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, October 28, 2008

Council Plays Waiting Game

The City Council met last night, but as announced earlier in the day, there was no vote on the High School project.

The only bits of news coming out of the meeting were that the four contractors who had submitted bids, have all agreed to extend the deadline for signing of a contact by 30 days. The city had been under a deadline to sign a contract by yesterday or be forced to put the project out to bid again.

Mayor Scanlon also told the Council that he had been assured that the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) will raise the ceiling on the project to $81.5 million, rather than the previously announced $75 million.
Scanlon said the agency's executive director, Katherine Craven, has told him that cap was a mistake, according to today's story in the Salem News.

There was also no resolution on the state of the protests filed over some of the bidder's qualifications. The Attorney General's office is looking this matter.

Once both of these questions are answered, the Council will take a final vote on the project.

10/29 UPDATE: The Beverly Citizen has a few more details today:

The city now has until December 3rd to sign a contract with one of the bidders. Once a contract is signed, the contractor has a month to begin work, according to Mayor Scanlon.

The Citizen also reports that the MSBA’s bylaws allow votes to happen outside its regular meetings. The authority's director says there’s only one more board member she’s trying to reach to get approval to officially raise the cap on the project.

Monday, October 27, 2008

High School Vote Off Again; Mayor to Speak

We just received word that the City Council will NOT vote tonight on the High School project, but that they will meet to hear Mayor Scanlon speak on the issue. The meeting is at 6:00 pm at City Hall. We believe BevCam will televise. Will post any further details, once we hear.

12:45 pm UPDATE: A few more details from this post on the Salem News' Heard in Beverly blog:

City Council President Tim Flaherty said that the city is still waiting for a second vote of the Massachusetts School Building Authority board of directors to confirm the final reimbursement rate and the cap on funding of the project. The post also says Mayor Scanlon will present more information tonight on the bidding process, including the protests that were files on some of the bids.

Today was to have been the deadline for the city to sign a contract with the low bidder.

No new date has been set for the vote.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hayes Gives Refresher on HS Project

Dr. Hayes has prepared this letter detailing the series of events that led up to the City's decision to build the new high school academic wing. The letter was sent to all members of the City Council, School Committee, and the press.

It's an interesting read for those who didn't follow the events that led to the desision to build a new facility, rather than renovate the existing structure.

Hayes' letter details the four options that were recommended in the July 2002 Feasability Study that was commissioned after the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) placed the high school on warning because of "large scale deterioration of the building, its infrastructure, and its instructional equipment.” Some excerpts:

In this comprehensive report, the physical evaluation determined that building systems for HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), plumbing, and electrical “have generally outlived their useful life. Systems are in poor condition; do not meet building code requirements or recommended practices… Any substantial building renovation if undertaken will include a complete replacement [of these systems].”
The report presented four options to the district:
  • Option 1: Full Renovation with Minor Additions – Renovating one wing at a time, this project would require an additional 20 portable classrooms and related facilities and would take six years to complete. Estimated cost = $50,750,000
  • Option 2: Full Renovation with Minor Additions – Renovating more than one wing at a time, this project would require an additional 40 portable classrooms and related facilities and would take four years to complete. Estimated cost = $52,750,000
  • Option 3: New Construction – The gross square footage of this new facility would be less than the current facility and would take two years to complete. Estimated cost = $49,700,000
  • Option 4: Combination of New Construction and Renovation – A blend of new construction (academic wing) and renovation (field house, cafĂ©, and auditorium) would result in a building larger than that in Option 3 and would take two years to complete. Estimated Cost = $49,400,000
SMMA [architectural firm Symmes Maini & McKee Associates] recommended Option 4, which was subsequently supported by the Joint Secondary Facilities Committee. For those in the community who continue to recommend a complete renovation of the facility, it should not be missed that it would cost just as much as the project currently being considered and would substantially interrupt the education of students for four or six years while sections of the building are renovated. A full copy of the Feasibility Study is available here.

Hayes then details the steps that led NEASC to move BHS from "warning" status to "probation," to nearly stripping the school of it's accreditation, until the City Council finally appropriated the money for the reconstruction project.

Hayes concludes the letter, saying:

NEASC never told Beverly it had to build a new High School. However, it did require a long range solution to the issues in the current facility. The proposal before the City Council represents the best analysis and thinking toward that goal. It is fair to say that if this project were to not be supported by City Council, the High School would lose its accreditation in a matter of months.

The design of the new facility is efficient and forward-thinking and will support good teaching and learning for decades to come. It is our best solution to the problems we face. The best investment of tax dollars is for a building that will support education in Beverly for the next 40-50 years, not for band-aids to a building whose time has passed.

From what we hear, it seems unlikely that the Council will reject the measure at this point, but if you haven't yet, it would still be a good idea to contact your city councilor to let them know you support the project, and to attend Monday evening's vote. As we've seen, the opposition is always very vocal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Council Meeting on HS Funding Postponed

We just received word from City Hall that tomorrow's meeting and vote on the high school has been postponed. It has tentatively been rescheduled for Monday, October 27, 2008, at 6:00 PM.

10/23 UPDATE Today's Salem News explains the delay, saying Mayor Scanlon said the vote has been put off because "some of the necessary information may not be available." The story further states:

The city is facing a Monday deadline to sign a contract with a general contractor to oversee the construction or be forced to put the project out to bid again, which could end up raising the cost. But Scanlon said that deadline could be extended if the low bidder, Brait Builders, agrees.

In the meantime, the state Attorney General's Office said it is looking into "multiple protests" that have been filed over the qualifications of the four general contractors who bid on the project.


The protest issue was detailed further earlier in the week in this article in the Citizen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Time to Rally Again

As we detailed in the post below, the opposition to the new high school was very vocal at last night's City Council meeting. Those of us who were in favor of the funding may have wrongly assumed that this was a done deal, given the reimbursement rate from the state being even higher that the Mayor had originally assumed. So, while those against the funding made their presence known, those of us in support were not as vocal.

So, in short, if you are in favor of voting for funding for the new high school, it is imperative that you contact your city councilor by email or phone, and stress that you would like them to vote for the funding. They are taking the vote this Thursday evening, so timing is important!!

Please get the word out to as many people as you can, as soon as you can. The Mayor and the School Committee are in agreement that if we do not approve funding for a new high school, we will certainly lose our accreditation.

Again, here is the link to the City Couniclors' email addresses.

A good showing at Thursday's Council meeting is also key. Meeting is at 6:00 pm in Council Chambers at City Hall.

10/22 UPDATE: Wednesday's Salem News has two stories on the issue. One details the comments of the city's budget analyst Kathy Griffin, who told the Council on Monday night that if they approve the high school, "it is definitely going to mean significant cuts in coming years."

Another story reports on the half million dollars that will need to be diverted annually from the school operating budget to the high school project.

Speakers oppose HS; Bids tangled up in red tape

A steady stream of high school opponents spoke up last night last night to try to pursuade the City Council to kill the new high school project saying the city cannot afford to take on more debt, especially at this time of financial turmoil. Many identified themselves as members of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, the group that formed last Spring to oppose the override. At least two even invoked the spirit of "Joe the Plummer," and other bits of presidential politics into the proceedings. According to today's Salem News story, 14 out of the 16 speakers were opposed to the plan.

The Council, which approved the original high school plan three years ago, must reauthorize the project before construction can begin, due to the increased cost.

Mayor Scanlon, a strong supporter of the project, spoke at the end of the meeting saying that if the high school loses its accreditation, home property values in Beverly would plummet.

"Even detractors of this project should be able to see that failure to proceed with this project will hurt them in their pocketbook, which is what they seem most concerned about," he said. "This school will be a beacon to the world that Beverly really cares about a quality education and will encourage more people to come to live in our fine city."

The City Council now plans to vote Thursday on the revised plan.

Sunday's Boston Globe had a detailed summary of the plan, and also included some quotes from the director of the State agency that will fund more than half the project. Her statements would seem to reassure some on the Council who worry about what would happen if the state does not follow through on its commitment to fund more than half of the project:

Under Scanlon's plan, the city would borrow $33.9 million out of the $81.5 million total cost. Scanlon said he has received verbal assurances from the state that the Massachusetts School Building Authority - which subsidizes public school construction projects - will pay $47.6 million, or 58.42 percent of the cost of the project. Scanlon said that subsidy is contingent upon the city building a green school, which it is on track to do. If it does not build a green school, then the subsidy would drop to 56.42 percent.

Although the state is facing a financial crisis, Katherine Craven, executive director of the school building authority, said it would not change the state's subsidy commitment to Beverly. The MSBA is funded by 1 percent of the state sales tax and plans to spend $2.5 billion over the next six years. Craven said any change in its funding formula would have to be approved by the Legislature.

"We're not going to go to Beverly and say, 'Remember how it was 56.42 percent and now it's 30 percent.' I couldn't do that. I couldn't go back on what we already committed," said Craven.

Scanlon said the city would borrow the $33.9 million and pay it back over a 25-year period, costing the municipality a maximum of $2.5 million during the first several years. To pay the annual loan, Scanlon said he would allocate $1 million from recently paid-off debts from the city's senior center and library, $500,000 in tax money from the Cummings Center, $450,000 in state reimbursement funds for completed elementary school renovation projects, and $125,000 from the poles and wires tax.



PROBLEMS WITH BIDS

In another potential roadblock, The Beverly Citizen last night reported that at least three protests have been filed with the State Attorney General's office regarding three out of the four construction bids. According to the Citizen:

Two of the three protests focus on whether or not the companies have done projects large enough to qualify to bid on the high school and a third focuses on an unfair price advantage achieved through a joint bid.

"From the city’s perspective, if any of the three are found to be the lowest responsive and responsible bidder the city will do the project,” [City Solicitor Roy] Gelineau said.

Four bids were received on Sept. 12, ranging from $65.8 million to $70.4 million. If the city is going to go ahead with the project on this round of bids, a contract must be signed by Oct. 27. Construction of a new academic wing and renovation to the school’s core facilities is expected to begin this fall.

If it came down to just high bidder, Agostino Construction Co. of East Providence, R.I., Gelineau said the city would not accept its $70.4 million bid.

Monday, October 20, 2008

High School Funding Vote Tonight

There will be a public hearing, followed by a City Council vote tonight on the appropriation of addition funds for the high school project. The hearing starts at 7:15 in City Council chambers at City Hall.

The following is a note from School Committee President Annemarie Cesa:

Monday night the City Council will be taking a vote to decide whether to appropriate the extra monies toward the new BHS. Although the cost for the final project has grown, the additional funding by the city has only increased by about $500K. It is important to let your City Counselor and the 3 at large Counselors, know how you feel. Call or write them. If you can, come to City Hall and speak or cheer on those who do.

Today's Salem News also has a brief writeup on the current state of the project.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scanlon: State to Raise Cap on High School

Mayor Scanlon reported to the City Council on Monday night that the Massachusetts School Building Authority has agreed to raise the ceiling on the High School project to $81.5 million. The State is expected to pay 56.42% of the cost of the project, meaning that the city will "get an $81.5 million high school at a cost of $33.7 million to the city," according to a story in Tuesday's Salem News.

The state had previously announced the reimbursement level of 56.42%, but had capped the project cost at $75 million, or nearly $8 million short of the current price tag.

The News story further states that "
Scanlon said the City Council must approve the $81.5 million cost by Oct. 27, which is the deadline for the city to award the construction contract to one of the four bidders. If the city does not meet that deadline, the contract must be put out to bid again and could end up costing the city more money"

While this would appear to be good news, the figures are unofficial until the Board's directors vote on them in November. Since the City Council has to approve borrowing the city's portion of the money by October 27th, before the State's contribution amount is official, this has raised concerns among some members of the Council.

The News' Heard in Beverly blog reports on a "Bizarre exchange" Monday night between Scanlon and Councilor Pat Grimes:

“You’re asking us to do this without the vote of the (MSBA) board,” Grimes said.

“It’s not our business and I don’t think it’s your business to ask how that board works,” Scanlon said.

When Grimes said she would like to see written confirmation of the MSBA’s commitment before she votes to borrow the money, Scanlon said it was “absolutely bizarre” that Grimes would think that he wouldn’t do just that.

Grimes fought back, saying, “I take offense at you saying it’s bizarre.”

John Burke agreed with Grimes, saying her questioning was legitimate and should not be considered a “personal comment” on Scanlon.

10/9 UPDATE: Today's Salem News outlines Scanlon's plan to pay for the debt service on the high school. It also reports that there will be a public hearing on the matter on October 20th at 7:15 at City Hall.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

State Approves HS Funding, but with a Catch

The Massachusetts School Building Authority yesterday approved covering 56.42% of the cost of Beverly's new high school, according to Mayor Scanlon. Today's Salem News has the story. That is higher than the originally expected 50% reibursement, or even Scanlon's more rosey recent estimate of 55%.

But the devil in the details is that the Authority also capped the cost of the project at $75 million, which is considerably less that the current estimate of $82.8 million.

Scanlon says he hopes that this cap isn't the final word, saying "
I'm led to believe this can be adjusted, I believe they're going to change (the figures)."

According to the News story:

Scanlon said the MSBA directors set the project cost at $75 million because they were under the impression the city could come back later and ask for more money. But Scanlon said the city needs the full $82.8 million to be approved by the state now because the City Council must vote on the appropriation.

Scanlon said the city could not afford the project if the state paid its share based on $75 million rather than $82.8 million.

"We'd just put an unacceptable strain on the city if we were paying 100 percent over $75 million," he said.

"The project wouldn't be feasible at that total," he said.

Scanlon said he is scheduled to meet with Craven and other MSBA officials tomorrow or Friday to straighten out the $75 million figure. He said he will go before the City Council on Monday night with all of the updated information.