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

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.

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