Amherst School Committee in front of Town Meeting
Once again Amherst Town Meeting spent relatively little time on the BIG ticket item -- the town's share of a $31 million Regional School Budget -- and too much time on a $20,000 item to hire a consultant to rewrite our zoning bylaw governing signage, something the business community would welcome.
The #1 problem faced by the Region (grades 7-12) is pretty much the same as the Elementary Schools: those darn competing Charter Schools attracting away our students at a penalty cost of around $18,000 per student.
For the upcoming year that's 103 students to Charters and 57 to Vocational Schools, or an eventual cost of almost $3 million.
Total enrollment in the Region is projected to be 1,382 students, which is down 495 from ten years ago. And the majority of that loss in not simply due to declining school age population since a total of 299 of our students have chosen to opt out of our public schools: Choice, Charter, Private, Vocation, Home Schooled.
In response to a suggestion from Town Meeting member Julie Rueschemeyer School Superintendent Maria Geryk said she would be happy to create a committee to discuss the impact of Charter Schools and how to better compete with them.
She candidly admitted, "It's a struggle. We are losing a substantial number of students. And if the state lifts the cap on Charters, it will get worse."
After a total of only 45 minutes Town Meeting overwhelmingly passed the $31 million Regional Budget.
Amherst Town Meeting is not overly fond of consultants and has never been known for being pro business. So it was hardly surprising the $20,000 line item for a consultant to rewrite the sign bylaw stimulated a half hour discussion leading to its defeat -- probably the only cut we will see in a $86.6 million budget.
Ironically enough the #1 rule of business is the answer to the great challenge our public schools face from Charter and Vocational competition: Customer satisfaction.