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.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Committee to Take Up Budget Again Tuesday

The School Committtee will again discuss cost savings options next Tuesday, May 4 at 7pm.  The meeting will be held in the meeting room at Memorial.

On the agenda is further discussion of the ideas presented at the last meeting, many of which are detailed in the previous post.  We also hope to hear more about bus savings options, which were discussed in some detail, then at the suggestion of the Mayor, referred to a special task force for further study.

Not much has been said publicly since the last meeting, but in a memo sent home to elementary parents this week, Dr. Hayes gave some more details on the idea of selectively denying open enrollment requests, which he estimated as saving over $200,000. The memo says that the only affected grades would be 3rd, 4th & 5th at Hannah, and 2nd at Cove.

The idea is that by returning open-enrolled students in those grades to their home school,  a class could be eliminated at each grade-level.

So at Hannah for instance, under the current alignment there are 3 classes with an average of 20 students in each of the 3rd grade classes.  If the open-enrolled students were returned to their home schools, a class could be eliminated next year, but it would put each of the classes at or near the maximum of 30 students. It would also add to the class sizes at those students' home schools. 

Hayes states in the memo that although no formal decision has been made, that it looks likely the Committee will support this proposal.

While 30 students is the official maximum set by the district (as well as the state maximun, we believe), the prospect of three consecutive elementary grades at such a high class size is a concern to many Hannah parents.

Tuesday's meeting is a working meeting, and therefore the audience will not have an opportunity to speak, so, as always, please contact your school committee rep with your thoughts, beforehand.

UPDATE We'll try to find some updated research on this, but here is what we posted two years ago about class sizes in Beverly compared to other communities, and research on the effects of class sizes on elementary education.

Monday, April 12, 2010

New Budget Cuts on the Table

The School Committee discussed the latest round of budget cut proposals presented by the Superintendent at tonight's committee meeting at Memorial.

Among the new cuts, all just proposals at this point, are elimination of the Elementary Enrichment Center and elementary instrumental music; returning to a shared specialist arrangement where art, music, and gym teachers would be rotated between more than one school; and selected open-enrollment reductions in specific cases where returning students to their home school would result in fewer overall classes.

At the high school level, the biggest proposed change would require that teachers teach six classes instead of five.  This would result in the elimination of five teaching positions for a savings of $275,000, but Hayes said this is a change that would need to be "impact bargained" with the union, so some offset cost could result.

Prior to the reading of specific cut proposals, Bill Burke, the director of the transportation department, gave a presentation on some of the ideas that have been discussed about reducing busing costs.  His presentation covered several different issues including: possible outsourcing of some or all bus services; keeping city-run bus service, but reducing the number of employees that work more than 19.5 hours, and therefore qualify for benefits; and increasing the distance at which busing is provided to the state mandated 2-miles.

Mayor Scanlon and some of the committee members seemed to object to the way Burke dealt with all these issues together, rather than looking at the issues individually.  Finally, the Mayor suggested that this was too complex an issue to decide "on the fly" and suggested that a task-force be formed to determine the best approach to the busing issues.

Karen Fogarty also announced that the unions had failed to agree to any restructuring of their contacts, as the Committee had requested.

Toward the end of the meeting, Dr Hayes tried to pin down the Mayor as to whether the level of funding expected from the city could really be counted on, or whether we could find we need to still make further cuts. The Mayor responded that it was going to be tough, but he would "have to find a way," then suggested that there could be more money to be found in the "trash enterprise fund," if absolutely necessary.

The cuts proposed by Hayes, together with a list of other options that could be considered as alternatives and any savings found by the busing task-force give the School Committee and the community many specifics to discuss over the coming weeks.

Tuesday's Salem News has more on the meeting.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Committee to Discuss Budget Monday Night

The School Committee will discuss the FY11 budget, and hear further cost cutting proposals Monday night at 7pm in the meeting room at the Memorial Building.  The committee tabled the Superintendent's previous proposal to reorganize the elementary schools, but still needs to find at least $1 million in cost savings, and most options are still on the table.

Ideas ranging from cuts to programs including art, music and gym; reductions or reorganization of the bus service, elimination of open enrollment; and cutting of an elementary principal, are among the ideas that have been discussed, but there are no concrete proposals at this point. Many of these ideas were on the last page of the spreadsheet that was prepared for the last Committee meeting.

Additionally, we may hear more about the status of the school union negotiations.  Dr. Hayes announced at the March 22 meeting at Hannah, that the teachers and other school unions had been approached about making some concessions, but later reports said the unions wanted to know why Mayor Scanlon had not made a similar request to the city unions.

Much of this could be clarified Monday night, so everyone should plan to attend the meeting if possible.

Since this will be a working meeting, and the public will not have a chance to speak, please contact your School Committee representative ahead of time, if you have anything you'd like them to hear.