Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Little Things

Assistant Superintendent Mike Morris presented to Town Meeting for Superintendent Maria Geryk who was sick

Amherst Town Meeting spent over an hour discussing the $22 million Elementary School Budget before overwhelmingly approving it, which is better attention than usual.  But a little over half that time was spent on a last minute motion adding $30,000 (.00136%) for three library paraprofessionals. 



Almost makes you wonder if the School Committee and administration does that on purpose as kind of a false flag operation to distract Town Meeting from talking about the real problems with our schools:  declining enrollments due to Charter Schools and one of the highest average costs per student in the region.

Not to mention the Holy Grail issue of expanding the four-town Region all the way down to K-6th grade and the not terribly bright prospects of a $66 million new mega school replacing two aging elementary schools and majorly impacting a third.

Wag the dog anyone?



42 comments:

Anonymous said...

No one answered the question that was raised by a member re how the 1.5K per year we spend per student on insurance for teachers compares to other school districts in the region, I thought that was a good question, one that represents my interests.

I also agree with another member that we should examine closely the effect "white flight" is having on our school enrollment numbers, particularly in light of how diverse our student body is compared to other systems.

I liked that the schools' Finance Director made it clear that Amherst is not unique, and that we sit in the middle of the pack, compared regionally, in terms of declining enrollments. And I liked hearing that the administration has a large stack of applicants to choice into Amherst for 2017, and that many of those in the queue are hoping to come from other private and charter schools in the region that they are currently attending, and that they are hoping to attend Amherst because of what it can offer them comparatively.

Larry Kelley said...

I don't take much comfort that we "sit in the middle" of the Titanic's First Class section.

Anonymous said...

Every time you use the phrase, I'm going to talk back to it (as long as you allow me, of course). It's not a "mega-school", it's 2 incredibly modest-sized, co-located schools, and, so help me, if it turns into something else, I will be screaming. Larry, you are NOT being fair to the leadership here, on the numbers, on their stated intentions. And, Larry, I know this comes as a shock to you, but nowadays, we expect you to be fair.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

The SC did not make the motion to add $30k to their budget. How can you lay that at their feet as some sort of distracting false flag?

Anonymous said...

While the Finance director tried to paint the picture that Amherst is in the same situation as neighboring districts wrt to costs of Charter students, the cost to Amherst is HUGE compared to those districts. Since the average cost of Amherst elementary students is something like $18,000, we eventually have to pay out a large amount of that to the accepting charter after the first year (75%= 13K) and according to Admin last night the state isn't even reimbursing the entire 100% of costs when the student shifts the first year. Since the average cost of all the neighboring districts is much much lower (closer to 12K), the cost to the home district is MUCH less. Of course, the cost to educate those students that charter out is no where near $18K, as those kids are rarely high needs, SPED students. This is the real issue that no one talks about. Our school budgets are dramatically driven by SPED costs, just look at the budget. SPED cost is getting really close to regular ed, yet SPED students only account for about 20% of our students. Do the math! Other districts do not spend nearly the same proportion on SPED as Amherst (even with similar % of SPED students). These are simple facts that underlie our structural deficit.

Larry Kelley said...

Mr Morse:

The reason I use the term "mega school" is because this process started ten years ago as simply a renovation of Wildwood Elementary School and in fact it is still known as the "Wildwood School Building Project"

Although now it has tripled in scope -- physically replacing two schools and having a major impact on the third.

Anonymous said...

Well, the Fort River School didn't need replacing 10 years ago.

Larry Kelley said...

You can apply for renovation not just replacement.

And I've heard school officials use that "ten years ago"statement more than once.

Anonymous said...

Larry - what do you suggest?

Larry Kelley said...

Don't shoot me I'm only the messenger.

The course has been pretty well set by now.

(Iceberg dead ahead!)

Anonymous said...

SPED budget needs to be brought in line with other school district. When Amherst spent extra generous budget on SPED students, while ignoring regular, and gifted students. You will see population shift. More SPED students will come into the district to enjoy the extra benefits, while disgruntled regular, or gifted families pulled their kids out of the district. The district is experiencing "Quality Flight" of students. The district ends up with an elevated SPED students population, and flight of regular, or gifted student population, and over-bloated per student school budget. It is a vicious cycle and feed on itself, and self-destruction in its nature. The cost is squarely on local tax-payers.

Anonymous said...

Having worked in all of the schools in Amherst, I can confidently tell you that both WW and FR have significant issues that can not simply be "renovated" or fixed. The open floor plan alone was very old school 60s/70s educational thinking that was not forward thinking about future populations and needs. There is a very real impact on teachers and students during instruction when you can hear at least two if not three other classrooms at the same time as your learning/instruction time. We saw that back in the 80s but back then it was not as significant because the numbers were not as high in each class and the profile of the student populations was no where near as complex as it is now and the buildings were not that old. Not to mention that the air quality, room temperature, etc are compromised and inconsistent from one part of a quad to another let alone in the whole building. Clearly whomever agreed to build schools in wet areas failed to understand and appreciate the implications.

If we want 21st century education and learning outcomes, not to mention meeting the exceptional needs of our student body today and in the future, the community should be fully supporting the adjoining buildings. This is a project that is being designed for all students - not just some and it can not be a band aid. Change and increased costs can be really scary but we don't have the luxury of waiting - every day, every student is impacted one way or another.

Anonymous said...

Very artful use of words, Larry: "triple in scope", because you know you can't say triple in size. It's not. And it's not a mega-school.

Do I have perfect confidence in this school administration (or a future one) to play it straight? Of course not. But don't be a propagandist here, Larry, because you know the details of how this evolved. There was a problem with justice here for our School Committee, renovating the Wildwood School only and leaving Fort River behind.

Your need to attract eyeballs to this site should not preempt intellectual honesty.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:06

You are speaking to a topic that you clearly know nothing about by singling out students with special needs and trying to further stigmatize a group of students and their families by suggesting that the funding issues are the cause opposed to "regular" and "gifted". Shame on you. Last time I checked, no students with special needs "enjoyed extra benefits"; they have a right, a legal, ethical and moral right to access an education to meet their needs. Shame on you, shame on you.

Anonymous said...

"Open classroom" is out of fashion now compared with the 80s. But we are stuck with our decisions back then. Amherst is a rural area. Our school district is funded by residential families without deep corporate pockets. And our taxpayers are already bleeding through one of the highest tax rate in Massachusetts. Quality of school education is more about the people, the teachers and kids in it. People can easily desire a new modern school building paid by other people's money. Now this "other people" is ourselves. It will cost us Amherst tax payers 30 million dollars plus any interests payment through tax override, and elevated tax payment over 30 years. Remember, this is just a building. We haven't talked about the cost of running a school, which will increase year after year on top of the building cost.

Amherst, a rural residential community, simply doesn't have the funding capacity. Amherst tax payers don't have the will.

Anonymous said...

Enrollment would increase if housing costs were lower in Amherst. A 2 bedroom house on a .25 acre lot sells for $399k in Amherst, $299 in Belchertown, $199 in South Hadley and $99 in Chicopee.

The schools aren't that much better in Amherst. Other than the schools, what are the advantages to living there? I don't see any.

Anonymous said...

Today's "megaschool" is the same bad design as the 70s open classroom. In 20 years everyone will be like, what were they thinking with this monstrosity?

Parents don't want their little kids going off to big-city-sized schools in the middle of an asphault jungle. They move here to small towns like Amherst for things like small schools. We'll have more kids heading to Northampton for its small schools, choicing out to charter, choicing out to Leverett, Pelham (well, maybe not Pelham), Sunderland, Shutesbury.

Chinese Charters diverse from what I have heard. The private schools like Bement, Common an Hartsbrook are whiteflight central.

Anonymous said...

The woman at TM last night alleging that parents choose Charter schools to avoid diversity was appalling. The parents I know who charter out of Amherst elementary schools have done so because of the curricular decisions made by the SI. They want a quality math education, language opportunities, and their kids to have the opportunity to excel academically, which is NOT allowed in the Amherst schools. I thought the race-card play by Mr Morris to be obvious and self-serving.

Anonymous said...

i notice only about 150 of the aprox. 250 town meeting members were present to vote!!!!!!

Dr. Ed said...

SPED students DO go to charter schools, it's just that the charter schools don't always believe they need SPED services and often they don't. And as to charter schools in general, there's one in Boston "that takes the studebts (behavioral SPED) that the other schools don't want" and does well with them.

(Dr. Ed was at a statewide conference yesterday.)

As to the open-plan school concept, like Aluminum Romex wiring, it was only a few years in the early 1970's -- and like the Bifurcated-not-Mega School concept, a mistake that future generations were stuck with.

As to building on swampland, please explain how the next slab-foundation building on the same site will somehow be built on drier land when ti's the same land...

And was Maria G sick or not wanting to have to explain the Hiza/Baptiste matter?

Anonymous said...

Rich Morse

I believe "mega school" was a term used in a research paper or something regarding optimum school/grade sizes. My memory is fuzzy but I think it said anything over 120 students per grade was too large. In which case, crocker farm will also become a "mega school".

Not the best term for the new school I agree. But everyone uses this term now. It cannot be called Wildwood any more. Perhaps "wildwood/fort River/crocker farm 2 thru 6" not quite as catchy...

Anonymous said...

Rich,

Don't forget that there was another option on the table that solved the issues with both Fort River and Wildwood schools.

This was a smaller 2 wing school with a replacement Wildwood in one wing and Fort River in the other. It kept the k-6 system that the majority of teachers and parents like. It was much cheaper and had far less students per grade. It also did not impact Crocker Farm saving a yet to be determined sum $$.

It also would have saved bussing the kids all over town from north to south and south to north and the traffic chaos we have to look forward to every morning.

Anonymous said...

My guess is they will have a contest to name the 2 new schools.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:06

You are speaking to a topic that you clearly know nothing about by singling out students with special needs and trying to further stigmatize a group of students and their families by suggesting that the funding issues are the cause opposed to "regular" and "gifted". Shame on you. Last time I checked, no students with special needs "enjoyed extra benefits"; they have a right, a legal, ethical and moral right to access an education to meet their needs. Shame on you, shame on you.

Anonymous said...

anon@5:46: No shame on me. I'm not making a judgement. If I had a child needing SPED services I'd work hard they had them. Just look at the budget (I'm sure you didn't and have no intention of doing so). I pointed out the math behind the structural deficit compounded by the high average cost of Amherst students. If you think my math is wrong then feel free to point it out. Look at other districts, and I think you will find info consistent with my previous post. We also have a few expensive admin positions that add to the high costs of Amherst/student cost but I think most comes from the high proportion of our budget towards special ed. Unless you do some research, then you are just obfuscating (what I think) is an important issue if discussing our high charter out costs.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5/5, 9:11 am:
you wrote: "And I liked hearing that the administration has a large stack of applicants to choice into Amherst for 2017, and that many of those in the queue are hoping to come from other private and charter schools in the region that they are currently attending, and that they are hoping to attend Amherst because of what it can offer them comparatively."

I am curious about this. If indeed there are so many students who want to come to the Amherst schools (elementary schools, MS, HS) & leaving charter & private schools to do so, then why are the school enrollments in Amherst continuing to decline each year (even with these new students choicing in to supposedly make up the gap).

Anonymous said...

EVERY child should be entitled to a public school education that meets their needs. Students requiring SPED services should receive them and at the other end of the curve, students who need more challenge or acceleration should be entitled to it. The attraction of many families to the Chinese charter school is not just about learning Chinese (though Mandarin is spoken by 1/6 of the world's population, and countries being more globally connected) but about an environment which offers a challenging curriculum across the board. With the changes to the math program in the Amherst MS and the continuing lack of options for students who need it to have more challenge in the Amherst elementary schools, most families whose kids want more challenge are leaving the ARPS schools and will continue to do so. The cuts to MS world language haven't help either.

The district always reports the increasing charter schools enrollments as a trend they can do nothing about and administrators tell us that where to send their kids is a personal choice that each family makes for themselves (and in doing so, suggests that this choice has nothing to do with issues with the quality of education in the Amherst schools). As long as the district continue to take this stance, families who have the ability to do so will continue to leave.

Anonymous said...

Also, every student that Choices in brings in $5,000 from their town, while Amherst sends $18-20,000 for each student we send to a Charter, vocational or other town's local school.

Anonymous said...

for Amherst students who choice into another district the cost is $5,000, not $18000-20000. Thank goodness!!

though of course, the 150+ students from Amherst districts going to charter & voc schools now is costing Amherst and our school districts plenty, at least $2-3 million a year now, & those costs will continue to rise.

Anonymous said...

I tried to school choice my child in before moving to town to avoid a mid-year move. We were denied, being told they weren't accepting any new students to school choice. I don't recall well whether the letter specified that they were not accepting for the current grade level or all grade levels. Either way, the town is denying school choice applicants. This was for this current academic year, 15-16. We moved earlier than planned based on this. On another note, we sent a separate letter to the superintendent and never received a response from her. It doesn't change the outcome, but has never sat well with me.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:40 am -
I am curious about which school your child is now going to, if you don't mind being asked. Because of the current space constraints at Crocker Farm, there have been families who moved into the Crocker district and assumed their child(ren) would go there, but who were then told there wasn't any room for their kids at Crocker and that their child(ren) would have to go to another Amherst elementary school.

What a terrible situation for those families. I hope that the district will look at some redrawing of the elementary school district boundaries before the new school building opens. The situation needs fixing now.

Anonymous said...

just to be clear: Amherst does not pay $5000 to a choiced school, Amherst no longer RECEIVES that $5000 chapter money from the state (why would they continue to give the district $ for a student that they no longer educate?).

When a student charters or voc schools, my understanding is that the first year Amherst still gets $5000 from the state (even though they don't teach the student, which instead goes to the charter or voc school, and Amherst also has to provide the receiving school the remaining balance of the average student cost (ie elementary Amherst student is ~20k, so Amherst then gives the receiving school $15,000). The first year the student charters out the State is supposed to reimburse the sending district the full cost, ie. 100% of the $15,000, year 2-4(?) it is reimbursed 25%, and in later years the sending school (g Amherst) receives no state reimbursement after that (and so then paying the receiving school its share of the average student cost (ie $15K, which of course will have increased over that time...). I think this is right, if errors pls offer your corrections

Anonymous said...

anon at 11:40,
the SI could redistrict some lines any time she proposes to balance school capacity needs. I guess she is too busy with other issues.


Go to Amherst school committee meetings and ask your representative members to push for action- NOW.

Dr. Ed said...

12:48 -- you are wrong, I can't remember off the top of my head but it is only a loss of the state money, that is pro-rated with an increasing percentage of it lost each year. This was the compromise, most states don't do this.

Specific Federal funds may or may not follow the student.

The ~$20K figure is a myth -- they divide total expenses by number of students. I say "myth" because the local district spends based on what it wants to spend, and THEN divides. Case in point the MegaSchool -- the costs of that -- over 30 years -- aren't going to change with 100 more or 100 fewer students in the district, but the per pupil costs will.

Should there be 200 fewer elementary students in 2026, the per-pupil cost will increase while the total school budget will decrease (unless additional admin are added) as fewer teachers will be needed.

Anonymous said...

Wow when complaining about the special education budget (news flash: SPED carries a negative connotation to itself as an acronym) you should examine the amount of students we KEEP IN DISTRICT. Imagine our costs if we had a lot of out of district students and the costs we would be paying for those programs.... Go ahead keep on complaining- that is what you do best!

Anonymous said...

anon@2:42: explaining, not complaining, what is a significant contributing factor (but not the only one) to our extremely high average student cost (now upwards of $20K, near the top for the state) and how that impacts our outlay for charter students that is a big piece of the ongoing structural deficit. BTW you are still avoiding any comparison with other districts who have similar demographics but still have much lower proportion of spending on special education (who presumably face the same pressures (and regulations) to keep students in district that have high needs)...

Dr. Ed said...

News Flash: IEPs are NEGOTIATED, there is no general rigid mandate.

I've served on IEPs as a TEAM member (classroom teacher).

Ralph Reed said...

I think you failed to move the decimal twice to translate into percentage terms, should be .1 not .001%.

Not to be a nitpicker but it is a mathematical error of two magnitudes where you seem to be contextualizing using that concept.

Anonymous said...

Enrollment would increase if parents weren't pulling their kids out to escape the hideous Marxist agenda. These teachers and admins don't teach. They indoctrinate. Parents are getting their kids out .

Nina Koch said...

Good point, Ralph.

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...

Welcome to the reality of being a parent in ARPS

Sckened by admin in Pelham said...

ProbAbly at the bidding of the Admin team did Mike say this. They are clearly not thinking straight.Im not sure what programs will be left when my daughter reaches HS. It is Bets4y unsettling to see how much has changed even since 2008