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, May 28, 2010

Making Our Case One More Time

Several speakers, many of them Hannah parents whose children will be affected by the teacher cuts in 3rd and 4th grade, made their case for preserving teachers and reducing excessively large class sizes at last night's public hearing.

There was also a strong presence of cafeteria workers outside, and several speakers inside asking the committee to reconsider the cuts to their hours and benefits.

Mostly, no new ground was covered, but parents urged the Committee to again revisit some of the proposed cuts that were not made, and strive to find indirect reductions rather than cuts that will affect core curriculum.  They asked that the Committee find a way to restore all core teachers, particularly at the high school and elementary schools.

Responding to a previous statement from the Committee that they had spoken with many constituents about their "pet programs," Hannah parent Marie Mallott said that maintaining appropriate class sizes was "not a 'pet program' but rather one of the core tenets of a solid education." She then read from several research papers on the topic.

Prior to opening up the floor to the audience, Dr. Hayes presented a Powerpoint presentation that itemized all the cuts contained in the budget by school or cost center.

Hayes ended by saying of the $2.4 million in cuts: "This is all moving away from what we do today. It's moving away from how we educate kids in Beverly."

At the start of the meeting, Committee president Annemarie Cesa singled out and thanked SBS for our coverage of this year's budget process. Thanks for the recognition, Annemarie.

Today's Salem News, this time, does a pretty good job of getting to most of the points covered at the hearing.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Please Attend Tonight's Public Hearing

Tonight is your only remaining opportunity to speak publicly about this year's budget cuts.  It is very important that all concerned parents attend, and make their views known.

The local media seem to want to make this all about the cuts to cafeteria workers benefits, so its important for parents to make it known that there are far more serious concerns educationally contained within this budget, particularly large class sizes at the elementary schools, and cuts to core curriculum teachers at the high school that could have a devastating affect on the school's upcoming accreditation.

While we share the concern for families that will lose their benefits, the fact is that there are not many jobs where you get full benefits for working 20 hours a week. We'll leave it to the School Committee to defend themselves against today's Salem News story that says two of the members (Annemarie Cesa, and David Manzi) take the benefits themselves at a cost to the city of $15,000 each.

The meeting starts at 7:00 pm at the Memorial Building auditorium.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Final Proposed Budget Released

Superintendent Hayes has released the final FY11 Proposed Budget. The 49-page document is also up on the district website with the following letter of explanation.

The Public Hearing for the FY11 Budget is scheduled for Thursday, May 27, 2010, at 7 PM in the Memorial Building Auditorium. The budget proposal is found on our Administration webpage and printed copies may be obtained at my office in the Memorial Building. This budget document is much more extensive than what people have seen at previous budget meetings in that it combines the complete listing of all accounts combined with narrative explanations of what the numbers mean.

At the Hearing, I will be providing a brief overview of the budget proposal and then citizens will have an opportunity to express their views or ask questions. While the budget presented is a balanced budget, the School Committee has not taken a final position on the elements in the budget. No date has been set yet for when that final approval will take place, but this Hearing is your opportunity to express your opinion to the Committee.

Under the School Choice program, residents from outside Beverly may request to enroll their child in a Beverly school. Such decisions are also based on enrollment. Under this state program, Beverly is obligated to educate such students through to High School graduation. If they are accepted for an elementary placement, they may request a particular school, and generally they enroll at the school they request. However, their guarantee is that we will educate them; they are not guaranteed a specific school.
The budget states that the equivalent of 31.6 full-time positions have been cut throughout the district including 6.7 district positions, 13.5 elementary, 4.6 middle school, and 6.8 at the high school.
The public will have a chance to speak on topics related to the budget this Thursday at 7:00 at the Memorial Building auditorium.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Globe Story Details "Brutal" Cuts

Today's Boston Globe does the best job yet of itemizing the range of cuts that will be in the final school budget.  The budget is expected to be released early this week, and the public will have a chance to speak on it Thursday night at 7:00 pm at the Memorial Building auditorium.

Like the Salem News last week, the Globe chose to lead with the cuts to cafeteria workers' hours and benefits, but then moves on to the range of other cuts, which it quotes Superintendent Hayes as saying are "absolutely brutal." Hayes tells the Globe that "We have nothing good to cut, so it’s a choice between one distasteful option and another." and says that the budget process has been difficult in nearly all of his six years on the job, but "this year is the worst."

There is not much new information in here for those who have been following closely, and the story does not get to the heart of the effects of these cuts on the academic program or class sizes. But this is the first press report we have seen that comes close to showing the magnitude of what was cut, and is the best summary yet of everything that has been decided over the past few months.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

FY11 Cuts Total $2.4 Million

Here is the budget cut spreadsheet that the School Committee used Monday night to vote on the final budget figure, and detail how they got to it.

Only a handful of the proposals on this sheet have received much attention from the public or the press. And because the cuts came in stages, and without a major rallying point, (other than the briefly considered plan for an ECC at Hannah), it seems that many people aren't aware of just how severe the cuts have been this year.

Superintendent Hayes said the final amount of the cuts, $2.4 million, was "enormous" and will have a drastic impact on education in Beverly.

Most of the more controversial items have been covered in detail in the previous posts, and the Salem News covered the cuts to food service workers' hours and benefits yesterday.

But here are just a few more items from the list of cuts and notes from Monday night's meeting.  These are items that we have not mentioned previously, and begin to illustrate the depth of this year's cuts.

  • Special reading classes at Briscoe will have class sizes in the upper 20s, as a result of cuts to two reading  teachers.
  • Elimination of two SPED teachers at Briscoe.
  • In addition to the three (pared down from five-see next post) core curriculum teachers at the high school, a technology teacher is also being cut, as is a guidance councilor.
  • Elimination of one paraprofessional from each elementary school.
  • Large cuts to the general building operating budget at all schools
  • Fees for many programs are being increased by 2% and discounts for families with more than one child in full-day kindergarten or preschool have been eliminated.
  • Several cuts to the central office staff that were repeatedly resisted by the administration but insisted on by the Committee. Administration officials, who say their staff is already bare bones, contend that these cuts will have a major impact on the office's ability to process the myriad of paperwork, grants, and other work that it handles on a daily basis.
Looking ahead to next year and beyond, all parties expect that, unless the state government acts to restore local aid cuts, and give communities like Beverly the ability to control health-care costs, the situation will be even worse.

As soon as this budget is put to bed, the Committee says that they, along with incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski, plan to start a long range planning effort where everything is on the table, including a complete reorganization of the elementary schools (either an ECC model, or some other realigment), changes to school start times to make bus schedules more efficient, and a reexamination of the block scheduling at the upper schools.

They also plan to hire a consultant to look further at the busing department.

The full budget is expected to be available to the public early next week, and the public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, May 27th at 7:00 pm at the Memorial Building Auditorium.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cuts at High School Could Threaten Accreditation

Elementary class size concerns took a back seat to worries about the magnitude of cuts at the high school at tonight's School Committee budget meeting.  

The proposal in question was a plan to cut five high school teachers.  Originally, the administration hoped to mitigate the impact of these cuts by asking teachers to teach one additional class (6 instead of 5). But such a change would have required an OK from the teachers' union, and, as was the case with an earlier request for teacher concessions, the teachers balked.

Consequently, the loss of 5 teachers, all in the core subjects, could have a devistating impact on the high school program, add to what many already consider an excessive number of study halls (or their new euphemism "Academic Labs"), and risk the school's upcoming NEASC accreditation.

High School Principal Sean Gallagher went on to explain how teacher cuts "trickle down" to affect classes, programs, and students.  Gallagher said for every teacher that is cut, "300 students don't have a place to go," usually meaning study hall.

The Committee then searched for other ways to put at least some of these teaching positions back, with ideas ranging from cutting foreign languages at Briscoe and dismantling block scheduling to cutting assistant prinicpals or reducing athletics.

In the end, the Committee came up with three directives that they say will restore two of the five high school teaching positions.

1) The bus department must cut $75,000 from its budget, something transportation director Bill Burke seemed confident that he could do.

2) The Superintendent was again told to cut a second position in the central office.  This is something the Committee has been requesting repeatedly throughout the budget process, but which the administration has consistantly resisted.

3) Cut a half a clerk at both Briscoe and the High School.

With these three changes, the Superintendent now must prepare the final budget, which he hopes to be able to make public by Monday.

The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Thursday, May 27th at 7:00 pm at the Memorial Building Auditorium.

Against the backdrop of the high school program cuts, worries about elementary class sizes were pretty much dismissed by the Committee.  David Manzi put it most succinctly, saying "We have bigger fish to fry."

5/18 UPDATE: We are again wondering if we have been following the same budget process as the local press.  Last week, the Beverly Citizen declared the budget balanced, simply by reallocating some funds and cutting a of couple of aids. Today's Salem News reports on last night's meeting, but focuses more than three-quarters of the story on the food service and bus workers protesting outside. The story, headlined "Beverly to slash workers' benefits"doesn't mention any of the cuts that will affect students, teachers, or the educational program until the jump on the back page. Then its back to more about the workers benefits.

To be sure, the workers protesting out front did put some real faces behind what the Mayor tosses off inside as the simplest of solutions: 'Just move all the workers to part time so we don't have to pay benefits.' But to anybody actually attending these meetings, it is a very different, and much more serious picture, than what has been written in the press.

Tidbits for Tonight

Tonight's School Committee meeting should pull many of the disparate elements of this year's budget cuts into better focus. Unlike 2008 and 2005, when most of the cuts were achieved through the closing of a school, this year's cuts come in smaller chunks, spread across the district. As of the last meeting, many of these proposals still had unanswered questions.

We expect to learn more about what the busing taskforce has found with regard to any potential savings in the transportation department. Could any savings here possibly offset some teacher cuts?

Elementary parents are keenly focused on class size, and hope they have impressed upon the School Committee the importance they put on maintaining reasonable class sizes, even if it means sacrificing some programs.

Unconfirmed word is that the Ayers fifth-grade proposal could be in jeopardy because of at least one family who is considering moving into the district, rather than being pushed out through the open-enrollment plan. We also personally know of one Hannah fourth grader who has moved into the district, but is still counted as part of the open-enrollment plan.  Both of these cases illustrate the perils of artificially manipulating class sizes so close to their maximums.

Additionally, we hear that the plan to have high school teachers teach a 6th class (to offset 5 teaching positions that are slated to be cut) has run into union objections.

And we also have been told that food service workers, unhappy with the provision that cuts their hours and benefits, may stage a protest outside the meeting.

The meeting, which begins at 7:00, has been moved to the cafeteria on the lower level of Memorial to accommodate an expected large turnout. All concerned parents should plan to attend.

We have asked Dr. Hayes for any new budget documents he plans to use tonight, so check this site before heading over. If we get it, it will probably be very close to meeting time.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Advocating for Smaller Class Sizes

We found a great website called Class Size Matters that advocates for smaller class sizes nationwide. The site contains a plethora of data and studies that support smaller class sizes for academic success.  It also details various states' efforts to mandate smaller classes.

The current budget proposal in Beverly creates elementary class sizes as high as 29. It places students in Hannah's 3rd and 4th grade, and Ayers' 5th grade in classes that are more than 50% higher than they have experienced before. If you are not familiar with this proposal, most of the details are contained in the next several posts.

Even if your particular grade is not affected this year, the precedent being set here--to actively look for specific situations where only certain children can be returned to their home school in order to cut a class--could easily thrust any child into a 30-student class at any point.

Monday's School Committee meeting at Memorial is key, as much of this may be finalized and voted on there.  The meeting starts at 7:00 pm. Please make plans to attend.

If you haven't already contacted the School Committee with your views on this, please do so before Monday.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

It's All About Class Size

We want to preface this post by saying that the School Committee has done an admirable job of "spreading around the cuts," between the schools and other "cost centers" in a way that is as equitable as possible this year.  When the Superintendent proposed that Hannah school be converted to an ECC, and that its students be moved yet again to other schools, the Committee moved quickly to squash the plan, saying it put too much of the burden "on the backs of the elementary schools."

Committee President Annemarie Cesa stated at last night's Committee meeting that "Programatically, we have been able to hold onto everything" and Vice-President Maria Decker recently told the Beverly Citizen that "due to the spread of cuts across different departments, all extracurricular programs could be saved."

While we commend the Committee for their focus of preserving programs and activities, we feel strongly that the one area on which the Committee seems to have less concern is on the subject of class size.  From the debate in 2008, through the Hannah-as-ECC plan earlier this year, to the current controversy about the open-enrollment "pushback" proposal, the one consistent argument from parents has been that class size matters more than anything. This issue was also brought up at the Superintendent search focus groups.

Too often the only response we hear from the Committee and the Superintendent are that "these numbers are within district guidelines."

As the current proposal has received scant coverage in the press, many parents are still unaware of its provisions, so we will summarize:

The plan denies open-enrollment requests to three specific classes (Grades 3 & 4 at Hannah, and grade 5 at Ayers) in order to cut a class in each case.  One parent speaking at last night's Committee meeting termed this approach "cherry-picking." The result of this, in addition to losing three quality teachers and families that are integral parts of those school communities, are class sizes of 27-29 kids in those classes. Those are higher that the projected class sizes at Briscoe.

While preserving programs is admirable, most elementary parents would say that the most important "program" is to have their kids in a reasonably sized class. Parents familiar with today's elementary program do not consider 28 kids with one teacher in a small 3rd or 4th  grade classroom to be reasonable.  While a program may be very important to the particular child it affects, class size affects the learning of every child in every subject, every day. 

Several speakers at last night's Committee meeting, and many more at the previous night's PTO meeting at Hannah (which was attended by two Committee members), spoke against this proposal.

Still, we aren't sure that the Committee has been persuaded, and time is getting short. If this proposal is of concern to you, please call or write (we believe a phone call carries more weight) your Committee rep today.  Much will be decided at next Monday's meeting.

Most specific programs have their own constituency who have been vocal.  Those of us whose most important issue is class size, need to be just as vocal.

Committee member Paul Manzo last night said that they are always open to alternatives, so calls with specific suggestions of cuts or cost savings may have more effect.

For you data junkies, here are some places to start looking for ideas.  Page three of the latest budget document contains "other possible cuts" that have been suggested, but are not currently part of the plan. A look through the current high school academic program, could yield many ideas (i.e: 4 classes in Russian?) that might be nice to have, but hardly seem as essential as a solid elementary education. Last year's full budget gets into much more detail than any that have been publicly released for FY11, so that could also prove valuable to look at.

We also still have not heard the findings of the busing task force, and hold out some hope that enough savings could be found there to offset some of these teacher cuts.

Just because the district's guidlines say that 30 students is the "maximum" class size, doesn't mean that it is a good idea, or one that the community should accept.

5/14 UPDATE: Friday's Salem News finally reports on the proposal.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

School Committee Meeting Tonight

There is a regular School Committee meeting tonight at City Hall that seems to have slipped many people's notice. 

The meeting is not primarily budget related, but there will be a report/update on the budget. And, as with all regular city hall meetings, citizens are invited to comment on non-agenda or agenda items, including the budget.

This is most likely the only time for citizens to comment in a public forum before the May 27th public hearing. If you wish to speak, you should arrive shortly before the meeting and check in with the school committee secretary who will place your name on a list.

The meeting is scheduled for 7:00 in the City Council chambers, and will be televised by BevCam.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Class Size Projections Released

Enrollment and class size projections for all schools were just released by Dr. Hayes.  The report shows that two of the three classes that were affected by the open-enrollment "pushback" plan approved by the School Committee this week, also have the highest class sizes in the district.  Ayers 5th grade, which was not part of the original plan but was added in at the last minute, leads the way with an average class size of 28.5. Hannah 4th grade follows with 28 students in each of two classes.  North Beverly 5th grade, which was not part of the open-enrollment plan, is projected at 27.3, and Hannah 3rd grade is at 26.5.

These class sizes are higher than the average class sizes at Briscoe Middle School, which are projected at roughly 26 for all three grades.

Hayes has also posted the following letter on the district website that explains these numbers further, and adds some other information that is either new, or not widely known. He says that most of the preschool program currently located at Ayers will be moved to Hannah, and that all half-day kindergarten classes will be housed at Ayers.

On May 4th, the School Committee gave its approval to a budget cut for FY11 that would necessitate sending some elementary students to other schools in order to reduce the number of classrooms.

Under the Open Enrollment policy of the district, parents may request to have their child enrolled at an elementary school other than their "home" school (by residence). Parents are informed that approval of such a request is given on an annual basis, depending on enrollments, and they need to apply each year. Over the years, students have been able to remain at the new school under open enrollment.

Under the School Choice program, residents from outside Beverly may request to enroll their child in a Beverly school. Such decisions are also based on enrollment. Under this state program, Beverly is obligated to educate such students through to High School graduation. If they are accepted for an elementary placement, they may request a particular school, and generally they enroll at the school they request. However, their guarantee is that we will educate them; they are not guaranteed a specific school.

Now we find ourselves in a very difficult situation, having to achieve a balanced budget for next year when all the cuts that are being considered are distasteful. We have no good options, but decisions must be made. In this specific decision, three teaching positions can be cut by returning Open Enrolled students and reassigning School Choice students. These moves specifically are for the 5th grade at Ayers and the 3rd and 4th grades at Hannah. These were the only places where moving such students resulted in a loss of a teaching position.

The administration monitors projected enrollments throughout the budget process and through the summer to accurately plan staffing needs for the coming year. The projected enrollments from moving Open Enrolled and School Choice students are shown in the current projected enrollment report. This report also shows that much of the preschool program formerly located at Ayers will be moved to the Hannah School, all half-day kindergarten classrooms will be relocated to Ayers, and the ATTAIN program will be moved from North Beverly to Centerville.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Fact Checking the Citizen

We aren't sure what meeting the Beverly Citizen was at, after reading their story "Beverly School Committee Approves Budget, which is also the lead story in the print edition. The newspaper states that "The Beverly School Committee reduced its shortfall and approved its budget at a standing-room-only meeting Tuesday night."

It quotes Committee Vice-President Maria Decker as saying "members of the community were concerned about possible programming cuts, including ROTC and elementary strings, but due to the spread of cuts across different departments, all extracurricular programs could be saved." Decker is also quoted as saying "We proposed a 2 percent increase in fees for programs."

We surveyed several members of the community who were at the meeting, and none came away with the impression that the budget had, in any way, been approved.  It was pretty clear that there were enough cuts on the table to get to the bottom line, and it is true that those two programs were still on the "adjustments not included/not recommended" page of the budget spreadsheet, but many of the ideas were still in flux, or waiting for clearer information.

We asked a few members of the Committee for comment, and President Annemarie Cesa said that they "approved a budget number," and Karen Fogarty further explained that there was a vote at the very end that approved the bottom line number, but not any of the specific items or cost centers within the budget.  It was not clear to many in the audience that a vote had even taken place at the end.

Dr. Hayes also told us "While there is some consensus for where we are, there is still more to be done and more to consider before our budget is truly final. "

The busing task force, for instance, has not even completed their work, and the fee increase was an idea tossed out late in the meeting by Cesa, but it was not at all clear what, if any,  increase would be approved. Some on the Committtee wanted more, and others seemed to not want any increase at all, saying it would decrease participation levels.

The one item that was clearly voted on, the decision to move the elementary open enrollment pushback from the "not included" page to the "accepted" page, was not even mentioned by the Citizen.  Neither was the plan to cut five teachers at the high school.  These seem to us to be the most painful cuts, as the former would further increase elementary class sizes, and the high school cuts would require teachers to teach an additional class.

The Citizen states "The SC was able to bring the budget deficit down to around $67,000 at the meeting by reallocating funds for transportation and fuel and removing two administrative assistant positions at the central office, along with some smaller cuts."

It was hardly as simple as that makes it sound.

The Salem News was not at the meeting, so has not yet written a report.

The next meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 17 is the one at which all this will have to be settled, as the budget needs an actual voted-on approval in time for the May 27 public hearing, and the June 1 deadline for submission to the City Council.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Committee Supports Elementary Class Cuts

The School Committee tonight went through the latest itemized list of proposed cuts and other cost savings proposals that were suggested by Superintendent Hayes, and generally supported most of the items on the list.  These cuts included elimination of one elementary specialist (art music & PE) team,  reorganization of food services to utilize part-time workers, and changes in the teaching schedule at the high school that would require teachers to teach six courses rather than the current five (resulting in a loss of 5 teachers). The budget also calls for elimination of free bus transportation for students living between the the currently provided 1.5 miles, and the mandated 2 miles.

The Committee also voted to include one item that Superintendent Hayes had suggested be taken off the table [see clarification below]. As we mentioned in the previous post, Dr. Hayes had determined, based on new enrollment numbers, that he no longer supported the plan to selectively deny open enrollment in three grades at Hannah, and one grade at Cove, so that a class could be cut at each grade.  Hayes told the Committee that two of the scenerios (Hannah's 5th grade, and Cove's 2nd grade) were no longer workable.  He also said that the other two scenerios resulted in class sizes that he believed were too large.

The committee discussed the matter and decided in a straw vote that they were comfortable with the class sizes in the two grades at Hannah, as well as a newly identified class that could be eliminated, a 5th grade class at Ayers.  The Committee reasoned that since the district's policy sets the maximum class size at 30 students in grades 3-5, that as long as the numbers were under that limit, they should support the measure.

The rusultant class sizes in the three approved grades are as follows: Hannah 3rd grade will have 2 classes of 26 and 27 students each; Hannah 4th grade is projected as having two 28-student classes; and Ayes 5th grade is projected as having one 28, and one 29-student class.

The committee has tentatively scheduled the next budget meeting for May 17th. A public hearing has also tentatively been scheduled for May 27th, five days before the June 1 deadline for submitting the budget to the City Council.

Please contact your school committee representative to express your concerns over any of these proposals, particular the proposed elementary class sizes.

If you missed our link earlier, here is what we posted two years ago about class sizes in Beverly (before the closing of McKeown) compared to other area communities, and research on the effect of class size on a child's learning.

5/6 CLARIFICATION:  Dr. Hayes has asked us to clarify his position on the open-enrollment pushback. He says that after he revisited the enrollment numbers, he realized that the class size numbers were larger than the previous time he analyzed them.  While the class size numbers were within the district's maximum guidelines of 30, he "anticipated that they would be unacceptable to the School Committee" so he moved the proposal to the "not included" list. He wanted the budget figure for the meeting to reflect only the proposals he believed the Committee would support.  Bottom line, he says, is that he does not oppose that option.

We have also requested a copy of the overall projected sizes for all the elementary schools, which Hayes says he will provide when it is complete.

This is probably a good point to add a personal note of disclosure.   While I always try to be as objective and accurate as possible on this blog, and get input from members of all the school communities, I am the primary author. There are certain issues that hit a little closer to home than others, and may end up getting more attention than some might think they deserve.  With two kids at Hannah (one who will be directly affected by the above proposal), several big issues this year have fallen into that category.  I always welcome other members of the community to offer ideas for posts, or even become regular contributors.   Please contact me any time with ideas for stories, or offers to help. And it would be great if people would start to comment more on here also, so that this site could become a true voice of the school community.  -John Hall

New Details for Tonight's Budget Meeting

Here is a copy of the budget document that will be referenced at tonight's School Committee budget meeting.

Among the new information contained in this spreadsheet is a further increase in health insurance costs that will add about $70,000 to the previous gap.

Additionally, Superintendent Hayes indicates that after looking at more recent enrollment figures, he no longer recommends (see clarification in the above post) the open-enrollment "pushback" scenereo  because the new figures make two of the options unworkable, and the others create class sizes (27-29 in some grade 3-5 classes) that he considers too high.

Word also is that the transporation figures will not be complete for tonight's meeting.

The meting will be held tonight in the meeting room at Memorial beginning at 7:00.

Check this site late tonight or tomorrow morning for any new information that comes out of the meeting.