Category: news

Corson: Engaging Diverse Views About School Consolidation

Catherine Corson, Amherst Needs to Engage Diverse Perspectives on School Plans

Shortly after the November Town Meeting vote on the Amherst elementary school consolidation, I attended a parent session on the new student-created Wildwood constitution.

Children described to their proud and occasionally teary parents how they came up with a set of shared rules for Wildwood Elementary School. When asked what they had learned in the process, students replied: “To be respectful of others even if their ideas are not the same as mine,” “To reword things so everyone agrees,” and “To work it out without yelling even if someone else has a different idea.”

Sitting there in the Wildwood library, I wondered how these students would have negotiated the opposing views about consolidation. Proponents of consolidation might take a lesson from them about how to create effective dialogue across difference.

There is no question that Amherst citizens are deeply divided about the plan. In assessing the distance between the sides, it is important to remember that, while social media, petitions, and protests reflect the loudest voices, vote tallies and surveys provide more representative information. On Nov. 8, 6,825 voted for consolidation, 6,699 voted against. The subsequent Town Meeting was very similar to the popular vote: 106 for and 108 against.

The only survey conducted to gather public input, completed in January 2016 by 50 percent of educators and 450 parents/guardians, showed preferential support for retaining K-6 schools and parent preference for small schools. Yet, the School Committee’s unfortunate decision to ignore these results rather than discuss them at its subsequent meeting surprised and alienated many educators and parents who might otherwise have been supportive.

In an era in which many are condemning the divisive language that pervaded the U.S. presidential election, the divisive rhetoric surrounding Amherst school issues is equally disheartening. Innumerable teachers and parents who oppose the consolidation have confided their hesitation to speak out for fear of being labeled anti-school. Those who have had the courage to do so have lost friendships, received distasteful letters and faced pressure to recant their positions.

Those opposing the consolidation are not ill-informed; they are respected educators, parents and advocates for equity who are concerned about various problems and inaccuracies — from the lack of a sufficient plan to fund expanded pre-kindergarten at Crocker Farm, to the fact that Wildwood and Fort River have both passed their air-quality tests despite inflammatory rhetoric to the contrary, to the inadequate play space in the consolidated school and intended destruction of the community-created Wildwood “castle” playground. They have argued that much academic research shows that small schools better foster equity.

In short, the debate is not about being for or against the schools, but about different perspectives about what is best for our children, educators, citizens and town.

Last year, I attended almost all of the public events about the consolidation — then named the Wildwood Building Project — talked with district officials and Amherst School Committee members, and pushed for the educator and parent survey.

Despite having many colleagues and friends who opposed the plan, as well as a few who are for it, I did not join an advocacy group, but remained open-minded, focused primarily on advocating for public engagement so as to foster strong and long-term community support for the Amherst public school system.

One of the biggest failures of the process to date has been its domination by white privileged voices, despite the equity rationales being made. Well-intentioned efforts to promote equity can have the opposite effect if marginalized voices are not solicited and heard, and a climate in which dissenting views are silenced does not create the welcoming space needed to engage these voices.

As Ms. Jagadeesh pointed out in her column (“School project should unify Amherst,” Jan. 20), teachers are not in agreement, and it is vital to recognize the way that power plays out in silencing certain views and privileging others, not just in the schools, but in our community.

As we move forward from this point, I would encourage the district and elected officials to hold community forums in locations easy to get to by parents/guardians from disadvantaged groups so as to ensure their voices are adequately represented and to engage educators and community members from diverse perspectives in respectful dialogue and debate in advance, rather than trying to garner buy-in to an already decided-upon plan.

Especially at a time like this, we owe it to our children, who are learning to take the time and develop the courage to engage across difference, to do the same.

Catherine Corson, of Amherst, is the parent of children at Wildwood Elementary School.

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The Dance of the 23 Buses (updated)

The District’s plan is to have one fleet of 23 buses transport all elementary age children to and from both the new 750 student, grade 2-6 school at Wildwood campus AND the PreK-1 school at Crocker Farm campus.

Here is what the morning and afternoon commutes would look like for our kids.

Morning Pick-Up

In the morning, a bus would pick up all the kids in a neighborhood/area, travel to one school to drop off one set of kids (2-6 grade or P-1), then travel through downtown to the other school to drop off the other set of kids (P-1 or 2-6).

Since some kids (presumably from the north end of town) will arrive at the Wildwood campus first and others (presumably from the south end of town) will arrive at the Crocker Farm campus first, there will be a bunch of kids waiting around at each school for the rest of the student body to arrive before school can begin. What will they be doing during this time? What staff members will be responsible to supervise them? Does this mean that school will be starting later than it does currently or that pick-up from homes will start earlier? What will be the total travel time for the kids who are one of the first to be picked up from home and who get dropped off at the second school?

Afternoon Drop-Off

One set of kids would queue up at both schools.  A long line of buses would queue at Crocker Farm – if it is half the fleet, that’s 11 or 12 but it’s not clear if that many can even fit there. The rest of the buses will be in the traffic circle at the Wildwood campus. Only about 12 can fit in the bus loop in single file so any more than that would have to park side-by-side. That means that kids would have to walk in-between parked buses to board.

After this first batch of children gets on the bus, all 23 buses pass each other as they travel north/south through downtown to the other school and, once again, line up to collect more kids.

While all this is happening, half of the kids are still at both schools, waiting for the buses to get to them. What will this set of kids be doing while they wait? Who will be supervising them?

Why 23?

Right now, a set of buses travels between homes in each district and each of our three elementary schools: 6 for Crocker Farm, 6 for Fort River, and 7 for Wildwood – a total of 19.  The proposed consolidation/reconfiguration involves busing kids from all over town to both schools and would necessarily result in much longer ride times. To mitigate against this, the plan is to add more buses.

The District hired an outside consulting company to model scenarios using 19 or 21 buses.   The 23 bus model was proposed in response to concerns that the ride times were still too long.  When we spoke to Versatrans, the company that built the computer model, they recommended running the routes, as their model “optimizes” on the data drivers provide. To date, no actual trial runs (that we know of) have been completed.

What does this all mean for kid travel time?

The following graphs show morning and afternoon bus ride times for the our current three K-6 school system and computer modeled times for 19, 21, and 23 buses for the proposed consolidation/reconfiguration.

Some important notes

  1. The current 19 bus data is based on actual run times for the current school year in which 6-7 buses each travel between homes and a single elementary school. (http//:www.arps.org:district_info:services:transportation:bus_routes)
  2. The 19 and 21-bus models shows projected run times produced by the District’s consultant and is based on a computer model.  (Tyler Technologies, ARPS Run Reconfiguration, October 5, 2015)
  3. The 23-bus model has only been done “in-house” by setting the maximum run time at 34 minutes.
  4. A traffic study was conducted after the School Committee decided to reconfigure and consolidate our elementary schools and after the School Building Committee decided to site the 750 student building at the Wildwood campus.  It was also done after the computer modeling was done, yet it did not evaluate the impact of 23 buses traveling through downtown to go between schools, nor the possibility that with longer bus times for students, more parents may chose to drive, adding to traffic volume.  See Can the Wildwood campus (and the rest of Amherst) handle the increased traffic of a double-sized school?

Overview and take-home points:

  • While the longest run in the 23 bus model is only 2 minutes longer than the current longest run, overall the run times increase significantly.  Half of the runs would be longer than 30 minutes, as opposed to only 1 run being that long in the current system.
  • Currently, 13 of the 19 bus routes take less than 25 minutes.  For both the 21 and 23 bus models, all but 3 bus runs would take more than 25 minutes in the proposed plan.
  • Many of our youngest students (5 -6 year olds) that currently attend Wildwood would spend up to twice as long on the bus as they travel from home to the new school and then on Crocker Farm in south Amherst.

How long would it take for teachers to gather their classes together in the morning, and then wait for dismissal in the afternoon?

The assumed times do not consider many other potential delays associated with doubling the number of buses lining up and boarding/disembarking. Teachers can now gather their students in less than 10 minutes at every school. In fact, at Wildwood the 7 buses come in and disembark students in about 7 minutes. Under the proposal, because they would arrive in two separate waves, this will increase by at least 15 minutes (IF every bus can simultaneously drop off all their students, which doesn’t even happen now, with 6 or 7 buses!).  This will likely increase both disciplinary and safety concerns and take more time away from learning.  More likely, if buses arrive as they do now, roughly one per minute to a site, it will take teachers almost 1/2 hour each day before class can begin.

What are the transportation related costs of the proposal and its 23 buses?

  • The additional 4 buses will cost $220,000 more annually (not including any staffing costs to supervise the waiting students).  This amount will only increase over time, further depleting the presumed operational savings this plan is supposed to produce.
  • The total number of bus miles driven per day would increase from 220 to well over 380 miles, or >160 miles MORE per day  – that’s over 28,800 additional miles every year. These numbers are based on the 21-bus model – the District did not provide the data for the 23-bus version, but more buses will only cause the total mileage to go up.
  • Dividing the same number of kids into more buses means that the number of students per bus goes way down.  Three of these buses would carry fewer than 23 students, and another three would be less than half full – not a very efficient use of fossil fuels.

Future Predictions?

One can imagine that as budgets grow tight or diesel costs increase, a more efficient use of buses will be the logical choice to reduce costs.  That means going back to the 21 or 19 bus model that would have a lot more kids on a lot longer bus rides (35+ minutes) every morning and afternoon.  As it is, the longer runs times for a cohort of very young riders may lead to more parents driving their child to school, adding to traffic and pollution.

Bottom line

Transportation has always been a very problematic part of the proposed plan.  There are financial, environmental/health and safety, and logistical consequences of reconfiguration/consolidation and they would fall most heavily on those with the fewest resources.

 

Updated version of “The Dance of the (23) Buses”, from August 7, 2016.

 

One vote away from unification (updated)

Back in January 2016, one of the School Committee members made it very clear that her vote in favor of grade reconfiguration was contingent upon it being 2 co-located schools each with grades 2-6.  She specifically stated that she did not support the grouping of all students in a single grade.  The superintendent at that time reassured her that the building would be divided into “2 schools” and got her vote.

But just weeks later, plans for complete unification into a single 750 student school were alive and well and embedded in the current plan.

Below is an excerpt from the Schematic Design, the document submitted to the MSBA (state funding authority) in August.  This letter is a response by the District’s consultants to the MSBA’s comments on the previous submission (the Preferred Schematic Report).  Note that it is dated April 11, 2016 – three months after the School Committee vote on reconfiguration – and indicates that the plans are specifically designed to accommodate the conversion of this school into a “single grade 2-6 elementary school“.

letter-stating-2-6-by-grade<––––Look here

The above referenced document also contains schematics of how easy the design makes it  to change from “co-located schools” to a single, grade-based school.  The following images are from the April 2016 report that show these labels.  Further down are images from the August 2016 Schematic Design with the final layout that maintains the 5-pod organization of the building.

The top 2 images are the first and second floor for the “co-located schools” and the bottom 2 images are for the single grade-based school.

2-6-co-lo-ff2-6-co-lo-sf

Simply swap out the labels on the classrooms (“Grade 2” and “Grade 3” for “Grade 2/3” and “Grade 4” and “Grade 5” for “Grade 4/5”) and Voila! – 150 kids in each grade.  No need to do anything for Grade 6 since they’re already all together there.

2-6-grade-ff2-6-grade-sf

Below are the final floor plans from the Schematic Design that have some other differences from the April drawings but that still separate out the classrooms into the same 5 pods.

Floor plans

What about making it K-6? 

In an attempt to allay concerns about the plan, supporters have alleged that the building could just as simply be converted to a K-6 school in the future should we learn the hard way that the proposed grade reconfiguration is not working.  However, the architects themselves have said that it is not easy or inexpensive to turn 2nd-6th grade classrooms into PreK or Kindergarten rooms.  MSBA standards call for larger classrooms (between 1100 and 1300 sq ft) and with their own self-contained bathrooms.  In a twin K-6 building, there would need to be 7 or 8 such rooms for but the proposed building has only 4 rooms that are 1050 sq ft (as opposed to the 34 classrooms that are 950 sq ft) and none have their own bathrooms.  The images below are from the Schematic Design.

PSR vs SD

4 @ 1050

No renovation plans or cost estimates have been presented to indicate how much work or money it would take to make the necessary changes.  Plus, the chances of the Town being able to afford an expensive renovation on a brand new building with 3 other major capital projects on the table and a backlog of road repairs to deal with? Slim to none.  It would also be very complicated and disruptive to un-do the grade reconfiguration that would have completely reorganized not only students, but families, staff, materials, and  programs.  Chances are, they would try to make the best of a bad situation which sounds depressingly familiar to what we have had to do with the open classroom design for the past several decades.

These same recommendations for room size and bathroom facilities will also make renovation of Crocker Farm into a PreK-1 only facility far more expensive than the vague “around $50,000” that the administration keeps saying it will cost.  If all ~150 kindergarteners in town were at Crocker Farm, they would need to be in 8 separate classrooms.  Trouble is, there aren’t enough classrooms of that size and with self-contained or even adjacent lavatories in that building – not even close.  They would need to convert about 7 rooms that aren’t even 1000 sq ft and that have plumbing for sinks but not toilets.  This isn’t a simple matter of having smaller fixtures.  It also doesn’t address the many other changes that would be necessary to make this building appropriate for our youngest students.  For example, outdoor play equipment that is great for older elementary kids but completely inaccessible to  5 and 6 year olds.  There has been no itemized accounting of what it would take to do all this and these costs would be borne entirely by the Town (no state reimbursement).

 

This building design is far more amenable to the former superintendent’s original plan to maximize economies of scale by minimizing teachers and classes and getting rid of the duplicated school administrations (principals and office staff).  In fact, there are 5 classroom “pods”, each with its own 500 sq ft teacher room – a set up that makes perfect sense in a single school with each grade cohort of 150 kids in its own area. If it goes forward, we are one School Committee vote and one financial downturn away from removing the veneer of “wings” and becoming a “single grade 2-6 elementary school” for these 750 students who would already be sharing a gym, a cafeteria, a library, an entry area, a nurse, and a fleet of buses.

Note:  You can find all this on pages 17, 18, 415, 616 and 626-629 in the Schematic Design available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By0mz4P0v3bWaG9vUk54emJud2s/view

Martini: Increased School Buses in Amherst

Anna Martini: Concerned about increased school buses in Amherst
Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette, Wed, March 22, 2017

The proposed school building plan in Amherst requires a larger fleet of buses to help mitigate long ride times. Right now, only six or seven buses go to each school from their catchment area.

The new plan proposes 23, at an additional cost of $220,000 per year. These buses will be significantly underfilled (three of the 72-seat buses will have 22 or fewer students). The new buses also add more than 120 miles traveled per day— that’s almost 22,000 more miles per school year— an increase of more than one-third over the current three-school model. Unsurprisingly, transportation is one of the reasons this plan is only minimally LEED Silver.

The other issue with moving 23 buses back and forth between two sites is the obvious increase in time kids will spend on buses. For example, kindergartners and first-graders who would have attended Wildwood would experience an 11- to 15-minute longer ride due to the initial stop and drop at Wildwood for the older kids, then the additional travel through downtown to Crocker Farm. This may prompt some parents to drive their 5- or 6-year old to Crocker, further worsening the overall traffic situation.

Class start time would also be seriously impacted. Right now the seven buses that arrive at Wildwood manage the stop and drop in an amazing seven minutes. Between the arrival of the first of the 23 buses and the arrival of the last bus coming from the other school, there will be at least 20 to 25 minutes before each teacher has their entire class accounted for.

Estimates of the two-school, 23-bus system are based on a computer model. When I asked the company whose program is used to comment on how accurate it is, they said it should be “within 10 minutes” but before adoption they would “recommend having the buses run the routes at the appropriate time of day” to get actual driver-derived data.

It’s been nearly 1½ years since the former superintendent recommended this plan, and I don’t believe this test run has been done yet.

Anna Martini
Amherst

absentee ballots available – but there are TWO SEPARATE ballots

The March 28 election is rapidly approaching, and while there is no “early voting”, people who can’t make it to the polls on Tuesday March 28, for whatever reason, can request absentee ballots.

The process is not too hard: Go to Town Hall and request the ballots there (you can vote it and file it that same day, or take it home and mail it), or, send in a signed request, and the Town Clerk will mail the ballots to your home.

However, voters should be aware that the special election ballot (the one to vote NO, against consolidating our elementary schools) will be mailed separately from the town ballot, which has elections for Town Meeting member, School Committee, and other Town offices. Voters should watch carefully for both ballots, and if they do not get two separate ballots, should contact the Town Clerk.

What is the actual reimbursement rate for the project? Update

The MSBA base reimbursement rate is 31%. This number is then increased based on Community Income, Property Wealth, and Poverty Factors. For Amherst, this figure is 64%**.  However, THIS IS NOT THE FINAL % REIMBURSEMENT THAT THE MSBA WILL PROVIDE TO THE PROJECT.

This figure can be increased with Incentive Points granted by the MSBA for a variety of reasons. (See http://www.massschoolbuildings.org/sites/default/files/edit-contentfiles/Documents/Guidelines_Policies/Reimbursement_Rate_Calculation.pdf)  For Amherst, this figure is 68%.  In fact, 2 of these percentage points are “provisional” on how “green” the project actually turns out to be and THIS IS ALSO NOT THE FINAL % REIMBURSEMENT THAT THE MSBA WILL PROVIDE TO THE PROJECT.

This maximum is then decreased based on the certain caps on items and unapproved or ineligible portions of the design and building process – that gets us to the effective reimbursement rate. For this proposal, that number is estimated to be somewhere around 50%. THIS IS ALSO NOT THE FINAL % REIMBURSEMENT THAT THE MSBA WILL PROVIDE TO THE PROJECT.

The Project Scope and Budget includes a figure called the Maximum Facilities Grant – that is, the maximum amount of money Amherst can possibly get from the MSBA. No town ever actually receives that amount, though, as there are always expenses that are incurred during construction that have not been anticipated and that are not eligible for MSBA funding. So, WE WILL NOT KNOW THE FINAL % REIMBURSEMENT THAT THE MSBA WILL PROVIDE TO THE PROJECT UNTIL AFTER IT IS COMPLETED.

This is part of the reason that we would have to appropriate funds for the entire project cost, not just the estimated Town portion.  For Amherst, the total project budget will be  ~$67 million and the Town’s portion will be at least $33 million, not that the taxpayers got to see that amount on the ballot in November.  This number also does not include all the costs that this project creates that are not included in the building estimate and for which no plan or budget has been provided: renovations at Crocker Farm, decommissioning Fort River, reconfiguring the intersection at East Pleasant and Strong to manage the anticipated increase in traffic.

The language on the referendum about reimbursement is a bit confusing.  It lists the 68% but it is not made clear that this is nowhere near the reality of ~50%.  The maximum facilities grant is mentioned but no dollar figure is given.  This information was provided at Town Meeting when it was asked to make a financial decision that will affect the Town for decades to come.

Here is a link to the Project Scope and Budget.  This is the document that essentially locks us into this plan.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0By0mz4P0v3bWWXR0ZElmUlE5NG8/view

**The District had been quoting 68% throughout the feasibility study until this summer when they were told by the MSBA that they were using an outdated formula to calculate this figure.  This means that the maximum reimbursement rate will be four points lower than has been publicized.

Jeff Osborne: Amherst must use fiscal common sense

Amherst officials must use fiscal restraint
Jeff Osborne
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Jan. 26, 2017

As a former town employee of 38 years and having just turned 64, I felt the need to ask our town officials to start using common sense.

I can assure the taxpayers that there will be many things coming along that will require money but the officials need to understand that the citizens of Amherst are not all rich. Taxes are already high. In fact, that’s why most town employees do not live in town. Most of us have to save for what we want.

Amherst has known for decades that it would like a fire station in South Amherst. Has the town saved any money for it? Why not a satellite station, a truck and an ambulance for quick response?

If the claim is that Fort River School can’t be upgraded because of wetland issues, how can the town build a DPW building there?

When you appropriate $400,000 for maintenance, use it for what it was intended. Stop spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies and start utilizing our college and university resources and our knowledgeable employees to solve our problems.

Since the town threw all four of these projects at the taxpayers at once, please consider instead, over time, appropriating money to: 1. Upgrade the Fort River and Wildwood schools; 2. Upgrade the DPW building where it is; 3. Consider a satellite fire station, possibly attached to the upgraded DPW building; and 4. Have the library save and accept donations for its addition.

Regarding state funding, just because you receive a 40 percent coupon in the mail, doesn’t mean you should rush out to the store and buy something.

Jeff Osborne

Amherst

Carole Horowitz: Amherst needs a different plan and an inclusive process

Amherst needs school plan with broad support
Carole Horowitz

Published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Jan. 27, 2017

I strongly believe that Amherst needs to replace or renovate the Fort River and Wildwood elementary schools but I voted against the ballot question on Nov. 8 and I urge Town Meeting members to again vote against the proposal on Jan. 30.

The existing proposal for a new school on the Wildwood site continues to divide parents, teachers, and the community at-large even though most agree that the schools must be replaced or renovated.

One likely reason for this division is a lack of evidence that the proposed grade reconfiguration is educationally sound. (For those unfamiliar with the proposal, the new school would contain Wildwood and Fort River as co-located Grades 2-6 schools while Crocker Farm would become a K-1 school with a preschool.)

I have looked at the arguments made by proponents of reconfiguration but have seen nothing showing that separating students in this way has better or even equal educational outcomes than the existing K-6 configuration. In fact, research shows that K-6 schools are optimal for student learning and strong parent involvement. The value of keeping students in the same supportive community of adults for seven years cannot be overstated.

It’s difficult to understand why sound educational principles were not at the core of this discussion from the beginning. I understand that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) has told the interim superintendent, Michael Morris, that if the project fails again at Town Meeting, Amherst may withdraw this proposal immediately and submit a new application that will be considered by the MSBA in 2017.

I’m excited that we will have another opportunity to build a state-of-the-art school for our children. I hope we will have an inclusive process that results in a sound building and educational plan that has broad community support.

Carole Horowitz

Amherst

Special Town Meeting scheduled for Jan. 30, 2016

Supporters of the current school consolidation proposal submitted a petition to schedule a Special Session of Town Meeting to reconsider the proposal. This is scheduled for January 30 (Monday), with additional dates as needed on February 1 (Wednesday) and February 2 (Thursday).

The article is available here: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/37360

and the petition, filed December 20, is here: https://www.amherstma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/37354

Jim Oldham: What next for the Amherst Schools?

Guest column, Amherst Bulletin, Friday November 25, 2016

Friday, November 25, 2016

After Amherst voters approved, by a margin of less than 1 percent, a Proposition 2 1/2 override required to fund the construction of two “co-located” schools for Grades 2 through 6, Town Meeting voted not to appropriate funds for the project, which was the other essential step for it to go forward.

Although Town Meeting members were also equally split between yes and no, the result was not close given that state law requires a two-thirds majority to approve borrowing. This ensures that any commitment of future resources has broad community broad. The school proposal did not have such support in Town Meeting nor among voters at large.

While many families and teachers were relieved by the Town Meeting vote, others were understandably disappointed. There are many different perspectives regarding both the current schools and those that were proposed, reflecting diverse needs, experiences and priorities in our community.

Should Town Meeting have appropriated funds because the ballot measure won on Election Day? Was there a mandate from the voters? I don’t think so.

First of all, state law required each of the votes for different reasons, and they addressed distinct questions. To suggest one vote should follow the other would make the second one meaningless.

Beyond that, with the town’s voters split evenly, it was Town Meeting’s responsibility to determine if it was appropriate to mortgage future revenues belonging to all of us for this project, and the majority thought not.

For me, the biggest concerns were the impacts of the poorly thought out educational plan that I have written about previously, and the large cohorts of students that would be created in each grade, particularly at Crocker Farm where the youngest children would be. Others emphasized the significant loss of playgrounds, the transportation impact, and the burden on families, especially those with single parents, no cars, or limited resources.

The most compelling argument I heard in favor of the proposed co-located schools was made by and on behalf of families of children with special needs. It is challenging to provide specialized services in three schools, and requiring children to be go outside their district to receive those services isolates and sometimes stigmatizes them.

However, other families emphasized the challenges transitions create, particularly for children with special needs, and the value of remaining with adults who know them. And it is possible to address the problem of having to go out of district for services without accepting the proposed education plan.

I’ve heard it said that those of us who voted no let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The accusation is that by voting down a flawed plan we left the town with no option at all.

To me, the more reasonable conclusion is that the school leadership, with more options available and more time to develop a proposal people could unite behind, behaved irresponsibly in bringing a controversial plan to voters and Town Meeting and gambling that it would pass.

As others have noted, a proposal for two co-located K-6 schools on the same site, while not satisfying everyone, could have delivered most of the desired benefits with fewer negatives. Had that plan been proposed, it would now likely be moving forward to final design and construction.

That said, rehashing these arguments won’t address Amherst’s needs. The sooner we can come together to bring a new plan to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the better. Despite fear-mongering to the contrary, there is good reason to believe that a new proposal can be approved and move ahead in perhaps as little as two to three years. After all, the same conditions and needs exist now as did when Amherst’s initial application was approved.

And however uncertain one believes the future to be, it is clear that our children will be best served if the adults in the community work to come together around a concept that can be broadly embraced.

In the meantime, how do we deal with the current situation? First we need to distinguish between real problems and hype. The noisy environment and lack of natural light created by the open-classroom design at Wildwood and Fort River are legitimate concerns, but they have also existed for decades during which Amherst has been a destination for families seeking excellent schools.

The deferred maintenance of the schools seems a greater problem, and we should be prepared to spend some money to deal with problems that should have been addressed several years ago.

Finally, now that school officials have acknowledged the inappropriateness of busing 46 students from the apartment complexes in South Amherst out of district to achieve socioeconomic balance in the schools, they should rapidly find a way to give those families freedom to choose their schools. Equity isn’t something to offer only when you have funding.

Jim Oldham is an Amherst Town Meeting member from Precinct 5.