One of the most distressing parts of the “reconfiguration” proposal has been the way the process was repeatedly rushed and public comment sought to be contained.
Administration shows a long list of meeting dates, which suggests the process has been highly public and thoroughly vetted. Nothing could be further from the truth. For months, the process ran virtually underground as the “Wildwood Building Project” — and any parent or community member polled would have said that the process was looking into renovating or replacing Wildwood. Nothing about reconfiguration. Reconfiguration was not raised as an issue at the School Committee elections in 2015. At the 2014 Town Meeting when funds were appropriated for the “Wildwood School Feasibility” study, the powerpoint presentation was all about Wildwood — indeed, the only mention of Fort River was to tout its recently replaced boiler.
In fact, it wasn’t until late September of 2015 at the first public forum that members of the public began to sense that reconfiguration was the School Administration’s preferred solution. Yet even then, when asked point-blank if there was a preference for or against the options, Administration punted, saying that all the options were on the table.
In fact, Administration waited until mid-October, almost three more weeks, before publicly recommending reconfiguration. They then said that it must be voted on by the School Committee at its next meeting, November 3, or the District would go off the MSBA timetable.
In other words, the Administration opted to keep its recommendations and decisions close to its chest rather than engaging in public discussion throughout the entire first year of the feasibility study. During that time they could have publicly stated their aim, and started building their case. They chose, instead, to sequester their recommendations until what they thought was the last possible minute — just before the required School Committee vote.
The Town was shocked: parents galvanized, a flurry of letters and op-eds sent, large numbers of postcards sent urging the School Committee to delay the vote. But the School Administration insisted they could not delay the vote “because of the MSBA timeline.”
Fortunately, one community member actually read the MSBA guidelines. In doing so, Maria Kopicki saw that in fact the School Committee did not have to vote in November. In fact, there were several months more in which the School Administration could do outreach and work with the Town. She told the School Committee and School Administration — which chose not to respond to her correction and continued to schedule the vote for November 3.
Kopicki wrote an op-ed, which inspired School Committee member Rick Hood to contact the MSBA; and Kopicki herself contacted the MSBA to verify the timetable. The MSBA finally called the Amherst School Administration to straighten out the Administration’s confusion. Then and only then did the School Administration and School Committee elect to delay the vote until January.