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.
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.