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.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hayes Says News Good on Elementary Class Size

Dr. Hayes has posted the final class size numbers on the Administration website, and the numbers look a bit better than feared last Spring. He also posted the following note.

Enrollment data from the first week of school show that the class size objectives set by the School Committee for the elementary schools have been met. By closing the McKeown School and redistricting the City's K-5 population, the Committee sought to achieve class sizes that were well below its maximum guidelines of 25 students in grades 1 and 2 and 30 students in grades 3-5.

The Enrollment Report presented to the School Committee on September 17th demonstrates great success in achieving those goals. Only the second grade at Cove has enrollments at the maximum. As a result, help from paraprofessionals will be added to help the teachers deal with those large classes.

9/22 UPDATE: Today's Salem News trumpets Class Sizes Stay the Same in Beverly at the top of the front page, in a move sure to bring out all the message board inhabitants in chants of "I told you so."

While the news is generaly good compared to everyone's fears last Spring, let's not forget that Beverly's class sizes were already the highest in the region. The story also adds the detail that there are 42 less children enrolled than last year. A good many of these, we know, have school choiced out, enrolled in private school, or moved to other communities, in part because of last Spring's turmoil.

Escalating High School Cost Raises Concern

While it was initially reported that the bids for the high school construction were in line what city official expected, additional items outside the bid amount have driven the estimated cost to nearly $83 million. That's nearly $18 million more than the original estimate of $65 million. Today's Salem News lede story "New BHS: Can City Afford It?" details some of the concerns.

Mayor Scanlon announced the current price tag at Monday's City Council meeting, and admitted that paying for the project "just got harder," but still says the cost is "within our reach."

He believes that the state will pay a higher percentage of the cost than originally budgeted (55% vs. 50%), although any state money is still not officially committed.

The News poses the question "If the city was going to struggle with a $65 million price tag, how can it afford an $18 million increase?"

And City Councilor Don Martin, who voted against the original plan, says "It will be the most expensive public facilities project in the history of the city" and that it "has the potential to be a huge money pit."

Still Martin concedes that since the city has already spent over $4 million on design and other work that it would be difficult to halt the project at this point. "It could be stopped but you end up eating what you spent... I don't advocate stopping it."

The City Council must approve the project, but Scanlon says that must wait until he knows the exact reimbursement from the state.

What's more, Scanlon also wants to build a $5.8 million stadium along with the high school. This amount is in addition to even the $83 million figure, but Scanlon hopes to finance this with private donations, and state money.

Meanwhile another group is gathering signatures in an online petition to Save Hurd Stadium.

Friday, September 12, 2008

High School Bids in On Budget


City officials today opened the final bids for the high school project. According to the Beverly Citizen, the bids were in line with what was expected, with the low bid, submitted by Brait Builders Corp. of Marshfield, at $65.9 million.

The city now has up to 30 days to sign a contract, and the project is currently scheduled to break ground by the end of October.

If you'd like to follow the progress and see the plans for the project, the administration maintains a high school construction page on their website.

The above photo shows the approved building design.

9/15 UPDATE: Monday's Salem News has more on the project status.

9/16 UPDATE: Tuesday's Salem News reports that the estimated price, with additional costs not in the base contract has now risen to $83 million. These items include architectural and engineering fees, furniture fixtures and equipment, technology and "contingencies."

That is still only halfway to Newton's Big Dig, but still nearly a $20 million increase from the original price tag, before ground has broken.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Full Day K Helps Pay the Way

The Salem News reports today that Danvers has joined most of our other neighbors including Peabody, Salem, Manchester, Essex and Ipswich in offering FREE full-day kindergarten. Beverly meanwhile continues to increase the fee each year to the absolute state maximum, which currently is $4,000 per student. We know of only two other communities in the state, North Andover and North Reading that charge the maximum.

The Massachusetts DOE full-day kindergarten policy states "The Department of Education strongly encourages districts to offer full-day kindergarten free of charge." Further, the DOE's report "Transition Planning for Full Day Kindergarten" states "Full-day kindergarten presents an opportunity to improve the lives of children and improve educational outcomes both for children and for schools in general. Both are worth the investment."

If you followed the budget debate closely last year, you heard that the philosophy of Beverly seems to look at full-day K less as an investment in children, than as a "revenue stream," for the district.

While many of our neighbors share the same budget problems as us, it is clear that they don't have the same views on utilizing the full-day kindergarten program as a way to balance the budget.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Next Budget Hurdle


votenoma.com

In November, there will be a question on the ballot throughout Massachusetts asking to eliminate the state income tax. If this initiative passes, it would drastically reduce annual revenue for Massachusetts - by $12.7 billion each year - and would devastate publicly funded entities, including schools.

This is a binding proposal that would become law, effective January 1, 2009.

You can read more about the ballot question here, and also download a fact sheet. This information is provided by the Coalition for Our Communities, the state group that opposes the initiative.

Tracey Armstrong, who led the Beverly override campaign last spring, will be holding a meeting this Wednesday at 7:30 pm at her house for people who would like to learn more about the ballot question, or to work on the local campaign to defeat it. If you are interested in attending, please contact Tracey for more informtion.

A couple other notes from Tracey:

I expect to have a meeting in late September where we can discuss the future activities of the group. Second, I want to gratefully thank Joanna Murphy Scott, Amy Norton and Ed Rozmerick who were all selected and agreed to serve on Judith Cronin's PILOT/SILOT committee.

Bring Your Own

Today's Boston Globe has a story that most of us can relate to:  The supply lists sent out by teachers requesting "donations," of classroom supplies.  The items requested range from crayons to  report covers to, in some districts, toilet paper.  As far as we know, it hasn't come to bring your own toilet paper yet in Beverly, but we probably dropped close to $100 on our two lists at Staples last week.


Thanks to Joanna Murphy Scott for sending this link.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Support North Beverly School Playground



The Rugged Bear in North Beverly will be having a special sale on Saturday, September 9th, and donating 15% off all purchases to help build a new playground at North Beverly School. Customers will also get 10% off their purchases. Please click on the coupon above for a full size printable version. You will need the coupon to get the discount and the donation.

For more information on the playground, or to make your own donation, go to www.nbplayground.org.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

School's In: Report from Hannah

First day back with the new elementary school configuration. The extra fifty or so kids at Hannah were certainly noticeable, with cars parked in every nook and cranny available in both the main, and back entrance, as well as most neighborhood streets.

The walk down Montserrat and Big Rock Lane, the preferred route for both cars AND walkers from the Montserrat area, as well as the redistricted Cove neighborhoods, was pretty hairy. Anybody up for pushing for car restrictions on this route in the morning, especially considering there are no sidewalks?

We spotted Dr. Hayes leaving the scene, hopefully taking in the madness at the school. On the playground, there were definitely more kids that we've ever seen.

Certainly some of this was due to normal first day of school craziness, with more than the normal number of parents and cars, so it will be interesting to see how things go, but its pretty clear that the already congested situation will be that much worse with all the extra kids.

Please add reports from the other schools as a comment below.

9/4 UPDATE: Beverly Citizen Columnist Shimon Soferr also has a report from opening day at Hannah.

Thanks to photographer and Hannah parent Brian Lewandowski for the new photo in the banner above of Hannah School.