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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

BevCam Override Interviews



BevCam has posted web videos of the two "Understanding the Issues" Override interviews that it first aired last week. We have embedded the Yes! for Beverly inteview above. If you are having trouble playing it here, or would like to watch the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility (the No Override group) interview, you can go the BevCam video page.

The Override Forum isn't yet available online, but it will be run continuously on Channel 10 until the election. Here is the schedule:

Saturday at 5:55 PM
Saturday at 9:36 PM
Sunday at 10:11 AM
Sunday at 1:53 PM
Sunday at 5:34 PM
Sunday at 9:15 PM
Monday at 11:11 AM
Monday at 2:53 PM
Tuesday at 11:11 AM
Tuesday at 5:11 PM

UPDATE: There is a third episode of "Understanding the Issues, " where host Scott Houseman interviews Dr. Hayes and City Finance Director John Dunn. This is a very informative interview on school budget issues, as well. Airing times for this are as follows.

Sunday at 8:00 AM
Sunday at 11:45 AM
Sunday at 3:26 PM
Sunday at 7:07 PM
Monday at 9:00 AM
Monday at 12:45 PM
Tuesday at 9:00 AM
Tuesday at 3:00 PM

BevCam is generally running these three shows, as well as the Override Forum, pretty much nonstop between now and Tuesday's election.

Note: Our website has been very buggy the past few days. We think we found the gremlin causing the problem, but if anyone still has issues with slow page loading, please let us know.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Join the Sign Rally

The new photo (courtesy of Julie DeSilva) at the top of the page shows McKeown students gathered this afternoon to show their support for the YES! campaign. They will be out in force at tomorrow's s (Saturday's) sign chain with these homemade signs!

All supporters and their families are invited to join the sign chain. Meet at the Memorial Building anytime after 8:00 AM to get your sign. Or have your kids make their own. We will be spreading out along Cabot street as far as we can. Come for an hour, or spend all morning, and show your support.

6/1 UPDATE: The sign rally was a big success. Supporters with YES! signs stretched from Shaw's in North Beverly all the way downtown along Cabot Street. From our vantage point, the reception from passersby was overwhelmingly positive. Here are some photos courtesy of Tracey Armstrong.


New Kindergarten and Redistricting Info

Dr. Hayes met with parents at McKeown last night to answer questions about the budget and redistricting, and shared some important information.

First, under the current plan (without an override) due to space issues, full-day kindergarten may go to a lottery system where even children whose parents are willing to pay the $4,000 fee may not get a full-day spot and be forced to attend half-day. He also said that in some cases full-day kindergarten students would not be able to attend the same building as their older siblings.

Dr. Hayes also said that hundreds of elementary students will be redistricted under the current plan. In addition to the McKeown students, elementary students from across the City will have to attend a new school in September.

We have also confirmed that students who currently ride a bus (the largest bus riding population is at Cove School today) may be redistricted to help accommodate the shifting population and to balance free and reduced lunch.

Hayes says that students may end the current school year not knowing what school they will attend in September if the override does not pass and a redistricting plan is not approved before then.

McKeown Principal Resigns

In a story titled "McBride gets out of Dodge," The Beverly Citizen reports that McKeown School Principal Colleen McBride has accepted a new job in Andover. McBride was slated to become principal of Hannah under the Superintendent's original restructuring plan, but her future was unknown under the current plan to close McKeown, should the override fail. If the override is successful, the system will now be short one principal.

This is most likely just the first, of many losses of talented teachers and administrators in Beverly. The Salem News reported yesterday that pink slips had already been sent to over 100 school employees who do not have professional status, or tenure.

UPDATE: One reader points out that with Colleen McBride leaving, the system will actually be short 2 principals if the Override passes, since Bill Foley at Centerville is retiring this year, and the search for a replacement had been put on hold, with all the uncertainty.

Latter Announces Support for Override

School Committee member James Latter announced his support of the Override last night in a comment to a post on Save Beverly Schools.

Latter, who had been the only School Committee member that had not taken a position on the override, has studied the details of all the proposals and understands the city and school budget perhaps more than anyone. In addition to being a member of the school committee, he chaired the ad-hoc group that looked into all the proposals. He was also a member of the group that put together the City 5-Year Financial Forecast document earlier this year.

In his post, Latter states:

"After looking at all the plans presented, and considering what is possible, and what is probable, I have concluded that the only way to avoid calamity in our school system over the next few years is to support the override on June 3."

The full test of his post is below:
Why I'm voting yes

After looking at all the plans presented, and considering what is possible, and what is probable, I have concluded that the only way to avoid calamity in our school system over the next few years is to support the override on June 3. I appreciate the Mayor coming to the table with more funds, but even his offer of several hundred thousand dollars to keep the Pre K through 5 elementary model in 5 schools is not ultimately sustainable past next year. It is my opinion that if we close McKeown school for the 5 school model using every available revenue stream, we still need several hundred thousand dollars in other cuts ($250,000 to 400,000 anyway). We will be in a situation next year where the budget shortfall will still be in close to $1 million(if not more), we will not have realized the savings of the 4 and 1 ECC model, we will have used up any potential revenue streams from recycling. We will again be looking at slashing programs, or implementing more consolidation. If it is not the will of the School committee to implement the 4 and 1 plan recommended by the superintendent, the only viable option for the children of Beverly in general, and the children of the McKeown school in particular, not to have their elementary school careers disrupted numerous times is to vote yes on the override question on Tuesday June 3rd.

There are many unknowns in any budget cycle, and with important issues such as a self imposed tax increase, people look for guarantees, especially moving beyond next year as to where specific revenues from this ballot question will go. I know that all elected officials who have been asked have stated that if this override passes these funds will be made available for several years anyway. Such promises can seem fleeting, however, the one guarantee I can give is that if this override passes the quality of education over the next several years will be better than if it does not. If the override fails, the quality of education will be diminished, that I guarantee.

This is not an easy decision. As I have stated publicly before, there are many who believe they cannot afford even this modest increase, who will vote no on this question, and should not be chastised for this difficult decision. However, there are also those who feel that the investment in education is a most important endeavor, who will vote yes, and they should not be chastised either. We cannot look at paying taxes for education as an obligation to educate our own children that diminishes after our children have utilized public schools. Public education is an obligation due by all in our current society to this community’s young people, and this obligation is ongoing. At the end of the day, if we look at education as only a cost, we have already lost the battle. Public education is about an investment. It is about an investment in the future of this community and this society. I asked before that all please vote their conscience, I repeat that request, and thank you for taking a minute to share my thinking on the issue.

Jim Latter
Beverly School Committee, Ward 3

All school committee members (except Mayor Scanlon) have now taken a position on the Override. David Manzi is opposed; the other five members are in favor.

Override Fact of the Day: Previous Cuts

Beverly faces many of the same issues impacting all Massachusetts communities. State aid has decreased, while operating costs and unfunded state and federal mandates have increased.

But while two-thirds of Massachusetts towns have already passed overrides, some multiple times, as a way to deal with their budget issues, Beverly never has. In fact, Beverly has never even put an override on the ballot.

Instead, we've made many tough choices.

In the past five years, we've closed schools, cut dozens of teachers, added fees, and increased class sizes. Several years ago we closed Memorial Middle School, and placed all of the city's middle school students in the 85-year-old Briscoe building in order to help close a similar gap.

If McKeown school were to close, as is the current plan, it would be the 3rd school closed in the city in the past 5 years.

Superintendent Hayes states:

"Over the last several years we have chipped away and chipped away at the kind of education we should be providing the children of Beverly. The professionals we employ have done their best to adapt what they do with the resources they have and have “made it work”. We can make this reconfiguration work, too, but it will not be easy, and Beverly will not be providing the quality of education we aspire to. That difference in quality has a direct correlation to the perceived quality of a community. And that has a direct impact on all Beverly citizens. If you think these cuts to education don’t affect you, you are wrong. Yes, it costs a lot to educate a child; it costs even more if you don’t."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Councilors Still in Neutral

Today's Salem News states that all but two of the nine city councilors are remaining neutral, or say they are undecided on the Override. Mayor Scanlon has also said many times that he is neutral:

"I have been totally neutral on the override, and I remain so," Scanlon said. "I think that's the proper role for me to play."


Only John Burke (no), and Pat Grimes (yes) have taken a public position.

Some of their explanations are expanded upon in a new post on the News' Heard in Beverly Blog, although most stick with some variation of "it's the voter's decision":

“I think it’s up to the people to decide..."-Bill Coughlin

"...I will respect the voters’ decision."-Judith Cronin

"...Let the people decide which way they want to go..." -Tim Flaherty

"...I think every individual voter has to make up his or her own mind..."-Don Martin

Among the School Committee members, only Jim Latter has not publicly stated his position (see update and comment below). David Manzi is opposed, and the remaining four members all publicly are in support.

State Rep Mary Grant also has stated her support for the Override

Manzi is the only official to openly criticize the others for failing to take a position. "I really think we're elected to take positions," he said. "There are too many elected officials trying to walk the line, and that's the reason nothing gets done."

5/30 UPDATE: Jim Latter has posted a detailed comment below where he takes a strong stand in favor of the override.

Latter states "
I have concluded that the only way to avoid calamity in our school system over the next few years is to support the override on June 3"

Click on the comment link below, or the headline of this post to read.

Yes! Signs in Bloom




At long last the Yes! signs are out! Hundreds of them sprouted up overnight.

If you are a supporter of the Override, you can help keep the visibility going.

Tonight (Thursday, May 29) there is a public forum on the Override at the Senior Center on Colon Street, starting at 7:30 PM. Please try to attend. The forum will also be broadcast live on BevCam (Comcast Channel 10), and replayed throughout the weekend leading up to the election.

This Saturday (May 31), there will be a sign holding event starting at 8:00 AM at the Memorial Building and spreading out along Cabot Street. Come for an hour or spend all morning. Yes! for Beverly will provide coffee and YES! signs. Kids, and homemade signs are also welcome.

And don't forget to Vote on Tuesday, June 3.

Today's Salem News talks about the signs, and also publishes a letter from Joan Sullivan and Tracey Armstrong, founders of Yes! for Beverly.

Override Fact of the Day: What Will it Cost?

According to Yes! for Beverly, the tax increase resulting from the override would be 41 cents per every $1,000 your home is assessed for. That works out to $46.60 a quarter - or $185 a year – for a home assessed at $450,000. The cost for the average Beverly homeowner would be 51 cents a day.

There is an Override Tax Calculator on the Yes! for Beverly website.

Rather than compare that to the cost of a cup of coffee (or worse yet, a latte), which tends to inflame the opposition, we did our own calculations based on property values. If you believe that there is any correlation between the quality of schools and property values, then these figures should speak pretty clearly.

Taking the average value of a house in Beverly of $450,000, we figure that if housing prices were to fall just 1% (a pretty conservative figure) because of all the negative publicity, increased class sizes, and general uncertainty about the school system, that the average house will be worth $4500 less. That would be enough to pay one household's cost of the override for 24 years.

There are a few exemptions from the tax. Qualified taxpayers over 65 can receive a tax credit from the state for a portion of their property taxes. Qualified taxpayers over age 65 can defer their property taxes until the property is sold. Beverly provides a state mandated real estate property tax exemption of $500 for income and asset limited taxpayers over age 70. Other relief includes a disabled veteran exemption ($250), an exemption for widows over 70, and an exemption for the legally blind.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Citizen's Strange Conclusion

The Beverly Citizen has just posted an editorial against the override that will run in Thursday's paper. But if you read many of the points they raise without reading the headline, you would think they were voicing support.

Also confusing is that they seem to be arguing in favor of Dr. Hayes' plan, which was voted down by the School Committee a week ago, but make no mention of Mayor Scanlon's plan, which was approved.

They also consider the proposed class sizes "manageable"

Some excerpts:

We urge a no vote not because the School Committee wastes money and not because School Superintendent Jim Hayes has administrators stuffed in closets.

It’s because Hayes has crafted a plan that keeps manageable class sizes, distributes students requiring free and reduced lunches according to standards the School Committee established more than 10 years ago and maintains the program students need.

Arguments of mismanagement and waste in the system basically fly in the face of reality. In case anyone missed it, school systems throughout the state and the North Shore are either passing overrides or closing schools and cutting programs. If the problem were mismanagement in the Beverly Schools, why is almost every school system in the same boat?


The editorial also goes on to point out new revenue and long-term cost savings proposals that are in the works at both the city and state level that could help the schools in the future:

For the future, there may be revenue that comes on line and further savings, which could prevent an override. ...

The state allowing communities to move employees to the state health insurance plan without union approval would save Beverly an estimated $2.6 million annually.


But again, instead of taking this as a reason to delay irreversible cuts to our schools, they see this as a reason to "Vote no for now."


9:30 PM UPDATE: Further confusing Citizen readers as to what plan is in play, and who came up with what, the paper has also posted a letter from Mayor Scanlon in support of the 5-school plan. Scanlon seems to be backing off on ownership of the plan, saying only that "Members of the School Committee suggested a five-elementary-school plan with early childhood education remaining a part of those schools." He goes on to list reasons why he supports "their plan" over the Superintendent's plan.

Also speaking on the Override, Scanlon goes a step further on his previous statement that he would "endeavor to give the money to the schools on an ongoing basis" saying: "Without regard to what, if any, action the School Committee ultimately takes, I believe that if the override passes, its revenue should be devoted exclusively to the schools in every future budget."

The Citizen also runs a big batch of letters on the override.

Override Fact of the Day: Property Values

It is a widely held belief that there is a direct relationship between the quality of a community's schools and the property values of that community. When couples buying their first home start to research different towns or cities, that is usually one of the first things they look at.

According to Yes! for Beverly, the National Association of Realtors has published a study concluding that good schools drive better housing prices. Strong schools draw businesses and families to the community, increasing the city’s tax base and protecting property values. The NAR realtors training manual states:

“There is solid academic research to back it up. In 1997, UCLA economist Sandra E. Black undertook what is now considered the seminal study linking house prices to education. Her innovative research removed variations in neighborhoods, taxes, and school spending to isolate the value parents place on school quality. According to her calculations, parents are willing to pay 2.5% more for housing for a 5% increase in test scores.”

“In 2003, Thomas J. Kane (UCLA), Douglas O. Staiger (Dartmouth), and Gavin Samms (Kennedy School) applied Black’s modeling technique to Mecklenburg County, NC. They again found that differences in school test scores are strongly related to housing values, even somewhat greater than Black concluded. Specifically, they found that moving from the bottom 5% of schools to the top 5% of schools is associated with an 18 - 25 % difference in house value, controlling for neighborhood amenities and housing characteristics. In other words, if two similar houses were across the street from one another, and one was assigned to a school in the top 5% of schools in the district and other was assigned to the lowest 5% of schools in the district, the results suggest that there would be an 18 - 25 % difference in house prices.”

“In addition, researcher David M. Brasington, while at Tulane University , explored the impact on housing market values of additional measures of public school quality. He found that proficiency tests, expenditure per pupil, and pupil-to-teacher ratio are “consistently capitalized” into housing prices, while measures such as graduation rates, teacher experience levels, and teacher education levels are not consistently positively related to housing prices.”

This article from CNN/Money also supports this view.

And GreatSchools.net, a website that rates public school systems nationwide by a variety of criteria including test scores and student-teacher ratio, is linked on many real estate websites so buyers can easily compare the quality of different communities' schools. Beverly currently rates a 6 (out of 10). This compares to rankings of other local communities: Hamilton-Wenham (9), Manchester (9), Topsfield (9), Danvers (6), Salem (4).

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

One Week to Go

We are exactly one week out from the June 3rd Special Election and there is a lot going on with the campaign that Yes! for Beverly would like to share with the readers of Save Beverly Schools:

Yes! for Beverly needs your help in the next 7 days to win!

Here's how you can help this countdown to VICTORY on June 3rd.

Thursday, May 29, 7:00-8:30 pm
Override Forum

There is a Forum to discuss the Proposition 2½ override at the Senior Center, 90 Colon St. (doors open at 6:15pm) It is a question and answer session with both sides of the debate represented, moderated by the Salem News. PLEASE COME. Tracey Armstrong and I will represent YES! For Beverly. Elliot Margolis and Gail Burke will represent the opposition. It will also be broadcast live by BevCam on Channel 10. Questions for either side must be submitted in advance to forum@salemnews.com.

Saturday, May 31, 8:00am-Noon
Sign holding with families

We will be spreading out along Cabot Street this Saturday to show our support of passing the override. Please meet me and the rest of our YES! For Beverly Team at Memorial building parking lot. You can come for an hour or spend all morning there! We’ll have coffee and YES! signs. Kids, smiles and homemade signs are also welcome.

Monday, June 2 and Tuesday, June 3
Sign holding

We are looking for volunteers to hold YES! signs at various high visibility locations (Monday 6 – 9 am and 4 – 7 pm) and polling stations (Tuesday; all day; we’re asking for a one or two hour commitment).

Tuesday evening
Election Night Event
Please come to Cove Community Center from 7 – until the VOTES come in!

If you can help the campaign during this final push, please let me know as soon as possible: joansullivan@comcast.net or 978-927-6207.

And don’t forget to VOTE YES! On Tuesday June 3rd.

Together we will make this happen. Nothing is more important than investing in education, at any age. Please forward this to every supporter you know. Beverly is worth the investment!!

Thanks so much,
Joan Sullivan

Override Fact of the Day: Class Sizes

Perhaps the greatest concern for most parents is that either the approved 5-school plan or the Superintendent's original plan would greatly increase class sizes. Most classes would be at or near the state maximum of 25 students in first & second grade, and 30 students in third through fifth.

The Salem News ran a story in April on class sizes in the area and pointed out that Beverly's average class sizes (22.6) are already well above other area towns such as Danvers (20.8), Peabody (20.5), and Salem (18.6). With the Superintendent's original plan, the average size in Beverly elementary schools would grow to 26.6. No data has been provided yet on the current plan, but it is thought that it would be in the same range.

Yes! for Beverly provides the following research on class sizes:

The benefits of smaller classes are now widely acknowledged. Few education issues have been studied more than the effect of class size on student achievement. Tennessee’s longitudinal class-size study — Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) project — was one of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken to conclusively demonstrate that small classes have an advantage over larger classes – particularly in reading and math in early primary grades. The STAR project showed that those enrolled in small classes as youngsters were more likely to: graduate on time; complete more advanced math and English courses; complete high school; and graduate with honors.

Educational experts recommend that the student-teacher ratio be 15 to 1 (Beverly elementary schools district maximums have been raised to 25 to 1 for grades 1 + 2, and to 30 for grades 3, 4 + 5). Consider that:

In a four-point plan to ensure that all children are educated to their full potential, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching President Ernest L. Boyer called for reducing class size to "no more than 15 students per teacher" for the early elementary grades. The National Association of Elementary School Principals has revised its class size policy statement from a student-teacher ratio of 20 to 1 down to recommending a student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Education, "A growing body of research demonstrates that students attending small classes in the early grades make more rapid educational progress than students in larger classes, and that these achievement gains persist well after students move on to larger classes in later grades."
  • According to Alan Krueger of Princeton University, who served as chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor in the Clinton administration, lowering class sizes in Tennessee narrowed the achievement gap between blacks and whites by 38 percent.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Override Fact of the Day: Beverly's Tax Rate

So how does Beverly's tax rate compare?

At $10.40/thousand, Beverly’s tax rates are lower than Swampscott ($13.63), Hamilton ($13.39), Wenham ($12.92), Topsfield ($12.02), Salem ($11.67), Lynn ($10.98), Essex ($10.75), and many other local communities. It is equal to Danvers ($10.40).

Should the override pass, it will be the first time since the law went into effect 25 years ago that Beverly has increased revenues for operations by more than the Proposition 2½ cap. It is also the first time residents have been asked to vote on an override.

Two-thirds of Massachusetts towns have already approved operational overrides, some multiple times.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Scanlon: Hayes "will have to make it work"

The Boston Globe finally gets around to covering the story today. Not much new information here, and they missed much of the drama of this past week, but it does detail some of the objections to the Mayor's plan. Some excerpts:

Hayes said he is concerned that the mayor's plan may not eliminate the entire deficit, which could result in a need for further cuts.

He said he also worries that the adopted plan may not be sustainable, noting that it provides for roughly $1 million less in salary reductions than his plan.

Scanlon said his plan is based on figures provided by the superintendent.

He said any shortfall it fails to cover would be small in relation to the overall budget and "the superintendent will have to make it work."

Hayes said that the mayor's plan will require a complete redistricting of the city's elementary schools, while his plan would only require a reassignment of students from the McKeown to two other schools.

But Scanlon said he believes "some level of redistricting is quite appropriate" to address an imbalance in the numbers of at-risk students now at the various schools.

The story also says that BOTH the the pro-override group, Yes! for Beverly, and the anti-override group, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, oppose the Mayor's plan.

Elliott Margolis, who founded the anti-override group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, said it is "totally irresponsible for the mayor to take funds that are designated for trash removal and give it to the schools."

Joan Sullivan, a leader of Yes for Beverly!, called the mayor's plan "just another set of cuts to our schools and another Band-Aid solution.

"This plan will close our fourth school in five years, lay off teachers and staff, increase class sizes, cut programs, and redistrict students all across Beverly."

Override Fact of the Day: How did we get here?

Under a Massachusetts State law known as Proposition , each year Beverly ’s City Council can only raise the amount of taxes to be collected by up to 2.5%, plus a factor for new growth. Voters must approve increases of more than 2.5%.

On average, inflation has outpaced 2.5%, leaving communities with less spending power each year. In addition, Beverly faces other issues that are impacting all Massachusetts communities. State aid has decreased while operating costs and unfunded state and federal mandates have increased. Average inflation of 3% in recent years has also increased costs. Beverly has cut dozens of teachers, increased class sizes, added school fees, and closed Memorial Middle School to avoid an override.

For FY09, special education, utility and health care are the largest cost drivers. Special education tuition out-of-district is projected to cost $1.6 million ($953,000 was covered in FY08 by a budget surplus and state aid that was reassigned from FY07). Utilities are projected to increase by $271,977 (21%) and health insurance by $400,000 (7%) - totaling $2.3 million in increases.

In FY09, Beverly voters now face a choice of cutting public education services further or supporting an override with less drastic cuts to close a $2.6 million budget gap for its public schools. A YES vote will help us stop the continual erosion of our schools, allowing us to preserve and protect the services in Beverly for which we as a community are so proud.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Override Fact of the Day: Education Spending

After the circus-like events of this past week, and with just ten days left until the June 3 special election on the override, we are going to help ramp up the final week of the campaign by highlighting one fact a day in support of the Override.

Today is a look at spending on education in Beverly compared to other local communities.

According to the Massachusetts Dept. of Education’s 2007 figures, Beverly's per pupil expenditure was $11,210.67, which is below the state average of $11,864.91. Beverly spends less than Salem ($13,665), Manchester/Essex ($12,865), Lynn ($12,220), Chelsea ($12,199), and Hamilton Wenham ($12,100).

Here is how Beverly stacks up overall:
  • SALEM: 13,664.55
  • MANCHESTER ESSEX: 12,864.89
  • LYNN: 12,220.90
  • CHELSEA: 12,198.27
  • HAMILTON WENHAM: 12,100.27
  • ROCKPORT: 12,099.20
  • MALDEN: 11,712.65
  • NEWBURYPORT: 11,457.72
  • BEVERLY: 11,210.67
  • PEABODY: 11,202.30
  • SAUGUS: 10,824.92
  • DANVERS: 10,556.12
  • IPSWICH: 9,734.19
  • MIDDLETON: 9,347.15

According to Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office of School Finance, Beverly's average teacher salary was $44,337 in FY 2007, significantly below the state average of $58,188 as well as LAST among surrounding communities. The chart below shows relative teacher salaries in all area towns and cities:



Friday, May 23, 2008

A Question of Semantics

On a slow news day, we will once again question why the two plans have been described in the press, and even by the School Committee and Superintendent as a "4-school plan vs. a 5-school plan" when both are really 5-school plans. We've even done it ourselves. Some may think this is a frivolous argument, but often perception is reality. If you read the newspaper comment boards (do so with caution, it's often a frightening and eye-opening experience, especially if you have been sheltered within your group of like-minded allies) you will see how much of a misperception there is over this. And you can bet this will be exploited by the anti-override group as well.

In Dr. Hayes' original plan, Cove was never slated to close, as is often stated. It was to become the ECC and house all the Pre-School and Kindergarten population. So it wasn't a 4-school plan. It was another variation of a 5-school plan. In the Mayor's plan, these kids will have to go back into the traditional elementary school model.

So the bottom line is that there would still be the same number of kids in the same 5 schools. The only difference is that the Mayor's plan costs at least $800,000 more, and completely shatters one school community. Average class sizes, the most important issue to most parents, would still be an issue, unless the Kindergarten or Preschool offerings were limited, or something else is cut. Either way, we are squeezing 6 schools worth of kids into 5.

Most everyone seriously following this knows most of these details, but to the casual observer or citizen undecided on the Override, all they hear is that the Mayor's plan closes only 1 school, while the Superintendent's plan closes 2. "That sounds like a good compromise, right? Why do we need the Override?"

That's how some in the community at large are seeing this, and it's partially due to how the plans have been presented. While there might be other factors that make one plan better than the other, presenting it as a choice of 4 schools or 5 schools is very misleading.

The only numbers we have seen so far are in this document that Dr. Hayes prepared the night Mayor Scanlon announced his plan. His estimates are admittedly very rough, but they seem to back up the argument that class sizes will still be a problem.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

BevCam Override Programming

BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) has two interview shows running starting today with represenatives from both sides of the Override debate. The shows are hosted by local attorney Scott Houseman, who will also moderate the public forum next Thursday.

The airing schedule for these shows is:
Yes! for Beverly (YES)
Thursday, 5/22 at 11:00 AM
Thursday, 5/22 at 2:30 PM
Thursday, 5/22 at 9:00 PM
Friday, 5/22 at 12:00 PM
Friday, 5/22 at 2:30 PM
Friday, 5/22 at 8:30 PM
Citizens for Fiscal Responsiblity (NO)
Thursday, 5/22 at 11:45 AM
Thursday, 5/22 at 3:15 PM
Thursday, 5/22 at 9:45 PM
Friday, 5/22 at at 12:45 PM
Friday, 5/22 at 3:15 PM
Friday, 5/22 at 9:15 PM

Check BevCam's schedule for future airings of these interviews

Be sure to watch both, as it's always good to hear the arguments of the both sides, so you know what points to speak to.

5/29 UPDATE: Bost shows are now available to watch online.

Redistricting to Affect All Schools

According to today's Salem News, Dr. Hayes and his team are already at work on the plan to reassign McKeown students in wake of Tuesday night's School Committee vote to close the school.

While the redestricting will not entirely redraw the city's map, Hayes says it will affect students in all of the elementary schools, and some students may not know where they're going or who their teachers will be until sometime over the summer.

As McKeown students are put into new schools, some in outlying areas of other districts will need to be moved elsewhere, to balance class sizes, and the free & reduced lunch population. This is called soft redistricting, but as some pointed out after Tuesday's meeting, "it's not soft, if it's your child being redistricted."

Since so many of the details of this plan are still unknown, where the budget numbers will come in, is also unknown.

"
There could be a shortfall of anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000" Hayes said yesterday. "This can create a whole set of different cuts. What are we going to do?"

He said it could mean cutting a team of teachers at Briscoe — which the district just reinstated — or cutting programs.

Reaction to Mayor Scanlon's Statements

By now most of you have read about the School Committee meeting Tuesday night and their vote to approve the Mayor's 5-school plan.

We are posting this at the request of many people who are active in the school communities and within the budget debate, and we share their views.

Regardless of how you feel about the merits of the plan that was approved, many of us are deeply troubled by the actions of Mayor Scanlon, particularly his statements that he would release additional funds, only if his plan was approved. We find this offensive and feel that it is unethical at best.

If there is additional funding available, shouldn't the whole Committee and the Superintendent be allowed to discuss and decide the best way to spend it? Who is better suited to make the tough educational decisions for our school system?: Dr Hayes, a man with a doctorate in educational administration who has years of teaching and administrative experience to back up his plan, or the Mayor with no background as an educator.

We are also troubled by the lack of specifics on the plan that was approved, and whether this additional funding can be counted on for the next five years.

Since this affects city financing issues and the conduct of a public official, we feel that it is a matter that should be brought to the attention of the City Council. Many of the Council members were at Tuesday night's meeting, so they are well aware of what went on, but they need to hear your views, and know what a serious concern this is to all of us.

If you feel the same, please contact your city councilors and tell them how you feel. Keep in mind that it's always best to put your views into your own words.

8:30 AM UPDATE: Today's Salem News has an interesting legal opinion on this matter.

The paper interviews Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. While Koocher says he believes Scanlon has the legal right to do what he did, he also adds that these types of stipulations are not legally binding.

"Once the extra money is included in the school budget, the School Committee could decide to spend it any way it wants," he said.

The committee, however, would have to be "willing to accept the political implications" of voting for one plan and then implementing another.

This might be interesting information to share with your School Committee Rep.

The paper also has an editorial today titled "Beverly's Imperial Mayor Returns"

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Morning After Musings

After a dizzying night that saw the debate on the two plans drag on seemingly endlessly with no resolution—then move at lightning speed to a conclusion, we have a few thoughts. (Note: details of the meeting are in the post below)

After nearly two months of analysis on Dr. Hayes' plan by the public, the School Committee, and an ad-hoc group, the Committee has now approved a different plan that has only been known of for a week. A plan with virtually no study as to the implications, feasibility, or true cost savings. And a plan that the Superintendent clearly opposes, and has had no time to make any plan for implementation. The debate last night added no clarity at all.

In the end, as the best of bad options, Scanlon's plan just might be "less bad" than the Superintendent's plan. But with what citizens heard last night, there is still not enough information to know that, and there certainly was not enough information for the Committee to have voted it in as the future of education in Beverly, should the Override fail.

Also, we take issue with the semantics of the portrayal of this as "the 4-school plan vs. the 5-school plan." Leaving the reuse of McKeown aside, in both cases McKeown is being eliminated as an elementary school, and Cove is being used to house children. In the Superintendent's plan, Cove houses only Pre-K and K, while in the Mayor's plan, those kids are divided up somehow (we don't know how) between the other schools and Cove stays an elementary school. But both plans use the same 5 schools, and house the same number of kids in those 5 schools. Therefore we assume both plans would have similar class size issues. Just do the math.

Presenting this as closing one school versus closing two schools is very misleading, especially to the public contemplating the Override. Who wouldn't pick the option to close only one school vs. two, if that was really what was happening. And many undecideds will see this as a positive step, and be less inclined to support the Override. Was that the Mayor's intention?

In reality, this is all the more reason to support the Override because of the chaos that implementiion of this vague plan will cause at this late date.

While the wisdom of the ECC model is questionable, Dr. Hayes' plan at least seemed carefully crafted to keep school communities as whole as possible, and spread the pain around. Mayor Scanlon's plan seems to only to be politically expedient, and inflicts much of the pain on one school community. His decision to take his money off the table and go home if the committee didn't approve his plan, was, in the words of one parent "akin to larceny."

We also would like to hear Jim Latter's explanation for supporting BOTH plans, and Ms. Cesa's explanation for not having this very important vote televised. BevCam says the decision was hers.

Please add to this debate by hitting the comment link below:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Committee Approves 5-School Plan

After two hours of fuzzy math and talk about the minutia of bus routes and "soft" redistricting lines, and without any consensus on the cost or workability of Mayor Scanlon's 5-school plan, the Committee moved quickly and nonetheless approved the plan by a 5-2 vote with only President Annemarie Cesa and David Manzi voting against the plan.

A crowd of nearly 100 squeezed into a small classroom at the former Memorial Middle School, in what several audience members joked felt like "what our elementary classrooms would be like next year." For two hours both plans were discussed, and members debated the numbers of each, discussed what bus routes would have to be divised, how city-wide any redistricting plan would have to be, and seemed to be making little headway on either plan.

Scanlon then spoke up, and told the committee that with more than $60 million spent on education in Beverly annually, that debating a hundred-thousand dollar difference in transportation costs was foolhardy at this stage, and pushed the Committee to vote.

The Committee obligued, with Jim Latter first moving to vote on Dr. Hayes' 4-school plan, which the Committee voted down 3-4

Latter then moved to vote on Mayor Scanlon's 5-school plan. The committee quickly approved the plan 5-2 and adjourned, leaving the crowd stunned.

Just prior to the vote, David Manzi asked Mayor Scanlon if the additional funds he made available for his 5-school plan, could be used instead for the 4-school plan as a way to help reduce class sizes. Scanlon answered "No" followed by "I have no time for the 4-school plan" "I am opposed to the 4-school plan." This caused the capacity crowd to gasp in outrage, but the Committee moved immediately to vote.

The votes for both plans were as follows:

Dr. Hayes' 4 School Plan:
  • David Manzi: Yes
  • Paul Manzo: No
  • Jim Latter: Yes
  • Karen Fogarty: No
  • Annemarie Cesa: Yes
  • Maria Decker: No
  • Mayor Scanlon: No


Mayor Scanlon's 5 School Plan

  • David Manzi: No
  • Paul Manzo: Yes
  • Jim Latter: Yes
  • Karen Fogarty: Yes
  • Annemarie Cesa: No
  • Maria Decker: Yes
  • Mayor Scanlon: Yes

The meeting was NOT filmed by BevCam, as previously reported, and as specifically requested to Ms. Cesa by us and many in the community.

There was a lot to digest tonight. We will post press accounts and further details in the morning, but if you were there tonight, please help us out and add more details below as a comment.

5/21 UPDATE: Wednesday's Salem News reports on the meeting, leading with: "Though critics called his tactics "disgusting" and akin to "larceny," Mayor Bill Scanlon won the School Committee's approval of his elementary school consolidation plan to close McKeown and keep Cove open.

The Beverly Citizen also has stories here and here, as well as an opinion piece.

Last Chance to Contact Your Rep

We know that many of you are working very hard on the Override campaign, but remember that whatever plan the School Committee approves, will be the one that is implemented should the Override fail.

While people made their views on both plans very clear at last week's meeting, we hear that the Committee members have heard almost no word from their constituents since the Mayor's plan was made public. With all the recent debate over whose numbers to believe (see here and here), it's very important that they, and the public have confidence in the numbers before they vote on either plan. Please take a minute to contact your School Committee Representative before tonight, and let them know your opinion.

Here is a link to our original post containing the School Committee contact info.

A New Sideshow

In what is sure to add more confusion to the budget debate, and potentially delay tonight's vote further, the Salem News' top of Page 1 story today reports: "Tape Catches Mayor Saying Superintendent 'Lying Through his Teeth'"

The story quotes Mayor Scanlon's comments to School Committee member David Manzi during a break in the meeting, which were picked up by BevCam's microphones and broadcast live. The comments essentially accuse the Superintendent of making up the Special Ed numbers:

"He's slipped the budget by you and he's lying through his teeth on some of the costs. He should have to give a special education breakdown. He's got these huge increases without any explanation whatsoever of where the increase comes from. Frankly, I don't believe it. I think what he did is he drove it up in order to be able to get where he's trying to go." Scanlon is quoted as saying.

Adding an element of Nixonian conspiracy theory is the fact that these comments weren't included in the rebroadcast of the meeting, and BevCam says they weren't recorded, because the tape was being changed. The Salem News got the tape from a resident who recorded the live broadcast at home.

The fact that BevCam will not televise tonight's meeting live, but will air it only on tape tomorrow at noon, could further add to this speculation.

Again, all this is another unfortunate sideshow, and as we posted earlier this morning (see post below), let's not forget that the bottom line is class sizes. The School Committee needs to get to the bottom of this & figure out what the real numbers are for both plans before they vote on anything.

10:20 UPDATE: BevCam states that "We’ve heard from the school department regarding tonight’s meeting. Since it is not a regularly scheduled School Committee meeting, they are not requesting that BevCam cover it. Other than regularly-scheduled City Council and School Committee meetings, BevCam does not cover meetings unless asked to do so by the President/Chair of the City Council or School Committee."

If you feel strongly, as we do, that tonight's meeting should be covered live, please contact Annemarie Cesa.

12:05 UPDATE: More on Tapegate. This may have been posted on the Citizen's blog yesterday, before the Salem News explained the discrepancy between the original live broadcast & the taped broadcast, but now it looks like we have a little battle between the newspapers over this too. This post later clarifies, along with another Nixonian reference.

Committee to Vote Tonight

Barring any new last-minute surprises (oops...see above), the School Committee will vote tonight on either Dr. Hayes' plan, or Mayor Scanlon's plan, (or both) to consolidate the elementary schools.

Whichever way the vote goes, they need to remember that "It's the class sizes, stupid!" The debate within the community overall is not "How to save Cove," or "How to save McKeown." Both plans seem to split the same number of elementary, kindergarten, and preschool kids between the same five schools.

The overriding problem is 30 kids in a class. The most recent enrollment projections clearly show that. Take the Mayor's newly found money, and find a way to solve that, and we'll be making progress.

The meeting details are as follows:
Memorial Building
501 Cabot St.,
Room 164
7:30 pm

The meeting will NOT be televised live on BevCam, but will be taped and aired tomorrow at noon. So, if you want to see it live, you need to attend.

7:30 AM Update: As if we needed any, more drama has just been added to tonight's meeting with today's Salem News' lede story "Tape Catches Mayor Saying Superintendent 'Lying Through his Teeth'"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Public Forum on Override to be Held

The Salem News and BevCam will sponsor a forum on the Proposition 2½ Override featuring representatives for Yes! for Beverly and the anti-override group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. Salem News Editorial Page Editor Nelson Benton and local attorney Scott Houseman will serve as moderators.

The forum will be held:
Thursday, May 29
7:00 pm to 8:30 pm
Senior Community Center
90 Colon St.

The public is invited to attend the forum, which will also be broadcast live on BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) and shown throughout the weekend leading up to the June 3 election.

Questions can be e-mailed in advance to forum@salemnews.com.

Forecast: Cloudy

We came across this document on the city website that those of you with business or financial backgrounds might be able to decyfer better than us. The document is called "City of Beverly: Five-Year Financial Forecast" and was published in January by a joint committee of the City Council and the School Committee. The Committee was chaired by Don Martin with Paul Guanci, Miranda Gooding, James Latter and Paul Manzo as members.

Some of these charts, numbers, and issues have been included in various materials that have been shown throughout the budget process, but we doubt many people have seen it in it's entirety. Much of this information has a bearing on the issues we are currently dealing with, so it's worth taking a look at.

We will also add it to the list of city documents to the left.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

YES! All-Volunteer Meeting

YES! for Beverly invites anyone interested in helping out in the final weeks of their campaign to join them at the YES! All-Volunteer Meeting tomorrow, Sunday, May 18th at 7:00 pm at the First Baptist Church gym on Cabot Street:
The Special Election is on June 3rd - just 17 days from today. This is a historic moment for our city in which citizens have the power of the VOTE. We have a CHOICE and a SAY in the future of our city. We need your help during the final two weeks of the campaign!

Please come and learn how you can make a difference and help Beverly say YES! to the choice to shape its future and NO to irreversible cuts and politics as usual. These final two weeks are critical to our SUCCESS!

WE ARE A WONDERFUL COMMUNITY!
We hope we can count on your support!
Beverly is Worth Our Investment!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Next Committee Meeting Set

For the third time, this is being billed as the meeting where the School Committee will vote... on something.

According to the Beverly Citizen, "The Committee could vote on the plan and continue the budget, vote on both or vote on neither, continuing the discussion to another meeting."

And according to the Salem News, "School Committee members will hash out the details [of both plans] and eventually someone will move to vote on one of the plans. If it doesn't pass, they'll vote on the other plan. If neither passes, 'I'll lock the doors until we agree on something. We have to come to a consensus.' School Committee President Annemarie Cesa says"

Got that?

The meeting is scheduled to be held at the Memorial Building, Room 164 at 7:30 pm Tuesday, May 20 (it was originally scheduled for Monday, but had to be moved due to a scheduling conflict). Keep an eye out for updates on the location, because there have been mixed reports.

Currently BevCam is not planning to televise live, but will tape and air on Wednesday at noon.

Salem News Sides with Hayes' Plan

Today's Salem News editorializes on the battle of the consolidation plans, and comes out on Dr. Hayes' side, calling Mayor Scanlon's plan a Band-Aid solution. The newspaper has yet to take a position on the override.

A few of the highlights of their opinion:

Scanlon did not do himself or his last-minute proposal any favors by waiting until the last minute to discuss it with the superintendent, his fellow school board members and parents. And we have to wonder whether he is just delaying the inevitable by relying on things like the value of scrap paper and residents' propensity for recycling to keep the Cove School open for the time being.

Hayes has presented a painful, but reasonable, plan to address those issues going forward if the override is unsuccessful. We'd urge the School Committee, which has taken difficult votes in the past on the consolidation of the city's middle schools and the renovation and expansion of the high school, to follow his counsel.

While he controls the budget's bottom line and his intentions are good, Scanlon would have served parents and taxpayers better by striving to offer a plan that reflected both his and the superintendent's best effort to forge a long-term solution to funding Beverly's school system.
The newspaper also announced that it will be holding a public forum on the override on Thursday, May 29th, at 7:00 PM at the Beverly Senior Center on Colon St.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New Realignment Documents

We have obtained two of the documents Dr. Hayes and the School Committee referred to at Wednesday night's meeting.

The first shows the difference between the hypothetical numbers the Mayor used to come up with his 5-school plan, compared to three possible real-world scenerios of how students could be reassigned that were studied by Dr. Hayes and his staff. Among the differences are Scanlon's projections of being able to cut 11 teachers compared to only 4-6 in any of Hayes' scenerios. There are also projected class sizes up to, and even beyond 30.

The second document shows current projected enrollments and free & reduced percentages for the Superintendent's 4-school plan. Among the alarming issues here are projected average 5th grade class sizes of 31 at Centerville, and 2nd grade average class sizes of 27, also at Centerville.

What's the Vote Count?

There is one more point from last night's meeting that we failed to note amid all the focus on the Mayor's actions, that was also not mentioned in either newspaper account of the meeting.

Both Karen Fogerty and Paul Manzo plainly stated that they planned to vote against the Superintendent's proposal. This is the first public pronouncement we have heard from any of the members on how they would vote. We can only assume, based on his comments and actions last night, that Mayor Scanlon also will vote against it, albeit for different reasons. That means at least 3 out of 7 will vote against it. One more, and it's dead.

If they do indeed vote against it, what does that mean at this late date, and what happens next? Does that leave only Scanlon's plan? We have no idea, but if anybody has any theories, or facts on that, it would be worth noting.

By the way, a reminder that you are welcome to comment on here. Just hit the comment link under any post. Hopefully it will be a little more civilized than on the newspaper comment boards, but it would be great to have some more interaction on here.

5/16 UPDATE: Friday's Salem News has some answers:

School Committee members will hash out the details at a meeting, tentatively scheduled for 7:30 Tuesday night at City Hall, and eventually someone will move to vote on one of the plans. If it doesn't pass, they'll vote on the other plan.

If neither passes, "I'll lock the doors until we agree on something," School Committee President Annemarie Cesa said. "We have to come to a consensus."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"This Community is Still United"

Those words, from one Hannah parent, summed up the crowd's response to Mayor Scanlon's eleventh hour plan to close only McKeown, and spare Cove School. Scanlon delivered the proposal at tonight's School Committee meeting. The plan was released to the Beverly Citizen, and posted on their website less than two hours before the start of the meeting, and before it was given to the Superintendent or members of the School Committee. The details are summarized in the post immediately below this.

In his proposal, Scanlon said that many of the Superintendent's numbers, specifically on transportation and tuition revenue, were questionable. He also questioned the rationale for the Early Childhood Center. But Dr. Hayes, guessing at what Scanlon's proposal would be, came prepared with numbers of his own to show that dividing up the McKeown community among the five other schools would not produce the savings Scanlon claimed, and would result in increased transportation costs, higher class sizes than even the original plan, and a street-by-street reassignment of McKeown children.

Scanlon also pushed the plan as the best way to achieve equal distribution of free and reduced lunch students, but Hayes responded that trying to achieve perfect balance throughout the city was "a fool's errand" and "unachievable."

Council President Annemarie Cesa also dismissed Scanlon's plan as unsustainable, and told Scanlon that if he had the money, he should fund the six schools for a year to give them more time to work on this. She, and other members of the committee, also objected to the way Scanlon prepared the plan, and questioned why he waited until the day of the vote to release his plan, when there have been nearly two months of meetings on the subject.

After the Committee debate, many members of the audience spoke, with most dismissing Scanlon's plan as an attempt to "divide the community" and "derail the override drive." Even those who didn't outright dismiss the plan, wondered how Scanlon expected them to evaluate the plan at this late date. Notably, a majority of parents who spoke out against the plan, and in support of McKeown, were Cove parents, with one calling it an "attempt to sacrifice one school to appease another." Many spoke of the remarkable unity that has been achieved throughout the city, and said that if it was the Mayor's intention to break this unity, that he had seriously misjudged the mood of the city.

Some speakers passed on even mentioning the Mayor's plan, and spoke only of the need to support the override now more than ever.

The Committee then voted to schedule a new School Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday night, and moved on to other business.

5/15 UPDATE: Here is the report from Thursday's Salem News. The Citizen weighs in too.

Scanlon's Plan Revealed

The Beverly Citizen has just posted details of the plan Mayor Scanlon will present at tonight's School Committee meeting. Some highlights of the report are below:
  • The plan saves Cove School, but closes McKeown
  • The plan costs $680,000 more than closing both schools.
  • The difference would come from trash-fee revenue and increased recycling savings.

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa said she was “flabbergasted” that Scanlon would propose a new plan so late in the budget process.

In an e-mail response to the Citizen, Dr. Hayes stated: “I called the Mayor and he refuses to share his plan with me before Wednesday night’s meeting. Despite my protests that this may lead to a chaotic end of the school year, despite my protests that School Committee members and the Superintendent share in a 'no surprises' rule, there is no desire to work with me prior to the meeting. That is not good for this school system or this community.”

I didn’t want to promise a plan that I might not have been able to deliver on,” Scanlon said. “I wanted to make sure the numbers would work and I just finished working it out.”

You can read the full report here.

Last Day to Register

We previously stated that yesterday was the last day to register to vote in the June 3 override election, but apparently you have one more day. City Hall will be open until 8:00 tonight, for anyone that still needs to register. Remember, one vote can make the difference.

A Message from Yes! for Beverly

The Yes! for Beverly group has asked that we post this letter:
Dear reader of SaveBeverlySchools.org,

On behalf of the Yes! For Beverly Campaign, we would like to thank all of you who have been supporting the override effort with your hard work over the past several weeks.

With a $2.6 million budget gap looming for next school year, citizens of Beverly stood up and offered our city a CHOICE. Together we have made history here in Beverly. NEVER BEFORE has there been a ballot question such as ours. We now have a choice – a choice to say YES! for this community and its children and NO to politics “as usual”.

Yes! For Beverly is a campaign dedicated to EVERY school in Beverly, because we are committed to quality education in our City. Strong schools are the foundation of a strong community. We hope you feel the same way. We ask you to vote Yes! on June 3 because Beverly is worth the investment.

Thank you for your dedication to our community.

Best regards,
Joan Sullivan and Tracey Armstrong

Joan and Tracey have also written a column for the Beverly Citizen that you can read here.

Decision Day?

After nearly two months of meetings, public hearings, ad-hoc groups, and secret plans; and with the proposal on the table virtually unchanged from what Dr. Hayes proposed on March 26th; tonight could finally be the night the School Committee will vote on the plan.

Or maybe not.

With the Mayor's eleventh hour announcement on Monday night, and his refusal to give anyone, including the School Committee, any advance word on what his plan involves, it is possible that a vote will be delayed yet again.

Scanlon will reveal what he has up his sleeve at the beginning of tonight's meeting. Where things go from there is anybody's guess. Whatever happens, it should be an interesting night at City Hall. "Political theater at its finest," in the words of School Committee member James Latter.

The meeting starts at 7:00 in the 3rd Floor City Council chambers. BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) will televise live.

1:30 UPDATE: As would be expected, speculation about the Mayor's plan is running rampant. Most of the talk centers around the option of closing only one school, most likely McKeown. Of course, a good sum of money would still need to be "found" (either within the city budget, or with some newly announced state money) to make this option work, and it still seems like class sizes would be an issue. Dan Mac Alpine of the Beverly Citizen joins in the guessing game.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Scanlon Still Tightlipped on Plan

The Salem News interviewed Mayor Scanlon the morning after his stunning announcement that he has a new plan to address the school budget deficit.

Asked by the paper what he can tell the public and the School Committee about his plan, Scanlon replied "Absolutely nothing. They'll see it when I talk to them (tomorrow night)"

Questioned further on how the School Committee can vote on his plan when they won't get it until the meeting, Scanlon said, "They don't have to vote tomorrow night. I'll be ready to vote tomorrow night, but if they want to think about it longer they can think about it longer."

Scanlon said he won’t tell anybody, including the School Committee, until tomorrow night’s School Committee meeting. Even Tim Flaherty, the City Council president, said this morning that he knows nothing about the mayor’s plan.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Scanlon's Got a Secret Plan

It was another night of impassioned speaking at tonight's public hearing at Beverly High. Most speakers spoke against the Superintendent's plan, and in favor of the override.

After the public spoke, several School Committee members made brief statements, with at least three (Maria Decker, Paul Manzo, and Karen Fogarty) strongly supporting the override. Manzo also came the closest of all the members to indicating that he may vote against the Superintendent's proposal.

Mayor Scanlon then made the unexpected announcement that on Wednesday night he will "Put forward a proposal, which, if approved, will still be painful, but less painful than the proposal on the table" There were no details given, even when challenged by Committee President Annemarie Cesa, who told the Mayor that if they were to vote on Wednesday night as planned, they would need to know more details of his proposal before then.

Scanlon's refusal to provide any details of his plan before Wednesday's vote was also met with some heckling by the crowd.

5/13 UPDATE: The Salem News has a wrapup of the meeting and Scanlon's "eleventh hour" plan. They also list the School Committee members' public positons on the override:

  • David Manzi, Ward 1: No
  • Paul Manzo, Ward 2: Yes
  • Jim Latter, Ward 3: No public position
  • Karen Fogarty, Ward 4: Yes
  • Annemarie Cesa, Ward 5: Yes
  • Maria Decker, Ward 6: Yes
Hayes has also stated his support of the measure "For one reason — class size."

Public Meeting Tonight

Just a reminder of tonight's public meeting on the budget at Beverly High School. Please try to attend. The meeting starts at 7:00 in the auditorium. We posted some new budget documents on Friday (see the post immediately below this one.)

Dr. Hayes has also posted a new note on the district website, which we will reprint here:

The School Committee's Public Hearing for the FY09 Budget will be held in the High School Auditorium on Monday, May 12th, at 7 PM. With a Prop 2 1/2 Override Election scheduled for Tuesday, June 3rd, there are two senarios for a School Department budget - one if the overide passes and one if it does not.

On the Administration page (see post below) are two documents related to those two scenarios. Should the override pass, it would provide the school system with an additional $2.5 million in new revenue. This infusion of new revenue will essentially maintain a level program for next year.

The fact that future revenues are not increasing at the same rate as our expenses is still a cause for concern. The School Committee has indicated that it will act promptly in the fall to study this problem in preparation for the FY10 budget. Preliminary steps will be taken prior to the start of the school year so that this study can begin immediately in September. The School Committee agrees that such a study would benefit from the involvement of members of the community.

The School Committee has yet to take a position on how it will resolve the $2.67 million shortfall that it faces should the override not pass. Thus the document that describes this possibility is necessarily brief. The School Committee will soon clarify its position on this. Ultimately, they will approve two budgets prior to the override election - one for each scenario - so that voters ill know exactly what they are voting for.

These are obviously very trying times for our school system and the City of Beverly. The open and civil dialog within the community has been excellent. I believe that the children of Beverly should be at the center of our thinking on this topic because I see this as a civic responsibility that we all share. I hope that we emerge with the best solution for their education, knowing that what we do for them is a reflection on our entire community.

As always, if you have any questions about our schools, please do not hesitate to contact a building principal or central office administrator. To contact the Superintendent's Office, you may call 978-921-6100 or email me at jim.hayes@beverlyschools.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Jim Hayes
Superintendent of Schools


UPDATE: BevCam will NOT be televising tonight's meeting live, but will tape it and air it tomorrow at noon. They will televise Wednesday night's School Committee Meeting live.

Friday, May 9, 2008

New Budget Information

Dr. Hayes has posted two new documents on the district website that have been prepared for Monday's Public Hearing. One is a full draft budget for a YES VOTE on the override that keeps the current school configuration. The second is a document with some more specifics on the previously discussed budget for a NO VOTE on the override. There is probably not a lot of new information here, but Dr. Hayes clearly lays out for the community, what he calls the "Implications of Not Passing an Override." The text of this document is reproduced below, or you can download the original version.

Implications of Not Passing an Override
Faced with a $2.67 million shortfall in early March and the prospect of a Prop 2½ override vote failing, the School Committee is giving serious consideration to proposals that would reconfigure its elementary schools, cut staff at Beverly High School, and increase a number of tuitions and fees. As of the Public Hearing, no final decision has been made regarding these proposals. A great deal of information on these proposals has already been made available to the public and is therefore not reproduced here. Such documents are available on the school district website, www.beverlyschools.org, or can be obtained through the office of the Superintendent of Schools. NOTE: Most of these documents are also linked to the left under "City Documents"

Reconfiguration of the Elementary Schools
The six elementary schools in Beverly have served grades K-5 for a number of years. During that time, a preschool program has operated at several sites; preschool classrooms are currently located in two of those schools. Under the reconfiguration plan recommended by the Superintendent, the Cove School would become an Early Childhood Center servicing preschool and kindergarten students from across the City. The McKeown School would serve as a school for an alternative program for both middle and high school students, with a very good possibility of a partnership that would locate at McKeown a similar program of the Northshore Education Consortium. Students in grades 1-5 from the Cove School would be reassigned to either the Centerville or Hannah schools, and students in grades 1-5 from the McKeown School would be reassigned to either the Ayers Ryal Side or the North Beverly schools. An alternative proposal which would interchange Cove and Hannah in the above proposal has also been suggested. These reconfigured models are commonly referred to as “4 and 1 models”.

Reduction of Staff at Beverly High School
Two teacher retirements, one in Social Studies and one at midyear in English, would not be replaced. A position in Foreign Language (Latin) will be eliminated. Other teacher reductions include Special Education (.5), Art (.3), and PE/Wellness (1.4). One half-time and one full-time paraprofessional positions will also be cut. An additional paraprofessional position has been moved from the appropriated budget to a grant.

Increase Tuitions and Fees
The following rates would remain the same as those established for FY08:
  • Transportation would remain at $300 per student and $600 per family
  • Student parking at the High School would remain at $175 per student
  • Middle School athletics would remain at $100
  • Elementary Instrumental Music would remain at $195 per student

The following increases are proposed:

  • EEC from $450 to $460 for grade 3 and $900 to $920 for grades 4 and 5
  • High School athletics from $185 per sport to a three-tiered system described below
  • Preschool (4-day week program) from $205 to $225 per month
  • Full-day kindergarten from $3,600 to $4,000 per student


The athletic fee structure for High School athletics would assess higher fees for more expensive sports, defined as follows:

  • $200 Gymnastics, Girls’ Volleyball, Golf, Boys’ & Girls’ Tennis, Cross Country, Fall & Winter Cheerleading, Boys’ & Girls’ Indoor Track, Wrestling, Boys’ & Girls’ Track and Field
  • $250 Boys’ & Girls’ Lacrosse, Swimming, Field Hockey, Boys’ & Girls’ Soccer, Boys’ & Girls’ Basketball, Softball, Baseball
  • $300 Football, Boys’ & Girls’ Ice Hockey
Both documents were posted today on the administration website.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Voter Registration Deadline May 13

Beverly's Proposition 2½ override could lose by only one vote! That was the difference in a recent override vote in Abington. Yes! For Beverly is urging everyone who supports the override to get out and vote. If your aren't registered, it is critical to register now because the deadline is May 13. Please encourage everyone you know to register. Sometimes, it only takes one extra vote to win!

You can fill out a registration form at Beverly City Hall or the Registry on Cabot Street.

Final Public Hearing

There will be one last chance for the public to comment on the Superintendent's plan to reconfigure the elementary schools, and cut $2.6 million from next year's budget. The hearing will be held:
Monday, May 12th
7:00 PM
Beverly High School Auditorium
BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) will televise (to be confirmed)

On Wednesday, May 14th, the School Committee plans to vote on the reconfiguration plan, and later in the month, will vote on two versions of the budget: One with the final version of the reconfiguration plan in place; and another in the event that voters approve the override at the June 3rd Special Election. The alternate version will include more minor cuts, but leave the current six school configuration in place.

More details on community plans for the public hearing to come.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Joint Council Frustrations

Last night's Joint Council Meeting didn't produce much new news on the budget, but did produce some visible frustration. As expected, Jim Latter's ad hoc group delivered an endorsement of the Superintendent's plan, but unlike the press reports, which portrayed their view of it as "educationally sound," Latter conceded that it was "the best of bad options."

There was some tension between Latter, and other members of the school committee over what information each group had, and some discussion about his interpretation of the actual cost of the Hannah as ECC option because of the Mayor's offer to bond the $800,000 construction cost. Many members of the public, and even some on the committee, seemed unaware of this because it was never reported in the press or mentioned in public meetings, although it was buried in two of Dr. Hayes' handouts. Councilor Maureen Troubetaris voiced many parents' views when she stated that it would be pretty hard to sell the public on the wisdom of borrowing $800,000 to add onto one school, while closing two others.

Dr. Hayes pressed the School Committee on the importance of making a decision soon because of the complex process ahead to shuffle the schools. But Committee President Annemarie Cesa said they would not vote tonight as previously reported, and announced that there would be another public hearing on the budget next Monday. She also said they would discuss the matter further at their meeting tonight (Memorial Building, Room 164, 7:30 PM). No word on when they would actually vote.

There was also a legal debate between the City Solicitor and several City Council members over whether the Council had the right to raise the line item in the budget for the schools above what the Mayor had given. At least two of the councilors vocally disagreed with the Solicitor's view that they didn't, but in the end said the issue was moot, because they probably wouldn't do it anyway.

Several parents spoke in frustration, saying that when they asked for citizen involvement, they didn't mean a group that would simply look at five bad alternatives, and pick the least offensive. Some also pointed out the irony of sitting through an hour-long presentation on the $70 million high school project, with its multiple state-of-the-art athletic fields, at the same time we are making these drastic cuts to the elementary schools.

There was also one interesting comment from Mayor Scanlon that seemed to support the override. He stated that he would "endeavor to use the money for the schools," even in future years when he is not legally obligated to.

The Salem News glosses over most of the night's discussion here. The Beverly Citizen delves a bit deeper here.

Last night's meeting was taped, and is scheduled to be shown on BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) tonight at 7:00 PM

5/8 UPDATE: The Salem News gets to a few more details of the meeting in their new Beverly blog.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

School Committee May Vote Wednesday

The Salem News reports that the School Committee plans to vote Wednesday on the Superintendent's reconfiguration plan. A community group that has studied the proposal will report at tonight's Joint Council Meeting that it supports the plan as "the best of all the options" after studying five alternative plans.

The Wednesday vote won't be the final vote on the budget, but will signal where the full School Committee stands on the plan. With the community group's support, this plan seems to be the only viable option left on the table, short of voter approval of the override.

Tonight's Joint Council Meeting will be at 7:00 pm at North Beverly Elementary School. Wednesday's School Committee meeting is at 7:30 in Room 164 of the Memorial Building. Both meetings are open to the public.

UPDATE: While the Salem News reported that the Committee was "poised" to vote Wednesday, we have not been able to confirm that they will.

Items reported to be on the agenda tonight:
  • "News" from Dr. Hayes
  • Jim Latter will speak about the special committee's findings
  • City Solicitor will report about the School Committee's legal obligation to submit a balanced budget to the City Council

Items reported to be on tomorrow's agenda

  • Discussion (and possible vote) on elementary reconfiguration plan
  • Discussion of what will happen if the override passes
  • Budget Draft update

BevCam will NOT carry Tuesday's meeting live, but plans to tape and run it Wednesday at 7:00. There are currently no plans to cover Wednesday's meeting.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Special Committee Supports Hayes' Plan

Calling it "the best of all the options," the special committee assembled to review Dr. Hayes proposal, plans to present it's non-binding recommendation in support of the proposal to the School Committee at tomorrow night's Joint Council Meeting. The meeting will take place at 7:00 PM at the North Beverly Elementary School.

According to this Beverly Citizen article, the committee met four times in the past week and considered five alternate plans. Among the plans they ruled out were using Hannah School, rather than Cove, as the early-childhood center, as well as a five elementary plus early-childhood center scenerio.

We're in Good Company

Boston.com has a blog called Override Central that is following the override drives in more than 30 other Greater Boston communities that are facing situations similar to Beverly. Many of these cities and towns have also been forced to seek an override, as the only method left to properly fund their public school systems, and avoid serious cuts. Included is a link to a Globe story on the 11 communities on the North Shore alone that are seeking overrides. Many of the arguments are very familiar to those of us closely involved in Beverly's school budget crisis:
  • With health insurance, special education, and other costs increasing at a rate unmatched by state aid, communities across the state are scheduling tax increase votes.—Boston Globe
  • "Costs - particularly benefits - are growing faster than revenues, while state aid hasn't kept up with inflation. Most cities and towns have squeezed where they can, and then some. I think we will see more and more communities hit the wall in the years ahead."—Michael Widmer, executive director of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, commenting on the situation in Brookline

  • "It's the unfunded mandates [such as the No Child Left Behind Act and special education requirements] that really do it."— Wenham Selectman Peter Hersee

You might also want to follow the situation in Hamilton/Wenham, where the state just placed their highly-regarded high school on warning status because of an "inadequate level of funding to support the school's staffing levels, course offerings, co-curricular activities and technology." This, in spite of approving overrides for the past seven years. The Hamilton/Wenham Support Our Schools group also has a blog with very detailed information on their budget issues, many of which are the same ones that Beverly is grappling with.