This site aims to inform and mobilize Beverly parents to take an active role in all issues related to the funding and operation of the city's schools. It was launched in the spring of 2008, when the city saw its first-ever override attempt fail, followed by the closure of a nearly-new elementary school. Subsequent years have seen further cuts that have led to larger class sizes across the district. While the opening of an impressive new high school and plans to replace the city's aging middle school give us reason to be optimistic, the school community must be ever vigilant in demanding appropriate school funding by city and state governments, and better community communications from the district and School Committee.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

State of the Schools

This year's State of the Schools will be held on Thursday, January 29, 2009. The presentation will include a review and forecast of the projects, highlights and issues in the Beverly Public Schools

6:30 – 7:30 pm: Coffee & Refreshments

7:30 – 9:00 pm:
Speakers, including Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Jim Hayes; Mayor Bill Scanlon; State Representative Mary Grant; School Committee President Annemarie Cesa; and a representative from Citywide PTO; Keynote speaker: Debra O’Connor, Director of Special Education & Pupil Services

Location: Briscoe Middle School Auditorium

This is your opportunity to hear and meet with your school and elected officials.

Snow Date: Thursday, February 5, 2009

Monday, December 1, 2008

Council Gives Final Approval to High School

The City Council voted 8-1 tonight to approve final funding of the high school project.

The majority of the councilors spoke in favor, saying that this was a unique opportunity to fund more than half of a necessary project with state money, and that it was not an opportunity that we would likely see again if we passed it up this time.

There was some concern over the tight contingency fund, and talk of what city property might need to be sold to help fund the loan, but the motion passed with only minimal opposition.

Councilor John Burke, who was the lone dissenter, commended the Mayor for the job he did in securing the funding, but said we should look, not at the $47 million dollars that we will be getting from the state, but at the difficulty of paying the city's $33 million share.

Don Martin, who originally opposed the plan, voted in favor of the final funding this time but warned of tough times ahead, and stated that "it is almost inevitable that we will lose another elementary school," so we must be prepared for the consequences.

The City now has until Wednesday to award the contract.
12/2 UPDATE: Here is today's Salem News story.

High School Vote Expected Tonight

The City Council is expected to vote on a final approval for the High School project tonight. The meeting starts at 7:00 pm at City Hall.

The Salem News' Heard in Beverly blog also reports that a last minute injunction filed by Brait Builders, the original low-bidder on the project, was rejected this morning in Suffolk Superior Court. Brait had sought a delay on the project while they appealed the Attorney General's decision disqualifying their bid.

The City must sign a contract by Wednesday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

State Approves $80.2 Million Cap for HS

11/25 UPDATE: The Massachusetts School Building Authority yesterday officially approved raising the cap on reimbursement of the High School project up to a maximum of $80.155 million. (note: if you read this post last night, we had listed the figure at $81.155 million, which our source, the Beverly Citizen, had incorrectly reported. They have since corrected.)

The Salem News also has the story.

This figure is short of the $81.5 figure that Mayor Scanlon had hoped for, but still amounts to about $46.8 million, (according to the Salem News; The Citizen reports the figure at $45.2) that the State will pay toward the project.

If the school is certified as a "green school" (as is the plan) upon completion, there is an additional 2% reimbursement available. That may account for the discrepancy between the two newspapers.

This move clears the way for a final vote by the City Council, hopefully on Monday night, in time for the December 3rd deadline to sign the contract.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Both High School Low Bidders Disqualified

UPDATED 11/21: The Salem News reports today that BOTH of the low bidders on the high school project have been disqualified. Yesterday's Beverly Citizen had reported only that the lowest bidder, Brait Builders, had been bounced from the project. [see Comment below from the Citizen]

Brait was disqualified by the state Attorney General's office because it "didn’t have enough experience with projects the size of Beverly High School to qualify it to bid on the project."

The next lowest bidder, a joint venture of J & J Contractors Inc. and SMI of Lowell, was disqualified because the joint venture was formed too late in the process.

CTA Ventures Inc. of Boston, the 3rd lowest bidder with a bid that was $1.3 million higher than Brait's, now becomes the lowest qualified bidder.

Mayor Scanlon says he will now move to sign a contract with CTA. The additional funding will come from the money included in "contingency costs" within the current $81.5 million dollar budget.

“It would simply leave less money for change orders and surprises,” Scanlon said.

The City Council is still awaiting a written confirmation from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), on the final amount that the state will pay toward the project, before taking a final vote on the appropriation.

The Salem News report today also states that the MSBA is scheduled to meet on Monday, at which time it should make the exact reimbursement amount official.

The city has until December 3rd to sign a contract.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hayes Estimates $750,000 Gap for FY10

The Beverly Citizen has posted some more specific early estimates on the FY10 budget. Dr. Hayes will present this to the School Committee tonight at their meeting at the Memorial Building.

According to the report, the estimated budget gap for FY10 is $750,000 with a 3.1% increase in spending. Some more excerpts from the story:

The gap represents the amount anticipated expenses will outpace expected revenue at current staffing and program levels.

The gap, as projected, will likely result in cuts to school programs, Hayes said.

“We’re making pretty broad assumptions in some cases,” Hayes said, noting one of the largest unknowns would be the terms of new contracts with the school district’s seven unions.

All of the numbers were his best current estimates, Hayes said, noting the numbers were reviewed during a recent meeting between him, school director of finance and operations Joan Liporto, city finance director John Dunn and Mayor Bill Scanlon.

The anticipated budget gap is close to the anticipated drop in state education aid, known as Chapter 70 money, of 7 percent. Hayes is counting on $6.75 million from the state government, down from $7.25 this year.

The School Committee will meet tonight in the meeting room at the Memorial Building (room 164). Finance and Facilities meets at 6:30, followed by the Committee of the Whole at 7:30.

11/20 UPDATE: Today's Salem News reports on the meeting. The Committee has asked Dr. Hayes to create a budget that accounts for the $750,000 in cuts. He'll present it to the board in December.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First FY10 Budget Meeting

The School Committee will meet this Wednesday to discuss the FY10 budget forecast. The meeting will include a recap of the budgeted amounts for FY09 and the forecast for FY10, employing some assumptions and projections.

For those that want to follow the process closely from the start in what is sure to be another difficult budget year, this is an important meeting to attend. We will report regularly on where things stand with next year's budget.

The meeting will be at held this Wednesday, November 19th in the meeting room at the Memorial Building (room 164). Finance and Facilities meets at 6:30, followed by the Committee of the Whole at 7:30.

The school committee meeting schedule for the rest of the year can be found here.

School Committee contacts can be found here.

11/18 UPDATE: Today's Salem News reports some early budget figures:

Hayes put together his predictions, which are more of a guesstimate at this point. But the bottom line is the shortfall (yes, there's still a shortfall) looks like it's under $1 million, and much of it reflects an anticipated 7 percent decrease in state aid.

It still means making cuts, but probably not closing a school. And Hayes said he budgeted conservatively. So although it could get worse, it could also get better.

The article also, we believe incorrectly, reports that the budget meeting at Memorial is tonight. As far as we know it is tomorrow night, as reported above.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Question 1 Defeated

Most of the Boston media have declared that the Income Tax repeal effort has been defeated. The Boston.com story is here. The current margin is roughly 70-30.

You can follow the actual results here.

UPDATE: Beverly voters defeated the repeal effort by more than a 2-1 margin. NO: 13,510; YES: 6,637

Monday, November 3, 2008

Question 1's Impact on Beverly

votenoma.com

Beverly schools stand to lose nearly $10 million a year in state aid if voters approve Question 1, and eliminate the state income tax in tomorrow's election. This, according to a town-by-town breakdown on the Vote No on Question One website. After seeing what a $2.5 million budget gap caused last year, we can only imagine what would be in store, if $10 million disappeared from the schools' annual budget.


While Eliot Margolis & his Citizen's for Fiscal Responsibility group strongly support the measure, most truly responsible voices from all sides of the political spectrum say this is a reckless and dangerous proposal.

Just a sampling of voices against this proposal:

The Beverly Citizen
The Boston Globe
Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation
The Boston Herald
The Salem News
Mary Grant

We encourage everyone to Vote tomorrow, and to Vote No on Question 1.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Council Plays Waiting Game

The City Council met last night, but as announced earlier in the day, there was no vote on the High School project.

The only bits of news coming out of the meeting were that the four contractors who had submitted bids, have all agreed to extend the deadline for signing of a contact by 30 days. The city had been under a deadline to sign a contract by yesterday or be forced to put the project out to bid again.

Mayor Scanlon also told the Council that he had been assured that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will raise the ceiling on the project to $81.5 million, rather than the previously announced $75 million.
Scanlon said the agency's executive director, Katherine Craven, has told him that cap was a mistake, according to today's story in the Salem News.

There was also no resolution on the state of the protests filed over some of the bidder's qualifications. The Attorney General's office is looking this matter.

Once both of these questions are answered, the Council will take a final vote on the project.

10/29 UPDATE: The Beverly Citizen has a few more details today:

The city now has until December 3rd to sign a contract with one of the bidders. Once a contract is signed, the contractor has a month to begin work, according to Mayor Scanlon.

The Citizen also reports that the MSBA’s bylaws allow votes to happen outside its regular meetings. The authority's director says there’s only one more board member she’s trying to reach to get approval to officially raise the cap on the project.

Monday, October 27, 2008

High School Vote Off Again; Mayor to Speak

We just received word that the City Council will NOT vote tonight on the High School project, but that they will meet to hear Mayor Scanlon speak on the issue. The meeting is at 6:00 pm at City Hall. We believe BevCam will televise. Will post any further details, once we hear.

12:45 pm UPDATE: A few more details from this post on the Salem News' Heard in Beverly blog:

City Council President Tim Flaherty said that the city is still waiting for a second vote of the Massachusetts School Building Authority board of directors to confirm the final reimbursement rate and the cap on funding of the project. The post also says Mayor Scanlon will present more information tonight on the bidding process, including the protests that were files on some of the bids.

Today was to have been the deadline for the city to sign a contract with the low bidder.

No new date has been set for the vote.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hayes Gives Refresher on HS Project

Dr. Hayes has prepared this letter detailing the series of events that led up to the City's decision to build the new high school academic wing. The letter was sent to all members of the City Council, School Committee, and the press.

It's an interesting read for those who didn't follow the events that led to the desision to build a new facility, rather than renovate the existing structure.

Hayes' letter details the four options that were recommended in the July 2002 Feasability Study that was commissioned after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) placed the high school on warning because of "large scale deterioration of the building, its infrastructure, and its instructional equipment.” Some excerpts:

In this comprehensive report, the physical evaluation determined that building systems for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing, and electrical “have generally outlived their useful life. Systems are in poor condition; do not meet building code requirements or recommended practices… Any substantial building renovation if undertaken will include a complete replacement [of these systems].”
The report presented four options to the district:
  • Option 1: Full Renovation with Minor Additions – Renovating one wing at a time, this project would require an additional 20 portable classrooms and related facilities and would take six years to complete. Estimated cost = $50,750,000
  • Option 2: Full Renovation with Minor Additions – Renovating more than one wing at a time, this project would require an additional 40 portable classrooms and related facilities and would take four years to complete. Estimated cost = $52,750,000
  • Option 3: New Construction – The gross square footage of this new facility would be less than the current facility and would take two years to complete. Estimated cost = $49,700,000
  • Option 4: Combination of New Construction and Renovation – A blend of new construction (academic wing) and renovation (field house, cafĂ©, and auditorium) would result in a building larger than that in Option 3 and would take two years to complete. Estimated Cost = $49,400,000
SMMA [architectural firm Symmes Maini & McKee Associates] recommended Option 4, which was subsequently supported by the Joint Secondary Facilities Committee. For those in the community who continue to recommend a complete renovation of the facility, it should not be missed that it would cost just as much as the project currently being considered and would substantially interrupt the education of students for four or six years while sections of the building are renovated. A full copy of the Feasibility Study is available here.

Hayes then details the steps that led NEASC to move BHS from "warning" status to "probation," to nearly stripping the school of it's accreditation, until the City Council finally appropriated the money for the reconstruction project.

Hayes concludes the letter, saying:

NEASC never told Beverly it had to build a new High School. However, it did require a long range solution to the issues in the current facility. The proposal before the City Council represents the best analysis and thinking toward that goal. It is fair to say that if this project were to not be supported by City Council, the High School would lose its accreditation in a matter of months.

The design of the new facility is efficient and forward-thinking and will support good teaching and learning for decades to come. It is our best solution to the problems we face. The best investment of tax dollars is for a building that will support education in Beverly for the next 40-50 years, not for band-aids to a building whose time has passed.

From what we hear, it seems unlikely that the Council will reject the measure at this point, but if you haven't yet, it would still be a good idea to contact your city councilor to let them know you support the project, and to attend Monday evening's vote. As we've seen, the opposition is always very vocal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Council Meeting on HS Funding Postponed

We just received word from City Hall that tomorrow's meeting and vote on the high school has been postponed. It has tentatively been rescheduled for Monday, October 27, 2008, at 6:00 PM.

10/23 UPDATE Today's Salem News explains the delay, saying Mayor Scanlon said the vote has been put off because "some of the necessary information may not be available." The story further states:

The city is facing a Monday deadline to sign a contract with a general contractor to oversee the construction or be forced to put the project out to bid again, which could end up raising the cost. But Scanlon said that deadline could be extended if the low bidder, Brait Builders, agrees.

In the meantime, the state Attorney General's Office said it is looking into "multiple protests" that have been filed over the qualifications of the four general contractors who bid on the project.


The protest issue was detailed further earlier in the week in this article in the Citizen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Time to Rally Again

As we detailed in the post below, the opposition to the new high school was very vocal at last night's City Council meeting. Those of us who were in favor of the funding may have wrongly assumed that this was a done deal, given the reimbursement rate from the state being even higher that the Mayor had originally assumed. So, while those against the funding made their presence known, those of us in support were not as vocal.

So, in short, if you are in favor of voting for funding for the new high school, it is imperative that you contact your city councilor by email or phone, and stress that you would like them to vote for the funding. They are taking the vote this Thursday evening, so timing is important!!

Please get the word out to as many people as you can, as soon as you can. The Mayor and the School Committee are in agreement that if we do not approve funding for a new high school, we will certainly lose our accreditation.

Again, here is the link to the City Couniclors' email addresses.

A good showing at Thursday's Council meeting is also key. Meeting is at 6:00 pm in Council Chambers at City Hall.

10/22 UPDATE: Wednesday's Salem News has two stories on the issue. One details the comments of the city's budget analyst Kathy Griffin, who told the Council on Monday night that if they approve the high school, "it is definitely going to mean significant cuts in coming years."

Another story reports on the half million dollars that will need to be diverted annually from the school operating budget to the high school project.

Speakers oppose HS; Bids tangled up in red tape

A steady stream of high school opponents spoke up last night last night to try to pursuade the City Council to kill the new high school project saying the city cannot afford to take on more debt, especially at this time of financial turmoil. Many identified themselves as members of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group that formed last Spring to oppose the override. At least two even invoked the spirit of "Joe the Plummer," and other bits of presidential politics into the proceedings. According to today's Salem News story, 14 out of the 16 speakers were opposed to the plan.

The Council, which approved the original high school plan three years ago, must reauthorize the project before construction can begin, due to the increased cost.

Mayor Scanlon, a strong supporter of the project, spoke at the end of the meeting saying that if the high school loses its accreditation, home property values in Beverly would plummet.

"Even detractors of this project should be able to see that failure to proceed with this project will hurt them in their pocketbook, which is what they seem most concerned about," he said. "This school will be a beacon to the world that Beverly really cares about a quality education and will encourage more people to come to live in our fine city."

The City Council now plans to vote Thursday on the revised plan.

Sunday's Boston Globe had a detailed summary of the plan, and also included some quotes from the director of the State agency that will fund more than half the project. Her statements would seem to reassure some on the Council who worry about what would happen if the state does not follow through on its commitment to fund more than half of the project:

Under Scanlon's plan, the city would borrow $33.9 million out of the $81.5 million total cost. Scanlon said he has received verbal assurances from the state that the Massachusetts School Building Authority - which subsidizes public school construction projects - will pay $47.6 million, or 58.42 percent of the cost of the project. Scanlon said that subsidy is contingent upon the city building a green school, which it is on track to do. If it does not build a green school, then the subsidy would drop to 56.42 percent.

Although the state is facing a financial crisis, Katherine Craven, executive director of the school building authority, said it would not change the state's subsidy commitment to Beverly. The MSBA is funded by 1 percent of the state sales tax and plans to spend $2.5 billion over the next six years. Craven said any change in its funding formula would have to be approved by the Legislature.

"We're not going to go to Beverly and say, 'Remember how it was 56.42 percent and now it's 30 percent.' I couldn't do that. I couldn't go back on what we already committed," said Craven.

Scanlon said the city would borrow the $33.9 million and pay it back over a 25-year period, costing the municipality a maximum of $2.5 million during the first several years. To pay the annual loan, Scanlon said he would allocate $1 million from recently paid-off debts from the city's senior center and library, $500,000 in tax money from the Cummings Center, $450,000 in state reimbursement funds for completed elementary school renovation projects, and $125,000 from the poles and wires tax.



PROBLEMS WITH BIDS

In another potential roadblock, The Beverly Citizen last night reported that at least three protests have been filed with the State Attorney General's office regarding three out of the four construction bids. According to the Citizen:

Two of the three protests focus on whether or not the companies have done projects large enough to qualify to bid on the high school and a third focuses on an unfair price advantage achieved through a joint bid.

"From the city’s perspective, if any of the three are found to be the lowest responsive and responsible bidder the city will do the project,” [City Solicitor Roy] Gelineau said.

Four bids were received on Sept. 12, ranging from $65.8 million to $70.4 million. If the city is going to go ahead with the project on this round of bids, a contract must be signed by Oct. 27. Construction of a new academic wing and renovation to the school’s core facilities is expected to begin this fall.

If it came down to just high bidder, Agostino Construction Co. of East Providence, R.I., Gelineau said the city would not accept its $70.4 million bid.

Monday, October 20, 2008

High School Funding Vote Tonight

There will be a public hearing, followed by a City Council vote tonight on the appropriation of addition funds for the high school project. The hearing starts at 7:15 in City Council chambers at City Hall.

The following is a note from School Committee President Annemarie Cesa:

Monday night the City Council will be taking a vote to decide whether to appropriate the extra monies toward the new BHS. Although the cost for the final project has grown, the additional funding by the city has only increased by about $500K. It is important to let your City Counselor and the 3 at large Counselors, know how you feel. Call or write them. If you can, come to City Hall and speak or cheer on those who do.

Today's Salem News also has a brief writeup on the current state of the project.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scanlon: State to Raise Cap on High School

Mayor Scanlon reported to the City Council on Monday night that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to raise the ceiling on the High School project to $81.5 million. The State is expected to pay 56.42% of the cost of the project, meaning that the city will "get an $81.5 million high school at a cost of $33.7 million to the city," according to a story in Tuesday's Salem News.

The state had previously announced the reimbursement level of 56.42%, but had capped the project cost at $75 million, or nearly $8 million short of the current price tag.

The News story further states that "
Scanlon said the City Council must approve the $81.5 million cost by Oct. 27, which is the deadline for the city to award the construction contract to one of the four bidders. If the city does not meet that deadline, the contract must be put out to bid again and could end up costing the city more money"

While this would appear to be good news, the figures are unofficial until the Board's directors vote on them in November. Since the City Council has to approve borrowing the city's portion of the money by October 27th, before the State's contribution amount is official, this has raised concerns among some members of the Council.

The News' Heard in Beverly blog reports on a "Bizarre exchange" Monday night between Scanlon and Councilor Pat Grimes:

“You’re asking us to do this without the vote of the (MSBA) board,” Grimes said.

“It’s not our business and I don’t think it’s your business to ask how that board works,” Scanlon said.

When Grimes said she would like to see written confirmation of the MSBA’s commitment before she votes to borrow the money, Scanlon said it was “absolutely bizarre” that Grimes would think that he wouldn’t do just that.

Grimes fought back, saying, “I take offense at you saying it’s bizarre.”

John Burke agreed with Grimes, saying her questioning was legitimate and should not be considered a “personal comment” on Scanlon.

10/9 UPDATE: Today's Salem News outlines Scanlon's plan to pay for the debt service on the high school. It also reports that there will be a public hearing on the matter on October 20th at 7:15 at City Hall.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

State Approves HS Funding, but with a Catch

The Massachusetts School Building Authority yesterday approved covering 56.42% of the cost of Beverly's new high school, according to Mayor Scanlon. Today's Salem News has the story. That is higher than the originally expected 50% reibursement, or even Scanlon's more rosey recent estimate of 55%.

But the devil in the details is that the Authority also capped the cost of the project at $75 million, which is considerably less that the current estimate of $82.8 million.

Scanlon says he hopes that this cap isn't the final word, saying "
I'm led to believe this can be adjusted, I believe they're going to change (the figures)."

According to the News story:

Scanlon said the MSBA directors set the project cost at $75 million because they were under the impression the city could come back later and ask for more money. But Scanlon said the city needs the full $82.8 million to be approved by the state now because the City Council must vote on the appropriation.

Scanlon said the city could not afford the project if the state paid its share based on $75 million rather than $82.8 million.

"We'd just put an unacceptable strain on the city if we were paying 100 percent over $75 million," he said.

"The project wouldn't be feasible at that total," he said.

Scanlon said he is scheduled to meet with Craven and other MSBA officials tomorrow or Friday to straighten out the $75 million figure. He said he will go before the City Council on Monday night with all of the updated information.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hayes Says News Good on Elementary Class Size

Dr. Hayes has posted the final class size numbers on the Administration website, and the numbers look a bit better than feared last Spring. He also posted the following note.

Enrollment data from the first week of school show that the class size objectives set by the School Committee for the elementary schools have been met. By closing the McKeown School and redistricting the City's K-5 population, the Committee sought to achieve class sizes that were well below its maximum guidelines of 25 students in grades 1 and 2 and 30 students in grades 3-5.

The Enrollment Report presented to the School Committee on September 17th demonstrates great success in achieving those goals. Only the second grade at Cove has enrollments at the maximum. As a result, help from paraprofessionals will be added to help the teachers deal with those large classes.

9/22 UPDATE: Today's Salem News trumpets Class Sizes Stay the Same in Beverly at the top of the front page, in a move sure to bring out all the message board inhabitants in chants of "I told you so."

While the news is generaly good compared to everyone's fears last Spring, let's not forget that Beverly's class sizes were already the highest in the region. The story also adds the detail that there are 42 less children enrolled than last year. A good many of these, we know, have school choiced out, enrolled in private school, or moved to other communities, in part because of last Spring's turmoil.

Escalating High School Cost Raises Concern

While it was initially reported that the bids for the high school construction were in line what city official expected, additional items outside the bid amount have driven the estimated cost to nearly $83 million. That's nearly $18 million more than the original estimate of $65 million. Today's Salem News lede story "New BHS: Can City Afford It?" details some of the concerns.

Mayor Scanlon announced the current price tag at Monday's City Council meeting, and admitted that paying for the project "just got harder," but still says the cost is "within our reach."

He believes that the state will pay a higher percentage of the cost than originally budgeted (55% vs. 50%), although any state money is still not officially committed.

The News poses the question "If the city was going to struggle with a $65 million price tag, how can it afford an $18 million increase?"

And City Councilor Don Martin, who voted against the original plan, says "It will be the most expensive public facilities project in the history of the city" and that it "has the potential to be a huge money pit."

Still Martin concedes that since the city has already spent over $4 million on design and other work that it would be difficult to halt the project at this point. "It could be stopped but you end up eating what you spent... I don't advocate stopping it."

The City Council must approve the project, but Scanlon says that must wait until he knows the exact reimbursement from the state.

What's more, Scanlon also wants to build a $5.8 million stadium along with the high school. This amount is in addition to even the $83 million figure, but Scanlon hopes to finance this with private donations, and state money.

Meanwhile another group is gathering signatures in an online petition to Save Hurd Stadium.

Friday, September 12, 2008

High School Bids in On Budget


City officials today opened the final bids for the high school project. According to the Beverly Citizen, the bids were in line with what was expected, with the low bid, submitted by Brait Builders Corp. of Marshfield, at $65.9 million.

The city now has up to 30 days to sign a contract, and the project is currently scheduled to break ground by the end of October.

If you'd like to follow the progress and see the plans for the project, the administration maintains a high school construction page on their website.

The above photo shows the approved building design.

9/15 UPDATE: Monday's Salem News has more on the project status.

9/16 UPDATE: Tuesday's Salem News reports that the estimated price, with additional costs not in the base contract has now risen to $83 million. These items include architectural and engineering fees, furniture fixtures and equipment, technology and "contingencies."

That is still only halfway to Newton's Big Dig, but still nearly a $20 million increase from the original price tag, before ground has broken.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Full Day K Helps Pay the Way

The Salem News reports today that Danvers has joined most of our other neighbors including Peabody, Salem, Manchester, Essex and Ipswich in offering FREE full-day kindergarten. Beverly meanwhile continues to increase the fee each year to the absolute state maximum, which currently is $4,000 per student. We know of only two other communities in the state, North Andover and North Reading that charge the maximum.

The Massachusetts DOE full-day kindergarten policy states "The Department of Education strongly encourages districts to offer full-day kindergarten free of charge." Further, the DOE's report "Transition Planning for Full Day Kindergarten" states "Full-day kindergarten presents an opportunity to improve the lives of children and improve educational outcomes both for children and for schools in general. Both are worth the investment."

If you followed the budget debate closely last year, you heard that the philosophy of Beverly seems to look at full-day K less as an investment in children, than as a "revenue stream," for the district.

While many of our neighbors share the same budget problems as us, it is clear that they don't have the same views on utilizing the full-day kindergarten program as a way to balance the budget.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Next Budget Hurdle


votenoma.com

In November, there will be a question on the ballot throughout Massachusetts asking to eliminate the state income tax. If this initiative passes, it would drastically reduce annual revenue for Massachusetts - by $12.7 billion each year - and would devastate publicly funded entities, including schools.

This is a binding proposal that would become law, effective January 1, 2009.

You can read more about the ballot question here, and also download a fact sheet. This information is provided by the Coalition for Our Communities, the state group that opposes the initiative.

Tracey Armstrong, who led the Beverly override campaign last spring, will be holding a meeting this Wednesday at 7:30 pm at her house for people who would like to learn more about the ballot question, or to work on the local campaign to defeat it. If you are interested in attending, please contact Tracey for more informtion.

A couple other notes from Tracey:

I expect to have a meeting in late September where we can discuss the future activities of the group. Second, I want to gratefully thank Joanna Murphy Scott, Amy Norton and Ed Rozmerick who were all selected and agreed to serve on Judith Cronin's PILOT/SILOT committee.

Bring Your Own

Today's Boston Globe has a story that most of us can relate to:  The supply lists sent out by teachers requesting "donations," of classroom supplies.  The items requested range from crayons to  report covers to, in some districts, toilet paper.  As far as we know, it hasn't come to bring your own toilet paper yet in Beverly, but we probably dropped close to $100 on our two lists at Staples last week.


Thanks to Joanna Murphy Scott for sending this link.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Support North Beverly School Playground



The Rugged Bear in North Beverly will be having a special sale on Saturday, September 9th, and donating 15% off all purchases to help build a new playground at North Beverly School. Customers will also get 10% off their purchases. Please click on the coupon above for a full size printable version. You will need the coupon to get the discount and the donation.

For more information on the playground, or to make your own donation, go to www.nbplayground.org.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School's In: Report from Hannah

First day back with the new elementary school configuration. The extra fifty or so kids at Hannah were certainly noticeable, with cars parked in every nook and cranny available in both the main, and back entrance, as well as most neighborhood streets.

The walk down Montserrat and Big Rock Lane, the preferred route for both cars AND walkers from the Montserrat area, as well as the redistricted Cove neighborhoods, was pretty hairy. Anybody up for pushing for car restrictions on this route in the morning, especially considering there are no sidewalks?

We spotted Dr. Hayes leaving the scene, hopefully taking in the madness at the school. On the playground, there were definitely more kids that we've ever seen.

Certainly some of this was due to normal first day of school craziness, with more than the normal number of parents and cars, so it will be interesting to see how things go, but its pretty clear that the already congested situation will be that much worse with all the extra kids.

Please add reports from the other schools as a comment below.

9/4 UPDATE: Beverly Citizen Columnist Shimon Soferr also has a report from opening day at Hannah.

Thanks to photographer and Hannah parent Brian Lewandowski for the new photo in the banner above of Hannah School.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Area School Committees Join Forces

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa has joined her counterparts from Danvers, Ipswich, Marblehead, Swampscott, Hamilton-Wenham, Manchester-Essex, Gloucester, and Rockport to discuss a group effort to address Chapter 70 funding, and other budget issues that are affecting all the area's school systems. Today's Salem News has a report on the group's efforts.

The group response was spearheaded by Cesa and Swampscott School Committee chair Dave Whelan following a July Town Hall meeting in Salem with Governor Patrick, and a subsequent story in the Salem News (see post below also). At the meeting Patrick agreed that the state funding system was broken.

"We're really trying to work sort of as a geographical coalition to spread the word that the infrastructures of schools across the state are imploding," said Whelan.

"We've all had a difficult budget season, and we're all saying, 'How can we work this out together?'" added Cesa, who also sees the group as the start of a more regional approach to education.

"Foreign languages, for example, tend to be first on the chopping block when there's not enough money. But if one school offers Russian, and a student at another school wants to take it, there could be a way for them to do it," she said.

Last month Whelan distributed his own plan to correct some of the glaring inequities he sees in the state funding formula. The plan takes more of a per pupil approach to the funding. Below is an outline of his thinking in developing the plan, which would cost $154 million, no small amount in these tough economic times.

  1. It is my position, and that of some folks that I have discussed chapter 70 issues with, that each child’s funding should be subject to a minimum dollar threshold. The dollar value that I have consistently heard is $2,000 per child. These discussions have been with professional educators and various school committee members.
  2. It is also my point that on a per child basis, chapter 70 funding should never be less than one-half the state average per child for that year. That state average per child for fy ’09 is $4,182 and 50% of that value is $2,091.
  3. There are 104 communities [including Beverly] that are being paid less than $2,091 per child for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2009. That means that 27.7% of all districts receive less than one-half of the state average per child.
  4. The $2,091 figure represents less than 1/7th the per pupil cost of the highest reimbursed district ($2,091 vs. $14,811). Is it reasonable to ask that no district gets less than 1/7th the amount of the highest reimbursed district in the state?
The benefits of my plan are as follows:
  1. My plan substantially reduces the number of override attempts that are inevitable for fy ’10. This is consistent with Governor Patrick’s assessment that there is an overreliance on the property tax. We certainly agree on this point. This plan also removes the destructive nature of what an override does to communities.
  2. Districts like Swampscott can start the process of rehiring critical staff that will be necessary if Massachusetts is going to compete in the global economy as discussed prominently in the Governor’s Readiness Project.
  3. My plan also will insure that good, young, enthusiastic, and yes, inexpensive teachers stay in the Commonwealth instead of finding no employment in Massachusetts and moving to North Carolina and/or Arizona, for example. The shortage of young qualified teachers in the next few years will be soon become what the nursing crisis is now in the Commonwealth unless something is done to avoid the massive layoffs of these young people that are already happening. My district alone will have laid off 40 plus in two years and next year looks bleak at best.
  4. It is quite possible that my solution effectively ends the politically understandable but morally offensive five year phase in to 17.5% of foundation budget that effects 60 plus communities. Swampscott has lost approximately $1.6 million because of this phase in fy ’07 to fy ’09.
  5. The Governor recently said that “Chapter 70 is broken…everybody knows that.” I have congratulated him on his honesty and this surely is a step towards fixing what the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth has described as a “broken” program.
The challenges are as follows:
  1. Where do we get the $154 million? My answer is simple. Anywhere you can find it! Consider the alternative which is the implosion of districts all over the state.
  2. What to do about the fallout from fy ’09? That certainly is a value judgment that state officials have made, but can and should be reversed.
  3. Why ½ the state average? Why not? It is certainly an arbitrary number, but all discussions need to start somewhere.

You can see Whelan's full spreadsheet here. His plan would add $1.9 million dollars annually to Beverly's Chapter 70 funding, or about 75% of last year's deficit, which resulted in the closing of one elementary school.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Governor: "Chapter 70 is Broken"

Today's Salem News has a report on Governor Patrick's recent town hall meeting in Salem, and a debate between a Swampscott School Committee member and the Governor over Chapter 70, which is the state's formula for distributing education money to cities and towns in Massachusetts.

The story doesn't mention Beverly, but the inequity in the Chapter 70 funding system was mentioned several times during the budget debate in Beverly as a major factor in our budget problems, as well.

Some excerpts from the story:

"Chapter 70 is broken," Patrick replied in answer to a question from former Swampscott School Committee member Mary Dechillo. "Everybody knows it."

[Swampscott School Committee member, Dave] Whelan agrees completely. But, he asked, "I just want to know how he can state that the formula is flawed and not fix it? ... I want to see some action."

Whelan cites statistics showing, for example, that Wellesley gets more money per pupil from the state than Swampscott receives, despite the fact that the Boston suburb's per capita income is nearly three times higher. Likewise, Marblehead scores more aid than its less affluent neighbor.

Swampscott Superintendent Matt Malone backed him up with an e-mail to The Salem News. "We need to take action. Enough talk. Chapter 70 hurts kids. I can't stand for that. ... We could sit around and study the issue to death, but that would not put dollars back into the classroom."

If the town got its fair share, Whelan said, "we wouldn't be tearing each other apart here over layoffs." The tight money in Swampscott has led to "a complete breakdown in civility," he said.

While the story doesn't detail any numbers for Beverly, Dr. Hayes and State Representative Mary Grant both went into detail several times during the budget meetings here over similar problems with how Beverly rates in the formula, qualifying for much less state aid than other comparably sized cities on the North Shore.

Grant said that because of the "relative" wealth of the community, Beverly rates as a "minimum aid community." One of the factor's in the formula that many say is unfair, and where it hits communities such as Beverly and Swampscott hard, is it's reliance on property values. Beverly, with a few pockets of multi-million dollar homes, but overall a working class city takes a big hit in this part of the formula compared to cities like Peabody and Salem that don't have areas like Prides Crossing to skew the results.

This should be a major area of focus, once people's attention returns to the budget in the fall.

The blog Blue Mass Group reports more details from this meeting.

UPDATE: Dave Whelan, Swampscott School Committee Chair has sent us some of the numbers documents, and tells us he thinks Beverly is getting hit worse by this even than Swampscott, and says he hopes that this article brings North Shore communities together to fight this battle.

These numbers show that the state per pupil average for Chapter 70 funding is $4,183. Salem gets $3,080, Peabody gets $3,185, and Lynn gets $8,421. Beverly only gets $1,659. Even Hamilton-Wenham gets more per pupil than Beverly at $1793.

Interestingly, Gloucester rates very similar to Beverly, getting $1,676 per pupil. This shows that, in spite of the way the media has portrayed the two cities during the recent parade brew-ha-ha, both are working class cities at heart, but with pockets of wealth and high property-values that skew the numbers.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Salem News Outs Martin for Choicing Out

Today's Salem News has a front-page story on City Councilor Don Martin, confirming that the Councilor school choices his children out of Beverly Schools. During the recent budget debate, Martin was the most consistent voice against the schools, opposing the transfer of $680,000 to support the 5-school plan, opposing the trash fee, and was the lone vote against the final school budget. Martin also was behind the move that some saw as a ploy to get the trash fee eliminated entirely by questioning the vote of his own Finance Committee, thereby delaying a vote by the entire Council on the fee, which is a key element in the sustainability of the school budget.

Two years ago, Martin was also one of only two councilors to oppose the new high-school. He didn't take a public position on the override, stating "On this particular issue I’m going to keep my decision private...I don’t think it makes a difference how any particular councilor is voting."

Some excerts from the News story:

Martin said his priority is to protect his own children, but he has always been "upfront and honest" with people when the subject of school choice comes up.

"I haven't hidden anything. I've got nothing to hide," he said. "I got 75 percent of the vote last year, the biggest margin of victory of any ward councilor race."

[Former McKeown PTO President Julie] DeSilva said it's difficult to interpret Martin's decision to opt out as anything but a vote against the city's public schools.

"As a parent you have to look out for your own kids," she said, "but as a city official you have to look out for all of the community's kids."

Martin said the bottom line is that he and his wife, Michele, have to do what is best for their children.

"We will always put our children first," he said. "That's the way it has to be."

Monday, June 30, 2008

Council Votes on Trash Fee, School Maintenance

With two Councilors voting for it after they voted against it last week, the City Council voted to keep the trash fee at $100 for FY09. Council President Tim Flaherty, who originally proposed a $20 reduction in the fee, explained that since he didn't have the votes to approve the reduction, a vote against the full $100 fee could result in no fee at all next year. Wes Slate also voted for the full fee, after voting for the reduction last week.

For procedural reasons, there will need to be yet another vote on the fee sometime in July.

The Council last night also debated, and voted unanimously to have the city Department of Public Services take over maintenance of the school buildings and grounds.

The change still needs to be approved by the School Committee.

DPS Director Michael Collins explained how the restructured department would work, with school custodians reporting to DPS, but answerable on a daily basis to the school principals. The school maintenance budget would still be controlled by the school department.

The plan has been studied for some time by members of the Council and School Committee, and most Councilors seemed generally receptive to the idea, as a way to control costs through efficiencies.

Yesterday's Salem News ran an editorial supportive of the plan.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trash Vote Disintegrates

Following the budget vote (see post below), the vote to reduce the trash fee, which was on again and off again during the meeting, appeared to be on again before disintegrating into chaos.

The prior debate seemed to indicate that there were not enough votes to pass the reduction. Maureen Troubetaris, who would have been the deciding vote, said she would vote against the proposal, stating that "The people in my ward care more about their children, than they do about $20."

Troubetaris asked City Finance Director John Dunn what a reduction would mean to the sustainability of the school plan, and Dunn answered "if you reduce it [the fee], you make it less sustainable."

But when time came to vote, the Council couldn't agree on what the vote coming out of last night's Financial Committee meeting was (see here for the answer), then couldn't agree on what the process for tonight's vote should be. Don Martin walked off the stage at one point to talk with Dunn, forcing a recess, but when all returned, the process was still muddled.

Wes Slate blasted Martin, saying that if you want an illustration of why people have no faith in their government, this is it, and stating "I don't understand how the chairman of a committee doesn't understand the vote that came out of his own committee."

In the end there was a vote, and the fee reduction appeared to fail, but because of some procedural maneuvering by John Burke, it seems like the vote didn't count, and/or will need to be revisited, most likely on Monday night.

From our understanding, there is a "sunset clause" in the trash fee, that causes it to expire at the end of the fiscal year (which would be Monday), if it is not renewed.

6/27 UPDATE: Friday's Salem News clarifies some of what went on in the chaotic final moments of last night's meeting, as well as the anti-climactic final vote on the budget:

The Council did vote down the trash fee reduction, but "Burke invoked a provision that allows councilors to hold a vote, meaning the council will have to do it again at its meeting Monday. Burke said he held the vote because there was confusion over the outcome of the vote in the finance subcommittee."

The News further describes the confusion:

Councilors argued back and forth about the procedural matters, with the discussion getting heated at times. Slate objected to some councilors holding a side meeting with Finance Director John Dunn during a recess.

"If you want an example of why people voted strongly that they were dissatisfied with how government operates, this is it," Slate said.

"It's a great speech, but spare us," Martin answered.

At one point, City Council President Tim Flaherty pounded his gavel and said, "I'm stopping this. This is ridiculous."


After that, for those watching at home on BevCam, the screen went blank.

2:00 pm UPDATE: The Citizen has some further explanation of last night's trash fee follies, and the potential for more political gamesmanship with the vote on Monday night.

Council Approves School Budget

Exactly three-months after this drama began, the City Council tonight approved the school budget, essentially ending (we hope) the debate for this year. The vote was 8-1, with only Councilor Don Martin voting against it, and happened in the blink of an eye, with no further debate before the vote.

We had expected (as it seems some members of the Council did) a vote on the trash fee reduction as well, but it looks like that vote will not happen tonight. (see above post)

One other bit of school news happened earlier, when Wes Slate stated that he intends to file a motion to amend the City Charter to make the Mayor the President of the School Committee, as is done in many cities including Salem. Stay tuned for more about this sure to be controversial subject.

Trash Fee Vote is back on again now. Will update soon.

6/27 UPDATE: A couple more details on the budget vote that were lost in the trash fee confusion last night:

Councilor John Burke voted for the school budget, saying it was the "responsible thing to do," but not before protesting what he called "blackmail" on the part of the Mayor. Pat Grimes also spoke about the "very unfortunate tactics of the Mayor" and said "It's very clear that Beverly has a flawed budget process."

Wes Slate spoke out against the anonymous comments on the Salem News and Beverly Citizen web sites that sprouted up on virtually every story throughout the process. This added to the divisiveness and "corrosive mistrust of anything and anyone involved in government and politics" in the community, he said.

But on a positive note he said said much of the debate has been "heartening" because so many people became involved in the process.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

FinCom: Approve Budget; Reduce Trash Fee

After some debate about putting the $680,000 earmarked for the schools into a reserve account to await more assurances about the sustainability of the 5-school plan, the Finance Committee finally voted tonight to approve the school budget by a vote of 2-1. The vote sends the budget to the full Council for a vote tomorrow night. Council President Tim Flaherty and Councilor Judith Cronin voted in favor.

The reserve account idea was first suggested by City Financial Analyst Kathy Griffin earlier in the week, and was taken up and supported by Finance Committee Chairman Don Martin. Martin also was the lone vote against approving the budget, saying he objected to the transfer of funds.

The reserve idea was objected to strongly by Wes Slate and Pat Grimes, with Grimes stating "We can't keep pulling the rug out from under people in this city time and time again." Slate spoke of the teachers, students, and a principal that have all left the system already because of the chaos and uncertainty, and asked what more could we possibly know in two or three months that could provide any more definite guarantee of sustainability than we have now.

Mayor Scanlon also objected to the idea, saying it was time to end the uncertainty for this year. Scanlon continued to say, however, that while he believes this funding source is sustainable for a few years, that "the overall school budget has many, many problems that have to be dealt with," and "there are going to have to be further changes that we haven't even contemplated."

Despite the continued concern about sustainability, the Committee earlier in the evening voted 2-1 to recommend that the trash fee be reduced from $100 to $80 per year. Tim Flaherty introdcued the motion, and was joined by Don Martin in voting support for it.

The third voting member, Judith Cronin, descented, saying that after just closing one school, and with all the questions regarding the sustainability and general worries about continuing budget gaps outlined in the 5-year forecast, that this was not the time to be "taking away a revenue stream."

Later, during the school budget debate, Cronin spoke of the irony of councilors worrying again about sustainability, after just voting for something that would make it that much more difficult to achieve.

While the trash fee vote has no bearing on how the full Council will vote on this tomorrow night, it was clear from comments by the other non-voting members that John Burke would also support this measure, having suggested that it be reduced further. Councilors Grimes, Hobin and Coughlin all seemed to side with Cronin against the reduction; Wes Slate made no comment on the matter, and Maureen Troubetaris was absent.

The $20 per year reduction amounts to less than 40 cents per week per household, but takes $250,000 of revenue away from the city annually. While the trash fee level has no immediate bearing on the $680,000 transfer to the schools this year, it does make the long-term sustainability of that money that much more in doubt.

Mayor Scanlon said his figures, and his views on the plan's sustainability, were based on continuing the $100 fee.

The full City Council will have the final say on all of this tomorrow night at 7:00

6/26 UPDATE: Thursday's Salem News has the story.

12:15 pm UPDATE: The Citizen has just posted it's take on the meeting, saying that the move on the trash fee "may endanger Mayor Bill Scanlon’s plan to finance a fifth elementary school" and quotes City Finance Director John Dunn, as saying that money would need to be replaced:

Finance Director John Dunn said afterwards that if the full City Council were to approve the trash-fee reduction, another $250,000 would have to be used from an existing surplus in the trash fund.

Scanlon’s school plan counts on that surplus to fund trash removal and keep money in the general fund to pay for an additional $680,000 in funding for the schools. The plan would allow five elementary schools to remain open for the next five years.

From our reading of the Council members' views, the trash fee issue seems to be in the hands of Wes Slate and Maureen Troubetaris, as the others made their opinions known last night (see above.)

One other note: Mayor Scanlon continued his drive to distance himself from ownership of the current school plan last night, saying that while the plan has been attributed to him, it really was brought up by three School Committee members and was not "his" plan. Here is how we remember it.

4:30 pm UPDATE: The Heard in Beverly Blog adds a few more details.

Budget Season Winding Down?

If all goes as planned (when has that happened, lately?), there should be a resolution to the school budget, for this year at least, by the end of the week.

The Finance Subcommittee plans to debate and vote on the budget tonight. The full City Council plans to vote tomorrow night. There first needs to be a separate vote on continuing, reducing, or eliminating the $100 trash fee. And another vote, we believe, is needed to approve the Mayor's request to transfer $680,000 from the general fund to the schools.

While these issues are all related, they are legally separate issues.

Councilor Judith Cronin, in an email to constituents, has given the best explanation we have yet heard of the specifics, and what needs to be approved when, and by whom:

The trash fee must be voted in by the City Council every year. The finance subcommittee is scheduled to vote on the budget on Wednesday, June 25 and the full City Council is scheduled to take a vote on the FY09 budget on Thursday, June 26.

Much of this year’s discussion has centered on funding for the schools and the source of this funding. The Council must decide on the school budget, including the Mayor’s recommendation to give the schools an incremental $680,000. The source of this incremental funding is related to the sanitation enterprise fund. Although the trash fee does cover a portion of sanitation expense, money from the general fund is still needed to cover the remaining expense for sanitation. Due to increased recycling efforts this year, however, the amount required to be transferred from the general fund to sanitation is less, thus creating a surplus available to the city. The Mayor has decided to dedicate a portion of this surplus to the schools.

The City Council must also decide whether to maintain the trash fee. Our current $100 trash fee does not cover all of the city’s sanitation expense. A decrease to the trash fee will require an increase in the transfer to sanitation from the general fund, resulting in less funds available to other services in the city. Elimination of the trash fee will require a reduction of approximately $1.3 million of city services.


While the vote is scheduled to happen this week, and the budget goes into effect next Tuesday, we hear there are contingency plans for more meetings next week, if things are not settled by Thursday.

All remaining meetings are at Council Chambers at City Hall, and start at 7:00 pm. BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) will carry both of this weeks meetings live, and rebroadcast the following day at noon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cove Takes Some Hits

Dr. Hayes has confirmed that popular Cove principal Karla Pressman will be moving to Centerville, as part of the elementary school reshuffling. This latest hit comes on the heels of earlier losses of Gym teacher Chris Roy, and Art teacher Gretchen Kiesling, both of whom will be leaving the district. There are also several other probable teacher losses coming as a result of redistricting.

Pressman will be replaced on an interim basis at Cove by Stacey Busick, who is currently an Administrative Team Chair in the Special Education Department.

Below is an email that went to Cove and Centerville staff.

Dear Centerville and Cove Staff Members,

Attached is a press release that will be issued later today and which announces that I have named Karla Pressman to be the new Principal of Centerville Elementary School and Stacy Bucyk to be the Interim Principal of Cove Elementary School for the 2008-09 school year. I am sure this comes as a surprise to just about all of you, and I am sending you this email to help you better understand this decision.

The Centerville Search Committee sent me three candidates in March as finalists for the Centerville principalship. That process was put on hold because of the budget shortfall discussion about closing schools and was restarted when the budget was approved June 12th. One candidate withdrew and I was not satisfied that the other two candidates were the right people for the job. I reviewed resumes of other candidates interviewed but found no one whose background interested me. I know many of you supported Chris S [3rd grade teacher
Christine Sarantopoulous, per Salem News] for this position. Though she was an impressive candidate, making the leap from classroom to principal in the same school is extremely difficult for anyone, and I was unwilling to put her in that circumstance.

I greatly appreciate the work of the Search Committee to identify quality candidates. However, the responsibility to appoint principals is mine, and the success of our schools depends upon making the best hires possible for leadership of our schools. And I have done that by appointing Karla and Stacy! Given that it is late June and not early April, I don’t have time for the usual options for a process in selecting principals. I reassigned Karla to Centerville because I believe that school faces more change than any other next year as it adjusts to a new population and becomes a Title I school. I felt a strong need to place an experienced principal there to help the school make that adjustment. Karla is perfect for that role. And I then needed a strong administrator to lead the Cove School as it experiences changes in population and the addition of the AIM program. I have been impressed with Stacy Bucyk since seeing her success as an administrative intern at Ayers a number of years ago. She has filled in for the Special Education Director when she was on a long-term leave, is currently assisting the Director in leadership of that department, and has done a terrific job in both roles. She is ready to take on the role of principal, and, with mentoring from Karla and the support of other colleagues, I know she will do a fine job as Cove principal.

Deciding to move Karla from Cove to Centerville was not easy. Karla has done a terrific job at Cove, and they are going through changes too. I know how much she will be missed. But the need for someone with her experience and expertise at Centerville was greater, and as Superintendent I had to address that need or risk a very difficult situation at Centerville. I felt Cove was in a better position to adjust to a new principal; Cove will continue to be successful even with new leadership. And so I asked Karla and then Stacy to fill these needs. While both of them are leaving behind work and relationships that they enjoy, they are enthusiastic about an opportunity to take on new challenges in their careers. They are already collaborating on how to make the transition to their new roles. Both are eager to get into their new settings, meet with staff and parents, and get ready for the arrival of students. Officially, they begin their new assignments on July 1st. Actually, both will make a gradual transition from their current roles to their new, and neither school will lag behind because of this transition period.

One thing that is going to change very little – Centerville and Cove are staffed with terrific educators! I have every confidence that you will welcome these leaders into your school communities and rally around them to make the new school year a success! If you can, contact your new principal by sending an email or dropping in during the summer – every connection makes the transition that much easier!

I hope you all have a great summer!

Jim


6/25 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has the story.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Picking Through the Trash Budget

A few notes on tonight's public hearing at City Hall, which centered around the trash fee, and school and city budget issues.

The hearing started off with comments specifically regarding the trash fee itself, as opposed to the ultimate use of the funds. A majority of these speakers were familiar faces from the NO side of the override debate, and spoke of the need to reduce the fee in light of the the reduced cost of tipping fees, and increased recycling savings. Many also spoke of the unfairness of a flat fee, and pushed for a pay-as-you-throw type fee structure.

Once the hearing moved on to the transfer of funds for the schools, more of the pro-school crowd spoke up, and most tried to take the debate beyond the immediate fund transfer, which all supported, to broader issues of sustainability, the need to look for new sources of revenue such as PILOTs, and the need to have more long-range budget planning on a regular basis.

Some speakers, including Tracey Armstrong and Amy Norton with more of a background in business and accounting dove into the fine print of the budget, and questioned some specific details on the city side of the budget. Details such as a line item of $944,000 for overtime, (including $31,000 for overtime at the library) were singled out.

They also questioned certain city budget numbers that projected FY09 figures based on previous years' estimates, rather than actual figures that were, in many cases, much lower.

6/24 UPDATE: A few other points brought up last night:

A few speakers spoke about the "collateral damage" that has already been done to our school system in the numbers of teachers, and a principal that have recently left because of of all the uncertainty; the number of families who have already chosen to school choice to other communities, or attend private school; and the ongoing problem that the system will have in attracting and retaining new teachers. They pleaded that the city council not inflict more damage by denying the fund transfer.

Some speakers pleaded for leadership from both the Council and School Committee and said they had been reacting to problems, rather than being proactive.

Several also rose to challenge what they said were false claims by speakers against the fund transfer, including claims that the system has added 36 positions in recent years, and purchased expensive smart boards for science classrooms. They explained that the teachers were state mandated paraprofessional positions; the smartboards were a donation from a local corporation that did not come out of the school budget; and also reminded those who complained about teacher raises, that Beverly's teachers are the lowest paid in the area.

The Salem News reports on the meeting here, and the Citizen here. The News' Heard in Beverly blog adds posts some more quotes from the meeting.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Schools's Out, But Debate Goes On

Even though classes ended today, there is still at least one more week of VERY IMPORTANT meetings left before the FY09 budget is settled.

As we mentioned earlier, there is a public hearing Monday night on the city budget, and with the $680,o0o transfer of funds still very controversial, it is as important as ever that the pro-school community make a strong presence.

The hearing will be divided into two parts, with the first, starting at 7:00, focusing specifically on the Mayor's request to transfer $680,000 to fund the current school budget proposal. This is scheduled for 30 minutes, but may go longer.

Following this is a more general hearing on the overall city budget, including the schools.

Both parts are very important to our cause.

Anyone interested in speaking in favor of the schools, and encouraging City Council members to allow the $680,000 the Mayor has allocated to stay with the schools, can call City Hall today (978-921-6000) and sign up to speak. You can also sign up on Monday if you arrive prior to the beginning of the hearing.

There are already several speakers signed up for the first part, but speakers are especially needed for the second part.

This is also a good time to contact your city councilor, and remind them that come election time you will support those who support education. The ball is truly in their court now, and only they can prevent further drastic cuts NOW.

The meeting will be held at City Council Chambers at City Hall. It will be televised live on BevCam (Comcast Channel 10).

Other meetings for the week are listed at the top of the left-hand column.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McKeown Spirit Shines Through



Thanks to McKeown PTO President Julie DeSilva for contributing the following post, and to Kris Silverstein for the above photo.


No one knows how to have a good time like TEAM McKeown and Wednesday night was no exception! Staff, families, and students all gathered to celebrate.

Champions Barbeque Team served burgers and dogs and watermelon under a bright, sunny sky. Chris Culkeen spun the tunes and had everyone singing and dancing. At one point the teachers and students had a YMCA dance off, and, because McKeown is a huge Red Sox school, the principal, Dr. Colleen McBride, joined the kids in a rousing rendition of Sweet Caroline.

Of course McKeown has plenty of Celtics fans too and there was an ongoing pickup game with students, staff, and parents going all night long. Everyone was given a TEAM McKeown 2008 keychain as a keepsake, and Dr. McBride gave a short speech praising all who make up the school community and recognizing the PTO executive board, who were presented with flowers from some 5th grade students.

All the groups that make up TEAM McKeown were recognized with a balloon release, which was probably the most emotional part of the evening. There were folks from every school in the city quietly working in the background doing cleanup, setup, and serving dessert. It was a really great way to show the folks from McKeown that they are not alone in this new journey. The last PTO memo of the year sums it up nicely:

We leave behind a building, we take with us
the spirit of TEAM McKeown.

Below: McKeown Staff does the YMCA at the TEAM McKeown Celebration of Excellence and TEAM McKeown kids do the Cotton-Eyed Joe! Hundreds of staff, kids, and family members turned out to celebrate the spirit of TEAM McKeown. Photos by Julie DeSilva.

The Salem News has the story here, and a couple more photos here and here.


Good luck to all TEAM McKeown parents and students. We are sure that we speak for all in the other school communities, when we say that the spirit you have shown over the past three months has been an inspiration to us all. We know you will all be welcomed with open arms in your new schools.

6/21 UPDATE: Saturday's Salem News has a story on McKeown's last day, and there is also on online slideshow. The Beverly Citizen also has a report.

Open Enrollment Deadline Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the last day to apply for open enrollment. Speaking to this, and other issues with regard to the current redistricting plan, Dr. Hayes has posted a new note on the Administration website. Some of it is exherpted below:

On June 12th, the School Committee approved a budget for next year which incorporates a redistricting plan that I submitted to them on the 10th. Final approval of the FY09 budget is in the hands of the City Council who will vote on June 26th. Anticipating an approved budget, the school administration has begun moving forward to plan for next year. Specifically we are assigning teachers and students for next year's classes and making other logistical plans such as moving of furniture and planning changes in bus transportation.

The deadline for submitting a request for Open Enrollment is Friday, June 20th. Applications are in the form of a letter identifying the request and the reasons. Requests for personal conversations or meetings related to the application will not be honored so as to keep the process fair and consistent. Decisions on Open Enrollment requests will not occur until late July and will be made in a manner consistent with the five objectives defined above [these are the same objectives detailed in his previous note]. Given the volume of requests, it is likely that not all requests will be granted.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Talking Trash

There will be a public hearing on the city budget next Monday night, and expect much of the conversation to focus on trash.

Thursday's Beverly Citizen follows the money and explains the nitty gritty of how money that once subsidized trash collection, will instead subsidize the schools. And why "technically, the money isn’t coming from the trash fee."

Technically or not, as several City Councilors mentioned on Tuesday night, the plan has created "a lot of angry constituents," and as we saw on June 3, they may make their views known at the hearing.

If the Council were to pull that funding at this point, as has been discussed by some members, it would surely cause more chaos.

If that were to happen, Dr. Hayes has said that it would more likely result in major program cuts, rather than reconsideration of the 4 school + ECC plan, because of the lack of time to implement a different reconfiguration plan at this late date.

Tracey Armstrong of Yes! for Beverly will be hosting a gathering at her house this Thursday night at 7:30 to discuss the school communities' strategy for the hearing. All are welcome. Please contact Tracey for more information.

If you'd like to contact your City Councilor, here is their contact information.

Monday's hearing will be held at City Council chambers at City Hall, starting at 7:00 pm. It will be televised live by BevCam.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hayes Grilled by Council

In another wild session at City Hall, Dr. Hayes presented the approved school budget to the City Council, and then was subjected to over an hour of questioning on all aspects of the plan, and the convoluted process that gave rise to it.

First, a few new points or clarifications in his initial presentation:

The approved plan eliminates 23.3 full time positions at the elementary level (including teachers, and other administrators) as a result of closing McKeown. One elementary instrumental music position is also eliminated, but Hayes says it shouldn't result in any loss of program, as High School and Briscoe instructors can be utilized for added coverage.

In addition, 4.7 teaching positions and 2.5 SPED positions will be eliminated at the high school, and Latin will no longer be offered as a language.

On to the questioning by the Councilors:

Council President Tim Flaherty worried about some of the revenue projections in the plan, specifically the full-day kindergarten and sports fee projections if parents opt out, rather than paying the higher fee. Councilor Maureen Troubetaris later continued this line of questioning, saying she had heard of many people dropping sports because of the increasing cost. Hayes confirmed that football registration was down considerably from the previous year.

"If you've overestimated revenue, you have a big problem." Troubetaris stated.

Several councilors also complained about the unfairness of the three-tiered fee for sports, and the lack of a family cap on the costs.

Many Councilors, as well as Dr. Hayes still seem very unsure of the sustainability of the current plan, and talked about the need to reconvene the Long-Range Forecasting Group, and plan for future reconfiguration of the system, whether that be the ECC model as originally proposed, or various other modified elementary and/or middle school models.

Hayes also discussed the current projected class sizes, and indicated that he believes they are "optimal, but not likely where we will be come September," because at this point in the year they account for students who are known to be moving out of the City, but not those that will be moving in to take their place.

He expects class sizes will go up, but said there is some classroom space available, and a contingency of three teaching positions in the budget that he can add over the summer to deal with specific class-size issues. He also said that some specific class size problems can be addressed though open enrollment.

Hayes defended his administration staffing levels against continued suggestions that he cut administration positions, saying that for a district our size "we are at the bottom level of what we should have," and saying a study group recently supported that conclusion.

He placed much of the blame for our current situation on the State and Federal Governments, saying "All across this Commonwealth, there are people having this same conversation." He also pointed to the minimally funded mandates of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, but said that at the district level, "We are using our money wisely."

One interesting exchange occured when Finance Chairman Don Martin asked Hayes what the figure in the budget for the currently-under-negotiation union contracts was, and Hayes said he couldn't say because it was an active negotiation. Martin then asked to take a brief recess, and returned to press Hayes further on the subject. From what we have been told, Hayes is not legally allowed to disclose this figure during a contract negotiation.

Councilor Wes Slate, later stated that he took exception to Martin's comments to Dr. Hayes about releasing figures about an ongoing budget negotiation.

Speaking on the specifics of redistricting, and open enrollment, Slate later asked Hayes if the current redistricting map is final, or if it would be adjusted further, to which Hayes responded "To me, the map stands."

Hayes stated that he has moved all current open enrollment students back to their home schools, and anyone interested would have to reapply. He said they would aim to have all open enrollment decisions made by the end of July, but that it was "doubtful that every open enrollment request will be honored."

The subject of the $680,000 in savings from recycling that Mayor Scanlon provided as a revenue source for the 5-school model was also a much-discussed subject. John Burke stated that he had "a lot of angry constituents" and that the way the money was offered, "may be a disincentive for people to recycle."

Troubetaris also stated that they have been under extreme pressure to give back at least some of the recycling savings to citizens.

Flaherty asked what would happen if the Council denies the $680,000 transfer, and asked Hayes if they would return to the 4-school plan. Hayes stated that he hoped that wouldn't happen, but that it would be the School Committee's decision what to do. He speculated that at this point they might opt to make $680,000 worth of cuts, rather than starting a new restructuring plan, which would be extremely difficult to implement at this late date. Those cuts would be on the order of the ones Hayes initially outlined as a nuclear option (cutting athletics, music, art, and/or library)

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa then took the podium, and walked the Councilors through that convoluted process that got them to this point: from the initial requirement to live within the Mayor's first budget figure that led the Superintendent to the 4-school plus ECC model; to the Mayor's last minute plan, and offer of the trash fee money only in support of the 5-school plan.

School Committee member David Manzi then stood up and stated "The 5-school plan was the Mayor's Plan" and that the Mayor's vote was the deciding vote both in killing the 4-school plan, and in approving the 5-school plan. (the 4-school plan lost by a vote of 4-3, and while the 5-school plan passed by a vote of 5-2, it's pretty clear that the 5th voter, Jim Latter, wouldn't have voted for it, had the 4-school plan not been voted down previously.)

Councilor Pat Grimes also supported the Committee members' view of the process stating that the "past few months have been chaos, and not the way government should work."

Next known date on the Calendar is the public hearing on the budget next Monday night. All other meeting dates are listed at the top of the left hand column, and will be updated as we get new information.

6/17 UPDATE: The Salem News reports on the meeting today, saying the "'chaos' isn't over yet."

The News also added more details in two blog posts later today, here and here.