Amherst has two school committees?

I thought it would be helpful to have a short primer on school committees in Amherst.

Every two years (in odd-number years), Amherst voters elect five School Committee members to two-year terms. All five seats are up for election at the same time, in the same election as other town offices, such as Town Council and Library Trustee.

These five officials make up the Amherst School Committee, the body that oversees Amherst’s three elementary schools: Crocker Farm, Fort River and Wildwood. This body meets around once per month, and has a chair, a vice chair, and a secretary*. (The Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury elementary schools are not under the purview of this body; those towns have their own school committee for their elementary school.) The Amherst School Committee is sometimes informally referred to by people as “the elementary school committee.” (To further complicate matters, there is also an Elementary School Building Committee, which is a different body.)

The five Amherst School Committee members are also members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee. This body oversees the Amherst Regional Middle School and the Amherst Regional High School. Because these two schools also draw students from Leverett, Pelham, and Shutesbury, the Regional School Committee also includes members from those three towns (one each from Leverett and Shutesbury, two from Pelham), for a total of nine members. This body meets around twice per month, and has a chair, a vice chair, and a secretary (the secretary is typically a note-taker who is not a member of the committee).

The Amherst School Committee makes decisions on issues affecting the three elementary schools, and the Regional School Committee on the middle school and high school. For district-wide policies that affect both the elementary and middle/high schools, votes may have to be taken in both school committees. That’s why sometimes you may hear about an upcoming vote taking place and you think, Wait didn’t that vote already happen? It may be because it was voted on in one school committee, and then has to be voted on in the other. The school committees hold separate meetings.

* Further confusing this issue is the Union 26 School Committee, which is made up of the chair, vice chair, and secretary of the Amherst School Committee, and three officers from the Pelham School Committee. The Union 26 School Committee is tasked with employing the superintendent jointly with the Regional School Committee.

Clear as mud, right? If you’re confused, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Everyone finds it confusing at first; it took me several years of reading news, watching meetings, and asking questions, before I figured it out!

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