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.

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.

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