Backers of new Amherst school protest Town Meeting rejection of project

  • People rally Monday outside Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting to protest Town Meeting’s defeat last week of a plan, approved by voters, to construct two new elementary schools. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting, to show that they are unhappy that a plan that would have constructed two new elementary schools, was defeated by Town Meeting last week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting, to show that they are unhappy that a plan that would have constructed two new elementary schools, was defeated by Town Meeting last week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting, to show that they are unhappy that a plan that would have constructed two new elementary schools, was defeated by Town Meeting last week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting, to show that they are unhappy that a plan that would have constructed two new elementary schools, was defeated by Town Meeting last week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Children rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting to protest last week’s defeat of a plan to build two new schools in town. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people rally Monday at Amherst Regional Middle School before Town Meeting, to show that they are unhappy that a plan that would have constructed two new elementary schools, was defeated by Town Meeting last week. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2016 12:21:54 AM

AMHERST — Showing their displeasure with Town Meeting’s rejection of a $67.2 million elementary school project last week, more than 100 parents, children and teachers held signs and led chants as elected representatives made their way into the middle school auditorium Monday for Town Meeting’s fourth night.

Holding signs that said “We can’t wait for a new school” and “I need four walls and sunshine now,” rallygoers made their request clear — Town Meeting should take a revote on the funding authorization needed to build the school.

The town’s legislative body was not persuaded to reconsider the decision it made Nov. 14, and dissolved Monday night without taking the issue up again. But those participating in the rally — on a cold evening with snow flurries — said they wanted to have their voices heard.

Nina Mankin, whose child will attend Wildwood School, said children who are already struggling face additional challenges because of a learning environment marked by open quad classrooms that creates noise and limits natural light.

“They (Town Meeting) were making decisions on misinformation, which is wrong,” Mankin said. “Town Meeting didn’t get any rebuttals to the untruths.”

The project called for two new schools, each holding 375 students in Grades 2-6, to be built at the Wildwood site. Both Wildwood and Fort River schools would have been closed, and Crocker Farm would have become an early childhood learning center.

With active campaigns for and against the project, the Proposition 2½ debt-exclusion override was narrowly approved in a townwide vote on Election Day, but Town Meeting voted against authorizing the debt.

As the parent of a mixed-race daughter who attends Crocker Farm, Melissa Giraud said replacing the current K-6 schools would benefit all children and ensure children from all socioeconomic backgrounds would go to the same school.

There have been times when her daughter is the only one of African-American descent in a class.

“Neighborhood schools are an excuse for segregated schools,” Giraud said.

Another parent held a sign showing that children living in South Amherst apartment complexes are not allowed to go to their own neighborhood school, Crocker Farm, but instead are bused to Wildwood and Fort River to balance the socioeconomic groups.

Wildwood sixth-grade teachers Chris Eggemeier and Jaimie Bust were among those joining parents and students, who chanted “It’s not too late to get money from the state” and “Teachers support new schools,” “Parents support new schools” and “Children support new schools.”

Eggemeier said 51 teachers and staff at the school signed a petition, joining more than 120 school employees throughout the district, seeking a revote.

Eggemeier said there are compromised learning environments at both schools, observing that in his classroom he often has to wear a winter coat, while Bust’s classroom is too warm. Both have falling ceiling tiles and air quality problems that a filter can’t fix.

Like the parents who expressed concern about the vote, he isn’t sure Town Meeting members understood that most teachers support building a new school.

“This is a good place and we need to have it happen now,” Eggemeier said. “I think it’s vitally important.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2020 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy