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.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Governor: "Chapter 70 is Broken"

Today's Salem News has a report on Governor Patrick's recent town hall meeting in Salem, and a debate between a Swampscott School Committee member and the Governor over Chapter 70, which is the state's formula for distributing education money to cities and towns in Massachusetts.

The story doesn't mention Beverly, but the inequity in the Chapter 70 funding system was mentioned several times during the budget debate in Beverly as a major factor in our budget problems, as well.

Some excerpts from the story:

"Chapter 70 is broken," Patrick replied in answer to a question from former Swampscott School Committee member Mary Dechillo. "Everybody knows it."

[Swampscott School Committee member, Dave] Whelan agrees completely. But, he asked, "I just want to know how he can state that the formula is flawed and not fix it? ... I want to see some action."

Whelan cites statistics showing, for example, that Wellesley gets more money per pupil from the state than Swampscott receives, despite the fact that the Boston suburb's per capita income is nearly three times higher. Likewise, Marblehead scores more aid than its less affluent neighbor.

Swampscott Superintendent Matt Malone backed him up with an e-mail to The Salem News. "We need to take action. Enough talk. Chapter 70 hurts kids. I can't stand for that. ... We could sit around and study the issue to death, but that would not put dollars back into the classroom."

If the town got its fair share, Whelan said, "we wouldn't be tearing each other apart here over layoffs." The tight money in Swampscott has led to "a complete breakdown in civility," he said.

While the story doesn't detail any numbers for Beverly, Dr. Hayes and State Representative Mary Grant both went into detail several times during the budget meetings here over similar problems with how Beverly rates in the formula, qualifying for much less state aid than other comparably sized cities on the North Shore.

Grant said that because of the "relative" wealth of the community, Beverly rates as a "minimum aid community." One of the factor's in the formula that many say is unfair, and where it hits communities such as Beverly and Swampscott hard, is it's reliance on property values. Beverly, with a few pockets of multi-million dollar homes, but overall a working class city takes a big hit in this part of the formula compared to cities like Peabody and Salem that don't have areas like Prides Crossing to skew the results.

This should be a major area of focus, once people's attention returns to the budget in the fall.

The blog Blue Mass Group reports more details from this meeting.

UPDATE: Dave Whelan, Swampscott School Committee Chair has sent us some of the numbers documents, and tells us he thinks Beverly is getting hit worse by this even than Swampscott, and says he hopes that this article brings North Shore communities together to fight this battle.

These numbers show that the state per pupil average for Chapter 70 funding is $4,183. Salem gets $3,080, Peabody gets $3,185, and Lynn gets $8,421. Beverly only gets $1,659. Even Hamilton-Wenham gets more per pupil than Beverly at $1793.

Interestingly, Gloucester rates very similar to Beverly, getting $1,676 per pupil. This shows that, in spite of the way the media has portrayed the two cities during the recent parade brew-ha-ha, both are working class cities at heart, but with pockets of wealth and high property-values that skew the numbers.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Salem News Outs Martin for Choicing Out

Today's Salem News has a front-page story on City Councilor Don Martin, confirming that the Councilor school choices his children out of Beverly Schools. During the recent budget debate, Martin was the most consistent voice against the schools, opposing the transfer of $680,000 to support the 5-school plan, opposing the trash fee, and was the lone vote against the final school budget. Martin also was behind the move that some saw as a ploy to get the trash fee eliminated entirely by questioning the vote of his own Finance Committee, thereby delaying a vote by the entire Council on the fee, which is a key element in the sustainability of the school budget.

Two years ago, Martin was also one of only two councilors to oppose the new high-school. He didn't take a public position on the override, stating "On this particular issue I’m going to keep my decision private...I don’t think it makes a difference how any particular councilor is voting."

Some excerts from the News story:

Martin said his priority is to protect his own children, but he has always been "upfront and honest" with people when the subject of school choice comes up.

"I haven't hidden anything. I've got nothing to hide," he said. "I got 75 percent of the vote last year, the biggest margin of victory of any ward councilor race."

[Former McKeown PTO President Julie] DeSilva said it's difficult to interpret Martin's decision to opt out as anything but a vote against the city's public schools.

"As a parent you have to look out for your own kids," she said, "but as a city official you have to look out for all of the community's kids."

Martin said the bottom line is that he and his wife, Michele, have to do what is best for their children.

"We will always put our children first," he said. "That's the way it has to be."