, Newburyport, MA

October 28, 2013

Tax increase needed to improve schools

Newburyport Daily News

---- — To the editor:

Recently you published a letter to the editor claiming that a mailing from one of the Amesbury mayoral candidates was full of falsehoods. I would like to take this opportunity to address just a couple of things mentioned in this letter.

I teach calculus at Amesbury High School. It is asserted that public employees in Amesbury have higher average salaries than surrounding communities. Not so for teachers. According to the Massachusetts DOE, average teacher salaries in Amesbury are virtually identical to the state average for the latest year reported, 2010-11. Personally, I don’t remember getting any big raise since then. If one compares Amesbury to other surrounding districts, Newburyport, Pentucket, Whittier and Triton, the average salary for an Amesbury teacher is second from the bottom. Don’t believe me. Check it out yourself.

The other thing I’d like to address is MCAS scores at AHS. You’d think from the press that AHS has terrible scores. Quite the contrary. In Math AHS had a pass rate of 96 percent with a proficient/advanced score of 88 percent. The state proficient/advanced average is 80 percent. In English AHS’s proficient/advanced rate was 94 percent vs. 91 percent for the state. The pass rate on the English test was 100 percent. Yes, I said 100 percent.

Are these scores higher than Newburyport’s? No, of course not. Newburyport pays its teachers more and, more importantly, has a significantly lower student-to-teacher ratio. This class-size problem has only gotten worse in Amesbury with the latest round of budget cuts.

The Department of Education also groups schools according to similar demographics so parents can see how their school stacks up to similar schools. Amesbury is in a group with 11 other schools in this ranking. Among those similar schools AHS scores third in English and first in math.

I came across a website called GoLocal, which ranked high schools in Massachusetts. It ranked AHS 154 out of 344. That would put AHS in the 55th percentile in terms of quality, whereas Amesbury teachers are paid at the 50th percentile. Draw your own conclusions about whether you are getting your money’s worth.

Too much school administration is also a popular complaint among the public. When I came to AHS 44 years ago, there was a principal, an assistant principal, a full-time athletic director and department chairs for every subject. Now there is a principal who is in charge of two schools (AHS and the Academy), two assistants, one of whom is also the athletic director, and no department heads. There is actually less administration at AHS now than in 1969.

Now, will AHS continue to produce great results if, as currently, class sizes keep getting bigger (the typical math class is 30) and kids can’t even go to the library after school because of staffing cuts? I doubt it. You can’t keep cutting teachers/staff and expect no consequences. I’m a taxpayer in this town, but I honestly can’t see how the schools can be improved without a tax increase and you can’t increase the value of your property with inferior schools.

Barbara Leary