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.

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.

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