Monday, January 16, 2017

2nd Time The Charm?

Town Meeting revotes $67 million Wildwood Building Project end of this month

Twenty years ago the $22 million Amherst Regional High School expansion easily passed Town Meeting but was defeated by the voters at the ballot box, although it did pass months later in the second attempt.

Around that same time the $4 million Town Hall renovation twice passed overwhelmingly in Town Meeting but was twice defeated by the voters at the ballot box.

So what are the odds Town Meeting will pass the $67 million Mega School bond issue on January 30th in this second attempt to get the required two-thirds vote?

About as likely as Donald Trump getting a rousing ovation from Democrats at his inauguration on Friday.

While theoretically Town Meeting is only voting on the financing of the project it's impossible not to be influenced by the education plan which restructures our entire elementary school system.

Maria's Folly of two co-located grades 2-6 under one roof will simply never have the appeal of the current system of three K-6 neighborhood schools.

A professional survey of parents and teachers taken a week before the School Committee approved the Mega School showed overwhelming support for two co-located grades K-6 under one roof allowing Crocker Farm to remain K-6.

Survey results

Of course now Town Meeting will be told that teachers have changed their minds and overwhelmingly support the current education plan represented by the $67 million Mega School.

Really?  Or is it simply this expensive plan is now better than nothing?

What about the obvious pressure employees must feel when someone asks them to sign a petition endorsing the wishes of your boss?  Especially when they come up to you with a clipboard and mention that you are "on the list."  Which is fine I suppose, if the person asking is named Schindler.

 Click to enlarge/read

The other pressure tactic used is to suggest Town Meeting will face retaliation for not upholding "the will of the voters." Except the will demonstrated by voters on November 8 was about as wishy washy as will gets:

Out of the 15,089 votes cast 1,571 (10.4%) left the Mega School question blank.  So the overall vote carried by only 45.21% in favor to 44.38% against or less than a majority.  So yes, it won by 122 votes, or less than 1%, which is light years away from a two-thirds majority.

And even then you have to wonder about the in-house audit of two precincts that showed 29 ballots double counted.

If/when Town Meeting fails to muster a two-thirds vote for the Mega School on January 30, town officials need to admit defeat and return to the drawing board with a hard learned lesson about what the people really want. 

61 comments:

Anonymous said...

How can Weiss or Roeder know what teachers thought or felt when they were approached and asked to sign? Mind readers? If some teachers say they felt pressured or coerced who can challenge or disbelieve that?

Anonymous said...

She said no one asked to have their name removed. Only a few didn't want their name made public. This is a let's muck the process' since we don't like the outcome play. Larry just wrote a whole post that did just that even comparing it to the holocaust. Wow. Just wow.

Anonymous said...

Some information for townspeople, especially town meeting members:

The School Committee commissioned McBassi & Co. to survey parents & teachers. Survey was anonymous. Results are summarized here: https://wildwoodpgo.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/2015jan-schoolsurvey-results.pdf


The parent comments are posted here: https://wildwoodpgo.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/2015jan-schoolsurvey-parentcomments.pdf

The teacher comments are posted here: https://wildwoodpgo.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/2015jan-schoolsurvey-teachercomments.pdf

These results were presented at the joint School Committee / School Building Committee meeting on January 13, 2016. The minutes of that meeting are here -- http://www.arps.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_926729/File/ASCminutes1.13.164pm.pdf -- and for some reason this survey is not listed on the Amherst-Pelham Schools website.

Anonymous said...

Opinion survey before the details of the plan were known. I am a teacher and filled in k-6 on the form and I and many of my colleagues have changed our minds based on the plan and the ills it alleviates not the least of which is maintaining the diversity of our schools without segregating some students of less means (who also happen to be largely people of color).

As the above commenter said, muck the process when you don't like the outcome. Even though 83% of teachers at Wildwood support the school there is all manner of reasons this is wrong ranging from the teachers are under pressure from their boss (the argument of someone who hasn't been to a staff meeting, clearly) to the fact that the survey is anon.

The majority of the above 83% are willing to have their names published in the paper. Now you can add that to the pro or con list but to tout that teacher's opinions matter and then shift to that they don't matter because they are tainted in some way is the height of absurdity.

Larry Kelley said...

I find it ironically fascinating you would champion the teachers "who are willing to have their names published in the paper" via an ANONYMOUS comment.

Anonymous said...

Deft move, Larry. Your whole post is succinctly dismissed and your response to to attack that it is an anonymous post. This reasoned argument thing isn't your thing.

Anonymous said...

If liberals don't get their way, they cry foul and simply ignore the results and demand it be done again until they get the results they want. Of course, they tried everything they could to delegitimize the election of Donald Trump by saying everything from he got more votes, to blaming the FBI, playing a ridiculous McCarthey like scenario with the Russians, to even blaming staffers in their own campaign. Many say that the term 'liberal' should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Volume 6. I agree. Love trumps hate, unless they don't get what they want. Liberals have strikingly irrational beliefs and emotions, and relentlessly undermine the most important principles on which our freedoms were founded. Like spoiled, angry children, they rebel against the normal responsibilities of adulthood and demand that a parental government meet their needs from cradle to grave. No wonder why their kids are so fucked up.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, doesn't "yes" have to receive a majority of votes CAST to win -- don't blank ballots count as "no" votes?

A referendum is different from electing a person, where it is a plurality -- I believe a referendum is required to receive 50%+1 of those VOTING, and hence much like "bullet voting" has the effect of casting multiple votes for the one candidate, leaving a referendum question blank has the same effect as voting "no."

Usually this is a moot point because blanks are outside the margin of decision, but unless Amherst has some funky plurality-pleblicite ordinance, the Megaskool LOST!!!

Anonymous said...

I hope annon 12:45 is not teaching English, or we clearly need more than new schools. I have no idea what he or she was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

With our Interim Superintendent and school principals completely onboard with the mega school, any and every employee would feel the need to sign when a clipboard was presented.

A confidential vote (of teachers) would've provided us with more valid information-
I'm sure janitors would love a new building to clean and a new kitchen would be nice for food service staff (and so on and so forth) but the real question presented was- Do the teachers support the building plan.

Dr. Ed said...

Deft move, Larry. Your whole post is succinctly dismissed

It was?

and your response to to attack that it is an anonymous post.

I think his point was quite valid: If teachers are so willing to publicly support the morass that is the Megaskool, they ought to be willing to include their names.

Sadly 1:46, 12:45 is an English teacher in that all teachers are English teachers, even in a town that doesn't have a lot of ELL students. When I have to teach basic grammar to grad students, and I inevitably do, that gives you an idea of how bad things have become.

And as to a survey, it depends on how the questions are worded. For example:

Do you think the state should protect children from those who wish to murder them?
Did you know that you answered that you are opposed to abortion?

On the only survey that counted, the election, the majority was NOT in favor of the MegaSkool.

Anonymous said...

No matter how you feel about school construction, it's disturbing that some teachers lobbied others about this during the school day - maybe even in teams? - inside our public buildings, and also made use of the school's email system for this purpose. The school day should take place untainted by adult campaigning for tax overrides. It is disappointing that some teachers apparently knew nothing of state ethics laws concerning conduct of public employees in the workplace. The administration should be responsible for conveying this information to them, and making sure no such breaches occur.
Just for the record, the teacher's letter published here appeared on the Amherst Town Meeting listserv, posted to its hundreds of subscribers days ago a vocal SUPPORTER of the project. So let's not go blaming Larry for this letter's existence.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you don't live here.

Anonymous said...

Please don't call me a liberal. I'm a Democrat-Socialist.

Anonymous said...

I wish the voters not town meeting had to get a 2/3's majority to pass an override for a project of this cost. This clear support would alleviate the divisiveness and wate of time that we are going through now

Anonymous said...

I am a Fort River parent and i have spoken to many teachers there. Not one of them was pressured to sign anything. I was at the school the day after the Town Meeting vote. Teachers were crying. The mood in the school was palpable.
The teachers want these new schools. Parents want the new schools.

Anonymous said...

Your child has four walls in her school ms quilter, why won't you let those unable to afford private school enjoy the same?

Anonymous said...

...what the people really want.

TM doesn't speak for the people.

Anonymous said...

That's not fair. Firstly, Ms Quilter always signs her posts so I doubt this is her.
Secondly, I believe her child was at Wildwood until this year. I don't know why they moved school but I suspect the environment was made less than friendly towards her family.
Thirdly, she is still a taxpayer in this town and has as much right as anyone to fight for what she believes is best for this town.
This decision is not purely for the kids that are currently in the schools or are currently in preschool. This will affect children in this town for the next 5 decades. A bad plan is a bad plan, even if it comes with a 50% off coupon.
Thank you, Ms Quilter, if you still read this blog, for your endless efforts to protect the people of Amherst from making this mistake. We deserve a better plan than the one before us.

Anonymous said...

I understand that teachers want, and deserve, a healthy work environment. However, do they truly believe that the proposed grade reconfiguration and the building design are really the best way forward for Amherst elementary schools for generations to come? Or are they just tired of working in an old building with poor acoustics and ventilation?
If they believed a K-6 solution, whether in 3 or 2 schools, could be achieved by 2023, would they be willing to wait?
If they do not love the grade reconfiguration and this building plan, with all the transportation and play space and logistical problems it will create, then they should be patient, and in the meantime demand that the administration remediate any health concerns immediately. Remaining in the building for 4 more years without any improvements is not a good plan.

Anonymous said...

2023?!? Name a district that did it that fast? You can't because they don't exist.....it will be a decade plus based on what has happened to other districts in our situation. If the MSBA even still exists.

Anonymous said...

So what?

Anonymous said...

Carver MA submitted a new SOI in 2013, received the MSBA grant in 2015, started construction in 2016, and expected completion is 2018.
http://carver.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Oct.-and-Nov.-2016-PMA-Monthly-Report.pdf
We will submit new SOIs this spring, could be invited back in this year, receive the grant in 2019 and have a building ready for occupation in 2023. The MSBA select schools based on need, not on date of application or whether you've failed to gain town approval in the past. Wildwood and Fort River still have a higher (worse condition) rating than many of the schools that apply. The chances of being invited this year are actually quite good. Let Fort River have priority this time and give them their new school sooner, or else consolidate into a PreK-6 in the north or east of town and leave Crocker Farm as a PreK-6.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the custodial or the kitchen crew knows nothing about their staffing cuts as part of the operational savings with this new configuration when they signed the petition.
No matter how you look at this building, it is designed as one big school....separate entrance by word but not in actuality since it is all connected once you enter either door. One gym, one library, one cafeteria, two music rooms side by side, two art rooms side by side, etc.. 7 classrooms allotted per grade (not each...combined...so class size will still not be equal across grades...just like now, one school may have smaller class size opposed to the other one depending on the enrollment since the town will still be divided in two) what if the population grows again?
CF was not renovated/built as an Early Childhood School. It's not going to look anything like the Plains School in South Hadley. South Hadley had that configuration prior to their renovation/construction. Their other school house 2nd-4th. The rest are in the middle school.
Teachers should know all these facts, too. Who would not want a new school? It's about the configuration, total cost, appropriateness of the project, how everything got pushed through, and of course what's best for this town and the children in the long run.

Anonymous said...

As has been docme Ted here many many times Carber and Hopkinson are both unusual and not at all congruent with our situation. Carver voted it down many times and had to pass it first in order to apply: not at all similar. Hopkinton took 8 years (would be a 2025 opening of one school?) and they moved rapidly because the community unified quickly behind a plan (not the case here as Meg's op-ed pointed out). So your examples don't work and what you are promising teachers is total BS. Based on all the other districts that are similar to us we are looking at 10-12 year delay. At least be honest about what you are asking teachers and students to endure.

Anonymous said...

And Wildwood waits how long in your plan? There are soool many holes in these not very thought out plans it pains me to have to take them seriously. While the prospects might be dim the current t plan is the best bet. What you are asking of teachers and kids of Wildwood in the above plan is not alright.

Anonymous said...

Q: Did the November 8 election, did the voters of Amherst approve Question 5?

A: It appears not, at least according to

Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services
Navjeet K. Bal, Commissioner Robert G. Nunes, Deputy Commissioner & Director of Municipal Affairs

Proposition 21⁄2 Ballot Questions Requirements and Procedures
http://www.cltg.org/prop2_requirements-procedures.pdf

According to page 6:

D. APPROVAL OF QUESTIONS
A question is approved if a majority of the people voting on that question vote "yes."

Syed A. said...

Please allow me to describe a "Mega School", for I went to one prior to attending college here in the US. The school that I went to was originally built to be used as a residential apartment building. There were approximately 45 of us in a single room from 8 AM to 230 PM five days of the week. We had different subject teachers rotating in and out of the room but we were stuck in that room all day. We had our lunch in the same room and majority of the time, our so called "physical activity" class in the same room. If we were lucky, we got the chance to go to an actual field outside to play. I completed my entire schooling, grades PK - 12th, in the same building but I was fortunate enough that it wasn't in the same room. The entire five story building hosted grades PK-12. That is what you call a "Mega School", not what is being proposed here. All my classmates ended up attending college, most here in the US and are doing great now.
The "Mega School" didn't dictate our direction in life. Our home environment and our parents helped us figure that out. I wish I was lucky enough where a system even existed for this kind of money being handed to a town to build a new school. Who else is going to give you this 30+ million dollars to help build a new school, with new facilities and new opportunities for generations to come.
So please don't have a short-sighted view of important things like the politicians do back in my home country. I could have easily chosen to settle down in a town like Longmeadow, which a lot of people suggested, but the charm and inclusiveness that Amherst has was hard to ignore. On top of that a good education system which can only get better. So help me and young families like mine stay here and raise our children. Yes, I pay taxes just like you and I am willing to pay a little more for the betterment of my children and others. Things like makerspace for kids matter in this day and age so that they can be better prepared for tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

To add truth to the discussion,

Here is a clip from the Amherst School Committee where Superintendent Geryk presents reasons to apply to the MSBA funding for Wildwood and Fort River.

She notes that both buildings are in good shape compared to other school buildings in Massachusetts<<<


No talk about reconfiguration of the elementary schools,<<<


no talk about the need to make changes to busing for income balance or Building Blocks program,<<<


no talk about unhealthy air quality in both buildings. <<<


Just Watch from minute 23 to 27.

https://amherstmedia.org/content/amherst-school-committee-meeting-12-18-12

Anonymous said...

These school union booster cheerleader types could sure use a lesson in ethics-morality-and the law. It is ILLEGAL to CANVAS FOR UNION POLITICS on school grounds-paid time. If the boosters can't get the dead to vote..they will make them that way-tax increase spendthrifts will throw granny to the curb with foreclosures-and hold meetings when property owners can't attend-unionist-been there-done that..they find this exiting-it's GROSSLY MORBID !!!

Anonymous said...

Anyone know what happened to the SPED (and low-income minority) students in Syed's school?

Anonymous said...

"Just Watch from minute 23 to 27.

https://amherstmedia.org/content/amherst-school-committee-meeting-12-18-12"

Very enlightening to watch this clip. Clearly the project evolved from just fixing the quad open classroom design at Wildwood and Fort River to a full blown replacement and reconfiguration. How?
Because the MSBA approved one site, Wildwood, when we needed two. Of course MSBA paying for half the cost helped change the original solution too.
The Mega School is a contrived solution in need of a problem.
Town meeting members please vote No once again.

Anonymous said...

"No matter how you feel about school construction, it's disturbing that some teachers lobbied others about this during the school day - maybe even in teams? - inside our public buildings, and also made use of the school's email system for this purpose. The school day should take place untainted by adult campaigning for tax overrides. It is disappointing that some teachers apparently knew nothing of state ethics laws concerning conduct of public employees in the workplace. The administration should be responsible for conveying this information to them, and making sure no such breaches occur."

The teachers were actually following the example of administration/ building committee who used tax money/ school funds to develop fancy print material used to support the vote back in November.

Anonymous said...

Ed...as to your remarks at 2:48...YOU DON'T TEACH ANYONE ANYTHING!

Anonymous said...

When the megaskool has an evacuation drill practice, is it one school or two?

Anonymous said...

10 years, 10 years. Why are people and the administration always saying it will take 10 years to get back into the msba process? Where does 10 years come from? The msba program started in 2008 so it hasn't been around for 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Ed was just talking about how he corrects people's grammar on the bus.

Anonymous said...

"The Legislature created the MSBA in 2004 to replace the former school building assistance program administered by the Department of Education (now the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). "

http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/about

Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss. Different name but has been around quite awhile. 10-12 years is the timeframe if the money is turned down now. These are facts that aren't debatable based on districts that were in the same situation as us (Carver and Hopkinton aren't in the same situation)

SASS minons begone.

Anonymous said...

How much private funding has been raised or donated by supporters to fund the project?

The larger this number, the easier it is to get behind mandating others pay.

Thanks for the answer in advance.

Dr. Ed said...

Whatever.

Anonymous said...

If six graders will be in their own separate wing of the planned school...
Is it time to move them to the Middle School building (where there is room as the student body is ever decreasing)?
How many parents will utilize a pre-K program (many young children are in full day daycare as their parents need to work 8 hour days)

Anonymous said...

10 years from now until new school is ready to move in to. And that's an optimistic scenario. If Town Meeting were to approve funding on the 30th the new school would be complete in September 2020. That's seven years from beginning of process when Amherst was accepted into the MSBA program. If Town Meeting does not approve of borrowing money on the 30th we go back to applying to MSBA to get back in. Let's say we are accepted back into program in three years. Add on seven years for process and that gets us to ten years from now. Is everyone in town ok with waiting 10 more years? Is everyone in town ok with another 1 1/2 generations going to school in totally inadequate buildings that are not even ADA compliant? I thought we as Amherst residents were better than that. I am disappointed and disgusted by this town. A town that used to support education. Shame on you Amherst! Shame on all you town meeting members who are being duped by SASS's misinformation campaign.

Anonymous said...

Administrators and BOLD and supporters have said, over and over, 10 years before Amherst can get back into the pipeline. At last school committee Nakajima--15-20 years and a "generation" before both schools are improved. A generation is 20 years. Now 10 years until one school is done. 3 card monte shells keep moving. What school took 10 years in a state program that is 8 years old? Let's spend $31 million in taxes with facts that shift and shift?

Anonymous said...

Most Amherst kids will go to private preschools then move to Kindergarten and 1st grade at Crocker, then move again to Wildwood in 2nd grade. 3 schools in 5 years.

Anonymous said...

I find the SASS people to be very level headed and reasonable. No one is being duped. We are trying to find a solution that will work for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Our current situation is due to the school building committee (aka administration and school committee) failing to listen to the community's concerns throughout the process.
The concerns need to be addressed... Let's do it right this time...
Let's not have a repeat of the 1970s- Two identical schools built that didn't and don't meet the needs of the children of Amherst!

Anonymous said...

BOLD never said it would take 10 years to get back in the pipeline. 10 years til school is built and ready to open.

Anonymous said...

Many people are being duped by reams of misinformation. There is no solution that will work for everyone.

Anonymous said...

The solution to the whole 7 and 10 year thing is obvious. Pay for it locally and stop wanting even more welfare for folks that should likely not even be on educational public assistance in the first place.

I watched a similar sized project ($120 mil with assistance) in Colorado get completed in just a couple of years, with the whole state welfare assistance split deal too. And the building of that school only resulted in one worker death. That is worth noting because the public pretends these projects do not come with risk. I voted no on that project when we were there, because the kids were more or less ok and I was literally worried about a worker getting hurt or dying to feed the parents their desired, but not needed, school. Attendance is down in that school too. Property Taxes when up 25% as a result, it was billed as only 25%. It would have been cheaper to buy dozens of local farms or ranches and set up a school on those properties.

How many kids that go to the school stay in Amherst for their carriers anyway? My sense is not much. Amherst schools are a gift for other communities, the ones the kids ultimately live in.

I will donate $100 personally to this project to keep taxes lower, but I will only do it if parents and other supporters raise a measly $100k privately. What are we at so far, no one seems to want to state how much has been raised yet? If just 1/4 of the parents (a small fraction) donated $100 per family, again a small fraction....that would be $100,000 or so with no real sacrifice by anyone. I would suggest if this cannot happen, why should everyone else get on board...I would also suggest if parents did this, the measure would surely pass AND you would make national news for almost no cost to a portion of local families that should not even be on public assistance for the other $20,900 per child in the first place. If the community cannot even pull the above together, what do you expect?

I expect higher taxes and for the thing to be built anyway....and NO donations by parents.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone provide more information about why more preschool spaces are needed and what money it will cost or make to have most kids attend there as this plan assumes? What percentage of the town's kids go there now?

Anonymous said...

The SBC is made up of many more than administrators and SC members. SB members, finance committee members, teachers, parents, community members. All meeting and working hard for three years to get us to this point.

Anonymous said...

anon@12:49: look it up on MA DOE site. you can get the numbers of preK students. Good luck, however, finding out how many of those are from Amherst. Email the SI or SC members. Seems from the numbers that we currently don't fill the available seats. So there is NO demand from Amherst residents for more preK spaces. preK spaces has NOTHING to do with the building project. Ms Apply simply threw in a promise that 'the district would add more preK seats', thinking this would tug heart strings and bring support for the project (despite there being NO need whatsoever for more spaces).

Anonymous said...

If there is no space for morning preschool for underserved children, why can't Crocker Farm add a few afternoon preschool classes? Crocker Farm offers, I believe, only morning preschool classes so those rooms are empty in the afternoon. I think Town Meeting and taxpayers would support this. Also could ask Amherst College and UMass to help pay and staff with students. No need to wait 4 years.

Larry Kelley said...

Anon 1:11 PM

No member of the Finance Committee sat on the School Building Committee.

Anonymous said...

Crocker Farm had afternoon preschool a few years ago. My child went. Do they not have it now?

Anonymous said...

You're right Larry. I misspoke. It was the Amherst Finance Director who was on the committee. Not a member of the finance committee.

Larry Kelley said...

And where is he now?

Dr. Ed said...

"Also could ask Amherst College and UMass to help pay and staff with students."

Why should they?

And as to UMass, the state is increasingly upset with UMass spending -- the state salary list just came out, and UMass leads it....

Anonymous said...

On the building committee- the community members are folks closely involved with the schools (former members of the school committee, parents active with schools, folks thinking about joining school committee) Mark Morris hand picked the folks he wanted. It is not representative of the Amherst Community.

Anonymous said...

And three community members with relevant expertise (but who did not support reconfiguration) who requested to join the School Building Committee were denied admission.

Anonymous said...

Stacking the decks is the reason de stress for the school union booster nut's-and packing badly timed meetings-what's NOT to resent then about Ninas clique?!!! They are to deny us-due process...and worse...our lives/property/taxes !??!!!