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 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.

1 comment:

djm said...

most of what you said is good by me.

one concern: picking programs to cut in lieu of cutting elem classes also becomes a form of cherry picking... and since all programs have their champions, cutting elem classes will always come up as a least distasteful option, if not this year, then next year.

So, since many parents do find the Hannah class sizes to be too big, perhaps the school committee should increase the minimal standard. maybe that's what people should be advocating for. As long as they are working within the standards, they are acting responsibly and the defenders of other potential cut-able programs will have a case against those who want to save elementary classes/teachers.

Otherwise, the best we can hope for is select the program or programs that we think do not have a vocal group of supporters and then hope that the school committee will cut that instead...?