The School Committee gave us the first glance at the FY12 budget last night, and while the details are very loose, and many of the assumptions on state funding seem overoptimistic, the bottom line number, a gap of only $255,000, gives us at least some hope that what most expected to be a brutal budget season, may be somewhat less so for the schools.
By way of contrast, the budget gap figure at this point in last year's budget cycle was in excess of $3 million.
Many of the assumptions are based on an early draft of the Governor's budget, and include figures that most on the committee found hard to believe considering the condition of state finances. But they are the numbers that the state has been telling districts to work with. The most surprising of these, an increase in the state reimbursement rate for extraordinary SPED costs (known as the circuit-breaker) to 60%-65% from a rate that has been in the low 30s.
Most on the committee felt these numbers were far too optimistic, but since they are the only figures they have right now, and are numbers the state is telling districts to use, they are the working numbers in the budget.
The other primary topic of conversation centered around a request by about 16 incoming North Beverly kindergarten parents who have organized and attended the last two committee meetings after being forced to choose another school for full day K. (Today's Beverly Citizen has more details on this issue.) The parents wanted the committee to add another full-day kindergarten section at North Beverly, so their children could attend what would be their home school.
While money always seems to outweigh the educational benefits of full day kindergarten in Beverly, the concerns over this matter seemed to center as much around an overall space crunch in the district, as they did about the cost of adding a new class.
Since the closing of McKeown three years ago, elementary classroom space across the district has been extremely tight, but the issue has been heard with more frequency this year. Cove has had to use the science room as a classroom, and this move would require the same situation at North Beverly. As one committee member stated "We're busting at the seams."
When committee member Karen Fogarty stated that "Kindergarten subscriptions are exceeding our capacity," and wondered what that meant for the long term, president Annemarie Cesa stated that "The Superintendent is working on it," seemingly alluding to what most believe will be an eventual realignment of the elementary schools. Anybody who took the recent survey, or has been in the district for any length of time, knows this is a topic that is never far from mind. The strategic planning subcommittees are currently studying various options.
Based on the early budget numbers, and the conversation last night, such a move may come about as much because of space issues, as because of dollars. There was no indication, however, that this is anything that is being considered for next year.
In the end, Cesa pressed for a vote on North Beverly, and the majority of the committee decided to allow the additional class, both to ease large kindergarten class sizes across the district, as well as to avoid alienating an organized group of new school parents, and potentially losing them—and their tuition—to a private kindergarten or the tuition-free half-day K program.
So while there was some reason to be optimistic about the budget after last night's meeting, the numbers and details are too soft to put a great deal of faith in at this point.
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.