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

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

You Say You Want a Resolution?

Tonight's School Committee meeting featured more discussion on the pros and cons of both the 4+1, and the 5-school plans. But the meeting adjourned with no resolution in sight, and with a seeming split between those who want to go forward with the 5-school plan, and those who want to revisit the Superintendent's plan.

Although members came prepared to make further cuts, Dr. Hayes announced that he was able to close the remaining deficit on the 5-school plan with $100,000 from a reserve account and $239,000 from health care savings.

He then displayed two variations of redistricting plans for the 5-school model and handed out some specs based on these plans.

There were a few positives:

  • Class sizes seemed considerably improved from the 4-school numbers (Hayes said there had been an enrollment drop of 100 students from the early budget documents, which was one contributing factor.)
  • McKeown only gets split between Ayers and North Beverly, rather than between 4 schools.
  • Free & reduced numbers seem more balanced than in early incarnations of this plan.

But the biggest negative was still the question of sustainability, and, as at the City Council meeting Monday night, much of the discussion centered around this. Mayor Scanlon again was careful to say that he believed that the $680,000 from the trash account was sustainable, but would not comment any further on the overall sustainability of the plan.

Most Committee members seem convinced that if this plan is put through, even with some of the initial benefits over the 4-school plan, that we will all be back in one or two years with another major deficit, and again be looking to close another school. The simple fact, they point out, is that this plan contains "nearly $1 million more in ongoing costs than the 4-school plan"

Another concern was that the redistricting would affect all the schools to a greater degree than initially expected. Jim Latter was most upset by this, as his Ward (3) seemed to be particularly hard hit by the redistricting. Letter complained: "My kids are taking it on the chin."

Latter asked more than once "Is there any inclination to change back to the 4-school plan?"

While there was considerable debate about the original plan, his question was not met with any concrete answer. Some seemed like they would reconsider it, were it not for the larger class sizes, and David Manzi stated "There is nothing stopping the Mayor from putting the money into the 4-school plan"

Scanlon again stated his opposition to the 4-school plan.

As the meeting ended there still didn't seem to be any clear indication of which way the Committee is leaning.

The next meeting is scheduled for 5:00 Thursday night, we assume at Memorial. Will confirm as soon as we know for sure.

We also hope to be able to post the latest redistricting plans and other documents from this meeting some time tomorrow, and will post the press coverage of the meeting in the morning

6/11 UPDATE: Wednesday's Salem News has more specifics of the five school plan and a small reproduction of Dr. Hayes' favored zoning map here. They also quote from Dr. Hayes statement that he read after presenting the plan:

"I want to go on the record, however, of expressing my concern for the direction we are taking," Hayes said last night. "I believe that in one or two years, we will again be faced with a major shortfall, and an early childhood center concept will be the only reasonable solution.

"Obviously I preferred taking the two steps at once this year. Our revenue will not keep pace with our expenditures.

The paper also has a post-meeting quote from Jim Latter, where he definitively says he will move to ask the Committee to reconsider its previous vote on Thursday.

"I regret supporting the five-school plan and intend to ask the committee to reconsider this on Thursday," [Latter] said.

We hope to have Dr. Hayes' full statement, as well as the redistricting map and specifics posted later today.

The Citizen's report on the meeting is here.

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