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, March 30, 2010

BHS Technology Initiative

Earlier this month, the district posted a presentation titled BHS Technology Initiative. The presentation outlines the plans to integrate technology throughout the curriculum at the new Beverly High School, and the proposed 1-1 laptop program. 

It's a nice reminder that, even as so much of the talk is about cuts to schools and programs,  there are some exciting things on the horizon in Beverly schools as well.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Voices of the Community

Several letters appeared in today's Salem News regarding the recent school budget woes. With the swift action by School Committee on Wednesday night, it seems they have heard our voices with regard to the specific Hannah proposal.

Still, there is a long way to go, and many tough decisions ahead, and these letters offer other good points in addition to their objection to the Superintendent's original proposal.

Susan Hallinan, whose son was redistricted in 2008 to Hannah writes passionately about her love of the school, and says the administration needs to look for a hybrid approach to a multi-faceted problem, rather than continually looking for a "silver bullet resolution."

Another Hannah parent, Catherine Barrett, says that many parents "would prefer program cuts as opposed to school consolidation because programs can always be brought back if the budget allows. Once a school is closed, it is gone forever."

With at least the last two budget crises ending with a school being closed, we support this view, but think the administration must first dig deep into all parts of the budget, especially non-educational areas such as busing.

Mayor Scanlon's statement on Wednesday that the city pays nearly $400,000 on healthcare for bus drivers, coupled with discussions over the years about some of the staggering costs of busing students to various locations outside the city makes us think there could be huge savings found by a thorough examination of the busing policies. [Update: Some good points about outsourcing busing are made in a letter to the editor by Jim Modugno in Tuesday's Salem News]

The newspaper weighs in with its own editorial on the matter, and even George Binns, the perpetual critic of the school administration, has one point worth pondering, when he says that creating a centralized early childhood center is like creating a public option to compete with the commercial early learning centers already in the city.

This is an especially good point when the "public option" costs the state maximum of $4000 per year, a rate that approaches the costs of the commercial options, and has been seeing its enrollment declining.

In the Beverly Citizen, Jim Povey from Stand for Children's Beverly chapter writes about Tuesday's bus trip to the group's Day on the Hill in Boston. The group of 16 that attended included Stand members, several contributors to this website, City Council President Mike Cahill, and incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski. Councilor Jim Latter joined us in Boston, where we heard speakers discuss the group's core issues, including:

  • Protecting essential state aid, including Chapter 70 and SPED circuit breaker funding
  • Empowering communities to spend dwindling dollars wisely by giving city governments health plan design authority
  • Setting a course for long-term sustainable funding by fast tracking an adequacy study to review the funding formula for cities and towns
In Boston, we also delivered the group's message to State Rep Mary Grant, and an aide to State Senator Fred Berry. The group's presentation to Berry's aide was particularly powerful because of the range of perspectives represented. Several parents whose school had been slated to close just the night before, two City Council members, and the person who will soon be charged with keeping all the pieces functioning with ever decreasing help from the state all gave their perspective. It's too bad Berry himself wasn't there to hear.

We were all particularly impressed that Galinski chose to come, and especially ride the bus, because while the focus of the event was the meeting with our representatives and presentations in Boston, the bus ride itself provided as much education to all as the events in Boston. Each person told their personal story, as to why they became involved.

Most, while deeply worried about the future of our schools, also had a positive story to tell, including a Cove parent who said after the chaos of 2008 she choiced her children out of Beverly and into the Manchester schools. She says she returned after only a year because despite Manchester's reputation as one of the state's top school systems, she found the quality of education, and parental involvement far superior in Beverly.

Stand for Children is a powerful national organization that fights for local school districts, and chapter leader Julie DeSilva hopes that she can build the Beverly chapter into a strong voice within the state. If you are new to this website, or new to the fight in Beverly, you should consider becoming a member. Please contact Jim Povey for more information..

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Committee Kills Hannah Plan

Saying she didn't see much sentiment among the group for pursuing the ECC model any further, School Committee President Annemaria Cesa and her colleagues, effectively killed the Superintendent's short-lived plan to reconfigure the elementary schools.

Paul Manzo then told Dr. Hayes he needed to come back with "equitable cuts across all cost centers," which Manzo said was what the Committee had originally requested.

While there was some discussion about reductions in physical education, the Committee also indicated that they didn't support wholesale elimination of art, music, and gym teachers, which had also been suggested as an option.

For the hour and a half that led up to the final announcement, Hayes took the Committee through the budget summary spreadsheet, but most of the time was spent discussing individual line items, or side issues such as busing costs, night custodians, and physical education regulations.

It was clear early on, that there wasn't much support on the Committee for the Hannah plan, with Cesa saying "it feels like this budget is completely on the backs of the elementary schools."

Even though the meeting ended on a celebratory note, especially for Hannah parents and staff, there is still a good deal of pain and many tough decisions ahead. But the Committee's directive of "cobbling together" many smaller cuts, as Karen Fogarty put it, seems to be a much more appropriate direction than looking for a million dollars in a drastic single step.

UPDATE: Thursday's Salem News has more, and the Friday edition reports on some of the other ideas discussed at the meeting. The Citizen has their take here.

Feeling Like Pawns

Today's Salem News story expands upon Dr. Hayes' comments Monday night that the School Committee has asked the teacher's union for concessions to help avoid "significant layoffs throughout the district."

The story reports that two weeks ago the School Committee approached the seven unions that serve the school district to ask for undisclosed concessions to help close the budget gap.

The head of The Beverly Teachers Association, the largest of those unions, Heather Kavanagh, says that they are "still discussing" the request, but adds that she wants to know whether unions on the city side have also been asked to reopen their contracts and make concessions.

"I'm not sure the mayor has asked the other unions," she said. "Is it just the school unions being asked? I know it's difficult everywhere. We're not blind to what's going on. It's a hard time for everyone." the News quotes Kavanagh.

Mayor Scanlon declined comment on the matter yesterday, but last week responded to a related question by city councilor Jim Latter, saying "I certainly do not want to break an existing agreement. I'd rather those who remain (after layoffs) remain motivated because we didn't break our word."

Mindful of recent power struggles between the schools and the city, as well as some of of the public battles between Hayes and Scanlon during the 2008 budget debate, it's hard not to look at this through the same lens.

That year culminated with Scanlon coming up with his own school consolidation plan that ultimately trumped Hayes' plan that would have created an ECC at Cove.

The Cove community was forced to twist in the wind for three months, while the drama went on, and the McKeown community was ultimately sacrificed.

This year, it seems to be Hannah's turn to feel like the pawn.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Contact the School Committee Now

We are reposting the addresses of the School Committee members below. All readers who are concerned about the proposal that was presented last night regarding the Hannah School, should take the time to write or call their Committee representative expressing their concerns before tomorrow night's meeting. This is true, not just for Hannah parents, but for our supporters at the other schools who realize that this is an issue that will affect all of us, as well as the city as a whole.

Also, please try to attend the Committee meeting tomorrow at 7:00 at the Memorial Building.

In the future these addresses, along with City Council addresses are always available by clicking on the link to the left under "Action Items":

Member Ex Officio
His Honor, Mayor Bill Scanlon
5 Whitman Place
978-922-9699
mayor@beverlyma.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

David Manzi, Ward 1
34 Roderick Avenue
978-921-0123
dmanzigoldcoast@aol.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Paul A. Manzo, Ward 2
89 Lovett Street
978-927-9912
p.manzo@comcast.netThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Kris Silverstein,Ward 3
44 Longmeadow Road
978-922-0879
ksilverstein@beverlyschools.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Karen Fogarty,Ward 4
169 E. Lothrop Street
978-927-4617
karenfogarty@comcast.netThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Annemarie Cesa, Ward 5
290 Essex Street
978-922-4052
acesa@beverlyschools.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Maria T. Decker, Ward 6
11 Wentworth Drive
978-927-1013
mtdecker@comcast.net

Monday, March 22, 2010

"It's All About the Money"

Those words, spoken by Superintendent Hayes toward the end of a two and-a-half hour meeting tonight at the Hannah School, summed up the administration's proposal.

The plan on the table, to turn Hannah into an Early Childhood Center and divide its current students between the four remaining elementary schools met with a mix of anger, frustration, and disbelief. The educational merits of the plan are debatable, but the majority of the administration's rationale boils down to dollars and cents.

Hayes, along with incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski outlined the proposal which at this point is theirs alone. The School Committee learned of the plan only Friday at roughly the same time as school staff. Most members were in attendance, but none spoke, so there was no way to gauge the support for the plan amongst the group. They have not yet discussed it.

The Mayor also wasn't in attendance and responded to an invitation from Hannah PTO President Andrea Connor, by saying "There has been no discussion whatsoever by the School Committee regarding the Hannah School. The Superintendent’s proposal comes as a complete surprise to me and other school committee members. ...Other than to register my surprise, I feel it is essential that I do not discuss this matter prior to meeting with the School Committee."

Amongst the audience, the plan was universally panned. As in 2008 at McKeown, parents spoke of the wonderful community at Hannah, and the exceptional education that their kids receive there. That, they said, would all be destroyed by this move, as it was two years ago at McKeown.

Many parents who were redistricted to Hannah only two years ago, spoke about their kids being uprooted yet again.

Some questioned how any projection by the administration could be taken seriously, when only two years ago we were told that the ECC would have to be at Cove because it was the only school large enough, yet now we are told it easily fits at Hannah because of declining enrollments (reports say full day Kindergarten is down by 3 classes.)

Many wondered how much of the declining enrollment that is often cited by the administration could be attributed to the fact that the district seems to lurch from crisis to crisis in knee-jerk fashion, rather than with any long-range planning. Many said they had friends who had left the district or the city during one of the previous school closings or opted to put their kids in private school.

Hayes tried to defend the administration, and point to the hard work they do to preserve programs in the face of ever decreasing resources, but he did concede that he "does not disagree" with the perception that there is often a knee-jerk reaction to the financial situations that the district seems to be constantly facing.

As far as alternate options, there was only one discussed that had a large enough dollar figure to make much of a dent in the budget gap. Hayes indicated in his budget summary that eliminating all elementary music, art, and physical education teachers would save nearly as much as the Hannah plan. Briscoe parent Julie DeSilva, who lived through the McKeown closing as their PTO president, wondered if that move, however drastic, might not be less devastating to the city than closing another school.

Many in the audience seemed to support at least asking that question. DeSilva suggested that its easier to put back a program when times improve, than to put back a broken school community. Others wondered if volunteers, or students from area colleges could help staff some of these positions.

However demoralizing this meeting felt for much of the night, Hannah parents should remember that this is the very start of the process. It is far from a done deal. There are many questions to be asked, and other options that need to be explored. The School Committee has not signed onto the plan, and should exhaust all other options before again resorting to closing a school, and further increasing class sizes.

Even if the numbers say this is the most efficient plan, they must weigh the cost to the school community, and the city as a whole, of going through yet another school closing and redistricting.

To the administration, it may be all about the money, but for elementary school families and teachers, it's all about the school communities that we work so hard to build and nurture.

The next step in the process is Wednesday's School Committee meeting. It is a working meeting, and therefore there won't be an opportunity for the public to speak, but it's still very important for people to attend, as it will be the first opportunity for the committee to start discussing the plan, and for the public to see where the members stand on it.

Committee President Annemarie Cesa says the meeting, which starts at 7:00, has been moved from the usual meeting room at Memorial to the cafeteria to allow for a larger than usual audience.

3/23 UPDATE: The Salem News again leads with the Hannah story, saying "Beverly parents blast Hayes' plan for Hannah School" The story adds a few important points that we missd in our recap.

Stand Together Tomorrow

With the latest proposal from the Superintendent as a concrete example of what continued local aid cuts, and inaction on reform can mean for Beverly, there is no better time to take the message to Beacon Hill.

Join the Beverly Chapter of Stand for Children, tomorrow for their 2010 Day on the Hill and tell our leaders in Boston what their policies are doing to our kids here in Beverly, and learn about what you can do to make a difference at a State level.

Busses leave Lynch Park at 8:20 and should return by 1:00. Come on down to Lynch, and get on the bus.

For more information see this post or contact Julie DeSilva.

Some History on the ECC Concept

We thought it would be helpful to refresh our readers on the history of Early Childhood Center concept in Beverly, and the reasons why it was dropped in 2008. Most of this history is readily available in the archive of news stories in the lower left hand column of this blog.

Discussions about creating a separate school for kindergarten and preschool students in Beverly go back to at least 2004, and it is thought to have been a long-time goal of Superintendent Hayes, as well as incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski.

In March of 2008, Hayes proposed turning Cove School into an ECC, as part of a plan to cut a $2.7 million gap out of that year's budget. Cove was chosen because at the time it was considered the only school that was large enough to hold all of the city's preschool and kindergarten students. This was to be done in conjunction with closing the McKeown school.

The plan caused a great deal of controversy, sparked an override effort, and led to the creation of an independent panel to study the plan. The panel, made up of School Committee and City Council members, as well as members of the community, reluctantly decided in the end that Hayes' plan was the "best of bad options" and voted unanimously to support it.

Then, at the very end of a public hearing on the plan in May of that year, Mayor Scanlon surprised everyone by announcing to a packed auditorium that he had his own plan that will be "less painful than the proposal on the table."

The Mayor refused to share any details of the plan that night, or for the next several days with the Superintendent, or any members of the School Committee. He finally released it to the press, an hour before announcing it to everyone else at a School Committee meeting.

The plan was to use $700,000 annually from the trash fund to keep Cove School functioning as an elementary school, rather than converting it to an Early Childhood Center.

Many members of the School Committee remained skeptical that Scanlon's plan would be sustainable, and worried that it was only a matter of time before we would have to revisit the issue. But when asked before the final vote, if the trash fund money would still be available to the schools if they stuck with the original plan, the Mayor replied "No, you can't count on that money. I'm opposed to the four-school model."

Faced with the choice of essentially closing two schools or one, the School Committee and the City Council opted for the politically easier choice of accepting the Mayor's plan, despite serious doubts as to its long-term sustainability.

In the story linked above, just before the final vote that chose the Mayor's plan over the Superintendent's plan, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa is quoted as saying "“I really feel that in a year or two we will look at doing the four school model anyway,”

If elementary school students at Hannah or throughout the city are forced to live through a second redistricting only two years after the last one, the school committee, and the Mayor in particular, needs to answer for the lack of long-range planning that led us to this point.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

More Details on Elementary Reorganization Plan

We now have more details, as well as confirmation from Dr. Hayes, to add to our previous post regarding the proposed plan to convert Hannah School to an Early Childhood Center to house all of the city's preschool and kindergarten students.

Here is the statement that Dr. Hayes had all the elementary school principals read to their staff yesterday afternoon:

"As you may know, the budget for next year has a major shortfall. When we projected a level program budget, we were $3 million short of what we needed. When Mayor Scanlon announced that he hoped to give an additional $1 million to the schools next year, we had a $2 million shortfall to deal with. In February, we proposed a number of cuts across the district that totaled a little more than $1.2 million, leaving us with a $673,000 shortfall. Recently the state legislature announced a 4% reduction in local aid for next year, increasing our shortfall to roughly $1 million. And frankly there is a good possibility that this shortfall could still grow.

The School Committee will meet next Wednesday to continue the process of getting to a balanced budget. At that meeting, I will be bringing forward a proposal to reorganize the elementary schools by placing all Preschool and Kindergarten classrooms at the Hannah School and placing all students in grades 1-5 in Ayers, Centerville, Cove, and North Beverly. Projected savings from this reorganization is approximately $1 million. It would preserve our programs and maintain appropriate class sizes, but such a reduction is only achieved by significant layoffs. To preserve quality education in Beverly, I believe this is our only good option.

I want to emphasize that this is being discussed by our School Committee for the first time on Wednesday. There will be more discussions to come before any decision is made, regardless of how they decide to close this huge gap in our budget."

I plan to send a letter to elementary parents on Monday, primarily with the language in this email and inviting them to the meeting that the Hannah Principal has arranged at Hannah at 7 PM to talk about this.

The answer to the question of "why Hannah?" is that the entire PreK-K program fits (it didn't two years ago) and it's location at the center of the City minimizes busing expenses and accommodates parents who drive children to school.

With five schools as K-5 schools and with a projected elementary enrollment that is in a gradual decline, we experience class sizes that are just not affordable in these difficult economic times and which can't be resolved within the current school arrangement. We are encountering class enrollments as low as 17 students and can do nothing about it because of our school sizes. But, if we arrange grades 1 -5 in four, not five, schools, we can achieve acceptable class sizes with far less staff. Our projection is that grades 1-2 would have class sizes around 23 students, and grades 3-5 would be around 26-27 students. These aren't outrageous class sizes.

I take no pleasure in starting this debate. The reality is that this is a $1 million change that preserves quality education, and it appears to be the last good option we have. Anything else severely impacts program and program quality. And we may still have to do some of those changes if the shortfall continues to grow.

We also have posted the latest budget summary to which Hayes refers, which will be discussed at next Wednesday's School Committee Meeting of the Whole.

As we stated in the previous post, a meeting has been scheduled Monday night at 7:00 for all Hannah parents at the school. Please make plans to attend.


3/22 UPDATE Today's Salem News leads with the story, but mostly quotes from the above post. It does confirm what we had been hearing about the origin of the plan. It appears that the Superintendent's office released the above note to all the school principals at about the same time, or before it informed the School Committee.

School Committee president Annemarie Cesa says she learned about the proposal in an email from Hayes on Friday. "This is no way a done deal," she tells the Salem News. "The School Committee has not had any opportunity to discuss this."

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hannah as ECC Plan Floated

Word on the street today is that the district is again considering a plan to convert one of the elementary schools (this time, the Hannah School) to an Early Childhood Center. The plan would likely be similar to the original 2008 proposal that would have made Cove the home of all the district's kindergarten and preschool students, with the other grades housed in the remaining four schools.

An email went out to all Hannah parents at 3:30 this afternoon from Principal Susan Snyder asking them to attend a meeting Monday evening regarding the FY11 budget to be led by Dr. Hayes and Dr. Galinski. There were no other details in the email, but reports say some teachers were informed of the potential plan this afternoon.

The last public report on the FY11 budget showed a gap of over $700,000 after an initial round of cost savings moves. But that budget was based on a level funding of local aid from the state, and since that time, the legislature has announced that local aid would be cut an additional 4%.

Hannah was briefly considered as an alternative location for the ECC in 2008, but the building was deemed too small to serve this function. Mayor Scanlon ultimately came up with an alternate plan that resulted in the closing of the McKeown school, but scuttled (or maybe postponed) the ECC plan.

All Hannah parents should plan to attend the Monday evening meeting at 7:00 pm. where further details will be announced.

We have asked Dr. Hayes for confirmation and any further details he can provide before Monday's meeting.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Put a Stop to Local Aid Cuts

Following the announcement last week that state legislative leaders are considering a 4% cut in local aid for FY11 (as opposed to Governor Patrick's initial budget, which left aid to cities and towns level-funded) education advocates across the state are gearing up to fight this move.

With Beverly already facing a large budget gap for next year, an additional 4% drop would force further cuts to the city's schools.

Stand for Children, whose 2010 Day on the Hill is scheduled for next Tuesday, has provided a direct link to write to your State Representative to ask them to help stop further local aid cuts that will cripple the state's cities and towns. The group's letter also states:

...there is a solution on the table that could save $100 million statewide. Mayors and town managers need the same authority the state has to make cost-saving plan design changes to health benefits or to join the GIC. The savings achieved can be used to protect jobs and preserve essential school and municipal services.

If you'd prefer you can contact Mary Grant's office directly at 617-722-2430 or email her at Rep.MaryGrant@hou.state.ma.us.

Brett Schetzle, one of the candidates to fill Grant's seat in the fall has also released a statement saying:

"Since 2000, Beverly has seen its local aid fall by nearly 15% while over the same period, state revenue has increased by nearly 40%. A further cut to local aid will mean that Beverly is receiving nearly $3 million less in local aid than it did in 2000. That is in actual, non-inflation adjusted, dollars. Local aid is the second-largest source of revenue for the city....

Last week, Republicans in the House of Representatives offered a local aid resolution assuring cities and towns that, at a minimum, local aid would be at least funded at the same levels as in the current year's budget. The resolution has gained bi-partisan support with 19 Democrats signing on to the Republican initiative. It has also gained the support of the Mass Municipal Association, of which Beverly Mayor Bill Scanlon is the President."


Schetzle says that Grant has not signed onto this resolution, and also urges her constituents to contact her, and ask for her support.

The Beverly Chapter of Stand for Children is also still looking for people to join them at next Tuesday's rally. Let's have a strong turnout from Beverly. Contact Jim Povey for more information, or to reserve your space on the bus.

If you can't make it to the rally in person, please take the time to join Stand's vitual rally, and make a sign to be delivered to legislators on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Take a Stand on Beacon Hill

Members of the Beverly Chapter of Stand for Children invite you to join them in Boston for the 2010 Day on the Hill rally on Tuesday, March 23rd, starting at 9:00 am.

The rally, which will be attended by Stand members from across the state is intended to to send a message to our elected officials about education resources and reforms!

You will hear from education leaders, policy-makers, and advocates during the indoor rally and have the opportunity to tell your legislator what’s important to your community.

You can find more detailed information on the day here, or to connect with other Beverly members or join our chapter contact Jim Povey.