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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Final Job Cut Tally: City, 6; Schools, 31

The Boston Globe's new local YourTown: Beverly website debuts today [more about this below] with a summary of the final FY11 city and school budget that was approved last night by the City Council.  The most striking fact to us is the contrast in the final number of job reductions on the city side compared to the schools.

The article states that the "budget avoids layoffs on the city side, but essentially level-funds most departments and calls for reducing about six jobs through attrition."

But, the article states, "Cuts are steeper on the school side, and include classroom teachers and several administrators... The $44.6 million budget approved by the School Committee calls for a $674,000 — or .15 percent increase — over the current year. But to reach that figure set by the mayor, the committee had to slice $2.4 million from its original level-services budget."

Clearly the cuts on the school side are much steeper. As has been reported on this site and elsewhere, the school job cuts total the equivalent of about 31 full-time positions. While the final breakdown is not clear, it appears that the majority of the school side cuts result from layoffs.

Scanlon tells the Globe that ‘‘I think the money I gave to the schools is fair,’’ and then repeats his often-stated line that "the city’s contribution to the school budget is up $1.05 million, which he said meets a commitment he made three years ago when the city proceeded with the high school building project to provide the schools with about $1 million [or 3%] more per year."

As we've noted before however, while Scanlon bemoans the fact that the city's healthcare and pension cost increases account for nearly all new spending on the city side, he seems to forget that the schools are also faced with ever increasing healthcare and pension costs (growth rate for FY11 was 11%), in addition to local aid and other state funding cuts. This makes living within that 3% annual increase from the city a daunting task, and results in the kinds of drastic cuts to the core curriculum that we have seen this year.

On the local media front, this new hyperlocal Globe site, YourTown: Beverly, which includes its own schools page, looks to be a welcome addition to our local news options. The Beverly Citizen's web presence has been nearly dormant at times for most of the year, impossible to navigate since its redesign, and has recently even stopped posting most of the paper's school related news, instead posting a one paragraph tease, and a list of places to purchase the print edition if you want to read more.

With the Globe stepping in to fill the online void, its unlikely that the Citizen's ploy to put the print genie back in the bottle is going to have much success.

6/30 UPDATE: The Salem News also reports on the final budget approval today. It quotes City Council President Mike Cahill, in a statement we can only assume refers to the "city side," of the budget rather than the "school side," as saying "...with the historically difficult economy and a 4 percent cut in state aid, the numbers we were able to approve were quite good."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hayes Bids Farewell to Beverly

Dr. Jim Hayes, who ends his tenure as Beverly School Superintendent on Friday has posted his farewell letter on the district website.  The letter, titled "Thank you, Beverly" reads as follows:
As I finish my last days as Superintendent of Schools in Beverly, I want to tell you how wonderful it has been to work on behalf of children in this City! I have worked eleven years in Beverly, five as Assistant Superintendent and six as Superintendent! These have been the best years of my career!

People have been asking me what I am most proud of as a look back over my time as Superintendent. There are many things that make me proud, but most of all I am proud that we have a terrific school system despite the limited resources which plague local communities and especially education. Our school system is very progressive when it comes to teaching and learning. We do great things for kids in so many ways!

This success is a credit to everyone involved. The teachers, administrators, and support staff continually strive to improve so that students can achieve at higher levels and so that schools can be positive places. You have been true professionals! To run a good system, it also takes the dedication of every employee, and I am so impressed by the caring, hard-working people that add the personal touch to make us a better place for kids. I am talking about the folks who drive and monitor our buses, help our kids cross busy streets, work in our offices, serve meals to our students, and keep our buildings clean and well-maintained. I have appreciated so very much that everyone has worked together with a firm commitment to doing what is best for kids!

In Beverly, the business community is always there to provide support. And the parent support in Beverly is exceptional! How could we do it all without you! I have been fortunate over the years to work with excellent School Committees too. I know I can count on all of you to continue the meet the challenge - to hold education as a top priority and do your best for all kids! They are our most important resource! Education should not be seen as an expense; it is an investment! As the saying goes, yes, it costs a lot to educate a child, but it costs even more if we don't!

To work in a community such as this with such wonderful people, this is why I say that I am blessed! I will truly miss Beverly and truly miss all of you! Thank you for the opportunity to serve you and work with you!
We would also like to thank Jim for his service to Beverly. Its been a rocky time fiscally for the schools during much of his tenure, and there have certainly been some decisions with which many of us disagreed. But we never doubted Jim's commitment to the kids of Beverly, or his desire to provide the best possible education. It is unfortunate that so much of his time had to be spent looking for ways to mitigate the effects of continually dwindling resources.

The new high school may prove to be Jim's greatest legacy in Beverly. He took great pride in his role in the design and construction of the building, a role that took considerable time away from the already demanding job of Superintendent. Jim says he looks forward to being on-hand for the dedication of the building next winter.

We thank Jim and wish him well in his future endeavors.

Hayes has also given a final interview the the Beverly Citizen, but if you'd like to read it, you'll have to pick up a copy of this week's newspaper. The Citizen has decided to run most stories only in the print edition, so we will no longer be able to link to them.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hayes, Galinski Defend Laptop Program

Outgoing Superintendent Jim Hayes, and incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski have penned a letter in today's Salem News defending the high school laptop program, which has come under heavy fire in the media the past couple weeks.

The letter states that the program "supports our district's mission to enable all students to reach their potential with a sustainable model that prepares them for 21st-century challenges." It invites readers to view the online presentation about the program, and attemps to clear up some of the misinformation about the program, such as:
  • Parents are not required to participate in this program. We will have an in-school loaner program for those who do not participate and financial assistance for those in need.
  • As part of our research over the past five years, we spoke to many "1-1" laptop schools across the country. We were advised over and over to select one platform to ensure program success. A multi-platform environment would require more tech support and potentially make it difficult and disruptive for teachers in the classroom — i.e.; they would need to be very familiar with both platforms in order to deal with issues that may arise.
The letter also attempts to explain: "Why Apple?"

Another letter, from a Danvers resident, does an even more succinct job of clearing up some of the misconceptions about the program, and criticizes the Salem News for some of the reporting in the original story that sparked the controversy. She calls the program "..the first progressive idea to come out of the city of Beverly since the development of the Cummings Center."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Searching the City Budget

We caught the public hearing tonight on the overall city budget on Bevcam.  The speakers consisted of four City Hall regulars. Most of us in the school community were tied up with last day of school and spring sports commitments, and the general feeling is that we have made our points repeatedly throughout the process, and there is not much left to say that could affect this year's budget.

Among the topics covered by those who did speak were the often-cited trash fee, the unfairness of the 3-minute time limit given to speakers at City Hall public hearings (although most speakers were actually allowed to go at least double that), and the confusing nature of the city budget document.

Councilor Jim Latter, along with at least one of the speakers, questioned Finance Director John Dunn, as to why the document could not at least be made searchable, which was a question we wondered ourselves. It is virtually impossible for an average citizen to discern anything from the way the budget is presented. The contrast is especially clear when compared to the final school budget, which was indexed, searchable, well organized, and generally attempted to present complex numbers as clearly as possible to the public.

Dunn said the city did not yet have the capabilities.

So as a public service, we spent five minutes running the 126-page document through Adobe Acrobat's OCR [optical character recognition] feature, and post here a searchable version of the FY11 City Budget. It's still confusing, but at least its searchable.

The budget will be voted on next Monday at a 7:00 pm meeting at City Hall. Council President Mike Cahill invited those who spoke tonight, as well as others, to email him with any further comments, which he said would be made part of the public record.

6/22 UPDATE: Today's Salem News also reports on the lack of speakers at last night's public hearing.

Friday, June 18, 2010

FY11 Budget Season Winding Down

The public hearing on the overall city budget will be held on Monday, June 21, at 7:00 pm, in the council chambers at City Hall.  This is the last opportunity to speak publicly about the school budget, and while it's likely too late to affect any change this year, it is an opportunity to voice the concerns of the school community to the Council members.

While many of the funding issues affecting Beverly are problems shared by most other communities in the state, the Council and the Mayor must decide how much money gets appropriated to the schools and must ensure that the quality of the schools is given the importance it should have in preserving the overall quality of life in Beverly.

The Council votes on the budget on the following Monday, June 28, also at 7:00 pm. Both meetings will televised live on BevCam.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Check Out Our New Digs

As you've probably noticed, we've done some tinkering with the design of Save Beverly Schools. The top banner has been redesigned and now features the new Beverly High School, which will become the showpiece of the district when it opens in November. The typography is easier to read and we've widened the page to create more real estate for the wealth of information that has accumulated here over the past two years.

Most recent press coverage and commentary are now side-by-side at the top of the right-hand columns, and many of the other sections that were buried before are now easier to locate. At the bottom of the sidebar is an archive of nearly every story that has appeared in the press about the Bevery schools since March 2008.

We're still tinkering a bit, so you may notice some further changes over the next couple of days, and the site hasn't yet been tested on all browsers (Internet Explorer seems to still have some issues). If you have any comments or suggestions, or notice any bugs with the new design, please let us know.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Laptop Program Still Making Headlines

Today's Boston Globe has an editorial that praises Beverly schools for their focus on technology, but denounces the administration's decision to charge parents for the new laptop program.

Beverly's new high school, set to open in November, should be the envy of its counterparts in other towns. With the school’s emphasis on technology, students will be able to work together more easily, including through video conferencing, and learn how to use advanced computer programs.

Unfortunately, Beverly is also obliging parents to pay extra for this tech-utopia — a requirement that violates the spirit of public education. Not only must every student have a laptop computer, but it must be a specific, expensive type: a MacBook with a price tag of $900. And since the school system couldn’t find a donor to cover the cost, students and their families will be on the hook.
Channel 7 also covered the controversy over the weekend.

We're not sure why charging $225 a year for a computer would cause so much more of a stir than the district's even more egregious policy of charging $4000 a year for full-day kindergarten; but there is no predicting what might start a media circus.

Other than the cost to parents, the most controversial aspect of the plan seems to be the requirement that students must purchase an Apple Macbook.  This Q&A put out by the administration attempts to answer this, and many of of the other questions swirling around this program.

6/17 UPDATE:  The story has now spread around the world, as evidenced by these reports from as far away as the Netherlands:

Se obliga a comprar MacBook a los estudiantes de Massachusett 
Beverly High verplicht leerlingen tot aankoop MacBook
En Massachusetts se obliga a comprar MacBook a los estudiantes

In Brazil, the story has even been translated to be happening in Beverly Hills.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

BevCam Airing Galinski Interview

BevCam has been running an interview with Marie Galinski that provides a good introduction into the thinking of Beverly's new superintendent.

The interview starts off discussing the challenges we face in the current fiscal environment, and the impact of reduced state aid both in the form of Chapter 70 funding, as well as the reduced reimbursement rate for exceptional special education expenses. She also talks about the strategic plan for the district that she plans to undertake with the School Committee (see previous post).

But the interview moves on to cover some of the more positive elements of Beverly's school system as well. Galinski says that while our MCAS scores are only about average for the state, she considers our overall academic program strong.

She points to several areas including the arts, literacy programs, and advanced placement courses at the high school as areas of strength, and says that students from other communities even choice into Beverly for these programs.

Galinski goes on to discuss the new high school in considerable detail. The interview was taped before the recent controversy over the one-to-one laptop program, but Galinski discusses the thinking behind that program, and explains how it integrates with the district's overall goal of infusing technology into everyday learning.

It's an informative hour, and, for those of us who have been immersed in the budget proceedings for the past few months, a glimpse at some of the more positive, and even progressive, aspects of our school system.

The interview schedule for the next couple weeks is at follows:

Channel 10
Sunday 6/13 at 7:30 PM
Monday 6/14 at 1:00 PM
Tuesday 6/15 at 7:00 PM
Sunday 6/20 at 7:30 PM
Monday 6/21 at 1:00 PM
Tuesday 6/22 at 7:00 PM

Channel 22
Sunday 6/13 at 4:07 PM
Tuesday 6/15 at 6:00 PM
Wednesday 6/16 at 1:30 PM
Wednesday 6/16 at 8:05 PM

You can find the schedule for future showings on the BevCam website.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hayes Presents Budget to City Council

On Wednesday night, Dr. Hayes presented the FY11 school budget to the City Council, and answered their questions about many of its provisions.  The presentation was very similar to the one presented at the public hearing on May 27, but contained a few new or updated details. 

The two core curriculum teacher cuts at the high school have been identified as English and Social Studies.  A science teacher was added back after the last minute maneuvering that occurred at the final budget meeting. The other incidental cuts that were identified at that meeting are seen in the "cost center impact" page where the administration's share of the cuts jumps from a 14% reduction—by far the highest percentage of all cost centers—to a whopping 17% overall reduction from last year.

Hayes has also posted a note on the district website, where he says "The School Committee plans one more budget meeting on Monday, June 14, at 5 pm to determine a 'restoration list' should any funds become available in the weeks and months ahead."

This presents school advocates with one last opportunity to lobby the School Committee to restore some of the teacher and program cuts that we feel are most important.

At Wednesday's meeting,  Councilor Maureen Troubetaris questioned the steep cuts in the building budget for each school, which range from 20% for each of the elementary schools to $50,000 at the high school. Mindful of the the perception in some circles that the city doesn't take care of its buildings, (see the condition of the current high school) Troubetaris wondered how this would affect maintenance of the buildings.  Hayes responded that the building budgets covered school operating expenses and supplies, rather than upkeep of the building.  We would point out, however, that the Buildings and Grounds budget was also cut by 9.5%, so Troubetaris' point still seems valid.

Councilor Pat Grimes also chastised Hayes and the School Committee for the lateness of the budget approval.  Grimes said that the City Charter says that the school budget must be approved, and the public be given the right to speak on it, at least 21 days before the date that it was due to be submitted to the Mayor and City Council [June 1].  While the final budget "number" was approved on May 4th, most of the actual items in the budget were still in flux for another four weeks. The public hearing was not held until May 27th, and the final vote by the school committee on the actual elements within the budget did not occur until the June 2nd Committee meeting, at which changes were still being made.  Grimes said this was a flagrant and "outrageous" violation of city regulations.

After the Superintendent's presentation, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa spoke about the anticipation that next year's budget would likely present even more challenges than this year's.  Cesa said that the Committee, along with incoming Superintendent Marie Galinski, plan to form a strategic planning committee this summer to study three major areas: class size guidelines, facilities, and outsourcing services.  Cesa added, however, that any talk of reducing class size guidelines is limited by the fact that all the elementary schools are currently utilizing all of their classrooms, so that any plan that creates additional classes would have to deal with this reality.

Many in the community believe that the "facilities" debate will likely return us to another conversation about an Early Childhood Center, or a further restructuring of the elementary schools into some type of K-2 and 3-5 or similar pairing arrangement that would allow the district to better manage class size irregularities.  The Committee has said previously that all options will be on the table.

The public hearing on the overall city budget will be held on Monday, June 21, at 7:00 pm, and the Council votes on the budget on Monday, June 28, also at 7:00 pm. Both meetings will be at City Hall, and televised on BevCam.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Laptop Program Makes News

The district's proposed one-to-one laptop program, which led the Salem News this morning, and has lit up the paper's message board all day with debates about cost and platform (MACs vs PCs) has now spread to Fox25.  The station covered the controversy on tonight's newscast [video embedded above]. Channel 5 also covered the plan tonight.

The program, which would equip every high school student with their own Macbook at a cost to the student's family of about $225/year, was approved by the School Committee last year. Earlier this year parents throughout the district were encouraged to watch an online presentation on the program, and complete a survey.

Superindendent Hayes tells the Salem News "Our graduates will face a world that will depend upon the use of technology to communicate, innovate and solve problems. We believe that world will be wireless and use handheld technology."

Beverly will be the first school district in eastern Massachusetts to launch the laptop program.

6/11 UPDATE: Today's Boston Globe also jumps on the story, as does Channel 4, and the Salem News editorializes about it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pension, Health Increases Dominate City Budget

The full city budget, including the $47 million approved for the schools [see previous post] is now available online.  Mayor Scanlon presented the budget to the City Council last week saying:

While the operating budget appears at first blush to increase by only $300,000, adjustment for a change to both revenues and expenses brought about by action taken at the State level shows that total net new money for the FY 2011 operating budget is approximately $1,900,000. But the sobering fact is that this entire sum is almost exactly the same as the total cost increases in health care and pension funding. Said differently, health care and pensions will together consume all the new funds available for FY 2011 even when including the $440,000 in revenue anticipated from the recently-adopted meals and lodging excises.
The Salem News last week had a story summarizing the budget, and the Mayor's comments.

In his introductory letter, Scanlon also again reminds us that when the new high school was approved, it was with the provision that the schools stick to a 2.5%-3.0% annual growth rate.

You have no doubt heard that the school system plans to make reductions in personnel for FY 2011. I believe it is important to repeat that when we made the decision to move forward with the High School renovation project it was agreed by the School Committee, the Superintendent, the Mayor and the City Council that future budget increases in the city's contribution to the schools would be limited to 2.5% to 3% annually. We have met this commitment with $1,050,000 in additional city funds for FY 2011. This decision was made recognizing the increased debt service requirement brought about by the city's share of the $80,000,000 reconstruction project.
What Scanlon never mentions when he repeats this statistic, which he does quite often, is that the schools are also faced with ever increasing health care and pension costs (growth rate for FY11 was 11%). So in order to stick to an overall growth rate of 3%, the additional cost of health care—as well as reductions in local aid and other state contributions—must be made up for with deep cuts elsewhere, often in areas that affect core education.

The City Council will discuss the schools' portion of the budget with Dr. Hayes on Wednesday night, June 9th at 6:30 pm, and will host a public hearing on the full budget on Monday, June 21st  at 7:00.  Both meetings will be held at City Hall, and televised on BevCam [we are trying to confirm whether they will be carried live].

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Committee Gives Final Approval to FY11 Budget

After some last minute maneuvering that cobbled together enough savings out of small line items to save one additional teacher at the high school, the School Committee tonight voted to approve each cost center in the FY11 budget. They had already approved the bottom line budget number at an earlier meeting. This effectively brings the FY11 budget season to a close.

The high school teacher was saved by eliminating or reducing the budget for such small items as furniture, conferences, student surveys, postage, and enough other incidentals to add up to the equivalent of one teacher's salary.

No change was made to the teacher cuts at the elementary schools, or any of the cuts at Briscoe.

Other points of discussion tonight:

Committee President Annemarie Cesa said that she had been approached by the union that represents the food service workers about the possibility of accepting other concessions in leau of the proposed cuts to hours and benefits.  The Committee indicated that they would support such a move, as long as the cost savings were equal.

Karen Fogerty asked for clarification on the cost savings of eliminating the EEC [Elementary Enrichment Center], as it has been reported that if the program were eliminated the EEC teachers would be returned to traditional elementary classrooms, and "bump" lower salaried teachers, resulting in less than the stated savings. This fact seemed to be confirmed.

A heated exchange developed just before the vote between Committee member David Manzi and Mayor Scanlon over the lunch workers' benefits.  Manzi, who the Salem News reported last week collects the benefits himself because of his role on the Committee, objected to taking benefits away from long time workers, but Mayor Scanlon countered that although he agreed that it was unfortunate, there are no other options, and said that a system where benefits cost the city more than the workers' salary is unsustainable.

A handout [we will try to obtain a copy to post] with answers to questions from the Committee was also circulated.  Among the items listed, some of which came up for brief discussion:

  • Q: What is the cost of Foreign Language at both Briscoe and BHS: A: BHS: $480,166; Briscoe: $327,037
  • Q: What is the savings if Freshman Sports are cut: A: $36,698, but with an equal loss in revenue, suggesting that the program pays for itself with fees.
Several Committee members also seemed concerned by the number of district clerks and administrative assistants that were cut, and hoped to find a way to add some additional help back, or possibly transfer some of their work to city administrators.

Prior to the budget discussion, the Committee voted to approve Maryellen Duffy, currently the director of education services in Hamilton-Wenham, as the next Assistant Superintendent.

We somehow missed the story linked above, and the fact that this position was even at the hiring stage.  We're in good company, however, as the Mayor also seemed unaware that interviews had even taken place, saying "I have no objection, but I've never met the lady."

Cesa said that there were 38 applicants, 10 had been interviewed initially, and two were moved forward to the Committee.  "She fit what we were looking for," said Cesa.

6/3 UPDATE: Today's Salem News has more on new Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Duffy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's Next with the Budget?

Last Thursday's public hearing ended without any word from the Committee as to where the process goes from here, or where the members stand on any of the elements within the budget.  So the biggest question on everyone's mind is "what's next"?

The next meeting to discuss the budget is the Wednesday, June 2 at 6:30 pm at Memorial.  Sources say the Committee may vote on the full budget, or elements within, although a vote is not certain. In a change from previous years, the Committee plans to vote on each cost center (elementaries, Briscoe, high school, and district), and then on the budget as a whole. In theory, therefore, they could approve parts of the budget, but reject others.

If we learn any more about the agenda of the meeting, we will post updates.