The process thus far has been cart-before-the-horse: State money can go either for one school or the whole District; Amherst has two schools that need updates; so school administrators have opted to reconfigure the entire District to get more money.
That might make sense if this were the only option on the table–and as far as the MSBA process is concerned, it is. However, the Town of Amherst is not constrained by the MSBA process, and a number of community members have made several other proposals.
We do not advocate for any of these in particular, but simply want to point out that Amherst need not support reconfiguration and age-segregated mega-schools out of fear that that is the only way to upgrade aging physical plant.
If the Town or Town Meeting vote down the current proposal, these options would be likely alternatives; the time window would likely be 4-6 years, depending on quickly the District moved. (See “what happens if …”)
- Renovate Wildwood now, go back into MSBA pool for Fort River. It appears that there is on average an approximate 6-7 year wait for MSBA funds. In the meantime, key renovations of Fort River to deal with its air quality concerns should be done immediately.
- Twin K-6 in a Single Location. In response to parent pressure and support for community K-6 schools, the District added in Fall 2015 a proposal for the new “mega-school” to actually be twin K-6 schools, with completely separate administrations, entrances, etc. This proposal drew quite a bit of community support, but Administration still recommended the reconfiguration. This proposal could have been a brand new building, or, less expensively, a renovation and addition. It would have preserved Crocker Farm’s thriving small school, solved a lot of the transportation problems that exist with the reconfiguration plan, and preserved a lot of flexibility for the School system in terms of expanding or shrinking enrollments.
- Use the Middle School. Former Fort River parent and Town Meeting member Janet McGowan has suggested that we could use the Middle School property to build a small K-6 elementary school that could house the Fort River or Wildwood students. See Janet McGowan’s discussion, Jan. 18, 2016.
- Dual Renovation. If the MSBA pays 55% for a renovation of Wildwood, the Town could pay 100% of the renovation for Fort River. The total of these two renovations might be comparable to the Town’s share of the mega-school reconfiguration, and still permit the Town to keep its preferred small neighborhood K-6 schools. See Article 38 for proposal to determine costs of this option.
- Two equally-sized neighborhood PreK-6 schools. An underlying concern seems to be worries about long-term operational costs to the district – especially as Amherst’s school-age population goes down (will that continue?) and federal and state policy force Amherst to pay for students who choice out of the district. Perhaps the most cost-effective long run alternative would be to reduce to two neighborhood PreK-6 schools, one at Wildwood and one at Crocker Farm. The MSBA process could renovate Wildwood into an excellent PreK-6 school (smaller and less expensive than the proposed two-wing 2-6 school), and the town could build additions on to Crocker. If funding for Crocker additions is delayed, temporary additions could be provided with modular classrooms. See discussion by Eve Vogel, Feb. 2, 2016.