Amherst Regional backs off Smith Voc deal

Staff Writer
Published: 3/16/2018 10:53:15 PM

AMHERST — Outcry from parents and graduates of Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls prompted the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee this week to nix an arrangement that would have required students interested in pursuing a trade-school education to attend Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton.

The committee on Monday voted unanimously to reject a “school of preference” agreement, the terms of which were being negotiated between Superintendent Michael Morris and the trustees for Smith Vocational, after many residents from Leverett and Shutesbury expressed opposition to the idea.

That agreement offered a discounted tuition for the students, saving the district $25,000 in the fiscal year 2019 budget and about $30,000 per year in future budgets, based on the assessments it would have to pay Smith Vocational and Franklin Technical.

Among those speaking out against the idea was Alicia Richter of Shutesbury, who said she and her husband both graduated from Franklin Technical, and they hope their daughter can, too.

“It breaks my heart to think she might not have that opportunity and we might have to uproot our family so she can have that opportunity,” Richter said.

Franklin County Technical School Superintendent Richard Martin told the committee that the preferred preference initiative is “very disingenuous” to families with children already enrolled, because it would mean siblings of current students might be forced to attend different schools.

“My concern is that it would limit choices of the towns of Leverett, Amherst, Pelham and Shutesbury to have a vocational school of their choice,” Martin said.

Martin said there are families with a history of going to the school over the past 40 years, since it’s closer for many in Shutesbury and Leverett than Smith Vocational.

Morris told the parents and committee that the attempt to reach an agreement came out of a budget situation, not any dissatisfaction with the Franklin Technical school

In general, about two-thirds to three-quarters of students in the Amherst system interested in trade school go to Smith Vocational, Morris said. This year around 12 students atttend Franklin Technical from the region, while 27 go to Smith Vocational. No eighth graders, who consult with guidance counselors when interested in attending one of the schools, had expressed interest in applying at Franklin Technical this year, Morris said.

The agreement would have meant a 5 percent tuition discount, though Martin said his school could have matched this and would also provide transportation for students.

The committee’s decision means $25,000 has been added to the $31.8 million budget proposed for fiscal year 2019. While that budget is $497,451, or 1.6 percent higher than the current budget, the disagreements between the four towns over the assessment formula are forcing administrators to make $1.16 million in reductions.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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