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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Response from Dr. Hayes

Dr Hayes has responded to the list of questions submitted to him from the parents group that met last Friday. Here are his answers:

What prevents the School Committee from preparing a budget that works and provides for our children and submitting to the Mayor and City Council who then have the elected responsibility to balance the citywide budget?
The School Committee can do just as you suggest. It is something that I have seen school committees talk about from time to time over the past nine years, but they have never done so. Let’s assume that the School Committee does approve a budget higher than its available revenue. Let’s also assume that the Mayor includes in his budget proposal to the City Council an appropriation for the schools equal to a budget balanced figure, less than what the SC approved. The City Council could then increase the amount for the school appropriation to the level that the School Committee approved. Since the City Council must approve a balanced budget, they would need to recommend cuts elsewhere in the City budget or send it back to the Mayor for him to prepare a new proposal that is balanced.

What is the timeline for implementation of the alternative secondary school? What are the costs involved in transforming McKeown for this purpose? Will the city cover the costs involved? When does it become revenue generating? Where does the staffing for this facility come from and how will that impact future budgets?
We would work to begin the alternative school at McKeown for the start of the school year. As for initial staffing, we would reassign one SPED teacher from Briscoe and a second from BHS. We cannot merely assign students to McKeown. Their assignment would have to be the result of a team meeting, including staff and parents that would determine that the McKeown School would be the best placement for the child. This makes it hard to pinpoint an initial enrollment, though we have some estimate that there will be such placements. We have had discussions with the Northshore Education Consortium over the past several years about the need for such a program and the possibility of a partnership to provide services. They are very interested in working with us to develop this alternative school concept, and some staffing can come from this. Additional staffing will be offset by the reduced out-of-district tuitions – meeting student needs through an in-district program rather through paying higher out-of-district tuitions. We believe that while it would not cost us anything, it may take a year to become revenue generating, mostly because of the IEP / team meeting point made earlier. There is a strong possibility of rental income, however, even in the first year if the Consortium occupies some McKeown space.

What is the plan for next year when we are again faced with double digit increases in utilities, health insurance and special education?
There is no doubt that the measures taken this year reduce our expenses moving forward. However, if nothing changes, expenses will continue to rise faster than revenues. Things that will help us in balancing future budgets include: revenues from the McKeown Alternative School; lower expenses in the custodial function due to outsourcing; lower expenses in health care if the City is able to switch to the state’s GIC plan; savings through renewable energy (solar & wind) associated with the HS construction project, if the Mayor is successful in upgrading; in utilities, if the energy audit currently being conducted produces tangible steps for cost reduction.

What are the benefits of a dedicated Early Childhood Center as opposed to the current model?
  • Full program is administered by one administrator who is expert in this field.
  • Improves consistency of program implementation.
  • The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) promotes the need for a program that is comprehensive, guided by sound practices.
  • Research shows that strong consistent programming at this age results in fewer referrals for special education, retentions, failing classes later in career, greater social and emotional maturity throughout their career and greater academic success (Bercutte/Clement 1985).
  • NAEYC accreditation will be more easily achieved with students in one center.
  • We can focus teacher preparation and support for programming that leads to integration of PK, K, and 1st grade programs.
  • Opportunity for PK/K and K/1 transitional programming without moving students from center.
  • Integration of special education with regular education is more easily achieved.
  • Greater ability for flexible grouping of students (providing for individual needs) to utilize staff to capacity.
  • Travel time is eliminated as well as competing concerns for meetings and staff needs.
  • The proposal keeps us in compliance with IEP’s.
In the presentation, there is a statistic that states that class size has very little influence on student success. Where did this statistic come from? Is there an explanation provided as to why this study is the valid one when for years the opposite has been cited as the truth?
The slide was provided during a presentation by a reputable organization that we often work with, Research for Better Teaching. However, I do not believe they were the source of the information. I do not disagree with you about the research and the importance of class size. It does make a difference, and I do not look forward to the class sizes I propose, most especially at the middle school. My point with that slide was more to say that class size is not the sole determinant of a successful learning experience. The quality of teaching and the quality of parental support/involvement are just more important factors. I think if you look at the research, there is little to say that classes of 26 are much different from those of 30 students. The research targets class sizes lower than where our classes are today. Only several years ago, the district used class size guidelines of no more than 22 in grades 1-2 and no more than 25 in grades 3-5. Those were better positioned to make a difference. I don't plan to use that slide again and will make my point in different ways in the future.

There are many statistics cited throughout the proposal. Can we please have more details on the sources for this information?
If you could be more specific, I’d be happy to provide an answer.

In addition to what is presented on slide 15, were there other alternatives considered i.e.: closing Memorial altogether, not providing preschool to peer models, freezing administrative staff salaries, etc.?
What is shown on slide 15 is simply a list of all that we have examined over the past six years or so in an attempt to reorganize the elementary program to provide the same program at a reduced cost. Those attempts were never approved because they presented logistical issues that could not be overcome and/or because they produced a small amount of “savings” in comparison to the change that would be implemented. The proposal before the School Committee was never considered in the past. We always knew there was money to be saved in this problem but only this year did we find a solution that preserved program, did not present logistical programs, and which greatly reduced costs. I expect to provide more information about other ways to reduce costs before tomorrow evening. As for the ones you have suggested: Memorial is a money-maker, generating over $300,000 in revenue annually; peer models must be provided – it is not a choice we make; cuts to administrators and staff over the years have left us with a skeleton crew that works way over-and-above to make the system work to its best advantage for our children – to ask this and even more next year for no increase in salary would make a difficult year even worse.

Are preschool classes full now? Does the peer modeling portion generate revenue to cover expenses? If the preschool enrollment is "exploding" what portion is special education? How has this increase been factored into sustainability of the current proposal?
Preschool classes are not only full; we have a waiting list for peer models. We are required by law to service special needs students after 3 years of age. Special needs students often require an integrated program that includes typical peers (Department of Education regulations). Approximately 50% of preschool students are special education students. Cove School has room and capacity to grow if needed; an Early Childhood Center at Hannah would not. Tuition for preschool doesn’t cover the full cost since we have to offer scholarships (DOE regulations).

What are the School Choice costs and revenues we are realizing?
I have attached a document which shows the history of school choice in Beverly. The revenue that comes in is school revenue that we have included in our budget proposal. The expense that is paid out is included in the City’s budget, and is later defined as an “indirect cost” that the City is paying for education.

Given the scope of Special Education and the enormous costs involved, can we see a very detailed breakdown of this line item?
On our website, I have placed the most recent budget proposal for FY09. On page 26 of that report you can see the detail of the expenses, including some historical data.

Do the projected class size numbers include the Special Education students that are integrated into the classroom? If not, why? What safety and space issues have been discussed and addressed?
We have reviewed all the IEP’s in our elementary district programs and those students whose IEP’s involve significant integration into the regular classroom are included in our enrollments and class size projections. I am not sure what you mean by “safety and space issues”; if you mean for SPED students in classrooms with larger class sizes, there are none.

What are the future plans to account for population changes and student increases? How have you accounted for Beverly students that may return to the public school system from private or parochial schools?
The projected enrollment for the foreseeable future shows a slight decline in our elementary population. Our planning estimates incorporate the typical transitions that we see. Much of the parochial in-flow comes as students move to middle and high school.

Why is there no grant money included in this budget? What grants are we going after and which ones do we anticipate receiving based upon previous history. Doesn't this mean that the shortfall could actually be less? Are there other grants that we should be applying for?
I have not developed the grants revenue page for FY09 because we have yet to receive any information on what funding levels we could expect. I have attached several pages from our FY08 budget showing the grants picture as of last spring. You will see that we use nearly $5 million in grants to provide essential services throughout our district programs. On balance, that total will probably not change appreciably, some moving up slightly while others moving downward.

How can we maintain quality of education when the population of the students remains the same but we are losing paraprofessionals and reading teachers. With this loss, how can the schools comply with specific IEPs that are Federally mandated?
Consolidation allows for using less staff. Opportunities exist for teachers to do flexible grouping as well as paraprofessionals. Classroom teachers are the primary reading teachers. Reading teachers provide the ability to staff the 3-tier model and do small group instruction and help with using the data to make educational decisions; they are part of the team. The implementation of the 3-tier model includes providing small group instruction in the regular classroom and changing instruction, not sending students out to be serviced. We can still provide this model as we will have one Reading teacher per building. We will be in compliance with IEP’s as special education teachers work with regular education teachers and paraprofessionals to deliver service – it is a team approach.

How do we handle logistics with the increases in students i.e.: lunches, assemblies, parking, etc.? What are the safety implications for the children and how does this affect insurance coverage? Are there structural changes that need to be made to any of the physical facilities to accommodate the shifting population? Have these costs been captured?
Logistics will be handled by administrators in their individual buildings. I am sure they will find solutions to whatever they encounter (lunches, assemblies, etc.). Any changes in parking needs can be absorbed. The schools are built to accommodate the numbers of students planned, and we will be able to provide a safe environment for all. There is nothing in this that relates to any insurance. As for any renovations, there are none projected for Cove as an ECC. Hannah as an ECC would require a minimum of two additional classrooms – construction on that site while school is in session would present some safety issues; however, construction on active school sites is not something new, and contractors and the district would have to plan to ensure safety. There may be some minimal plumbing changes at Hannah to make it an ECC.

What would the cost be to climate all bussing? How much could be saved in consolidating services?
I believe you mean “eliminate”, not “climate”. Under state law we must provide free transportation to all students K (half-day only) through grade 6. We charge fees for all other riders. Since you need to transport grade 6, you might as well transport grades 7 & 8. The fees we collect go a long way to offsetting our transportation costs. In sum, eliminating busing is not an answer. A joint School Committee / City Council committee on consolidation of services is expected to finalize its report in the near future. While it may make recommendations for improving services and working together, I don’t believe it will identify any area where significant savings can be achieved.

At Briscoe Middle School, we just reconfigured the teaching teams. What is the educational impact of doing this again?
The proposal I have submitted retains the team approach. Nothing changes in grade 6. Class size increases in grades 7 and 8, but there is no change to the teaming model.

Can we get a detailed breakdown of the roles, responsibilities and salaries for each administrative position (Supervisors, Directors, Clerks, etc.)
This information is no easy format that I could provide to you in a timely fashion. I believe your request may be aimed at ways we could reduce our expenses for the administration function. As noted previously, cuts to administrators and staff over the years have left us with a skeleton crew that works way over-and-above to make the system work to its best advantage for our children. We are a $50 million dollar operation with 4,600 students and over 700 employees that needs to manage its financial, personnel, special education, and support functions to the best advantage of students and to ensure that the district meet all obligations and comply in a timely fashion with all the laws and regulations placed upon us. I have not included administrative cuts in my budget proposal for FY09, but I will share with the School Committee places it could consider cuts if it felt it necessary.


afreedman said...

Dr. Hayes touts this proposal as a way to "provide QUALITY educational programs that are sustainable". The problem is how does one measure quality? MCAS? Behavior referals? absenteeism? I asked him this question directly and he was very evasive. We all know anecdotally and by research that this proposal does not maintain "quality"! Yet if we go ahead there is no going back and there is no margin of error.

No matter what happens we as citizens and parents must insist that we are brought into the process at a much earlier date. It is outrageous to have this bomb dropped on us with two months to go. I have heard many creative ideas for ways to generate revenue and reduce spending which is not so drastic as this plan. But now we must focus our energy on stopping this plan instead of collectively solving the problem. Beverly's greatest assest is it's citizenry! I know if we get together we can work this out for the good of the whole town!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your feelings and support your ideas about our children community assets.

Two quicknotes:

Not sure if it was quite a bomb. My notes talk about the projected $2 million shortfall at our January PTO meeting. We have also gone through this every year for a bit now. The National news media has been aflutter with such stories for quite sometime. To say we didn't see it coming is a bit naive. The extent of which it is happening and the fact it effects us all is a bit more shocking.

Technically, this also is not irreversible. Buildings aren't being torn down or sold. Those buildings will still be there for re-configuration down the road. Losing teachers and accepting higher classroom counts could become habit forming though and the breaks should be applied.

afreedman said...

True that Dr. hayes talked about the shortfall at the PTO meeting at Hannah. However, he was pretty evasive about how it would manifest (although I'm pretty sure that he knew). This is only my 2nd year in the Beverly School system and closing schools and filling remaining schools up to capacity was not on my radar. Live and learn :)

Also, he and the school committee members in attendence pushed us to put pressure on the city council. The only problem is the city council does not set buget numbers for the schools. As one city councilor put it "City Councilors may not INCREASE spending in any line item" They cannot offer us money that the Dr. Hayes and the school committee don't ask for. I guess I'm naive but I didn't see it coming.

I do think its irreversible. If enrollment reverses (and not sure of the validity of the claim about enrollment decline)I doubt that they will suddenly open Cove up to the 1-5 grade students in that community. They will pack exsisting schools to the brim. I wouldn't be surprised to see trailers on the exsisting campuses. It's only one senario, but a frightning one.