Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Crossing The Educational Rubicon?

Superintendent Maria Geryk gets into testy exchange with a parent

The reorganization of the entire Amherst elementary public education program for at least the next 50 years drew a limited audience yesterday afternoon, at most a dozen-and-a-half concerned parents.

Maybe because, as school officials seem to think, busy parents are not paying attention; or maybe because they feel their input is only so much blah, blah, blah that allows school officials to check off a box in their search for state reimbursement.

For instance in response to my question about what happens if the School Committee votes "No" to the administration's wish for a new Mega-School to replace both Wildwood and Fort River, Assistant Superintendent Mike Morris said he would lock himself in his office the next day to come up with another plan.

Which of course means that going into the November 3rd School Committee meeting school administrators do not have a Plan B.

Another parent poninted out that no  figures have been presented to  show what it would cost simply to renovate or replace Wildwood. After all the endeavor is called, "Wildwood School Building Project".

Thus the School Committee is voting on the prefered option without facts and figures related to any of the other options. In other words a stacked deck.

If you're a betting person and want a really safe bet ... put your money on the Amherst School Committee voting yes to the "Education Plan" that requires a $20 million Debt Exclusion Override, or a $200/year increase in taxes on a median Amherst home for thirty years.

Whether the taxpayers of this town pass that Override question at the ballot box, however, is not nearly so certain.

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 Lead architect has good taste in musicals at least


Anonymous said...

did they explain why the MS isn't an option (other than the "it's owned by the region", which is NO reason at all. As an already over burdened property tax payer, I'm happy to support this proposal- IF it comes out of the existing Amherst school district budget. I'm pretty sure the admin has already fudged the budgets by putting "choice" costs onto the Town budget (did anyone see a concomitant decrease in our school budgets? should be about a million $). I don't see supporting it if my property taxes are going to rise (a lot) again.

Anonymous said...

Get out your NO OVERRIDE signs!

Anonymous said...

Schools are never built using the funds from the annual budget. It is not feasible. They are too costly for that. They are an investment in our children's and grandchildren's education for the next 50 years.

Anonymous said...

Simply put, renovating or replacing Wildwood and leaving Fort River as-is - probably for the next 20+ years - is unacceptable. Fort River has as many - if not more - issues with the building as Wildwood. You'd end up with Crocker Farm and Wildwood as new, healthy, modern elementary schools serving 2/3 of the town - and Fort River as old, unhealthy, run-down dilapidated building for the foreseeable future for the other 1/3 of the town.

Does anyone disagree that such a situation is unacceptable?

The answers you're left with are: 1) build the megaschool or 2) rebuild BOTH schools (one with 60% funding from the MSBA, the other funded entirely by Amherst) at a total of double the cost of the megaschool. The result of 2 is certainly nicer by way of "neighborhood schools" - but is it valuable enough for double the investment? And double the tax increase for the next 30 years?

Renovations are not an option - both schools are too far gone. Both are built on swamps, both have major issues, the investment wouldn't last nearly as long.

This is an investment in the future of the town. There are a couple of options. Rebuilding Wildwood and leaving Fort River as-is is not one of them. Renovating isn't a realistic one. How much are we willing to invest in the future?

Anonymous said...

There's a reason it's called Fort River. A river runs through it. Literally.

Anonymous said...

anon@1:56, what about the MS option? The MS will soon be empty. It is large, probably large enough to accommodate all 2-6 grade Amherst students. Minor renovations probably required. I honestly don't see the town supporting another override, given their perception of the "quality" education being offered at current enormous costs. Larry, if this were to pass, can you estimate where Amherst would be ranked in property tax burden? I'm betting much closer to the top.

Larry Kelley said...

We would go from #13 in the state into the top ten (where higher up the list is more expensive).

Anonymous said...

Are you thinking that instead of building a new school putting all those who would go in the planned Wildwood and Fort River new school into the MS instead?

Anonymous said...

Look at the bright side. Most you won't be alive in 30 years, so you won't have to pay for all of it.

Anonymous said...

No one actually knows when it would be Fort River's turn, but this estimate of 20 years seems to come out of nowhere. Overall, it seems we'd be making this decision based on feelings and guesses, not facts about what is best educationally and financially. Not a good way to make a decision that will affect future generations of students and homeowners.

Anonymous said...

Do all these changes in any way get us closer to better education quality for our children? If yes, then the investment is probably worth it.

Anonymous said...

20 years may not be accurate but I bet it's not far off. Once MSBA helps with Wildwood Amherst will go to the back of the line fire future MSBA funding. It took 7 years of asking before we were finally accepted for the Wildwood project. Once we were accepted the process is so long that the new school won't open til 5 years later. That's 12 years total. And I don't think we were at the back of the line for this one. So let's say maybe we can have a replacement school for Fort River in 15 years. Or best case scenario 12 years. Are we as a town really ok with one third of our ES students going to school in a run down dysfunctional school while the rest of the kids go to bright state of the art schools? Also, if we only build a replacement school for Wildwood chances are there will need to be some redistricting done. Perhaps the kids of the parents who are screaming the loudest might by some cruel fate end up being redistricted to Fort River. This could happen. And these parents would have only themselves to blame because they fought so hard to keep their Wildwood school and the hell with Fort River. So often in life what goes around comes around.

Walter Graff said...

You got the caption for the first photo wrong. It should read "Superintendent Maria Geryk introduces folk singer Vince O'Connor to a packed house at a dilapidated barn in North Amherst."

Anonymous said...

There was a bigger community turnout at the 7 pm forum, probably about 30 parents/community members. Much of Mike Morris' presentation was the same as at last week's SC mtg, so it's possible that not everyone who is interested felt the need to attend.

Anonymous said...

How about this: Leave Wildwood alone and have Fort River get the new school. I bet I am not the only Wildwood parent who would be perfectly fine with waiting my turn.

Anonymous said...

THE EDUCATIONAL RUBICON. That is a great title of a book I would have no idea what it was about.

Larry Kelley said...

Those who fail to learn from history ...

Anonymous said...

Lease middle school building for elementary school. If there is concern on capacity, then use MSBA funding to renovate wildwood. With MS, WW, CF, all elementary aged children should be housed. FR can be used for other purpose. Central office, LSSR, or even lease out.

I don't see a need to spend 20 to 50 million tax payer money for a new mega school. Once building starts, cost overrun is not too far to imagine. Builder will come back asking for more money. The rope is around the necks of all taxpayers, and renters for the next 30-50 years. Just to think about that we haven't been able to pay off the loan and interests of ARHS....

Anonymous said...

I would encourage parents and Amherst residents concerned about this issue to come to the Amherst Elementary School Committee meeting next Tuesday night from 6-8 pm at the Amherst HIgh School Library.

Contact Amherst School Committee members at: schoolcommittee@arps.org or contact them directly at:

Katherine Appy, Chair
60 Red Gate Lane
Amherst, MA 01002

Vira Douangmany Cage
12 Longmeadow Drive, Unit 21
Amherst, MA 01002

Phoebe Hazzard, Secretary
208 Snell Street
Amherst, MA 01002

Rick Hood, Vice-Chair
28 Farmington Road
Amherst, MA 01002

Kathleen Traphagen
496 S. East Street
Amherst, MA 01002

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

To Anon at October 27, 2015 at 2:24 PM, from anon@1:56:

If the Middle School (with renovations) is an option, then add it to the options list.

Again, the only NON-options are:

1) Rebuilding one elementary school and not the other
2) Renovating either elementary school

Everything else should certainly be on the table. All costs (and possible savings) need to be detailed. The impact on Amherst residents taxes need to be outlined for each option. Residents can decide where the best VALUE is for the future of Amherst.

Our great town deserves a great elementary school experience for all.

Anonymous said...

anon@11:46. What do you mean add it to the list? It's not like anyone in the community can "add" something to the list. Only the administration can "add" something to the list. As far I can gather, the administration is considering a single option-- a mega 2-6 school. It is still a mystery whether they considered the MS option, or dismissed it with the lame excuse that the Region owns it, which doesn't seem sufficient. Maybe they want to pitch the mega-school, see if it passes with an override (problem solved for them, but not the tax payer). If it fails, we will see if the "educational" benefits of the reconfiguration are sufficient to reconsider the (soon to be vacant) ARMS.

Anonymous said...

It'd like to know, if ms kids are moved to the hs, how will they make lunches work? They already have to have 3 lunch periods at the hs, and the lines are so long my kid won't buy lunch. 3 lunch periods also means that the first lunch is at 10:40 in the morning. It seems like there is no more capacity there.