Amherst School Committee last night
Unsurprisingly the Amherst School Committee after two hours of public hearing -- more than half of it criticism from the general public -- voted 4-1 in favor of the administration's preferred "Grade Reconfiguration 2-6" model that will create a 750 student two-wing school and turn Crocker Farm Elementary School into a pre K-1st Grade early childhood education superstore.
Interestingly this 'separate but equal' concept of twin schools under one roof is the result of concerns over equity for students of color, low-income and single-parent families (and combinations thereof) that make up a sizable percentage of the Amherst public school population.
Crowd of 40 attended, many of them critical of mega-school
The only School Committee member who had not telegraphed her vote last week was Kathleen Traphaghan. In her presentation she extensively cited her 14-year-old son as a main source for information for this epic decision, which is sort of like a smoking enthusiast justifying their bad habit by citing their grandfather who smoked two-packs a day since teen years and lived to be 93.
Traphagen also criticized the local hometown newspaper for pre-coverage of this "agonizing" decision as being "flippant," making it seem that cost was not a factor. "We live in this town like everybody else", she said with a sigh.
Costs will come in between $61.2 and $66.3 million depending on Wildwood School Building Committee pick
Black sheep member of the 5-member School Committee Vira Douangmany Cage played her usual watchdog role, questioning the process as a violation of Open Meeting Law, since the agenda posted on the town website did not clearly show a vote would be taken.
Agenda posted on town website does not clearly indicate a vote would be taken
ASC Chair Katherine Appy responded that the agenda was clear on the school website and this was pretty much the way they always did things.
Last year, after a number of posting snafus that cancelled meetings at the last minute, the Regional School Committee voted to allow posting of meetings and agendas on the ARPS Regional website rather than relying on hard copy postings in all four towns. The state does allow this, but only for regional entities, which the Amherst School Committee is not.
Former Amherst School Committee member Andy Churchill spoke in favor of reconfiguration
Crocker Farm Principal Derek Shea spoke in favor of making his school preK-1st Grade
The Wildwood School Building Committee will discuss the School Committee decision tomorrow night as they have the final authority with the Massachusetts School Building Authority for a single project that will receive between 50 and 55% reimbursement from the state.
According to Assistant Superintendent Mike Morris (also chair of the Wildwood School Building Committee):
"There will be discussion of the options at the SBC meeting tomorrow and a vote at the 2/2 SBC meeting on the Preferred Schematic Report (a submission to the MSBA that includes this choice). As mentioned at last Wednesday's meeting and community forum, another design option (W11) that is very similar to W5 but made for the 750 student building will be presented, so there are four potential building designs to consider (W11, W10, W7, FR5)."
Forever activist Vince O'Connor predicts disaster for the Reconfiguration scenario
O'Connor's preferred choise is twice as expensive
Vince O'Connor, who championed the most expensive concept of using the MSBA to deal with Wildwood only and have the town go it alone renewing Fort River, exposed a conspiracy theory that town officials wish to close down Fort River so it could be used as the new Department of Public Works building, another mega-building-project on the immediate horizon.
O'Connor also predicted the MSBA will not even approve the Reconfiguration model since it does not have overwhelming public support. And even if it does make it to the floor of Town Meeting for a debt exclusion Override vote, it will fail like the elementary school Override did back in 1992.
With Amherst property tax rates already in the top ten statewide, the $200+ added to the average tax bill by a debt exclusion Override for another 30 years to finance this mega-school is going to be a very tough sell. School officials are putting all their eggs in this one expensive basket.
Indeed the die is now cast, the Rubicon has been crossed. Let's hope School Superintendent Maria Geryk fares a tad better than Julius Caesar.
Mike Morris and Maria Geryk listening to critical public comments
Kathleen Traphagen not happy with most recent Gazette story as well