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.

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."

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