Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Real Money

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. 


Anonymous said...

Should have requested a $70,000 salary (plus benefits) "Sign Warden" instead of a consultant. Then it would have passed unanimously.

Anonymous said...

Time for UMass to pay for the children attending Amherst's schools that live in campus housing.

Nina Koch said...

Larry, you need a little more info in order to draw a conclusion here:

"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."

We have always had students choosing to go to the vocational schools, private schools, etc.. So you would need to know if there has been a change in the rate of people making that choice. What was enrollment in the vocational schools ten years ago?

It is certainly possible that the rate has gone up and there would be lots of reasons for that. But still we need to know that before you make your statement that the majority of loss is due to people opting out.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what the demographics of the Town might show regarding the dwindling number of students. Is there really that many kids leaving Town to go to charter and private schools? Is it more due to the fact that our Town population is aging and young families are simply priced out of Amherst?

Larry Kelley said...

Yes, of course that is a contributing factor.

But that does not change the fact (according to our Finance Committee Report to Town Meeting) that there are 299 students who DO currently live in the Amherst Regional Public Schools District and chose NOT to attend.

Not to mention another 218 who live only in Amherst and chose not to attend our Elementary Schools. (2 Special Ed, 18 Choice out, 89 to Charters).

Nina Koch said...

But suppose that ten years ago there were 350 students opting out. That would make 299 an improvement. That's why you need more data to reach your conclusion.

Larry Kelley said...

Come on Nina, where have you been?

Ten years ago Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School did not even exist. Now they are eating our lunch.

Larry Kelley said...

And you're starting to sound like Amherst School Committee Chair Katherine Appy who extolled the Regional Budget as "The lowest INCREASE in six years" (emphasis added).

Dr. Ed said...

Time for UMass to pay for the children attending Amherst's schools that live in campus housing.

Time for Amherst to think about how/where they will house 240 homeless families, many with small children.

Were UMass required to pay, they'd simply find some excuse to evict all the children. Don't think for a moment that they wouldn't do that!

I personally saw them evict all the parents out of Lincoln Apts so as to avoid the cost of removing lead paint, which was a lot less than what you are talking about here Larry, and also was a one-time expense.

And look at it this way: How many tax-paying apartments that could be producing students for the schools aren't because they are rented by UM undergrads? You really are coming out ahead because the taxes paid by the more numerous undergrad-occupied units vastly exceeds the cost of educating the children living in the untaxed NVA units.

You could have a lot more children and no additional tax revenue.

Larry Kelley said...

Umass already has paid, sort of.

There's $120K in the New & Improved Strategic Agreement to help (somewhat) compensate for those children and UMass agreed to participate in a study of the matter.

Anonymous said...

To me the most important part of this post isn't the school budget piece. It's the part about Town Meeting discussing a $20k expenditure and then voting it down. Who do they think is going to write the bylaw now? Volunteers?
This is proof positive that we need a change. Town Meeting has to go. It has out lived it's usefulness in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Enrollment number speaks volumn.

Anonymous said...

Why can't our town paid zoning and planning board write new sign rules? Seems kind of simple, but I may have a lack of understanding.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, 299 + 218 = 517
Those are numbers you posted above -- I assume they are accurate.

Nina is right, I'd want to see what the numbers were over the past 20 years, but I'd also want to see two other things.

1: What are the numbers for "peer" districts?

Defining what a "peer" *is* can be difficult, but (essentially) (a) similar per-pupil funding, (b) what Team Maria generally considers to be their peers, and (c) somewhat socioeconomically similar. The same number (or even percent) in a district spending a lot less per pupil than Amherst isn't really the same because we can presume it would be lower were they spending as much as Amherst.

2: What is the number for "choice-in"? That really needs to be considered because it could mask the extent of tour problem.

Anonymous said...

In Amherst regional school, 1382 students stayed, 299 students opt out. That is a thundering 18% students opting out. District is losing students. What are the percentage of elementary students opting out? It is going to be a very hard sale of the new mega school building. So many of the Amherst students are better off getting education elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

"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."

So start making a better educational program. You lose because charter schools offer better education. You can compete easily, you just have to stop focusing on crap, the five special needs students over the entire student body, etc, etc - focus on education.

Anonymous said...

Some opt out due to families feeling frustrated over bullying and lack of being heard in general when they bring up concerns. I know opting out to another public school doesn't hurt us that much. Private & home school actually helps us ? But when they opt out for Voc or charter we get hit. Is that correct? I know we sent our son to Voc school because at the time we had a major issue regarding food at the ARHS that got compounded by a teacher issue and then a, lack of addresses that issue on the phat of admin. At the same time my son at ARMS having trouble with 4 out of 5 of his teachers not following his IEP and getting no support on that from admin. Smith Voc was a great alternative for him.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that parents of these kids who leave are simply weary of the leftist indoctrination? Yes, it could be.

Anonymous said...

Teachers and admins here don't teach. They indoctrinate. And if you don't toe the line, well...you either put on your pod-people face, or you pull your kids out.

Nina Koch said...

Larry, I was just trying to make a mathematical point. Your statement that the opt-out students make up a majority of the decrease in enrollment cannot be inferred from the data you presented and is probably not correct. You are missing a number.

Let me try again, where I will fill in the missing number just as an example:

In 2006, there were 1877 students in the region. Suppose at that time there were 199 students opting out. This gives you a total of 2076 (1877 + 199) students in the secondary school age group.

In 2016, there are 1382 students in the region, with 299 opting out. That gives a total of 1681 students in the secondary age group. This means there is an overall decrease of 395 students in that age group. (2076-1681=395).

In this example, the drop of 495 in regional enrollment consists of 100 new opt-out students along with 395 just due to demographics. So, most of the decrease can be attributed to the decline in that age group's population. 100 is not the majority. 395 is the majority.

In order for your statement to be true, the 2006 opt-out number would need to be 51 or lower. I don't believe it's that low. Thus your statement is probably false.

I don't dispute that there is an issue with people opting out. The school district should be looking at why that is happening. But I also think the facts should be presented correctly.

Larry Kelley said...

Sometimes you gotta go with your gut (Luke Skywalker in the original),

Anonymous said...

Nina Koch reminds me of Ronald Reagan saying that since trees pollute (they do), we shouldn't worry about industrial pollution.

Where does her 199 figure come from?

More importantly, our baseline should be 1996, not 2006 -- the 12th grader today was a 4th grader in 2006, you don't want to compare the same kids to themselves.

And when the Supts oen kids have opted out, well....

Anonymous said...

In some areas you shouldn't try to compete. ARHS doesn't need a Chinese language program - the immersion program does it better.ARHS doesn't need a performance art program. Switch to a cheaper music appreciation program, etc

Anonymous said...

Nina, the numbers you want are in the finance commttee report prepared for town meeting. There are charts and a narrative. The total lost to Charter, Choice and Vocational is expected to be $4million plus, up from $3.4 million last year. Charter and Vocational students are rising, while Choice is about the same.

Rick Hood said...

See data starting page 154 of the elementary budget: http://bit.ly/24NCV7G

I agree with Nina: “I don't dispute that there is an issue with people opting out. The school district should be looking at why that is happening. But I also think the facts should be presented correctly.”

Also, refer to the table on 154. If you go across the top row, Kindergarten drops from 192 to 146, which is mainly an indication of population drop. But if you go along a diagonal, it stays closer to the same number. For example, Kindergarten in 2010 is 173 and 6th grade in 2016 (same cohort) is also 173.

We do have survey data on people who left: http://bit.ly/1rUWRDy It surely does not include everyone but it does have 162 respondents for 2010-2013 which is perhaps a decent sample size.

Every year at TM we hear people say they know of people who did not get a survey. We should send them certified mail to prove they got sent, and include a postage paid envelope for return.

Anonymous said...

According to the exit survey link provided by Mr. Hood, in the last school year only 33 exit surveys were completed for K-12 students who left, including for families that moved out of district. The data include 2 students now going to charter schools, 1 choicing out of the district, and 4 homeschooling.

Considering that in the past year, the number of new students K-12 going to charter schools from ARPS is up by more than 40, the exit survey is clearly not capturing most of those leaving. I don't know how the district distributes the survey, except on the ARPS web site, but I personally know of no families who have ever received from the district when they left.

Plus, more than just knowing where students are now going to school, it would be good to know more about why they are leaving ARPS. It nice to hear that the superintendent is supportive of creating a committee/working group to study this issue.

Nina Koch said...

to 6:11 am,

I was just creating a hypothetical example to try to explain Larry's mathematical error. He considers himself a reporter and if he is going to use numbers, I would hope he uses them correctly.

As I said, I don't dispute that there is an issue with opting out. Some of it makes sense, of course. We can't be all things to all people. If a student wants to be a plumber and get a good job straight out of high school, then attending a vocational school is a sound choice. If some parents want faith-based education for their children, the public school can't provide that. People also really differ on pedagogical philosophy. Some people believe schools should look like they did in the 1950s. Other people want their children to learn in accord with the principles of the Coalition for Essential Schools. You can't expect a school to do both. So I expect to see people making other choices and I am happy for them that the choices are available. My issue with charter schools is in how the funding works, not that they exist.

On the other hand, if people are leaving ARPS because of bullying or because they feel excluded or mistreated in some way by the school system, that is a problem and should be addressed immediately. I do think that the exit surveys are important and should be followed up with conversations where appropriate.

Dr. Ed said...

Why not ask SARIS at UMass conduct the survey? (Or whatever those folks are called -- it's part of Student Affairs.)

They are independent, and at least used to have a good (national) reputation.

AND you don't have to wonder how many unfavorable survey responses fell into the shredder...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of REAL money, the handouts provided by ARPS & the May 4th memo from ARPS Finance Director, Sean Mangano, to Town Meeting show that the regional district has been spending quite a bit of money for legal settlements in the past few years, including the $70,000 for a former year last year. The largest legal settlement expenses have been for Special Education. The SPED expenses for the regional schools (MS & HS) have totaled more than $982,000 FY2012-FY2016 YTD.

That's close to a $1 million over 5 years, or $200,000 per year. yikes! Is this amount similar to that from previous years or is it an anomaly? Should we be expecting these costs in future years? & I am curious too how many students it covers - at least a rough figure.

If the costs could be decreased, it could help reduce other budget cuts.

Dr. Ed said...

Like I said elsewhere, what is Maria Geryk hiding?

If you didn't take a scorched earth approach to everyone who disagrees with you, you might not have so many of them suing you.