Opinion: Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog: School Committee FAQ

Amherst Regional Middle School and Amherst Public Schools District Offices. Photo: Amherst Public Schools

Editor’s note: The Indy will now post Jennifer Shiao’s School Committee Blog on Wednesday Mornings.The Wednesday posting will include all new posts to the blog since the previous Wednesday. Last week we inadvertnently left out Shiao’s school committee FAQ so here it is. Shiao’s original posts can be found here.  An archive of her blog posts in The Indy can be found here.

Amherst School Committee FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). (1/12/20)

Jennifer Shiao

These answers are my interpretation of facts, based on my research and experience. I reserve the right to be wrong, and I’m happy to be corrected. All opinions are my own and do not represent the school committee, the superintendent, or the district.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions; these are questions that I used to have, and that you may have too. If you have a question I haven’t answered here, let me know! You can leave a comment or email me at jennifer@jenniferamherst.org.

  • How many school committees does Amherst have?

Check out this blog post (Amherst has two school committees?), which addresses this question. Briefly, the committee that governs the three Amherst elementary schools (the “Amherst School Committee”) has five elected members. All five also serve on the Regional School Committee that governs the middle and high schools, along with two representatives from Pelham and one each from Leverett and Shutesbury.

  • Do School Committee members get paid?

Amherst School Committee members get paid an annual stipend/payment of $3,000, paid in bi-weekly installments. (The chair gets $4,000). This stipend only applies to the Amherst School Committee, not to the regional town members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, because the latter is not under the purview of the Town of Amherst (see Amherst has two school committees? for a primer on the difference between the two).

The stipends for School Committee members (and Town Councilors) are dictated in the town charter (which is referred to as the Amherst Home Rule Charter). (Prior to the adoption of the new charter in 2018, School Committee members received no stipend.)

  • What does the School Committee do?

The way I explained it to my then-7yo the first time I ran for School Committee is that her teacher’s boss is the principal, the principal’s boss is the superintendent, and the superintendent’s boss is the School Committee. The School Committee has several specific responsibilities:

  • Hire, fire, evaluate, and make contract decisions about the superintendent.
  • Advise and consent on the hiring of several other district personnel, including the school business officer (finance director), director of special education, and assistant/associate superintendent. These positions do not report to the School Committee the way the superintendent does, but the School Committee does approve the hiring of these roles.
  • Approve and monitor the school budgets (there are separate budgets for the elementary and the regional districts). The School Committee approves the budgets that are sent to the Amherst Town Council, determines line items, sets policies linked to the budget, and monitors and approves “warrants” (payments of expenses, such as payroll).
  • Set goals and policies for the district. This includes things like the annual goals for the district, the academic calendar, attendance policies, class sizes, allowing school-choice students, and more.
  • Act as the employer of record in collective bargaining with employee unions. The School Committee negotiates with and signs collective bargaining agreements with unions in our district.
  • What does the School Committee not do?

Here are some things people may think the School Committee does, but which are actually the responsibility of district personnel:

  • Oversee the day-do-day management of the district.
  • Decide to close school due to inclement weather.
  • Hire teachers.
  • Implement policies
  • How do I find out about School Committee meetings (when they are taking place, how to join, what is going to be discussed, etc.)
    • The BoardDocs site is currently the best source of information for both school committees. On the home page you will find member names and contact info, as well as info for immediate-future upcoming meetings. 
      • I say “immediate-future upcoming meetings” because while the meeting schedule has been established for the academic year, that list of dates is not on the home page. To find the list of dates for scheduled School Committee meetings for the academic year, click on “Library” in the top right hand corner, then choose the School Committee you are interested in on the left. There may end up being meetings in addition to the ones on this list, and hypothetically the ones on this list could change, but this is as much information as there is on future meetings.
    • Some tips for the BoardDocs site:
      • The “Featured” tab brings you back to the home page of this site. (If you click on the icon that looks like a house, that will bring you to the ARPS home page.)
      • When you click on a particular meeting date (either from the Featured/home page or the Meetings page), you can then click on View the Agenda to see the individual agenda items. Each agenda item has its own page, and if there are documents/attachments for that agenda item, you will find them here.
      • The “Policies” tab opens up a library of all of the ARPS policies. You can use the search function to search for things like “school lunch” or “anti-bullying.”
      • Minutes from a previous meeting are added to that meeting’s list of documents after they have been approved. There could be some weeks between when a meeting takes place and when the minutes are uploaded to BoardDocs.
  • How do I watch a meeting in real time? As of the writing of this blog post there are two ways: 
    • In the BoardDocs posting for the meeting, click on the yellow “Video” button to access the Google Meet link.
    • Watch on Amherst Media via cable channel 15 or on the livestream page for channel 15
  • Is there a way for me to receive notification when meetings are posted?
    • As far as I know, there is no way for members of the public to be notified by email/text when meetings or agendas are posted. The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law requires that public meetings be posted a minimum of 48 hours (not including weekends/holidays) prior to the meeting start. Sometimes/often meetings are posted with not much more notice than 48 hours. So, if you want to really keep on top of things, you’ll need to check the BoardDocs site every two days (not including weekends/holidays).
    • You actually can be notified of new meetings posted for the Amherst School Committee (not the Regional School Committee) via the Town of Amherst website. The one big caveat is that you can only sign up to receive notifications of ALL town boards and committees; you cannot specify that you want notifications only for the Amherst School Committee. 
      • To subscribe to these notifications, go to: https://www.amherstma.gov/notifyme
      • You will need to create an account, or sign in if you have an account with CivicPlus. After you sign in, if it brings you back to the Town of Amherst homepage, just go back to the “notifyme” link above.
      • On the Notify Me page, scroll down to the Calendar section, then click on either the mail or text icon next to Boards/Committees. You will be sent a confirmation email or text (it may take a few minutes). Use that to confirm your subscription.
      • Note: You will now receive notifications for every town board/committee meeting. I typically delete notices for those Boards/Committees that I am not interested in following closely.
      • Notifications via the town website are not available for Regional School Committee meetings, because the Regional School Committee is not under the purview of the town of Amherst.

This blog reflects my own views about the Amherst and Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committees – it does not represent the view of the committees, the district, or the superintendent. This blog complies with Open Meeting Law, as long as a quorum of School Committee members do not engage in deliberations in the comments. Comments are welcomed; commenters must register with their name and email address (email address will not be published). I may respond to comments, but I will not respond to all comments. Sign up here using the “follow blog via email” form to be notified when I post a new entry. 

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