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, July 23, 2010

School Advocates Follow State Rep Race

With many of the fiscal problems facing Beverly Schools originating at the State House, many school activists are turning their attention to the race to fill the seat of retiring Representative Mary Grant. If next year is going to be any less painful than early indications show, it will only be through action on municipal health care reform, a reversal of local aid cuts, or other reform on Beacon Hill.

The race for Beverly's seat pits two Democrats, Scott Houseman and Jerry Parisella—who will face off in a primary September 14—against Republican Brett Schetzsle in the November election. Earlier this month the Boston Globe had an overview of the race.

All three candidates touch on the above issues in their campaign literature, but voters will have to decide which of them can be the strongest voice for Beverly.

Here is what the three candidates say on their websites about the issues involving education:

Nothing is more basic to parents and the community at large than the quality of our public education system. There is a direct link between the health of our economy, budget reform, and funding for our children’s education. Without a strong economy and sound fiscal policies, funding for our schools is always threatened. Our children will work in a globally competitive world. They will need to learn the fundamental analytical and problem-solving skills to be successful and be the next generation of leaders. Scott will work on:
  • Restoring local aid and Chapter 70 education funding
  • Supporting public-private initiatives to education funding
  • Seeking more sustainable, predictable funding mechanisms for education funding
  • Supporting the mission of our public colleges and universities to provide quality, affordable education
With his daughter Sophia preparing to enter first grade, Jerry understands one of the most essential functions of our state and local government is providing quality public education. He is grateful for the quality public education he received growing up in Beverly, and will support efforts to improve quality in the system for today’s youth.

Jerry understands that local aid cuts have put a burden on our City, as it tries to provide top-notch education with dwindling financial resources. Beverly receives less local aid today than it did in 2001, yet costs continue to rise. Jerry will fight to restore local aid and Chapter 70 education funds. Jerry will also work with our city leaders to ensure the high school and new vocational school receive the reimbursements promised by the state.
Massachusetts is home to many prestigious colleges and universities, attracting students from around the world. Yet, tuition costs are out of reach for most local families. With a stepson, Chris, who is a sophomore at the University of Arizona, Jerry understands how expensive college can be, and Jerry himself worked in construction for several years to save money to enroll at Emerson College, and eventually go to Law School. Jerry supports our public colleges and universities in their efforts to provide high quality education affordable to all.
Education has played a large role in helping to provide the opportunities I have had in my life and I know the same will be true for my children and the children of this community. That's why I'm committed to actively working on education issues and why I volunteer at both Briscoe Middle School and North Beverly Elementary School.

Since the state's landmark education reform in the early 1990's, Massachusetts kids have vaulted to the head of the class compared to kids from other states. Not only must we keep them there, but we must be certain that Beverly's kids are equipped to compete with kids not only from Marblehead, Danvers and Salem, but from Moscow, New Delhi and Shanghai.

To do that, we know that high standards and independent oversight work for Massachusetts.

However, in recent legislative sessions, there has been a steady erosion of independent oversight, of the demand for high standards and a lack of commitment to fixing the Chapter 70 funding formula.

That erosion has now reached a critical point with the recent action by the Governor's hand-picked education commissioner recommending a move away from the proven standards created by our state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education when it was an independent policy-making body motivated by the needs of our students and not by politics.

Specifically, in education, I will actively pursue these things:
  • I will support local aid and Chapter 70 policies that don’t short-change our cities and towns. I believe that our state tax money is better spent in local schools than wasted on Beacon Hill and that the legislature should not adopt new, unfunded mandates for our school districts.
  • I will support maintaining our state's ability to chart its own course on education standards and continue to be able to lead the country in education achievement.
  • I will support a return for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to an independent policy-making body and restoring the independent overseers of education accountability in the state.
  • I will support adding personal finance classes to our high school curricula to prepare our kids for the realities of mortgages, bank accounts, car loans and household budgets.
  • I will focus on keeping college costs within reach for families by ensuring that our state colleges and universities are run without waste and that private schools are able to use their endowments to provide financial aid and not fund state government.
Aside from the earlier Globe story, press coverage of the race to this point has been minimal, although Schetzsle plays the social media game well. Some of his recent statements critical of the Patrick administration's decision to abandon MCAS in favor of new Federal standards have been covered in the hyperlocal press.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Panther Reigns at New BHS

While this has little or no significance compared to the serious issues facing the district in the next few years, the BHS logo debate was a media sensation earlier this spring, and because of our personal involvement with the project, we thought it worth sharing the final result with you. This is the actual terrazzo panther logo, which is currently being installed at the new high school.

The logo was precast offsite, and is shown here in position in the new school's lobby. The terrazzo flooring that has already been set in other areas of the building will be poured in the area around the logo, and then polished smooth.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Strategic Planning Committee Seeks Participants

School Committee President Annemarie Cesa has asked us to post the following notice regarding the district's Strategic Planning Committee, which will begin its work this Fall.
Superintendent Marie Galinski and the Beverly School Committee are in the beginning stages of developing a Strategic Plan for the school district.  It is important to determine where the district will be moving in the next few years and how we are going to get there, while understanding the fiscal realities ahead.  It is our goal that the Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) includes a wide and diverse representation of the Beverly community, including: parents, school staff and administrators from all levels, alumni, high school students, major benefactors, and business and general community representatives.

There are many ways to be a part of this process.  We are looking for people to serve on the large Strategic Planning Committee, one of 4 working sub-committees, or attend Focus groups that will take place throughout the city early this fall.  The large SPC committee will meet bi-weekly over a 6 to 9 month period beginning in September.

In addition to the large SPC group, there will be active sub-committees who will be tasked with gathering and reviewing data and information that will be used to help set and prioritize goals and objectives, as well as strategies for achieving them.  Subcommittees, who will also meet bi-weekly beginning in September, will be formed around the areas of investigating:
  • Class size
  • Facilities usage
  • Consolidation/outsourcing
  • Technology. 
Please join us in this important endeavor by contacting Donna Bergeron at (subject Strategic Planning Committee) before August 10, 2010.  Tell us a little about yourself and on which committee you would like to be placed.  Please include your:
  • Demographic background and contact information
  • Role in the community (parent, employee, alumni, business member, etc.)
  • Statement of prior school district committee experience
  • Statement of any expertise you have that would be brought to the SPC
  • Availability and commitment for meetings
We will follow the progress of the committee as it develops its plan for the future of the district.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Galinski Settles in to New Role

New Superintendent Dr. Marie Galinski, who took over from Dr. Hayes on July 1st, has posted her first Superintendent's letter on the district website.  In it she acknowledges the financial difficulties of the past few years, but points to some of the district's successes and looks forward to the opening of the new high school, and the Strategic Planning Process that she will begin next fall:
These last few years have been challenging for us financially, yet we continue to move forward with enthusiasm and improve our programs and opportunities for students. This is in large part due to the commitment of the teachers to making education a successful experience for students and to the hard work of the parents beside us as partners in their children’s education.

The upcoming year will be one filled with excitement and challenges! We are looking forward to entering a state-of-the-art high school facility sometime in November. Not long after that, we will embark on a one-to-one learning environment which will enable us to meet the needs of students with different learning styles, strengths, and learning paces.

In addition, it is our plan to begin a Strategic Planning Process in September where we will be looking carefully at where the district wants to be in the next five years and how we are planning to get there. This will be an important process in which all community members should be involved. Look forward to hearing more about this soon.

I would like to thank the School Committee, parents, teachers, students, and other community members for giving me the distinct privilege to lead the school district. I am looking forward to my leadership role!
If you would like further introduction to Galinski and her plans for the district, try to catch the interview that BevCam has been airing.

Grimes Criticizes School Committee

In an email to her constituents, City Councilor Pat Grimes has expanded upon her criticism of the School Committee for the lateness of this year's budget approval and public hearing.  Grimes first made mention of this during a City Council meeting last month.  In the email, Grimes says:
I am troubled by the actions of the School Committee during this recent budget process.  As I stated at the Council meeting with the Schools on June 9th, they were in flagrant violation of our City Charter and the requirements of city government.  Conducting a public hearing on the school budget on May 27th only two business days before the city budget was presented to the Council is nothing short of outrageous.  Our Charter requires the School Committee to adopt a budget at least 21 days before the city budget is presented to the Council.  Since the city budget is traditionally presented at the beginning of June (the latest it can be presented), the schools should have had a public hearing and adopted a budget by the beginning of May at the very latest.

[Former] Superintendent Hayes and the School Committee are well aware of this requirement, since I have spoken to them in the past about it several times. Part of the reason for the 21 days is to give the public time to digest the impact of the school budget and voice any concerns to the Council and Mayor.

Why all the fuss??  If some elected officials are making their own rules to suit themselves, then the best interests of the city are not being served, and in the long run that is not good for this city.  It may make life easier for some officials to withhold information from the public or not present it until the 11th hour, but it does not bode well for the city.  I hope this practice does not continue.
We are no experts on the City Charter, but we agree with Grimes' view on the public hearing scheduling. While there was ample opportunity for the public to follow the process earlier on, and to contact Committee members with their personal views, it was pretty clear to most of us that the Public Hearing was being held more as an obligation, rather than a true opportunity for the public to have any influence on the final budget.