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.

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..

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