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, 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.

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