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.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Picking Through the Trash Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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