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, May 28, 2009

More Old Schools

The previous post got us thinking about the rich history of old school buildings in Beverly. The Beverly Public Library has a great collection of old postcards on Flickr showing many of these buildings (as well as some old class photos). It's interesting to note as we get ready to tear down the 1960's era high school that both of its predecessors are still very much alive, (as Briscoe Middle School, and the Oceanview senior living facility on Essex Street). The site is interesting viewing for anyone interested in the history of Beverly schools.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Something Old and Something New

Both the city's oldest and newest school buildings were the focus of attention this past week.

Briscoe Middle School, built in 1923, and originally the city's high school, received some much needed landscaping attention, thanks to a volunteer effort led by Briscoe parent Kathy Whitehair.

Whitehair, and dozens of volunteers of all ages spent Saturday muching, planting, weeding, and watering. In addition to the volunteers working in the field, many others donated toward the trees, shrubs, and plants the were used in the project.

Yesterday's Salem News had details on the effort.

The landscape mirrors the original design plans from when the school was built in 1923, said mother Kathy Whitehair, one of the volunteers leading the effort. Through fundraisers and donations, they were able to plant everything from Virginia sweetspire shrubs, which turn a deep scarlet in the fall; to Kousa Dogwood trees, which bloom creamy white flowers in the summer; to hardy, dark green boxwood bushes.

The highlight, Whitehair said, are six American elm trees planted along Colon Street. They were each donated by all five of the elementary schools and McKeown, which closed last year as an elementary school and reopened as an alternative secondary school. The line of trees has been named "Elementary Way."

The next step is to bring in new granite planters, benches and more attractive trash cans, and to install nicer-looking bike racks. The landscaping project is only the beginning.

"It will build spirit and pride," Whitehair said. "And people can take ownership in their middle school."

Meanwhile, up the road a ways, the new Beverly High School reachced a milestone on Monday. The final beam of the new structure was put into place before a small crowd of onlookers. It was painted white and signed by high school class officers. On the right flew an American flag, to symbolize good luck, and on the left balanced a small pine tree, to symbolize that nobody was injured during the construction.

Today's Salem News reports on this milestone in the $80 million project:

"This is so much better than putting the shovel in the ground in the beginning," said Tim Liporto, director of buildings and grounds. "Now, you see something."

School Committee member Karen Fogarty said when you have such a large project, it's important to acknowledge each small step as it takes place.

"It's a chunk that's now done," she said.

[Project Manager Al] Calcagno said work will now focus on the interior of the building. They'll finish the floors and walls and continue with the plumbing and electrical infrastructure. The building is scheduled to be complete by the fall of 2010.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Help Green Up Briscoe Tomorrow

Community Green-Up Day
Saturday, May 16th, 2009
9:00 - 4:00 (Rain Date Sunday, May 17)

Green-Up Day at Briscoe is a coordinated effort to implement a formal and sustainable landscaping design to best enhance Briscoe's classic architecture and make the grounds as inviting as possible, while meeting true middle school needs. Thoughtful modifications will accentuate the unique details of the engravings, veterans’ memorials and fa├žade of this 86 year old landmark. Already, 9 new trees have been donated to the effort, including American Elms given by our elementary schools and individual families. Many more items remain on the wish list

Anyone who is interested in rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand is welcomed to join in. We have in place a very clear landscaping and grounds improvement plan but we need YOUR help to make it a reality!

Bring your kids, your friends, your gloves, your water bottle and your LABELED yard tools. Get ready to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty to make Briscoe as beautiful as possible! Stay for an hour or for the whole day. Drop in and out between sporting and other commitments.

Want to help but can’t be on site? Consider making a contribution to be used towards fulfilling the improvement plan’s specific wish list. We will gladly accept checks or gift certificates to local greenhouses such as Leonard’s, Sweeney’s, Ward’s, Chapman’s, Corliss, Northeast Nursery, or where ever you shop. Send to

Briscoe PTO,
7 Sohier Road,
(checks payable to Briscoe PTO, “Grounds” in memo). !

Some wish list items :
Junipers ($100 each),
assorted trees ($200 each),
classic trash receptacle ($250),
bench ($400),
or any amount toward a wish list item!


Questions contact Kathy Whitehair (978-922-4508)

Parents Speak Out on FY10 Budget

With little of the drama of last year's budget process, parents spoke out about the FY10 budget Wednesday night at North Beverly School.

While relieved that the process seems to be going much smoother this year, parents still had their concerns.

Parent Julie DeSilva, former president of the now closed McKeown school, spoke for many. "Compared to last year, do a few big classes look as bad as losing a school? No. But it's a bad trend. All the numbers are going in the wrong direction."

Yesterday's Salem News had details from the meeting.

Class sizes were the primary focus of their concern. A proposed first-grade classroom of 24 students and a fifth-grade classroom of 29 are each just one student away from the maximum set by the School Committee.

Parents urged [Superintendent Jim] Hayes to rethink those classes, saying, even if they're not yet over the maximum, it still puts a strain on teachers.

"The demands on your average teacher have increased," DeSilva said.

Mother Corinne Eanes said her daughter would be in the crowded fifth-grade class.

"All it takes is that one child who needs that extra attention to pull away from the other 28 kids," she said. "I really believe 29, and 24 for the first-graders, is way too many."

Among the positive developments, according to Hayes were "plans to reinstate the instrumental music program in the elementary schools, to add a part-time reading specialist at Cove Elementary School, to add a nurse assistant so the nurse supervisor can focus on professional medical development, which has become more of a need in the school system, and to expand technology support roles."

Monday, May 4, 2009

Public Hearing on FY10 Budget

Dr. Hayes has presented a final draft budget to the School Committee, and scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday May 12th. The latest budget shows only a $158,330 shortfall, but there is still some uncertainty on the funding from the state, and on some expenses. Dr Hayes explains some of this in the following note from the Admin website. We will add any further explanation, as we get it:

For those who are interested in the district budget for next year, the latest information has been added to the Administration webpage. Presented to the School Committee on April 29th, the Draft Budget reflects a shortfall of $158,330. A copy of the budget may also be obtained at the Superintendent's Office in the Memorial Building.

The Public Hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 12th, at 7 PM at a site to be determined.

The budget extracts all the items and expenses related to revolving accounts. These are identified in the Draft with shaded lines and the revolving account titles below the specific account from which expenses were shifted to a revolving account. By doing this for all revolving accounts, the remaining budget only includes those expenses being paid out of the General Fund, i.e., the City's contribution plus Chapter 70. While this arrangement makes it more complicated in understanding our complete program, it is done so that we comply with proper accounting procedures.

Using the same shaded line with "SPED Stimulus Grant" as a title, we have identified $366,000 of expenses which we will cover using the federal Stimulus money provided for Special Education. This appears to be about the limit of what we can cover using Stimulus funds, including SPED and Title I.

There is still some uncertainty surrounding expenses and revenues. Specifically, we still need to learn more from the state legislature. We also need to learn more about enrollments in the preschool and kindergarten programs as well as projected enrollments in grades 1 through 5. Amounts for entitlement grants such as Special Education and Tile I have not been announced. And we still need some time before it is realistic to estimate any surplus for FY09. Following the Public Hearing, the School Committee will meet again to discuss the budget on Wednesday, May 27th.

11:00 PM UPDATE: For those who have been following the stages of this year's budget, and wonder how the previous estimated shortfall of $931,881 was reduced to $158,330, Dr Hayes explains, as follows:

At the March 25th School Committee Meeting of the Whole, a projected budget was shown with a shortfall of $931,881. That gap has been significantly reduced to $158,330. A small part of that reduction has been achieved by purchasing textbooks this year rather than next for Foreign Language programs in the Middle and High schools. The amount of this cut was $25,000.

The school district has been very fortunate this year in the special education tuition out accounts. Last year, we carried over one Circuit Breaker Payment ($318,811) which offset a portion of Collaborative tuitions for FY09. In addition, not all the private schools increased their tuitions as had been previously expected and budgeted and the district special education student population changed in our favor (i.e., children moving to other states). Also, because of the diligence of the special education department, there were many favorable cost shares negotiated with other agencies which helped to offset costs.

Currently, the projected surplus in special education will be $615,442 (the last two Circuit Breaker payments). This reduction is shown in the Collaborative tuition account SP 860 62910.

Changes in Early Elementary programs and declining elementary enrollments have led to cutting two elementary teacher positions and moving a third salary to a Special Education grant. The net salary reduction is $184,967.