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 21, 2008

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.


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.

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