Amherst Regional High Schoool
After four years of work by their sub-committee the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee gave majority support to the concept of expanding the current grades 7-12 Region (Middle & High School) all the way down to Kindergarten - 6th grade.
The RSC voted 5-4 at their June 23rd meeting to forward the Regional Agreement Working Group final report to attorney Giny Tate (again) with one slight amendment -- changing the term of School Committee members from four years to a mix of two and four year terms.
Newly reelected RSC Chair Trevor Baptiste will work this summer with attorney Tate and Superintendent Maria Geryk to ensure the draft agreement is back by September 1st.
But in order for the proposal to really move forward so it can be voted on by all four towns it requires a two-thirds affirmative vote of the Regional School Committee. That all-important vote is expected to come before March 1st so all four towns can vote on it in the Spring of 2016.
The governance of the new Region would be an unwieldy 13 member Regional School Committee with 7 members from Amherst and two each from the Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury. Currently the Regional School Committee is a total of 9 members, 5 from Amherst, 2 from Pelham and one each from Shutesbury and Leverett.
Why Pelham currently gets two committee members is anybody's guess, considering both Leverett and Shutesbury's population are considerable larger than Pelham.
And with Amherst providing 88% of the population (and funding) is it really fair for the new governance scheme to reduce the power of Amherst to only a 54% majority?
The Committee kept the provision requiring 8 votes to close a school, even though member Dan Robb suggested two-thirds (9 votes) provided a "higher bar." Even at 8 that means the seven Amherst members must still win over at least one other member from the other three towns.
Financial analysis: $600,000 savings is a tad disingenuous
Interestingly the concept of closing the Regional Middle School, located in Amherst, and combining the students into the Regional High School, also located in Amherst, is currently on the radar.
The smaller hilltowns are of course concerned that the new Region would close their elementary school for the good of the Region. Both Pelham and Leverett have declining school populations with status quo budgets getting harder and harder to maintain.
Some Amherst officials fear those two financially strapped towns could someday vote down the Regional budget if economic relief is not found. The current Regional Agreement requires 3 out of 4 towns vote yes for the overall budget to pass.
So can those two desperate towns drive the entire expanded Regionalization movement? The new Region cannot form without the unanimous support of all four towns.
Shutesbury is certainly not having any part of it. At the February 24 Regional School Committee meeting RAWG member Michael DeChiara flat out announced he was voting No to the new Region and would be recommending voters at Shutesbury Town Meeting follow his lead.
DeChiara, a former School Committee member, has since gone on to be elected to the Shutesbury Select Board -- the highest political office in town -- so his influence alone could be a deal killer.