Amherst schools critiqued
AMHERST – The cost of education in Amherst is high compared with similar school districts, and the spending hasn’t resulted in test scores that match the other districts, Mike Akillian told school officials recently.
The former selectman, representing an Amherst citizens group called Working for Great Schools, gave a slide presentation to the Amherst School Board that focused on school quality and costs.
Graphs showed math test scores going down between elementary school and high school, and 87 percent of the elementary students had math scores proficient and above in the New England Common Assessment Program tests. That number went down to 78 percent for the middle school and 45 percent for Souhegan High School.
Science scores were worse. Sixty-seven percent of elementary students were proficient, and that went down to 46 percent for the middle school and 36 percent of high school students.
"This is not good," Akillian said.
Scores in many other cities and towns follow a similar pattern, he said, "but just because we’re sharing them doesn’t mean they’re not a terrible problem," considering the fact that there are 4 million unfilled jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields in the United States,
But for Akillian and his group, the primary issue now is that the cost per pupil for the elementary schools and middle school is higher by several thousand dollars than the costs in Hollis and Bedford.
"They are getting better outcomes for less expenditures of dollars," he said.
The staffing levels in Amherst seem to be in line with those of the comparable schools, and it seems as though the high cost per pupil has more to do with compensation packages, Akillian said.
Akillian, who initiated the strategic planning process for Amherst town departments and for the village area when he was a selectman, told the School Board, "We have an obligation to think this thing through and understand the effect of our actions."
For example, he said that in the March election it was odd that voters voted down the school budgets, yet approved a collective bargaining agreement without thinking that it’s the collective bargaining agreements driving most of the costs.
School board members said they want more public input on the issue and look forward to working with the group.
In November, a firm that was hired to evaluate the district’s math program will give a presentation, there are many indicators that the district has made a lot of progress over the last four years, said Chairwoman Lucienne Foulks, who disagreed that Amherst schools are in trouble.
Superintendent Peter Warburton noted that the Amherst schools’ culture is not "test-centered."
The cost per pupil was a major issue at the school districts’ deliberative sessions this year.
Working for Great Schools has been meeting twice a month, according to its website, "doing research and analysis, framing/ investigating issues, and formulating recommendations that might help the school boards address those issues."
Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.