Thursday, December 17, 2015

The 10% Solution

Representatives from Amherst, Pelham, Leverett & Shutesbury met today 

Officials from all four towns came together this afternoon at the Regional Middle School trying to work out some sort of compromise so all four towns could start building their budgets.

In order to dissuade Shutesbury from implementing the "The Nuclear Option", whereby their Town Meeting votes down the Regional Assessment Method from the current rolling five year average cost per pupil basis, which would then automatically reverts the Region to the "Statutory Method" based (somewhat) on ability to pay, Finance Director Sean Mangano hatched a compromise.

For this upcoming Fiscal Year stay with the current method for 90% of the budget and the other 10% use the state's Statutory Method but with open space & tax exempt properties removed from the formula.

 1st slide:  School administrators wanted everyone to play nice

Under this scheme Amherst would stay at around a 2.5% increase next year while both Leverett and Pelham would pay a little more in order for Shutesbury to pay a little less ($25,000).

Superintendent Maria Geryk told them, ""We will do our part in making cuts, adapting to a long term structural deficiency.  I'm just hoping we can stay connected and working together."

The meeting did get heated at times with one member pointing out, "There’s always another alternative formula where you will pay less.  One town will always be in that position."

At the Four Towns Meeting two weeks ago Shutesbury presented an alternative method that simply reverted back to the Statutory Method, but phased in over the next four years (25% per year).

And they strongly suggested their Town Meeting could vote down the current method if the plan was not adopted.  That was met with a storm of sharp criticism from the other towns.

The subject of expanding the Region from the current 7-12 all the way down to PreK through 6th grade did come up, as some members believe it will save money.  But if Shutesbury votes no to reopening the Regional Agreement, the process is dead.

One member suggested helping Shutesbury by tweaking the funding formula should be tied to their support for passing Regionalization, even if they as a town do not wish to join the expanded Region.

All four Town Meetings will vote on the expanded Region this spring, and it takes unanimous approval to pass.  Two questions will be presented:  Should the Regional Agreement be reopened/amended for the sake of Regionalization, and 2) do you wish to join the expanded Region?

It's only the first question that requires unanimous approval, the second question does not.

As long as Amherst, who is 78% of the Region, approves along with at least one other town, the expanded Region is formed.  The remaining towns will simply stay on as part of the 7-12 Region.

Complicated?  You bet.


Dr. Ed said...

Personally, I would like to see Amherst crash & burn in all dimensions -- but I do say this as a professional in the Education field -- Amherst really REALLY needs to leave the district, all districts, and be its own district.

There is no way there could possibly be a financial arrangement that these very diverse towns consider equitable -- they are so different that each can see a way that it sees "fair" because it will pay a lot less and everyone else more. Likewise, everything from the size & siting of the schools to how the district is run -- it's a smaller version of Quebec and Canada where no one is really happy with the current arrangements.

Why should the parents of Amherst be sending their children to a 500+ student elementary school while the parents of Pelham -- in the same district and theoretically paying the same amount -- send their children to a nice, friendly small elementary school. Catherine Sanderson was right in closing down Marks' Meadow, Amherst couldn't afford the luxury of the small school environment -- but why should it subsidize Pelham's school -- yet to the taxpayers of Pelham, keeping their school is probably more important to them than a lot of the garbage that Amherst spends money on.

We won't even get into the issue of demographics - particularly economic because that really is where Amherst has a problem. Yes, they are also largely children of color and there is a significant ELL population, but it really is economic status and the related issue of family status (i.e. single mother -- if father remains with the family, the family almost inevitably is over the poverty-level threshold, which raises other issues, but the family isn't at 1/5 of it). That's the problem with the subsidized lunch statistic -- it's like the distinction between someone who's a few pounds lighter than she probably ought to be and someone who's so underweight that it's a medical emergency.

Regional school districts only work when it involves similar sized towns, with similar demographics and a similar tax base. Even within an all-White district (the two am thinking of was at the time) there was a never-ending feud between (in one case) the town that had the (taxable) retail development versus those who didn't, and the town which had one large industrial facility versus those who didn't -- and for some reason I didn't understand, the latter raised the taxes of those in that town, even with the tax paid by the mill or power plant.

Reading -- where the Interim Town Manager was Manager -- is its own district.

For what it is worth, I'd suggest Amherst ask one question: "How does Amherst benefit from this? How does the Amherst child benefit, how does the Amherst taxpayer benefit, how does the community as a whole benefit? (Remember that because of the UM students, Amherst is going to do better on poverty-based funding allocations (both state and fed) than the other three towns will, I believe this includes even your Title I money.)

So if Maria G can't tell you how you benefit -- and I doubt she can -- then why do it? It was a very different world back when the first Amherst/Pelham agreement was made -- UMass was a small agricultural school about the size Amherst College is today, and most of Pelham wasn't yet under the Quabbin -- and agriculture was much more of an industry than it is today.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the point of regionalization to transfer money from Amherst to Leverett and Pelham? And from Shutesbury in many of the financial scenarios. Why would Shutesbury and Amherst voters agree to do this. If the goal is not to financially burden other towns, Pelham and Leverett should pay for their own (expensive) and small elementary schools.