The Union 26 and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees voted tonight (Aug.9) to buy out School Superintendent Maria Geryk’s contract for $310,000. A member of Save Amherst’s Small Schools also called on elected officials to delay the pending $65 million school building project for at least 18 months, until a new superintendent is hired and can provide fresh input and guidance.
School Committee members voted 5-3 in favor of the buyout, after Geryk informed them that she wanted to resign last month. Member Vira Douangmany Cage was an outspoken opponent of the buyout package, and said she was “not in agreement to pay the superintendent one penny for her separation (from the district.)”
In a brief statement after a 2 and 1/2 hour executive session, Chairwoman Laura Kent indicated that the committees were acting under threat of legal action from Geryk. Kent said the committees met several times, totaling 14 hours, “to understand the claim that was put before us,” and determine how “not to put the district in further jeopardy.”
Kent, who offered no further details, said more information would be made public in coming days and weeks.
Member Trevor Baptiste, with whom Geryk has clashed, offered what seemed to be a defense of his comments at prior meetings. “Serving with integrity should never be considered disparaging,” Baptiste said, adding that he could not vote in favor of the buyout because his integrity was cast into doubt.
Questions regarding Geryk’s leadership arose over the last few years after an Amherst High School teacher, Carolyn Gardner, was the target of racist graffiti and her classroom window broken.The district’s handling of those actions, seen by some as inadequate, led to a discrimination complaint and a financial settlement of $180,000. This year, Geryk came under fire for issuing a “stay away” order in March against Aisha Hiza, the mother of Pelham pupil, which banned Hiza from school grounds and from contacting school officials. Hiza, who has obtained legal counsel, maintains that she was barred from advocating for her daughter, and that the child was the target of racist bullying which school officials failed to resolve.
The buyout of Geryk’s contract includes a lump sum of $253,725 to be paid to by Sept. 9, representing 1.5 years salary. She will also be paid for 69 unused vacation days, and the district will pay the cost of continuing Geryk’s health insurance for 18 months. Her contract was set to end in June, 2018, and had a one-year renewal option.
Below is a copy of the statement Crocker Farm parent Marla Goldberg-Jamate read at the meeting, urging a delay of at least 18 months for the school building project.
To: The Amherst School Committee, Wildwood School Building Committee, and Amherst Select Board
From: Marla Jamate, Crocker Farm parent/Town Meeting member
RE: Need for an 18-Month Extension from the Massachusetts School Building Authority
Aug. 9, 2016
Dear Committee Members,
It is my understanding from recent news reports that Schools Superintendent Maria Geryk intends to resign, and that the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee will vote tonight to close out her contract.
In light of Ms. Geryk’s pending departure, I would strongly encourage the Amherst School Committee and/or the Wildwood School Building Committee to immediately seek extension of at least 18 months from the Massachusetts School Building Authority before plan finalization. I would also encourage the committees to ask the Amherst Select Board to strike the related budget override item from the Nov. 8 ballot, for the following reasons:
The coming months will leave the Amherst School District, and the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, both under the guidance of an interim superintendent. Meanwhile, a national job search will be necessary, so that candidates can be interviewed to find the best, most experienced person to guide our schools forward and improve their academic performance. Clearly, this is not the optimal time for the district to advance with a controversial $65 million building project, all its associated, complicated details, and the many decisions that would be required. Moreover, it would only be fair to a new superintendent to allow him or her to have input in this process. It will ultimately fall to the new superintendent to guide any construction and reconfiguration that takes place, and to manage the transitions that would be involved.
As the Committees are aware, questions and concerns have arisen about the pending school construction and grade reconfiguration plan, which would consolidate pupils town-wide in grades 2-6 at a single new campus north of Amherst center, while reducing Crocker Farm in south Amherst to a townwide k-1 and preschool center.
Many parents believe it would make more sense to have one complete, pre-k through grade 6 school each in both north and south sections of Amherst – perhaps through the construction of a single new building on Strong Avenue and an addition to Crocker Farm. This would reduce inconveniences for families whose children would be split up between upper and lower elementary schools under the existing proposal. It would also eliminate chaotic and lengthy bus rides, where individual buses would need to load at two schools before proceeding into Amherst’s neighborhoods.
I also believe that any new construction should, at this juncture, be strongly driven by curriculum innovations, such as the addition of bi-lingual education in our elementary schools. Two-way Spanish-English immersion is being tried, with success, on the West Coast and elsewhere, and could help make our curriculum richer and more appealing to many families who seek greater challenges for their children.
The current school building proposal should be delayed in light of all these issues – the need for a permanent superintendent, and for revisions to improve the project and hopefully reduce its cost. The committees would be better served to wait until these changes have taken place before putting the plan before the voters.
I will add that my children have been happy at Crocker Farm, which I see as a thriving, diverse, welcoming and successful school community. It greatly saddens me to think that this school would be broken up, and I do think more thought should be given to this plan.
For all these reasons, I would ask you to consider seeking a meaningful extension from the MSBA, for the hiring of a new superintendent, and for needed project review and revision.