Tagged: op-ed

Janet McGowan : We need schools big enough for the next 50 years

We Need Schools Big Enough For The Next 50 Years.
Janet McGowan
Another “NO” letter the Amherst Bulletin did not publish. 

While the cost of renovating both Wildwood and Fort River schools is similar to the cost of the new project with ‘co-located’ schools, right now both Wildwood and Fort River have more gyms, playgrounds and fields for kids to run and play in, and space for preschool classrooms. And room for more students.

It is doubtful enrollments will decline over the next 50 years, the building life span required by MSBA. New housing is being built in Amherst and the University is adding more students. Renovated Wildwood and Fort River schools will have room if enrollments increase in the next 50 years. But the new $67 million school will need an addition.

Renovating Wildwood was estimated at $34.7 million, roughly half the cost of the proposed $67 new co-located elementary school. (Construction cost consultants A.M. Fogarty & Assoc. Jan. 6, 2014). If Amherst reapplied and got 50% MSBA reimbursement, Amherst taxpayers would pay $17.4 million for a lovely K-6, renovated Wildwood–with its own gym, cafeteria, library/media area, large playground and fields. The Middle School and Fort River could be used as swing space, similar to what was done in the past. Fort River could go next. Total ballpark for taxpayers: around $35 million for 164,000 sq. ft. of renovated space–with room for increased enrollments.

Or, for about the same money, Amherst taxpayers can pay for a building that cannot handle many more students. At 122,714 sq. ft., it is 25% smaller than Wildwood and Fort River combined. Its 750 students, in separate wings, will share one gym, one cafeteria, one library and two small playgrounds with little on-site field space. If enrollments increase, the new $67 million school will need an addition. How much more will that cost?

It’s worth waiting to do the right school project that will last.

Janet McGowan

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Winternitz: Renovation of schools could work well

Renovate existing Amherst elementary schools
Robert Winternitz
Published in the Amherst Bulletin, Dec. 29, 2016

It is time now that an alternative to the 750 student co-located school project be given serious consideration.

We have two nearly identical school buildings representing an architectural style and educational philosophy not in current fashion.

We need to step back and reexamine these buildings – and consider the possibilities hidden within them. A well-thought-out renovation designed by a competent architect with a background in educational buildings could address many of the shortcomings of these structures.

Such a project should encompass a thorough reimagining of the interior space. The existing floor plan need not constrain the design any more than what is necessary from a structural and engineering standpoint.

Much has been made of the lack of natural light inside the buildings. Yet the one-story design offers ample opportunity to bring in daylight through skylights.

In addition, the buildings have eight light courts specifically designed to bring light into the core of the building. There is room for additional windows to more fully utilize the natural light in these areas. The light courts as they exist now contain only crushed stone and a few yew bushes and are accessible only to maintenance staff, but these sheltered spaces could be used as class gardens or for student experiments in solar energy.

Any thorough renovation project would encompass improvements in energy efficiency through new HVAC systems.

In addition, the single story design gives a very favorable ratio of roof area to inside space, making them good candidates for a solar installation. With today’s technology, a significant amount of power could be generated on site.

Such a project should be guided and informed by the input from teachers, students and administrators familiar with the problems in these buildings. Since there are two buildings, the most effective way to proceed would be to renovate one building and then wait a year or two to gather information about how well the new design is working.

Then, experience gained could be put to use in further improving the design in the second building to be renovated.

The downside to this is the necessity of using temporary portable classrooms during the renovation. But there is enough space at both sites to accommodate this – and, if the problems with these buildings are as serious as reported, then the portable classrooms themselves may represent an improvement over the present situation.

All in all, renovation is the most efficient, least disruptive and most environmentally friendly option.

Robert Winternitz
Amherst

McGowan: Improve Wildwood & Fort River

A thoughtful analysis of Question 5 by Janet McGowan, a member of Town Meeting.

I’ve spent many hours trying to help parents with kids in the elementary schools get the Central Administration to look at other options, and to ask Town Meeting to fund a deeper look at the costs of options. I’ve also struggled in the past weeks to figure out how I am going to vote on Question 5.

Bottom line, I can’t get out of my head that the great majority of elementary school teachers and parents surveyed did not support this option. Why was it pushed forward, despite the beliefs and experiences of most teachers – the experts that make our schools run? Let’s keep our three K-6 school communities intact, supporting the teachers, staff and parents that make our schools such warm welcoming places–and make needed changes that fit.

Other considerations, in my mind:

1. Fort River and Wildwood Schools are not unhealthy places. The air quality problems people refer to are from years ago at Wildwood and the district takes many steps to keep mold, etc. at bay. I’ve asked for and never gotten any documentation supporting former Superintendent Maria Geryk’s remarks in the Statement of Interest filed with the state. The comments included that Wildwood is “in a condition seriously jeopardizing the health and safety of school children,” and has “severe overcrowding.” I found both statements startling. The Statement of Interest goes on to describe “mold growth and poor ventilation are chronic problems at Wildwood School,” and claims that “student and teacher absences are elevated due to severe allergic and asthmatic reactions, especially on Mondays…” and that the classroom “partitions…exacerbate asthma and mold related illnesses.” If these statements were true, it would have been a call for immediate remedial action..

2. The classrooms at Wildwood and Fort River are not “deplorable” or terrible or poor learning environments. The open classrooms make little sense, but the teachers make it work. The classrooms and buildings need to be fixed and can be fixed in other ways. My kids were at Fort River for 7 years and I never heard the school described as it is currently.

3.The new school ties our elementary schools into a Prek-1, 2nd-6th grade configuration for many, many years. If we are spending so much money on a school for the 50 years, the building should be flexible. What if this idea, like open classrooms, turns out not to work, what then? What if the new superintendent wants K-6 (or preK-6) schools? The architect has said that converting the new buildings for younger students would be expensive.

4. It’s more sustainable to use and renovate existing buildings, yet these options were not carefully examined. Wildwood, Fort River, the middle school and high school are all under-enrolled. East Street School stands empty. Let’s use and improve what we have. (If Fort River needs a new roof, for example, add skylights for light and fresh air.) Also, it would be great to add solar panels to any renovation or new construction.

5. I can’t support closing down three K-6 elementary schools for hazy, unsupported reasons. I understand the equity argument in terms of logic, but I’d like to see actual data on whether the split of the East Hadley Street students between Crocker Farm and Wildwood actually depressed the academic performance of low- income kids. The goal in busing was to have all the schools include a mix of kids from different economic backgrounds, thinking that this would improve the academic performance of the low income kids that were concentrated at Crocker Farm. Did busing help or hurt? Do families or students actually feel stigmatized? How many families want to change to the Prek-1 and 2-6 model? So far, I’ve only heard parents comments in meetings who are against grade reconfiguration and that want their kids to attend the same elementary school. These speakers preferred keeping siblings together, fewer transitions, easier logistics, and having older kids as role models.

6. Taxes will go up, not down, making Amherst less affordable to families. Also, if fewer families with kids are choosing to move to Amherst, we should figure out the real reasons, not guess at them. In my experience, families will pay a lot to live in a town with excellent schools. There are many towns in the state with high home values and increasing student populations, if Amherst isn’t one of them, it’s worth figuring out why before we reach for expensive solutions.

I know this is a lot, but I’ve thought a lot about this issue. I want to see Wildwood and Fort River improved as school buildings and school communities-not destroyed. I am happy to work toward, and to pay more for that goal.

Sylvia Brandt: Hidden Costs of Question 5

Sylvia Brandt
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Nov. 1, 2016

There has been much debate about ballot Question 5, but little attention has been paid to the hidden costs that restructuring our elementary education will impose on the Amherst community.

Currently Amherst has three elementary schools for grades K to 6. Crocker Farm Elementary is a well-functioning school in adequate condition. The two others, Fort River Elementary and Wildwood Elementary, need major renovations or new buildings. Creating healthy buildings for the students in the Fort River and Wildwood districts would be an excellent policy.

Sadly, Question 5 introduces new problems and costs instead of efficiently addressing those actual needs.

Question 5 would allow the Town of Amherst to increase property taxes beyond the current state limit for increases. Instead of directly dealing with the physical problems with the two schools, it dramatically restructures elementary education. The new taxes along with state funds would go to building one new school for grades 2-6 for all of Amherst. Crocker Farm Elementary would be dissolved and the building would house pre-K to 1st grade.

One large problem that has not been addressed is the negative health impacts of the plan. The new structure creates longer bus rides and more traffic congestion at the new school.

The evidence is absolutely clear that exposure to vehicular pollution harms human health. Kids with longer bus rides suffer more asthma attacks and miss more days of school due to asthma than their peers with shorter rides. Exposure to vehicular pollution causes asthma in otherwise healthy kids. The traffic at this larger school will exacerbate asthma in adults and kids who already have asthma.

Vehicular pollution is linked with increased risk of heart attacks and other diseases in adults. These health impacts have dramatic costs to families and society. Reducing these impacts is a primary area of concern at such institutions such as the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it is the major focus of my research as an economist. I am at a loss as to why Amherst would adopt a plan that would increase these health costs when other options are available.

Reorganizing the educational system will require extensive review of all existing institutions and policies. There will be unforeseen complications in creating this new model. Anyone who has been involved with projects from a simple home renovation to creating a new department understands that unexpected problems always come up and that they always involve additional costs. Directing the tax revenue to the need for new buildings rather than an experimental education system would avoid these costs.

The proposed structure imposes new educational costs. It forces children to move after 1st grade into yet another new school with significantly larger grade cohorts than we currently have. Research shows that additional transitions and larger schools are worse for students than our current organization.

The plan entails reducing the number of teachers which will negatively impact those children who face the greatest needs. Those children should not face the cost of this consolidation.

The argument that we can’t wait to reorganize the schools because we have the money now is a sad reverberation of so many politicized decisions that all too often lead to worse ends. There have been many schools built on unhealthy sites for this very argument.

Let us take the time to find evidence-based solutions that improve educational outcomes in a financially efficient manner. A policy focused on the school buildings themselves could use all the new tax funds to build new facilities and provide resources directly to students while avoiding the negative health impacts, educational outcomes and costs of reorganization.

I urge a no vote on Question 5 to preserve K-6 education in Amherst, to use our tax dollars wisely and to protect our children’s health and educational opportunities.

Sylvia Brandt, of Amherst,  an associate professor of resource economics and public policy at the University of Massachusetts, is the parent of a student at Crocker Farm Elementary School.

Lisa Cain: (Another) parent’s vote against Question 5

Lisa Cain
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday Nov. 1

The plan to build a new school and divide up our children’s elementary education between the first and second grade is a $65 million experiment which Amherst cannot afford to do.

Fifty years ago, Wildwood and Fort River were also part of an educational experiment that Amherst decided to try. Their open classrooms were thought to be innovative at the time and turned out to be a bad design for education. These buildings do need to be fixed but not with another unproven and unresearched plan that breaks up elementary education at the age of seven and creates a mega-school packed with 750 kids.

Do we really trust that a superintendent who just resigned (and demanded almost $500,000 as she walked out the door)  knew better than anyone else how to best organize a school system?

There’s a reason why most school districts in the country don’t make all children switch schools between first and second grade and keep the average size of the school at around 300 students. This is what has been proven to work. Look around us here in the Valley. Other districts have managed to renovate their schools without destroying the educational framework of K-6 schools.

Don’t do it again, Amherst. Stick with what is proven to be the best educational framework for our children and is currently working.

Lisa Cain, of Amherst, is the parent of two students who have attended Crocker Farm Elementary School.

Oldham: Vote no for the schools, twice (10/28)

“Vote no for the schools, twice” / Jim Oldham
Amherst Bulletin, Friday October 28, 2016

Vote NO for the schools, twice  

On November 8th, while voting for President, local voters will consider several ballot questions. Questions 2 and 5 concern our schools. Although touted as improving educational opportunities, both would have significant negative impacts for current and future students. They should be defeated.

Question 2 is a statewide referendum that would authorize the state Board of Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools each year without limit, eliminating the existing 120-school statewide cap and per-community maximums.

Charter schools benefit some families, but their rapid expansion undermines equity by weakening the public schools’ ability to serve all children. Charter schools receive tax dollars at the expense of public schools—they will pull close to $3 million from the Amherst schools this year and half a billion dollars from communities statewide—yet they are not overseen by elected school committees or accountable to local communities.

Whose Schools?, a report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, highlights a “troubling lack of parent representation in the governance of charter schools in Massachusetts.” Sixty percent of charter schools have no parents on their boards, while “nearly one-third of the trustees … are … corporate [and] financial services professionals.” Many live outside the communities the schools serve.

Claims that Question 2 would advance social justice are belied by the authors’ observation that charter “schools that do offer parents… a strong role in school governance are disproportionately White. At schools with majority-minority student populations… parent voice on the schools’ governing boards is rare, and often minimal.”

The NAACP has called for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools “at least until [they meet] the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools; [their funding is not] at the expense of the public school system; [and they] cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.”

These are fair expectations. Massachusetts voters should join the NAACP, and school committees across the state, to oppose unrestricted expansion of charter schools until they have been met.

Question 5 is a local debt exclusion override to determine whether to raise over $50 million in taxes towards the cost of building a two-wing elementary school to replace Wildwood and Fort River schools. Both are over forty years old, with structural and design problems, so, with state funding covering about half the net construction cost, there are compelling arguments in favor.

However, passage would also eliminate K-6 schools in Amherst, converting Crocker Farm to an “early learning center” for students in pre-school through first grade. The new school would serve all Amherst’s second- through sixth-graders.

This reconfiguration and consolidation breaks up families unnecessarily, undermines continuity in children’s education, and inappropriately includes second-graders with older students due to space limitations at Crocker Farm. It has never been adequately vetted in the community. Teachers and parents surveyed on behalf of the School Committee overwhelmingly opposed the proposal.

Much has been claimed regarding supposed equity benefits of consolidation. I won’t repeat the many ways it will negatively impact struggling students and families with limited resources since Eve Vogel has described these well (Bulletin, September 30). However, having strongly opposed busing students from low-income housing outside their enrollment zone to achieve so-called equity, I find it disingenuous for school leaders, who have maintained that practice for years, to now use it to justify school reconfiguration. It should not require a $66 million building plan to eliminate a practice that officials acknowledge is “inconsistent with our equity goals.”

People I respect support Question 5 as a way to get the improved schools we need, but this is not our only option. Better choices, most notably the construction two co-located preK-6 schools, were taken off the table by school leaders. Defeating this proposal is the only way to bring them back and trigger more community consultation leading to an improved proposal equally eligible for state funding.

Advocates for Question 5 describe it as a bold “legacy vote” to address flaws in the existing schools. But this begs an important question: are we buying the school the town’s children need?

In the 1970s, when Wildwood and Fort River were built, nobody was advocating for schools with noisy classrooms lacking natural light. Rather, they envisioned bold schools for the future, designed to be, as Ellen Story has written of the current proposal, “loaded with innovative learning spaces” to “greatly enhance the learning experiences of all our students.” Yet within a decade, as Story recounts, there was “growing disenchantment” with what was created.

Taxpayers would be foolish to again invest heavily in an untested plan, particularly given the large number of flaws that have already been identified.

Jim Oldham is a Town Meeting member from Precinct 5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DeAngelis: For better schools, vote no on 5

For better schools, vote no on 5
Kristen DeAngelis
October 28, 2016 – Hampshire Gazette

My children attended day care together for one year. The single drop-off and pick-up made family life easier, and that brought our family closer. Their teachers made extra time and space for their interaction, and our little girl had a role model and the security of an older sibling.

Our older daughter started kindergarten this fall. If the plan for separate K-1 and 2-6 schools is approved, six years will pass before our daughters attend the same school again. When our younger one reaches kindergarten she may spend up to 30 minutes alone on a bus to Crocker Farm instead of 3 minutes going down the block with her sister. My older daughter will not be her reading buddy or role model. They won’t play together in the after school program. We lose two years of community and critical bonding, and many families will do the same.

But there are a number of other issues. The current plan nearly doubles cohort size, when studies of grade cohort size recommend fewer students per grade. The current plan also introduces a transition at age 7. Data show that transitions are difficult for all children, with less time per school robbing them of a sense of place. The effects of transitions and larger cohorts intensify for at-risk students, increasing achievement gaps and provoking disciplinary actions that disproportionally target minority students. Classroom community is part of the goal; involving the families is equally central to closing education gaps and improving education quality (NEA, ED.gov). Neighborhood schools facilitate involvement. Sadly, the prior ARPS Central Administration suffered from strained relationships with the community. An administration now in transition has an opportunity to mend those relationships and hand the new Superintendent a clean slate.

Amherst can change plans and still have state funding. In all three cases case where a town re-submitted a new proposal after the original proposal was voted down, the Massachusetts School Building Association funded proposals with a 2-3 year delay. A plan that costs the average homeowner an annual $300 while disregarding the best educational practices will ultimately cost far more than $67 million. The consolidated school plan may provide the quickest fix, but Amherst should not trade short-term gains at the cost of becoming the incoming parent’s second choice for the next 50 years.

Had we won the PVLSI lottery for our older daughter, my little one would have priority enrollment, both girls could share the drive together to a smaller school, have fewer transitions, and a strong sense of But we believe in public schools and the ARPS community that make our schools remarkable. Only prioritizing the best practices in education will stem the flow to private and charter schools. Better options solve Wildwood and Fort River’s problems without destroying K-6 schools.

D’Souza: No on Question 5!

Edridge D’Souza wrote an op-ed in today’s Daily Collegian, “Vote “No” on local Question 5”, Oct. 25, 2016.

This week, I interviewed Laura Quilter, a local parent, librarian and lawyer, as well as Maria Kopicki, a local parent, physician and researcher. Quilter and Kopicki are Amherst community members affiliated with Save Amherst’s Small Schools (SASS) and are worried about the effects of the local ballot Question 5. They are concerned that Question 5 will have harmful effects, not only to the students attending the elementary schools but also to the college students who live in the area.

The gist of the proposal is it aims to restructure the Amherst school system. Instead of three small schools, the town will close down two of them to create one large school to hold 750 students. SASS is concerned that with the increase in school size, there will be complications with the quality of education, cost and effect on the students and teachers.

The proposal is also massively expensive. As Quilter says, “The superintendent’s proposal is to make one of the most expensive elementary schools, after inflation adjustment, in the history of Massachusetts: $67 million. This will raise taxes, say, for instance, my home at $325,000 a year will result in a tax increase of around $400 a year for the first 10 years.” College students will also feel this tax increase, as the tax increase will be passed on from apartment owners to the students who rent the apartments. The time frame for this is as soon as the coming year.

This tax increase is historically large and unpopular among the people it claims to help. According to Kopicki, a $33 million debt would affect Amherst rental values over the next 25 years, and is actually opposed by a three-to-one margin among educators and parents. So why has this not been raised as a bigger issue? According to Kopicki, “the wording on the ballot does not sufficiently indicate to someone who hasn’t followed this issue that this is a very controversial proposal and that it ends the current K-6 system that Amherst families and students love.” A University of Massachusetts Amherst student registered to vote in Amherst would only see that the proposal aims to give more money to local schools, which seems like a fairly innocuous assertion. What it doesn’t mention is the fact that this proposal will continue to raise taxes and increase debt for the next quarter of a century.

What does the other side have to say about this? The pro-Question 5 side claims consolidating the elementary school system into one larger school will save money due to “operational savings.” However, Kopicki argues that these savings are only by having larger grade sizes while hiring five fewer teachers and custodians. Quilter adds, “our website, sassamherst.org, has a tax increase calculator. If you email us, we can help you learn how much your taxes are projected to increase. For instance, we can estimate that a $150,000 house would increase its property tax alone by $200 extra every year.”
Quilter and Kopicki provide an important insight into Question 5. Bills like this often exploit creative wording to appear palatable on the surface while having strongly negative consequences for the actual communities they impact. It’s massively unpopular among its supposed target audience and only really seems to be benefiting the administrators.

This bill has something that everyone can oppose. Fiscal conservatives will appreciate the fact this bill calls for an unnecessary increase in government spending that could otherwise be devoted to improving the existing educational infrastructures. Liberals should take note of the fact that while the bill appears to be about spending more on education, it ends up spending most on aspects that are tangentially related to education while gutting funding for the core components that would actually matter to students. And perhaps most pertinent to UMass students, the enormous financial toll of this project would substantially increase apartment rentals for the next quarter of a century, assuming costs don’t increase over time.

Question 5 seems like it would help teachers and students. However, when approval for the measure is so low among the teachers and students, it seems that the only members who stand to benefit from this proposal are the administrators. Massachusetts prides itself for having the best educational system in the nation; Amherst, at the heart of the Five College Consortium, is no exception and we owe it to our national reputation to prevent measures like this from devaluing our children’s futures. For all UMass students who plan to vote locally in Amherst this November, it would be in their best interests, as well as the best interest of the permanent residents of the town, to vote no on Question 5.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at edsouza@umass.edu.

Axelson-Berry: Young families will not want large schools

Urges vote against Amherst school project
Kitty Axelson-Berry
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Mon. Oct. 24, 2016

Amherst’s neighborhood schools don’t need to be destroyed to bring our town into the 21st century. Rather, let’s align our thinking with modern educational theories that favor sustainable local institutions.

Amherst’s educational planners could be “local heroes,” but not if their best proposal is to replace treasured neighborhood schools with a consolidated mega-school. That’s backwards. Does anyone really think young families prefer large, distant institutions over small neighborhood schools?

I’m a strong believer in public education, but if I had young children I’d send them to a private, charter, or choice school rather than a distant mega-school. My 7-year-old grandson goes to a consolidated school of about 450. With insufficient bus supervisors, his parents drive him both ways. I provide the service weekly, and cars are so backed-up that it takes 1/2 hour of inching and idling to pick up little “Number 19.”

Four blocks from his home is the razed site of a beloved old neighborhood school, demolished for the sake of pseudo-efficiency. Sadly, the hoped-for efficiencies haven’t come to pass and the consolidated administrators are overwhelmed and stressed out. The kids don’t even know who lives in their neighborhood.

It’s a disaster, a theory gone wrong, and it would be a disaster for Amherst. Amherst was once respected for our high-quality local schools. People bought here with children in mind.

Based on the upset among young families faced with the megaschool proposal, I am certain that significant numbers will flee, buy elsewhere, choice-out, or choose private schools if the proposed mega-school is approved and built.

For these and other reasons, I will vote “No” on Question 5 on Nov. 8., and urge other Amherst residents to join me in rejecting school consolidation.

Kitty Axelson-Berry

Amherst

Vogel: Elementary school consolidation plan will worsen inequities

Eve Vogel today published an op-ed on the serious problems with the proposed school consolidation, and interviews with families.

Amherst Bulletin, Sept. 29, 2016

Amherst voters who are concerned but uncertain about the plan to consolidate Amherst’s three elementary schools should know that despite the district’s claims, it is likely to make schools less equitable, not more.

I have been a student, teacher and parent in four different public school districts in three states. I thought consolidation was a bad idea, but I didn’t assume. I spent winter break reading the literature. I crunched numbers from Amherst’s past enrollments and its transportation networks. This summer, I went out and talked to people in five low-income apartment complexes in Amherst. The following is what I found out.

Schools with large grade cohorts and short grade spans, those that are farther away from families’ residences and those that split up siblings in the younger grades – in other words, schools like the ones proposed for Amherst – are worse for low-income, minority, and English-language-learner students and families.

Why? Most importantly, students and parents have shorter-term relationships with teachers and administrators. Each transition moves students and families away from hard-won relationships of trust and understanding, vital resources for disadvantaged students.

The problem extends to the staff-student-family relationship as a whole. The proposed Crocker Farm K-1 school will have an entirely new population every two to three years. When turnover is rapid, teachers, principals and support staff don’t know students and parents as well, and they lose important understanding of long-term development.

Because school staff in Amherst as elsewhere tend to be white, native English speakers, and come from middle-class backgrounds, they need that deeper familiarity to best understand and address the needs of minority, low-income, and English-language-learner students and families.

That is not all. Security concerns and discipline regimes tend to be worse at larger schools, and discipline tends to fall most heavily on minority students. Importantly, research shows that the size of a school depends not on total school size but on grade cohort size. With school consolidation, grade cohort size will leap from about 50 to about 150 students per grade.

A larger school usually still has only one band or science fair. The resulting drop in participation rates is more pronounced for minority and low-income students.

School location also matters, as does keeping siblings together. The district recognizes it will need additional buses to transport students longer distances, and to transport siblings in different elementary grades to separate schools. My question was about the impact on families, especially low-income families without cars.

Several of the low-income housing complexes in Amherst are within walking distance of their neighborhood school. In North Amherst, a Village Park mom told me she can walk to Wildwood in less than 10 minutes. She can easily pick up her child for an appointment or meet with his teacher. If the district’s plan goes forward, her younger child will go to Crocker Farm. It will take her about 40-50 minutes and a two-bus transfer to get there. Meantime, her older child will be at Wildwood, unable to help.

In a South Amherst apartment complex, a Spanish-speaking mom from Puerto Rico told me she knows that she needs to be involved in her children’s school, so she can communicate her children’s needs to the school and the school’s expectations to her children. How will this work if one of her elementary-age children is in North Amherst, and one is nearby at Crocker Farm, I asked her? Not well – she did not know if she could double her investment, especially given the extra commuting distance to Wildwood, about 40 minutes each way by a combination of walking and PVTA bus.

Parental involvement will go down for low-income parents under these kinds of transportation challenges. This does not bode well for equity.

At Mill Valley Estates, I had a conversation with an African-American grandfather. Children at Mill Valley are bused to Fort River School, as a way to even out socio-economic diversity. Former Superintendent Maria Geryk, Acting Superintendent Michael Morris and School Committee member Katherine Appy have said this busing makes them “uncomfortable,” and have advocated for school consolidation to solve this inequity.

Yet this grandfather told me he hates the consolidation plan. He doesn’t like having his grandchild bused to Fort River, but says the solution is to re-district them back to Crocker Farm, where he would like his granddaughter to go until sixth grade.

The school district and other advocates of the consolidation plan seem to assume that bringing all children in a given grade to one location means equity. But their plan will worsen a range of deeper and wider inequities.

Eve Vogel lives in Amherst.