor for one on one learning. They don't tend to take their kid and send them to a 200 person learning group to get what they did not get in the group of 20.

Small business is better, smaller schools are better, smaller classes are better, smaller government would be an absolute blessing, because then we could all be better.

Larger schools great for school admins, raising their compensation and buffering them against future displacement.

It would be so cool to see a discussion about this as if the kids or the financial health of the community mattered. I know, crazy - it's about the upper middle class adults.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:32 PM, I agree with you re: Pelham, but your plan should be taken even further. Just absorb Pelham into Amherst. It's already the same zip code, we don't even have a g-d post office! Expand the bus lines, build some student housing OUT THERE. Bring Pelham into the 21st century... somehow.