Friday, February 12, 2016

Taking On Water

Maria Geryk, Sean Mangano, Mike Morris at last night's Finance Committee meeting

Amherst school officials gave the Finance Committee a sneak peak at their fiscal 2017 Elementary and Regional School budgets, both of which are described as "level services," and both of which require sizable cuts simply to attain that treading water status quo:

$428,897 from the elementary schools and  $280,823 from the Region.

 Charter Schools cost as much as employee Step/COLA and projected raises next year on Elementary budget Control Accounts

And in both cases the number one cause of budget strain comes from the competitive drain of students by Charter Schools, mainly Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, which is now a full service grades 1-12 enterprise.

 PVCIC recently added $10 million building addition

For the Region (grades 7-12) this year that includes 90 students and at the elementary level another 86 -- all of them at the high average cost per student, where Amherst is in the top 10% statewide.

 Charter School impact on Amherst elementary schools

If a student leaves Amherst via Choice it only costs us $5,000 but if they go to a Charter School or Vocational School it costs us $18,000.

And to make matters worse the state is considering lifting the cap on Charter Schools while reducing dramatically the reimbursement formula to public schools who lose students to Charters.

All in all a lose/lose proposition for an already ailing public school system once the proud flagship of education in the Happy Valley.

PVCIC recently added a $10 million addition to their nearby facility while Amherst is gambling on a two-for-one mega school that could very well be turned down by the voters because of expense, adding significant costs to Amherst's already sky high property tax burden.

School  Library supporters crashed the FinCom meeting

About a half-dozen disgruntled citizens showed up to the Finance Committee meeting last night to complain about the 3 library paraprofessionals facing the budget ax, but Chair Kay Moran told them the Finance Committee has no line item authority and simply votes the bottom line provided by School Administration.

$40,000 was recently shifted from the elementary schools operating budget to capital (paid by the town) so that alone will cover half the cost of the three library paras if approved by Town Meeting.

And the town did recently renew the lousy 3.5 year "Strategic Partnership" with UMass that provided $60,000 this current year and $120,000 next year in reimbursement money for the 56 students in our expensive public schools coming from tax exempt family housing at UMass.

School Committee candidate Vince O'Connor will be filing a "citizens petition" for Town Meeting calling for greater Payment In Lieu Of Taxes from all three institutes of higher education who dominate day-to-day existence in our little "college town."

 Comparison of local public schools losses to Charter Schools (Amherst second from lowest)


Dr. Ed said...

Maybe if Team Maria provided a product that parents liked, you wouldn't have a couple hundred kids in charter school. What percent of the total number of children in the district now go elsewhere?

Anonymous said...

I'm very confused- didn't the Admin move the cost of Charter/voc onto the Town Budget? Was that just for the Region? Just for Elementary? How can charter/voc costs (moved to the Town budget a couple of years ago) impact the current school budget? Sorry to be dense and not remember which district moved the costs onto the town budget...

Larry Kelley said...

I believe it was just for town elementary schools. Which is why the increase allowed by Finance Committee (2.5%) instantly turned into only a 1% increase, because the other 1.5% was eaten up by Charter reimbursements.

Larry Kelley said...

Percent of ARPS students attending Charters is just over 8% total. (Hadley and Belchertown are both around 15%)

Anonymous said...

so if the school budgeting process still needs to account for charter reimbursements like you indicate, what was the point of moving it onto the Town budget?

Larry Kelley said...

Because the state demanded it.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in this question as well. Here's what I found (from 2015): And I have to say, I am somewhat surprised...

● In Amherst between 2000 and 2010 private school enrollments increased by about 4.5%. Since 2010, private school enrollments by Amherst students have remained fairly steady.

● Last year 9.3% of Amherst students attended private schools. This year’s unofficial data reflects a decrease to 8.5% of Amherst students attending private schools.

● In 2000 92% of Amherst children attended Amherst public or regional schools. This has dropped by 10% since 2000. The most significant factor in this decline is the advent of Charter Schools.

● 82.5% of Amherst school aged children attend the Amherst or Amherst-Pelham Regional schools. In Hadley, 74% of students attend their local schools. In Northampton, 75% of students attend local schools. In Belchertown, 88% of students attend local schools.

Attending Children Report for the following towns is as follows:
Amherst 8.5% of students attend private schools
Weston 26%
Wellesley 24%
Newton 21%
Brookline 14.5%
Framingham 6.7%
Lexington 10.6%
Needham 21%
Longmeadow 9.1%
W Springfield 7.8%
Granby 13.3%
S Hadley 6.7%

Anonymous said...

the state didn't demand it, it allows it. I do remember that from TM discussions....If I am remembering wrong, point out the state statute

Larry Kelley said...

I don't remember any discussion on the floor of Town Meeting. Just that skit Sandy Pooler put together with Kay Moran and Katherine Appy.

Anonymous said...

The increasing number of Amherst students enrolling in PVCICS aren't all doing so because they & their parents want them to learn Chinese (though PVCICS is one of the best schools in the nation in that regard). They are doing it because they aren't happy with the Amherst schools & feel their children's educational needs can better be addressed elsewhere. PVCICS challenges students & supports academic achievement more than the Amherst elementary schools do. The Amherst schools focus so much on social learning and social skills, and less on achievement except for to support students who need remedial help on basic academic skills.

Anonymous said...

Each year recently ARPS has under-estimated the number of Amherst students who will be attending charter school students the following year and then been caught by surprise when the charter school enrollments are higher than expected.

I don't see this trend abating anytime unless there are some major changes (maybe leadership changes) in the Amherst schools. District leaders make statements that suggest that this trend is inevitable. It doesn't have to be.

In FY2015 (Dec): 77 Amherst students K-6 attended charter schools. In the FY2016 budget, it was projected that 72 would attend charter schools this year. However, as shown in the FY2017 budget, the actual number doing so is 86 students, 14 students (19%)over the projection. For FY2017, the district has projected that 89 Amherst students will go to charter schools. Once again, I think that number will be low.

At a recent School Committee meeting, the Assistant Superintendent mentioned that the district is seeing that some students who were attending a charter school are now coming back to the Amherst public schools. it would be interesting to see the figures on this, since Amherst public school enrollments are continuing to decline.

Anonymous said...

What does students attending charter schools have to do with the current leadership in Amherst? Would you send your kid to a school outside her community just because you didn't like the superintendent? Seems a lot more sensible to me that families send kids to charter school because the school offers an education that better suits that child. I am no charter school advocate, but I also don't appreciate bashing the leadership without sound reasoning. Any fool can bash people and ideas without thinking. Happens everyday. So please explain your reasoning. And try thinking about this from the parents' point of view. If a kid wants all arts all the time in HS then go to PVPA, but don't expect to get anywhere near the academic rigor and preparation along those lines as a student has the potential to get at the Amherst Regional High School.

Anonymous said...

School enrollment is in decline nationwide. Larry, are you ever going to look at the big picture view, you know, national educational trends, that sort of investigative reporting thing? You should. You like to dig into stories and that information is relevant to giving a more objective view of the reporting on Amherst schools. How does the narrative on the Amherst schools change if enrollment is in decline nationally?

Larry Kelley said...

Amherst Schools are in the top 10% state wide for average cost per pupil. Which is too high. The other 90% seem to be doing a better job dealing with declining enrollments.

Anonymous said...

The PV Chinese Charter School currently has students K-11th grade, I believe. They will have 12th graders next year.

Anonymous said...

Anon Feb 13th, 2:49 pm:
Yes, in some cases, families/students choose charter schools because they are especially interested in what special options those schools offer, for example, arts for PVPA, or Chinese for PVCICS. But in other cases, they choose a charter school just because they are looking for an affordable alternative to the local public schools, not because of a charter school's special offerings.

Some families/students who choose PVCICS do so not because they are particularly interested in Chinese, but maybe because they like the idea of immersive language study in any world language, especially with the reduced language study now available in ARMS (I've heard some PVCICS parents say as much), or because they think the academics there are more rigorous & challenging than the local public schools (I've heard this as well... ), or because [insert other reason here].

I think the increased charter school enrollments CAN, and in some cases DO, reflect families'/students' dissatisfaction with the local public schools, and by extension, sometimes with curricular and other decisions made by district and school administrators.

Anonymous said...

No kid in high school is going to go to a charter school because her parents want her to. You obviously don't have teenagers.

High school kids go to charter schools because the school has what they want. It is the rare bird who does otherwise.

Let's get the data rather than rely on a politician's, "I've heard that . . ."

Our high per pupil cost is all about special education. The SPED department at ARHS now towers over every other dept in size.It is unbelievable what has happened to sped. Check that fact too and you'll see where the money is going.

CO-taught classes, with two professionally licensed teachers have far fewer kids in those classes than regular one teacher classes at ARHS.. Fact. Go ahead and check it. That is what is wrong with our schools currently. Someone in central office must be getting a doctorate in co-teaching because this very inefficient model is growing. Why?

Anonymous said...

Anon@9:21 is correct about costs. I disagree, however, I do think some kids are being moved to charter because their parents' think they will get a better education. The new Math IMP only decision and its consequences will drive out more (it is a fiasco now and future dramatic drops in SAT scores will prove it).

Anonymous said...

Helps that they lock kids in closets. Or whatever the story was. Still go ahead and send ur kids there.

Nina Koch said...

To 9:21 AM--

It's important to recognize that expectations have changed significantly over the past 20 or 30 years. Previously, many schools (including ARHS) had a "general math" track that did not include a formal algebra course. Students in that track were not expected to go to a four year college and they did not take the courses they would need to take in order to apply to college.

Today, we strive to offer all students the opportunity for higher education. And we have seen that many more students are capable of learning algebra and geometry, provided they learn it in an appropriate environment. Often that means a lower student-teacher ratio. The students can still approach the concepts with the same rigor, but they may need more time to process the ideas, or more support with reading or expressing their thoughts.

Also, today's students need to pass MCAS in order to get a high school diploma. This requires mastery of skills far beyond the old general math courses.

So, I guess it all depends on what your values are. If you want to go back to the time when some students were excluded from college prep math courses, then you can save money on co-teaching. What if that were your child who was excluded? What if someone decided that your child wouldn't get a high school diploma and wouldn't go to college?

Anonymous said...

nina does/how does co-teaching affect how special education students are taught in an integrated classroom

Anonymous said...

every ARHS student passes 10th grade MCAS and always has, with the exception of the profoundly disabled (and no change in curricular delivery will change that). It is an extremely low bar and meant to be so...

Anonymous said...

After adding 5 new administrative positions clocking in at over $100k each in the past 5 years, with fewer and fewer students, and no results, isn't it time to cut 2 or 3 of those positions instead of teachers and classes? We need leadership, not excuses.

Mommy, are zombies real? said...

"We need leadership, not excuses."

Oh yeah?


-Squeaky Squeaks

p.s. Hand-wringing = fail.

Anonymous said...

"cut 2 or 3 of those positions instead of teachers and classes"


Anonymous said...

2:49, "an affordable alternative to the local public schools" for whom? Certainly not Amherst taxpayers.

It would be interesting to know which Anons and/or bloggers actually are sending their kids to Amherst schools, going charter, or private schools self paying.

Mine went to Amherst public schools K-12 and are doing fine despite horrible middle school experiences (Gus Sayer was superintendent then, need I say more). I understand things have changed in the last 5 years or so.

Anonymous said...

Not to ARPS