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.
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.