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

Wednesday, 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.


afreedman said...

The way the “ad hoc” committee presented their “non-binding” recommendation (through school committee member Jim Latter), and the way it was presented in the press was extremely confusing so let me try to clarify what it does and doesn’t say (at least the way I understand it. I was not on the committee). This committee was charged with looking at several plans that would make up a 2.7 million dollar shortfall. Plan 1: Jim Hayes’ plan as proposed. Plan 2: Use Hannah instead of Cove as ECC. Plan 3: Close 1 (of any of the schools) elementary school instead of 2 and turn it into an ECC. Plan 4: Keep all schools open but make cuts across the board including eliminating funding for music, athletics, important programming, and lots of teachers. According to the findings of the committee, Dr. Hayes’ plan saved the most money and had the most educational merit compared to the other 3 options. The committee DID NOT evaluate if this plan provides a quality education to the children in Beverly, nor did it make any claims to that effect. Jim Latter, the committee chair, stated quite clearly last night (May 6th) “This is the best of bad options”.

I feel very strongly that this committee was a bad idea and has served to confound rather than illuminate the real educational needs of our children. I think this was the Mayor’s intent in suggesting this committee. By setting up this committee maybe he misinterpreted the call of frustrated parents’ desire to be included in the process, or maybe it was set up to pass the buck so the parents themselves would suggest closing the school he thought should be turned into the ECC (mainly the Hannah school, in which he pledged the one time cost of $700,000 to build the additional classrooms that would be needed to turn Hannah into the ECC). I believe it’s the latter, and I’m happy to say that it did not work out for him.

I could go on forever about the many problems with this plan and the process we use to come up with such plans. But I will leave it at this: What we need is some bold leadership! I may be wrong but I believe only Pat Grimes has had the guts to come right out and support the override. I want Dr. Hayes and the others on the school committee to stand up and admit that this plan WILL NOT provide a quality education for our children which in turn will be extremely detrimental to the community as a whole. DON’T FORGET TO VOTE YES ON JUNE 3RD AND SAVE OUR SCHOOLS!

Andi Freedman

b.g. lewandowski said...

I found it amazing that school committee members would complain that they weren't privy to information that the ad hoc committee went out and got on their own. Shouldn't they be requesting this information as part of their jobs? After all a lot of us here knew about that extra Hannah provision...

And then for some members to make statements to the effect that they would still think there are other alternatives, after the ad hoc committee worked on this... why weren't they working with the committee then?

I agree with Andi in her appraisal on why the Committee was formed. DO not be surprised if a plan involving Hannah surfaces... this time from the School Committee directly.

jhall said...

Andi brings up a good point. How about it, any elected officials (and School Administration) that are reading this blog. Stand up and take a position on the Override. Pat Grimes has, and I believe I have heard Annemarie Cesa say she favors it, but not very vocally. The Mayor claims to be "officially agnostic" on it, but most of his statements are negative. If you truly believe that this is going to damage Beverly, you owe it to constituents to stand up and take a position.

Anonymous said...

In all fairness I have to say that I did not intend my last comment to be incendiary... but it came out that way. I was a bit surprised that people were shocked about getting information that I had already heard a long time before.

In terms of the Hannah proposal, I am going on possible heresay as reported to me by various Hannah parents who are very disgruntled by their Committee representation. As a PTO person I am often the point person who gets to follow up on these rumors... perhaps I am getting caught up in the heat of the banter. I should know better.

The discussion I saw on the BevCam replay of the City Meeting seemed to have 2 discussions going on and the information I interpreted as about school funding for building additional classrooms was actually about another issue... I made a mistake and ran with it. My bad.

I did receive a response to that post from Committee member Karen Fogarty:

Dear Brian:

I read with interest your comments on the SaveBeverlySchools blog.

For your information, the information I said should have been provided to the School Committee and which information they should have had an opportunity to discuss with the Superintendent and each other, related to the difference in savings incurred between the proposed model, and a 5 school "traditional" model. That information was requested of the Superintendent prior to the April 16th School Committee of the Whole, and that request was renewed by me, and other members of the SC, at that time. We did not receive it, and did not have an opportunity to discuss it or question the assumptions/conclusions prior to the study committee doing so.

Inasmuch as upon the review of the SC, it was determined that the difference between the two options was actually closer than the difference accepted by the study committee based upon its review of the document, I would say that the SC's ability to have performed that function prior to it doing so, is quite important.

The continued speculation that there is an intent to find a way to swap Cove for Hannah as an ECC (which is what I suspect is behind this example of rampant speculation about what was meant by my comments - notwithstanding the Superintendent's specific reference about the information to which I was referring, which clearly did not relate to that subject) is quite injurious, in my opinion, to this entire process.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have further comments.

Karen Fogarty

I have taken the liberty of sharing this with you. I felt she got a bad shake from the way the newspapers presented her comments at the meeting. It did, at least to me, make it seem that she wasn't working very hard... when in fact as you can see she had been doing the exact things she should have been doing. Kudos to her.

Again, I think I spoke incorrectly and out of turn, but instead of rescinding my previous comment, I leave it here as an example of what is possible when one gets caught up in possible struggles between reality and fiction. Interpret as you may...

Anonymous said...

I agree with jhall. I would like to hear a statement (or read) from each member on:

1) Is the override a good option or not? Why?

2) Is the current proposal by the Superintendent educationally sound in their mind? Will they vote to support it? If not, what do they recommend to do differently?

It would be wonderful if they could all make an opening statement at the May 12th meeting as we are down to the final 2 or 3 weeks in this process.

jhall said...

Those two conversations did get tangled up. I thought Hayes, Latter and especially Maureen Troubetaris effectively shot down the Hannah speculation. The 5 school "traditional model" that Karen and the Latter referred to could use some more explanation.