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.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Galinski Takes Case to City Hall

Superintendent Galinski gave a presentation last night to City Councilors outlining the causes and some possible solutions to an estimated $415,000 deficit in this year's budget.

Today's Salem News summarizes the meeting, including Mayor Scanlon's offer for the city to pay the estimated $100,000 in unbudgeted unemployment costs, an offer the Mayor made with a bit of a jab at the previous school administration:
Mayor Bill Scanlon last night offered to give the schools $100,000 from the city's free cash account to alleviate the School Department's $415,000 budget deficit.

Following a presentation by Superintendent Marie Galinski to the City Council outlining the deficit, Scanlon said the money would cover the school's projected $100,000 overrun for the unemployment costs of laid-off school employees.

"I have sympathy for the superintendent," Scanlon said. "She inherited a situation not of her making."
Most of the Special Education budget issues have been previously reported, but the unemployment figure was discussed in more detail.  Galinski said that the Federal extension of benefits to 99 weeks, as well as rules that require payments to current staff whose hours were reduced have caused the average payment to laid-off workers to double from $18,000 to $36,000.

It seems that the district is paying unemployment benefits to many of the current school support staff whose hours were reduced in last year's controversial cost cutting moves. We asked Dr. Galinski for a fuller explanation of this, and she explained that "If a person was making $12,000 in a full time position and we cut their position to 1/2 time.  Their new salary will be $6,000.  They are allowed to collect up to $6,000 from unemployment to make up the difference in their pay."

Another point that received considerable discussion was school choice.

It has been previously noted that the schools had to turn away some applicants from other towns who wished to attend Beverly schools because of space limitations.  This has led to a loss of more than $100,000 in revenue.

Several councilors seemed interested in this figure, and wondered if an effort could be made to encourage more out-of-town students.  Galinski and School Committee President Annemarie Cesa said that the limitations were due mostly to space restrictions.  With both an elementary and a middle school having been closed in the past 5 years, and a new high school that is smaller than the old one, there are space limitation issues across the district.

On a related note, Galinski reports that the number of students who choice OUT of Beverly schools is at the lowest level in 17 years—a positive statement about the schools that also saves the city the cost of outgoing tuition.  But in a noteworthy accounting fact, it was detailed that outgoing tuition is paid by the city, not by the schools, whereas any tuition from students choicing INTO Beverly schools goes directly into the school budget.  So the schools are not seeing a revenue gain from Beverly students returning to the district, but are seeing a revenue loss from fewer out-of town students being accepted in.
Galinski said school choice revenue is down because Beverly has limited space at the new high school to accept out-of-town students. School choice is the program that allows public school students to attend schools outside their districts, with the host school getting state money for each incoming student.

The School Committee limits the number of out-of-town students to 10 per grade. City Council President Mike Cahill asked if that number can be increased, but Cesa said that would mean larger class sizes.

"We're not going to increase our class size to increase our revenue," Cesa said.
Galinski said only 80 Beverly students have chosen to attend other public schools, the lowest number since 1993. That saves money on the city side of the budget in terms of outgoing tuition costs, but not in the school budget, she said.
Scanlon said he also wants city finance director John Dunn to sit down with new school budget director Jean Sherburne to go over the school budget in detail, and said he hopes to be able to report back to the Council that the two have found further ways to close the deficit.
"We changed the superintendent and the business manager in a short period of time," Scanlon said. "We'll get back to you at the next meeting and hopefully will have a lot of this solved."
Galinski also stated that the district is planning to conduct an outside audit of the Special Education department in order to see what more can be done to control costs there, and Council President Mike Cahill says he plans to bring up the school budget at next week's finance committee meeting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Superintendent to Report to Council on Budget

A reminder that Superintendent Marie Galinski will deliver a presentation to the City Council Tuesday night on the current year's budget shortage.

Stand for Children: Beverly, and other local school activists plan to attend, and we encourage all other concerned citizens to show their support of the schools by attending.  With continuing cuts to local aid and special education reimbursements from the State, and rapidly rising costs in mandated areas of the budget, its more important than ever to push for full support of the schools from city leaders.

The meeting is at 7:00 in council chambers at City Hall, and is expected to be televised live on BevCam.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Budget Shortfall Survey

Superintendent Galinski has posted this Budget Shortfall Survey on the district website. She is seeking the community's input into ways to deal with the latest budget deficit, [see update at bottom of this post] and opinions on some long-term restructuring ideas.

Dr. Galinski begins her introduction to the survey by quantifying what years' of previous cuts have already meant for the district:
Beverly Public Schools budget has been shrinking since 2006, yet costs continue to go up driven by the fact that everything costs more over time. As an example, we now pay $14,345.00 for health insurance for one staff member compared to $9,358.00 in 2006.

I think that it is important that you know where our money comes from and how we spend it. Of the 44 million dollars that we received last year, about 37 million was from local property taxes and 7 million was from the State. In addition, we received about 4 million dollars in federal and state grants. Of the 44 million dollars, 68% went to salaries and benefits for teachers and staff, 7% went to administrative costs, and 25% was spent on operations.

Five years of continuous cuts and we are operating on a bare bones budget.
Respondents are asked to rate the relative importance of a range of programs, staffing positions, and educational priorities, and are presented with several potential proposals, many that would involve major structural changes.

These include several variations on the oft-mentioned Early Childhood Center concept, redistricting of the elementary schools, views on open-enrollment and the importance of neighborhood schools, and even a proposal to move the 5th graders to Briscoe.

The survey also attempts to gauge the public's awareness of the following facts, many of which are at the root of the current situation:
  • State funding for public schools (Chapter 70) was decreased by 8% this year (FY'11) and is likely to be cut by at least 5% next year (FY'12)?
  • Special Education is mandated by the State for students ages 3-22?
  • Costs for special education students range from $10,000-68,000 when served in the district and could be as high as $223,000 if the student is served elsewhere?
  • Special Education reimbursement from the state (Circuit Breaker) is underfunded for this year (FY'11) by $1,000,000?
  • The cost of Health Care for BPS staff has risen by 35% or $1.6 million
  • Beverly Public Schools has permanently reduced 40 staff and 15 administrative positions in the last 10 years to control cost increases and decreases in revenues?
The survey will be active from January 11-28.

1/13 UPDATE: There has been some concern and confusion over some of the questions posed in the above survey from members of the school community. Responding to some of these concerns at a PTO meeting this week, Dr. Galinski clarified that this survey was drawn up with the FY12 and future years' budget gaps in mind, rather than the shortage in the current year’s budget.

These ideas are meant to be long-tern solutions to deal with the ongoing structural deficit, rather than short-term fixes. Many of the proposals in here are ideas that came out of the Strategic Planning subcommittees.

We share the concerns of many that the questions individually are confusing and hard to answer without knowing the related implications that each would create. Many of the categories seem unrelated. But given the state of public school funding in the current environment, this is a conversation that is unfortunately necessary, and we appreciate Dr. Galinski’s willingness to involve the entire community in the early stages of these discussions.

We also urge all concerned parents to attend or watch next Tuesday's City Council meeting when Dr. Galinski will discuss the issues pertaining to the current year's budget problems.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Concerns Heightened Over Current Year's Budget

As school officials begin the task of working on what all expect to be a very difficult FY12 budget season, more immediate concerns are being raised over the current year's budget.

The issue was first brought to light at the joint School Committee/City Council meeting in early December, when it was announced that the Special Education department was already as much as $630,000 over budget due to unplanned expenses.  These overruns had blown through the district's contingency budget for the year, and forced the schools to freeze the overall budget.

Since then, other issues such as lower than expected reimbursements from the state, and larger than expected unemployment costs have created what one School Committee member termed a "dire situation."

Today's Salem News reports that the current shortfall, even after freezing all but essential spending, is more than $400,000 and could result in mid-year teacher layoffs:
"We have limited places to go because we've made so many cuts in the past," [Superintendent Marie] Galinski said. "We're looking at a $400,000-plus deficit right now, and it's January."

Galinski said the deficit is the result of unexpected special education costs, rising unemployment costs caused by recent school layoffs, and a reduction in school choice revenue, all combined with a cut in state aid.
The state aid Galinski refers to is in addition to the more widely-known local aid cuts. State "circuit-breaker" reimbursements, originally intended to offset extraordinary special education costs—many the result of state and federal mandates—were originally supposed to cover 75% of these sometimes huge expenses.  But this figure has been continually reduced, this year coming in at only 38%, while SPED service needs continue to rise, and mandates remain in place.  Making matters worse, according to Special Education Director Debra O'Connor's presentation in December, the city doesn't see that money until the year after the expenses are incurred:
To deal with the shortfall, Galinski said the School Committee's options are to use money from the buildings and grounds budget, lay off staff before the end of the school year, or ask the City Council for more money.

"We're not asking for it right now," Galinski said. "We just want to say to them that we might need to do that, so there's no surprises."
Dr. Galinski plans to go before the City Council at its meeting on Tuesday, January 18th to fill them in on the seriousness of the situation. 

The News story also ads one new wrinkle, saying that officials have had to decline requests to school choice students from outside Beverly (and the funding that comes with them) to attend the high school because the building is already overcrowded. This has resulted in a loss of over $100,000 in revenue:
The third problem area is school choice, the program that allows public school students to attend schools outside of their district, with the host school getting state money for each incoming student. Galinski said school choice revenues are down $115,000 from last year.

Beverly has had to refuse students who want to attend its schools, especially the high school, due to lack of space, Galinski said. She said there are 1,277 students in the high school, which was built for 1,200.
This fact is sure to get a rise out of high school naysayers like Eliot Margolis who often stated that the new school, which he said was smaller than the old one, would be too small.

Galinski says that the same overcrowding was happening at the old school.

School supporters hope for a strong showing from the community in support of the schools at the Council meeting on the 18th.