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.