Only a half dozen parents participated in last night's public forum
Last night's public forum in Amherst -- the first of four in our public school Region -- does not bode well for those who champion public involvement in major bureaucratic/governmental decisions.
In this case the expansion of the current grades 7-12 public education empire that combined the little towns of Pelham, Leverett, Shutesbury with the not so little town of Amherst over sixty years ago.
Thirty people came to the Regional High School library for the not overly well advertised event, but the vast majority were town or school officials. Only six spectators who came to the microphone with questions -- four from Amherst -- identified themselves as parents.
Town Moderator Jim Pistrang, Sandy Pooler, Katherine Appy, Alisa Brewer
Town Finance Director Sandy Pooler was forthright about the dollar aspect of the decision saying, "There's no significant financial impact one way or the other. Finances shouldn't drive this decision."
About half the $600K "savings" comes from Amherst medicaid money
And like any good public speaker he closed on the same theme: "This is not a financial decision for the town of Amherst, it's an educational decision."
The usual theme of unifying education was the pitch promoted by school officials, although some in the audience worried about too much conformity.
And the time saved by only having to file one report with the state for the Region rather than the current three (at about 1,000 pages per year per report).
Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer tried to handle the governance issue but like that Facebook relationship status, "It's complicated." Amherst would have 7 elected members on the newly expanded 13 member Regional School Committee, with the other three towns each having two representatives.
But all voters in all four towns would get to vote on all 13 members. One Shutesbury official wondered how it would make a Shutesbury representative feel when he/she were elected with over 90% input from voters outside of Shutesbury.
And town official Marylou Theilman pointed out a town could decide not to join the expanded Region (but as long as they vote yes to reopening the Regional Agreement the expansion can still happen) and therefor their representative would still have a say over elementary schools even though they do not have a financial stake in the matter.
Town Meeting member, parent and Regionalization watch dog Janet McGowan sent an email earlier in the day to the School Committee requesting officials hold another public meeting in November with better advance information distribution.
Simply put, when education is your product the smarter approach is indeed transparency.
Vince O'Connor: "It's depressing to go to meetings like this and see how ineffective public officials are at getting parents of color to attend."