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, October 30, 2009

Candidate Statements

The Beverly Citizen has posted statements from the candidates in all contested School Committee and City Council Races. Below we link to each, and, for the citywide races, include an excerpt that is relevant to each candidates view on the schools. There don't appear to be any statements from the Mayoral candidates posted.

The previous two posts detail the Salem News endorsements, our analysis of the views of the majority of school advocates, and coverage of the Mayor's race.

School Committee Ward 4
Karen Fogarty (SBS pick)
The important work dedicated to the betterment of Beverly Public Schools is ongoing, including: curriculum review; selection of the next Superintendent; transition into the new High School facility; continued integration of technology to enhance learning; and support for initiatives and practices which will keep improving our students’ proficiency in the core content areas. However, these critical responsibilities will take place in the coming months before a back drop of fiscal uncertainty at the State level. The most urgent work will be to contain the impact that any reduction in local aid will have on our School District....

Gail Burke
...Children need critical thinking skills to understand 21st century propaganda, and “politically correct” ideas. Are global warming and the extinction of polar bears facts beyond dispute? Classroom discussions of both sides of these and other controversial issues are essential. Spell check has replaced spelling lessons. Cursive writing is out. Learning multiplication tables is discouraged, and calculators substitute for mastering arithmetic...

City Councilor At-Large
You may vote for three candidates. Top vote getter becomes Council President; next two win seats on the Council. As we stated previously, the majority of the school support seems to be with Grimes and Cahill, although Guanci and Coughlin also have support. Coughlin, however, seems to be playing to the override opponents in this election, and although we have come to accept his views that it is unlikely an override would ever be successful in the future, we are still troubled by his blanket statement that he would NEVER support one, given the ever decreasing amount of state aid the city receives. Because of this and Guanci's positive role in developing the high school project, we believe most support Guanci over Coughlin.

Patricia Grimes (SBS pick)
...There is much that needs to be done, such as completing and paying for the new high school, renovating our middle school, building a new public safety facility, and repairing and maintaining our infrastructure. ...Beverly faces some serious challenges ahead, made worse by a predicted shortfall of $900 million in the state budget, and the already significant cuts in local aid. Our community needs long range financial planning rather than short-term fixes...As a member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, I attend frequent meetings in Boston and at the statehouse with elected officials from all over the state, gathering important information that will help us plan Beverly’s future.....

Mike Cahill (SBS pick)
...We need to act. We need leadership from our elected officials, and we need an engaged citizenry that will actively help shape our city’s future direction. With federal and state aid shrinking, and Beverly’s taxpayers already paying what we can, core city services are harder than ever to provide. We need new solutions. As your City Councilor At-Large, I will work to create new revenues by maximizing business investment, whenever this is achievable consistent with the public interest in both our near and long-term quality of life. These new revenues can fund our schools, senior center, veterans’ programs, public safety, and other services...

Paul Guanci
The biggest challenge facing the City of Beverly is how can local elected officials continue to provide adequate services and attend to citizen’s needs while staying within the boundaries of Proposition Two and a Half. State Aid to Beverly this year is over two million dollars less than what the City received in 2001. Our locally elected officials need to connect with our state government and voice our concerns about what we need back in state aid in order to survive. While we all wait for much needed reform to happen, there are things here in Beverly that we can do to help move things slowly forward....

Bill Coughlin

...We cannot even conjecture any 2-1/2 override as I have in public stated “Beverly will never vote in favor of any override and I will never vote for any override”. These words spoken before the special election defeat. Thus we must find other solutions to pare the budget. My political literature is stressing that I lead all candidates by far in innovative ideas which has saved the city multi-millions of dollars. If reelected, my fiscal acumen will be there to continue to find new ways to reduce costs....

Elliott Margolis
Without question, the most important issue facing Beverly is how to pay for the new high school while maintaining the current standard of living. Kathy Griffin, the City Council’s financial advisor has forecasted that by the fiscal year 2013 the deficit between the revenue taken in by the City and the expenses will be well over 7 million dollars. I have proposed a number of solutions to close this gap and will work very hard to accomplish this goal on the council without losing services or employees...

City Councilor Ward 3
James Latter (SBS pick)
James Modugno

City Councilor Ward 4
Kevin Hobin (SBS pick)
George Binns

City Councilor Ward 6
Judith Cronin (SBS pick)
Robert Hames

11/2 UPDATE:

The Citizen has finally decided, at 5:30 the night before the election, and after they already endorsed Mayor Scanlon, to finally post the statements for the Mayoral candidates. They are linked below:

Bill Scanlon (SBS Pick)
John Burke

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Salem News Also Backs Scanlon

Today's Salem News has its endorsements for Beverly's Mayoral and other races. In all but one case, they reach the same judgments as this website did in yesterday's post.

For Mayor, the News says in choosing Mayor Scanlon:

He has overseen the renovation of all but one of the city's schools and...contrary to what his critics, including Burke, maintain, we believe Scanlon when he says the high-school renovations, essential to maintaining the school's accreditation, will be completed without putting undue strain on city spending or borrowing capacity. And we have full confidence he can come up with a plan to finance Beverly's share of the new, state-of-the-art regional vocational school in Danvers.
In the Ward 4 School Committee Race, the News says:

Gail Burke was instrumental in beating back an ill-advised effort to override Proposition 2-1/2 in 2006[sic]. But serving on the School Committee involves more than just saying no, and in her first term as the Ward 4 representative on that body, Karen Fogarty has impressed with her ability to balance the desire of parents for the best education possible with current budget realities. She deserves re-election.

We also agree with the News' judgment on the Ward races, where they endorsed former School Committee member Jim Latter in Ward 3, Kevin Hobin in Ward 4, and Judith Cronin in Ward 6. All have been strong supporters of the schools in the past, and we expect them to continue to be in the future.

The only race on which we differ with the News is on the Councilor-At-Large race. We feel that the city is in need of some new forward-looking vision. To us, the obvious choice to provide those new ideas is Mike Cahill. As we stated in our previous post, Cahill combines strong education credentials with more than ten years experience in elective office as a State Rep. In this new role, he could bring a welcomed outside perspective to the Council.

Both Paul Guanci and Bill Coughlin are worthy candidates with good records on the schools, but Coughlin's blanket statement that he would NEVER support an override for any reason, which he highlights on his campaign literature, makes us wonder if he could truly judge any future situation objectively.

The News, by supporting incumbents exclusively, and not even mentioning Cahill's candidacy, missed the boat on realizing the need to add some new vision to city government.

10/30 UPDATE: We are linking to a letter that was written by Karen Fogarty to answer many of the charges that have been made by Gail Burke. The Salem News declined to post it because there is not enough time for her opponent to respond in print. Should Ms. Burke wish to respond, she is welcome to do so in the comment section below.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Several Candidates Earn Our Support

In next week's elections a few candidates stand above the others in the support they are receiving from most school advocates. Much of this support is the result of their positions in the 2008 budget crisis and the new high school debate.

Mayor's Race
During the height of the 2008 budget crisis, many in the school communities were not the biggest fans of Mayor Scanlon. He refused to take a position on the override, and when he spoke out as being "agnostic" on it, he always seemed to follow that up with a statement subtly against it. In releasing his "secret plan" to save Cove, but not McKeown, at the 11th hour and refusing to give any details beforehand to the Superintendent or School Committee, he infuriated many, and undercut the override drive further.

Still, after the dust cleared, it seemed that he correctly read the mood of the city on the override, and that his plan was, as he originally stated, "painful, but less painful" than the Superintendent's plan. The additional funds he pledged to the schools helped somewhat ease the pain of McKeown's closing and the redistricting, and has so far kept the five elementary school model intact.

The impressive building that is rising on Sohier Rd. is further testament to the the Mayor's support of the schools. Scanlon fought hard to get the high school project approved, was personally involved in its design and development, and worked diligently to get more than half of the project paid for by the state. Scanlon says that seeing the project through to completion is one of his top reasons for seeking reelection to an unprecedented 8th term.

His challenger John Burke, who is receiving strong grassroots support throughout the city based on his record of constituent service and reputation as a vocal critic of Scanlon, stood against the Mayor on both these issues, and overall has not developed a strong record of support for the schools.

He consistently voted against the high school project, even with loss of accreditation staring us in the face. He opposed the 2008 override, and voted against the trash fee which was indirectly the funding source that saved the Cove School.

More recently Burke angered some members of the community for using their 2008 quotes critical of Mayor Scanlon in his campaign literature in a way that suggests they endorsed his candidacy.

Joanna Murphy Scott, a former McKeown parent and Scanlon supporter, whose quote critical of the Mayor's tactics in 2008 was used in Burke's mailer, stated in an email to other school activists: "I find that Burke's pulling of information from that time for his campaign use unsettling. Councilor Burke neither spoke publicly to support the saving of McKeown nor attended any constituent-driven meetings regarding its closure."

Burke has also been dogged by the 2007 censure by his fellow councilors over an anonymous letter that he was found to be the author of. Scanlon's campaign today rolled out the big negative campaign guns by releasing a slick website that details this incident in detail, as well as debunking many of Burke's claims of Scanlon's fiscal negligence.

With the high school project still a long way from completion, Burke's record on school funding issues questionable, and lingering questions about his character and experience for the job, most school advocates feel this would be an exceptionally risky time to take a chance on Burke. We share that view.

School Committee Ward 4
We profiled this race in an earlier post. As we said then, the choice here is clear. Karen Fogarty was actively involved in the budget debate in 2008, worked hard on redistricting issues, publicly stated her support for the override, and says that reviewing curriculum is at the top of her agenda. Having been subject to the redistricting herself, and with a son at Briscoe, she has a personal stake in the success of the school system. Fogarty is also a member of the new Beverly Chapter of Stand for Children (as is Mayor Scanlon, Mike Cahill, Pat Grimes, Kevin Hobin, and Wes Slate).

Gail Burke (no relation to John), who is new to the city, and has no children in the school system, become involved because of the override vote, during which she was a co-leader of the anti-override campaign. She also opposed the high school construction, and most recently has been sparring with the Superintendent's office over MCAS scores, and the math curriculum.

Assistant Superintendent Marie Galinski, responding to Burke's critique in the Beverly Citizen, stated "I take issue with the statement of Burke, who has no children in the public schools nor has she visited any of our schools to comment on the use of data to review curriculum or make changes. She has no first hand knowledge to make this statement. Should she desire to gain more information, I would welcome her visit!"

Fogarty has earned reelection to a second-term, and Burke has not demonstrated any qualifications for the office she seeks.

There are five candidates for Councilor-at-Large. The person with the most votes becomes Council President, and the second and third place finishers win at-large positions on the Council. Of the five, two seem to have the most support from the school advocates we spoke with, with two others having overall favorable records on education.

During the 2008 budget crisis, Pat Grimes stood out as the only councilor to publicly support the override. Like John Burke, she often battles with the Mayor, and during the 2008 budget crisis, called him out on some of his more autocratic moves. But unlike Burke, she most always comes down on the side of education. Of all the sitting at-large councilors, Grimes is supported by most school advocates.

Mike Cahill is not currently on the Council, but his record on education is impressive. He founded the Greater Beverly Education Roundtable, a group of local educators and administrators whose goal is "to enhance the quality of life throughout the Greater Beverly community by enriching educational opportunities for learners of all ages." Cahill, a former teacher, is also no stranger to elective office, having served as State Rep. from Beverly for 11 years. He would bring a welcome outside perspective to City Government.

Of the others, Former Council President Paul Guanci sat out the last two years, so has no record of votes on the most recent school issues, but he was actively involved in the initial development of the new high school, and has consistently supported the project. He has an overall positive record on support of the schools, but many hoped that as a former council president and parent, he would have been more vocal during last year's budget crisis.

Bill Coughlin supported the new high-school, and has generally been supportive of the schools. His current campaign literature states that he has voted for every school building project since 1992, but also states that he is the only candidate who has publicly stated that he will NEVER support an override.

Elliot Margolis, the 5th candidate, has the most disturbing record with regard to education. Along with Gail Burke, he founded Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility in 2008 to campaign against the override. He also led a small group that sought to derail the high school project last fall, and like Burke, has recently been sparring with the Superintendents' office over his interpretation of the MCAS scores. His arguments are almost always based on reducing costs, often using questionable interpretations of statistics, and offering simplistic solutions.

Most of the above candidates have taped interviews for BevCam that will be shown through Tuesday. Bevcam also taped last night's candidate forum in Centerville, and should be showing it between now and the election. Check BevCam's website for schedule.

Most importantly, make sure you get out to the polls next Tuesday, remember 2008, and cast a vote that will keep education in Beverly moving forward.

UPDATE: Today's Salem News has several pieces on the election:

At the end of the debate last night, Scanlon left even his supporters aghast, doing his best Bill Belichick impersonation as he walked off the stage snubbing Burke, who had his hand outstreched for a handshake. Burke no doubt expected and welcomed this response, and not surprisingly, today's front page News article is headlined "Mayoral debate ends with boo". Scanlon showed his mastery of the details of his job throughout the night, but in the end he reminded us again, why he often is such a tough candidate to support.

The News also has a profile of three of the five candidates (the other two will be profiled tomorrow) for Councilor-at-Large, and a Fact-Check piece on the responsibilities of Burke's current job that is well worth a read.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Final Mayoral Debate Tonight

There will be a candidate forum tonight at the Centerville Improvement Society, at 437 Essex St. at 7 pm. This will be the last chance to hear Mayor Scanlon, and challenger John Burke debate the issues, including the schools. As was the case at their last joint appearance, sparks often fly when the two are together.

This is a very important election for the schools, and is expected to be the toughest Mayor Scanlon has faced since he won back his seat from Thomas Crean 6 years ago.

The two were on opposite sides of the two most important recent school issues: the new high school, and the trash fee, which indirectly is the funding source that keeps the Cove School open as an elementary school. Burke opposed both.

The forum will also feature the 5 candidates for the Councilor at Large positions, and the Ward 6 candidates.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ward 4 Race Offers Stark Contrast

Today's Salem News spotlights the Ward 4 School Committee Race between incumbent Karen Fogarty, and challenger Gail Burke. As we've noted before, the race is the only contested race this year, and the differences couldn't be greater.

Both candidates were defined by the 2008 budget crisis and override campaign that also gave birth to this web site.

Fogarty, a 17-year resident of Beverly with a son currently at Briscoe, quickly became engaged in the issue as a first-term committee member. She studied the proposals, and supported the override "because she felt the city needed additional revenue to provide the best education for its students. 'I felt the time had come to say, Look — we've done a lot, but we can't do more in the parameters we have.'"

She was also personally involved in the redistricting because her own son, then a 5th grader, was redistricted from Cove to Hannah. "I wasn't just giving lip service to an idea and just telling parents they could feel confident," she said about the situation. "I wasn't just saying it because I thought it was true. I lived it, and I knew it was true."

Burke, relatively new to Beverly, and with no children in the school system, became involved when the override (Beverly's first-ever attempt at an override) was proposed. That was the straw that broke the camel's back," she said. "I said, 'You can't keep doing this.' The government has to learn to live within a budget...They can't keep going back to the money tree, which is the people."

This led Burke to found the anti-override group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, which in addition to leading the opposition to the override, led a late attempt to derail the high-school project, just as it was about to get off the ground.

Looking forward, Fogarty says reviewing curriculum is at the top of her agenda. She is currently the "head of the committee that produces the district's annual report. She wants to strengthen the document to include not just areas of improvement and success, but to highlight scholarships, innovative programs, new technologies and other accomplishments."

She also hopes to continue to be actively involved in the search for a new Superintendent , something she calls a "huge" priority, and an "important moment in our community."

Burke, states that she is also interested in curriculum, particularly citing the Everyday Math program as something that "is not working." She has recently taken her criticism of the curriculum to the pages of the Beverly Citizen, where she penned a letter citing the problems she sees. Her letter spurred a strong response from both the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent saying that Burke has no first-hand knowledge to make these statements, and that she has never even visited a school to see the curriculum in use.

Burke would also like to see a dress code in the schools. "'I'm not talking uniforms,' she said. Rather, she would support appropriate attire, like no belly shirts for girls and no 'pants that are falling off of them,' for boys."

Both candidates have taped segments for BevCam's Conversations with the Candidates series. The schedule is in the post below, or on Bevcam's website.

The election is November 3rd.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hear the Candidates

BevCam (Comcast Channel 10) will be presenting Conversations with the Candidates for School Committee, City Council and Mayor, leading up to the November elections.

There is only one contested School Committee race, and that is in Ward 4, where Karen Fogarty is running for re-election against Gail Burke, the co-founder of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility. Burke, along with Elliot Margolis (a candidate for City Councilor at Large) led the anti-override campaign in Spring 2008, opposed the new high-school construction, and most recently have been the subject of a tangle (see previous two posts) with the Superitendent and Assistant Superintendent in the pages of The Beverly Citizen over their interpretation of the recent MCAS scores.

The other race of most interest to the schools is the Mayor's race, where incumbent Bill Scanlon faces current City Council member John Burke (no relation to Gail.)

Scanlon ruffled a lot of feathers in 2008 with the "secret plan" that he dropped on the community at a pubic meeting without filling in the Superintendent or School Committee first; as well as his open-mike comments that the Superintendent "was lying throught his teeth." Still, his plan did save the Cove School, and his support and success in getting the high school project off the ground—much of it funded by the state—has won him back much of the school community's support.

Burke, a frequent critic of Scanlon, was the only Council member to vote against the high school project in the end (Don Martin also opposed it in the preliminary vote, but voted in favor once the money had already been spent on design, and state funding was all but assured). Burke also voted against the continuation of the trash fee, which was instrumental in the plan to save Cove.

Another race of interest is former school committee chairman, and frequent school critic George Binns who is challenging Kevin Hobin in Ward 4.

We will try to get a more complete schedule, but the schedule for the above candidates is as as follows:

Karen Fogarty (School Committee Ward 4)
10/15/ at 6:00 PM
10/18 at 7:30 PM
10/21 at 9:00 PM
10/23 at 10:00 AM
10/26 at 2:00 PM
10/28 at 2:00 PM

Gail Burke (School Committee Ward 4)
10/14 at 11:00 AM
10/17 at 6:00 PM
10/20 at 7:30 PM

Bill Scanlon (Mayor)
10/15 at 9:00 PM
10/17at 10:00 AM
10/20 at 2:00 PM

John Burke (Mayor)
10/14/2009 at 10:00 AM
10/17/2009 at 2:00 PM
10/20/2009 at 6:00 PM

Mike Cahill (Councilor at Large)
10/13 at 6:00 PM
10/16 at 7:30 PM
10/19 at 5:55 PM

Elliott Margolis (Councilor at Large)
10/14 at 6:00 PM
10/16 at 10:00 AM
10/19 at 11:00 AM

Pat Grimes (Councilor at Large)
10/15 at 10:01 AM
10/18 at 2:00 PM
10/21 at 6:00 PM

Paul Guanci (Councilor at Large)
10/13at 7:30 PM
10/16 at 9:00 PM
10/21 at 10:00 AM

Bill Coughlin (Councilor at Large)
10/13 at 9:00 PM
10/18 at 10:00 AM
10/21 at 2:00 PM

Kevin Hobin (Ward 4 City Council)
10/14 at 2:00 PM
10/17 at 7:30 PM
10/20 at 9:00 PM

George Binns (Ward 4 City Council)
10/14 at 4:00 PM
10/17 at 9:00 PM
10/19 at 10:01 AM

For a more update schedule, and schedule for other candidates, check

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hayes Also Hits Back at Gail and Elliott

Joining Assistant Superintendent Marie Galinski, whose letter to the Citizen we highlighted last week, Superintendent Hayes has even stronger words for the Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility duo of Elliott Margolis and Gail Burke, who have both built their reputations as critics of the school system on questionable interpretations of the numbers.

In explaining the meaning of the "needs improvement" rating that the district received this year, Hayes writes:

When Gail Burke and Elliott Margolis went to grade school, most likely the passing score for their tests, quizzes, and papers was a minimum score of 60 out of 100. And it probably stayed that way throughout their years in grades 1-12.

Unlike the grading scale for Gail and Elliott, as Massachusetts schools have progressed through the MCAS years from 2001 to the present, the minimum acceptable score, also on a scale of 100 points, has not stayed the same — it increased.

Take math, for instance. In 2001 schools that had a score of 53 or better were judged to be “making AYP,” Adequate Yearly Progress. In 2009 and 2010, schools and school districts must score 84.3 or better to make AYP. In 2011 and 2012, they must score 92.2 or better, and beginning in 2013, they must score a perfect 100. Schools and districts are scored using MCAS results, and the scores are used to determine whether they have met the AYP target. When a school or district doesn’t make AYP for two years in a row, they are labeled “needs improvement”.

Burke (no relation to Mayoral candidate John Burke) is running for School Commitee, and Margolis for City Councilor in the November election.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Galinski Rebuts School Critics

As election season heats up, Assistant Superintendent Marie Galinski has fired back at Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility leaders Eliot Margolis and Gail Burke, who have both penned letters (here and here) critical of the school system to the editor of the Beverly Citizen. Margolis and Burke led the group that opposed to the 2008 school override, and both are candidates for office this fall.

Using some of the same fuzzy statistics that characterized their successful defeat of the override, and unsuccessful attempt to derail the high school project, Margolis and Burke used the recent MCAS scores to claim poor performance and overspending by the schools, and to call for a new superintendent to be brought in from outside the system.

Galinski, a possible candidate for the Superintendent position herself, writes in this week's Citizen explaining the MCAS scores:

Adequate yearly progress [AYP]” is an incredibly complicated process by which schools are judged and unless one understands how to look at the data, it is easy to make a snap judgment that schools are “deficient,” “mediocre,” or “on probation.

The fact is that there are there are 80 different criteria upon which schools are judged each year. If a school misses just one of those criteria, it is deemed not to have made AYP. Those criteria are not just academic, but also include the number of students tested, attendance and graduation rates for aggregate and subgroup populations. All students are held to the same standard, regardless of how academically challenged they are. AYP also measures different groups of students each year.

She also points to some of the positives shown my this year's MCAS scores:

  • Grades 4,5,6,7 and 8 exceed or equal the state performance for advanced and proficient students in English language arts.
  • Grades 4, 5, 7, 8 and 10 have increased their numbers of advanced and proficient students in mathematics this year.
  • Science results in grade 10 have increased by 7 percent for advanced and proficient students and exceed the state performance by 10 percent.
  • Our district maintains a rating of “high” for academic performance in English language arts (90-100 percent proficient) and “moderate” for academic performance in math (80-89 percent proficient).
  • Cohort analysis for students (classes of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) demonstrates significant growth in English language arts and mathematics.

Galinski then gets a bit personal with Burke, stating "I take issue with the statement of Burke, who has no children in the public schools nor has she visited any of our schools to comment on the use of data to review curriculum or make changes. She has no first hand knowledge to make this statement. Should she desire to gain more information, I would welcome her visit!"

Margolis is running for City Councilor at Large in a race that includes strong school supporters Pat Grimes and Mike Cahill. Grimes was the only Council member to publicly support the override in 2008 and Cahill, who is running for his first term on the Council, spoke out at several of the budget hearings that year in favor of the schools.

Burke, who as Galinski points out has no children in the school system, stood strongly against both the override and the high school project. She is challenging Karen Fogarty, who is running for her second term on the School Commitee from Ward 4.