An extended public comment period will be offered at the Amherst School Committee meeting this Tuesday, (Sept. 12) on whether Interim School Superintendent Michael Morris should be offered the permanent post.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee will also vote on proposing a warrant article to Amherst Town Meeting, to explore full regionalization with Pelham. The move follows a request from Pelham officials earlier in the summer, after Pelham announced funding problems, including an unexpected loss of pupil tuition to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley.
Tuesday’s meeting will start at 6 p.m. in the Amherst Regional High School Library. The committees are also accepting comment by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. A deadline for email was set of Sept. 19.
“We welcome your questions or topics that may be included in a future presentation by Dr. Morris on Sept. 26,” said a press release, which is available here.
A series of “Listening Sessions” about an upcoming committee to study possible renovation or building of the Fort River Elementary School is also underway, including a session set for Monday night. A flyer on that event is here.
Full regionalization with Pelham would likely impact the number of elementary pupils in the Amherst system, and the school buildings available to house them.
Morris, formerly assistant superintendent, has served in acting and interim capacities since the resignation just over a year ago of former Superintendent Maria Geryk. Geryk was criticized in early 2016 for banning a pupil’s mother from Pelham Elementary School grounds. The mother said she was trying to advocate for her child, who was being bullied over her skin color. After a series of heated school committee meetings and charged public dialogue, Geryk sought to resign, maintaining that she had been wrongly tarred as racist. She was ultimately granted a buyout of over $300,000.
Over many months, Morris fought aggressively for a major elementary school building and consolidation project, which failed to win a two-thirds majority vote in Amherst, at two Town Meetings and then in a town-wide referendum in March.
A nationwide superintendent search launched months ago was ended in late spring, when the search firm hired by the district, Ray & Associates, was found to have violated Massachusetts laws governing public sector job applications. State law bars requests for criminal record information in initial applications. In the spring, the school committees discussed launching a fresh national search this fall.
Over the last year, Morris has at times said he was not interested in competing for the permanent post.
The proposal to appoint Morris is based on information that Morris has had a change of heart, according to the statement by Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee Chairman Eric Nakajima. Nakajima said he learned at summer’s end that Morris “reconsidered his interest in being a candidate to be permanent superintendent.”
“Given his strong track record as Interim Superintendent, the committees felt it worth exploring his appointment through a process that offers extensive opportunities for public discussion and input,” Nakajima stated.
Morris, who lives in Amherst, has worked in the district for many years, and was previously a principal of Crocker Farm Elementary School.
The move to consider Morris is based on a unanimous Sept. 6 vote by the Amherst-Pelham and Union 26 school committees, which scheduled discussion of official
consideration of Morris’ appointment for Tuesday, Sept. 26th. A vote is expected at that meeting, or one set for Oct. 10. Morris will make a presentation at the Sept. 26 meeting that will “respond, in part, to questions submitted by the public and the school committees,” the press release states.