Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Nuclear Option

Shutesbury representatives dealing with a tough crowd

Well over half the 2.5 hour  "Four Towns Meeting" this morning consisted of sometimes vitriolic discussion of Shutesbury's self serving presentation requesting a change in the Regional Assessment formula from the current rolling five year average (equal cost per student) back to the state Statutory Method which uses a blend of voodoo based on property values, average income and aggregate wealth.

Simply put, the main difference is between perceived "ability to pay" versus the undeniable equity of everybody pays the exact same cost per students.  Thus the more students you have in the system the higher your costs.

And Shutesbury representatives were quick to admit that their costs are going up because of increased enrollments.

Outgoing Finance Director Sandy Pooler pointed out there are "Imperfections in statutory method measurement of wealth"

Response from the other three towns was downright testy ranging from a Pelham official branding it "really outrageous" to Leverett representative Kip Fonsh linking it to Shutesbury's lack of support for the expanded Regionalization from current grades 7-12 all the down to PreK:

"Context is everything.  The Regional Agreement has worked remarkably well over five decades. I'm profoundly distressed and disturbed over this presentation.  You failed to put forth the expanded Regional proposal that was four years in the making.  This past year all I’ve heard is lack of action on the part of Shutesbury to educate its citizens about how Regionalization would address their needs.  I have not heard a single positive thing!  Now I hear Michael DeChiara saying he would not support it.  If you don’t advertise, people will not come out.  This presentation represents a shift in the culture of the Region.  You have not lifted a finger for Regionalization.  That’s alarming." 

The four town school Region is bound by a 50+ year old Regional Agreement that requires a unanimous vote of all four Town Meetings to amend.  But only three of four are needed to pass the annual budget.

 Town reps were a mix of school committee, finance committee and select board

The Region has used the current equitable five year rolling average assessment method since 2008 and any method that differs from the state Statutory Method must also be approved by all four towns.

Every year since 2008 all four towns have passed a Town Meeting article calling for use of the alternative method to fund the Regional School Budget, and then the next article to pass would be their share of that budget.

So in other words little Shutesbury, with only 4% of the Region's population, can vote down the use of the more equitable method favored by the other 96% and that would then automatically switch financing back to the original statutory method.

Either way the proposed budget contribution of $19,539,329 from the four towns stays the same.

Of course at that point two other towns could then vote down the budget (which requires three-out-of-four to pass) because they dislike the extra increase in costs shifted to them.

Like Amherst for instance.  Under the current assessment method Amherst would pay $15,196,144  of the total budget of $19,539,329 a 2.5% increase over last year; but under the Statutory Method  Amherst would pay $15,465,851 an additional increase of $269,707 or a 4.3% increase over last year.

The Amherst Finance Committee has set guidelines for all town departments to keep budget increases to a maximum of 2.5%.

Shutesbury representatives did seem shell shocked by the universally hostile reaction to their budget eating Modest Proposal, and chances are they're only bluffing,  however:

Amherst Finance Committee Chair Kay Moran said the towns may want to think about creating two town budgets this year, one with each method. 


Anonymous said...

The $19 Million dollars that you refer to in this post only represents the portion of the budget that is raised by the 4 towns in the regional system. Total spending proposed by the Administration exceeds $31 Million dollars. Which represents an increase of over $1 million dollars from the FY 16 budget

Anonymous said...

anon@7:49: any knowledge of the decreased numbers of students in the region? I suspect some of the numbers aren't correct in the last Fin Com report to TM, an example had an INCREASE of something like 20 students from 8th to 9th grade this past year. I know for a fact a huge number (probably a new record) left the district in that cohort- a number of 25-30 wouldn't surprise me. We (the community) has to ask what drives an increase of $1 million while our numbers are decreasing (a lot)? School committee do your job HERE!!! This is one of your only opportunities to ask the tough questions and where you can demand real answers backed by data (as if?!).

Anonymous said...

Does it matter to anyone that Amherst would usually spend less under the standard state formula? As Sandy Pooler has said, Amherst has paid millions more over the past 10 years under the alternative assessment method.

Dr. Ed said...

The 1960's are over -- times have changed.

With 96% of the expense/students, Amherst should simply abandon all agreements and run its own schools as a town. Get Sen. Stan to pass special legislation to end the regional agreements if necessary -- all are really based on an agreement with a "town" (Pelham) that really no longer exists as most of it is under the Quabbin.

A good chunk of Shutesbury is as well -- that's part of this...

Then the other towns contract with Amherst (or whomever) to provide a school for every child the town doesn't want to school themselves. It then becomes a "free market" situation -- they can keep their elementary schools if they are willing to pay for them, share admin if wish (paying Amherst whatever Amherst considers "fair") or hire their own folks.

There are a lot of professors, lawyers, & CPAs living in these small towns -- they ought to be able to assemble an admin staff willing to serve for small stipends (or outright volunteer) because this "public service" looks good on one's CV or corporate resume. There are UM School of Ed folks who either have or could easily get a Supt's Certificate and UM probably would give them "release time" for this. (At least this would be relevant to their jobs...)

For that matter, there are a lot of qualified grad students (Doctoral Candidates)who likely would love to do the admin stuff (mostly paperwork for Boston & DC) for free just to have the experience and paragraph on their CV. They are every bit as qualified as Maria (still doesn't have her Ed.D.) Geryk is -- remember that "qualified" only means having the letters after your name and the piece of paper from Boston. Competent is something else -- but these are small towns which can make their own decisions on that.

Throw in the incendiary issue of race -- almost all of the poor Black/Hispanic children live in Amherst and you have everything from violations of the Voting Right Act to potential riots. Why should mostly-White towns be able to control the education of minority children? Why do they have the ability to veto the children's own parents & neighbors?

That's why Amherst should run its own schools -- and offer to (perhaps be required to) respond to any RFP from the other 3 towns, with said towns free to both decide what (if any) services they wish to purchase from Amherst, and then if they wish to accept the price & manner of how Amherst proposes to provide them. Or hire someone else -- they could bus their kids to Hadley if they wanted to...

Dr. Ed said...

Does it matter to anyone that Amherst would usually spend less under the standard state formula? As Sandy Pooler has said, Amherst has paid millions more over the past 10 years under the alternative assessment method.

I suspect that the US Department of Justice would be quite concerned were they aware of this -- Black/Hispanic taxpayers paying more, White taxpayers paying less than they would under standard state formula?!?!?!? -- when you have the racial demographics as they are between the towns, thus is essentially what you have...

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:07 am -
Even if a number of students did leave between 8th & 9th grade, how do we know that district didn't then replace them with school choice students or others coming back into the district (for example, there are some elementary/middle school private schools in the area, & K-12 private schools with small high school enrollment.... where some students may decide to shift to the local public schools after 8th gr).

One concern for me with school choice is that taking school choice students masks the declining population of Amherst kids attending Amherst public schools..... & yes as you said, some Amherst students are definitely leaving....

The district has yet to provide the detailed updated enrollment figures for this year, but they have admitted at School Committee meetings that enrollment declines have been greater than expected & that more students than originally projected have opted for charter, voc, & school choice schools. I am not at all surprised by these trends given what has been going on lately in the Amherst schools.

Anonymous said...

With Shutesbury's public declarations against it, I am assuming that regionalization of the 4 town elementary schools is dead at this point, yes? The towns can't amend the regional agreement without Shutesbury's support, right?

Can the towns try again without Shutesbury? Will they? To me it makes some sense to combine the Amherst & Pelham elementary schools, since Pelham & Pelham schools are so small & the Amherst & Pelham districts already share the same superintendent. Plus, unlike Leverett & Shutesbury, the Pelham school is close geographically to Amherst.

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, for expanded Regionalization to pass all four towns must approve amending the Regional Agreement.

A lot of pressure will be put on Shuresbury over the next few months, but I still think they will vote no.

Anonymous said...

anon@6:20: I suspect even more will leave this year, as the problems prompting so many to leave last year following 8th grade show little improvement. Some thinking it might improve in ARHS are finding disappointment. The new "no discipline" policy is proving problematic, "you reap what you sow". When teachers, staff, and administrators do nothing, it sends all the wrong messages: to the victims- "you are worthless (ie not worth our time and effort to intervene)", to the perpetrator- "that's ok bru", to the bystanders- this is the "new order, get used to it and hop on board". I guess this is PBIS.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, I wish the staff, faculty, and administration would spend more of their time and our money by laser focusing on anon 7:19's pet issue: the discipline, behavior modification, and punishment of 14-17 year old's in an educational setting.

Anonymous said...

Why is it outrageous for Pelham and Leverrett to pay for their students? Why do they expect the other towns to pick up their costs? Why should other towns pick up their costs? Because that's the way it's always been?