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, March 31, 2011

6th Grade Bubble Among Top F12 Budget Concerns

With the FY12 budget gap creeping upward toward the $400,000 mark, the incoming 6th grade at Briscoe seems to be one of this year's focal points.

This week's Beverly Citizen brings us up to speed on this and other specifics of the budget negotiations.

According to reports, the incoming 6th grade class will be the largest to date entering Briscoe—upwards of 350 students. If some type of modification is not made, the starting numbers in each class will be 29-30, which pushes the limits of Beverly's already high class size guidelines.  This bubble will continue all the way through this class's time at Briscoe, resulting in a similar situation at each grade level.

Briscoe principal Matt Poska has been in discussions with the School Committee, and has presented several options for dealing with the situation, each with its own sets of challenges.

The minutes from Briscoe's last PTO meeting summarize the situation:
Budget concerns continue surrounding the incoming 5th grade bubble. It impacts reading class and expressive arts class sizes as well as team size. Mr. Poska has asked the school committee for the addition of a full-time expressive arts teacher for next year. We are trying to add programs that fit the school and district needs but that work in the existing space and budget. Working on ideas for what the position should be. Looking to add a .4 teacher for reading next year as well. We currently have 8 sections of reading with an average of 29 students. By adding 2 sections of reading we could get the number of students down to 23. 
According to the Citizen, a proposal by Superintendent Galinski to help alleviate the situation at Briscoe, as well as some large classes at the elementary level, is to utilize student teachers from the Merrimack College Education Fellows program:
Galinski said the program places Master’s students, who for the most part are already certified teachers, in a school for a full year, and the district pays the teachers tuition of $17,000, not a regular salary or benefits.

“It’s a good program,” Galinski said. “We’d like to take advantage of it.”
    At the elementary level, class cuts are proposed for the 3rd grade at Centerville and North Beverly, and the 5th grade at Hannah, which would result in class sizes of 28-29. Galinski hopes to utilize the Merrimack program to mitigate this situation as well.

    At the high school, reports are that a restructuring of the block scheduling is underway, in an attempt to cut down on the number of students in study halls, which was a major concern during the recent NEASC visit.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Accreditation and Budget Survey Reports Released

    For anyone who wants to delve deep into data on the school district and get an outside perspective on the academic program at the high school, and a glimpse into some of the thinking about the future of the district, two new reports have been posted on the district website.  Both were also presented at Wednesday night's School Committee meeting.

    High School Accreditation Report

    The first is this 82-page report from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) on their recent accreditation visit to the high school.  While the report does not indicate what the accreditation status rating will be (that should be announced by April), it does give a pretty detailed view on the educational environment at the school, both pro and con.

    Thursday's Salem News story, "BHS 'very good' with room to improve" focuses primarily on this report, and principal Sean Gallagher's overview presentation on it, and presents a generally positive view of the school, but points out plenty of areas in need of improvement:
    The report praised teachers for "promoting the well-being and learning of students" and said the school does "an excellent job in celebrating school successes." But it also said the quality of instruction "varies widely" from the higher-level to lower-level classes. Evaluators praised Principal Sean Gallagher for articulating a "clear vision" for the school but said that vision "has not been clearly communicated to the faculty."

    The report also said the high school is "unable to provide enough up-to-date textbooks to meet students' needs."
    The full report expands upon this latter point, and ties it to the budget woes the district has faced over the past few years, and the extra crunch the overall budget is under because of the manner in which the high school was funded by the city:
    The community and the district’s governing body does not ensure an adequate and dependable source of revenue to provide and maintain appropriate school programs, personnel, services, facilities, equipment, technology support, materials, and  supplies for student learning. Over the last three fiscal cycles, the school district budget was level funded in fiscal year (FY) 2009/2010 and reduced by over 2.4 million dollars in FY 2010/11. The total operating budget for the current fiscal year is 44.6 million dollars.

    The new high school building project was funded without city debt exclusion, forcing the school district to absorb about one million more per year in future costs to pay for the renovation. The agreement made with the city to procure funding for the school building project established a maximum cap on any total annual budget increase requested by the school committee. Operating expense increases in areas such as utilities and staff benefits have led to corresponding decreases in areas such as school supplies, textbooks,and equipment. Textbooks used in many departments are often outdated and in some cases insufficient in number, requiring the restriction of such textbooks to classroom use.
    While the purpose of the report is to point out areas in need of improvement, it's summary statement doesn't seem to indicate that the accreditation should be in jeopardy (it's current status is primarily the result of the condition of the old building). It also seems to support Gallagher's statement that the school is "very good" but strives to be "great"
    Overall, the efforts that Beverly High School is making to provide its students with a quality educational experience is commendable. The new facility will greatly increase the likelihood that the school will be able to meet the needs of all of its students. When all members of the school community understand the need to make achievement by all students of the school-wide expectations the major focus at Beverly High School and make a concerted commitment to do what is necessary to accomplish this, what is a very good school will become even better.
    3/16 UPDATE: The Salem News has more detailed coverage of the NEASC report in today's edition, as does the Beverly Citizen.

    Budget Survey Results

    The second report is Superintendent Galinski's presentation on the results of the recent Budget Shortfall Survey.

    As we wrote when the survey was first posted, just the reading of the questions was a pretty good roadmap to some of the plans being considered by the administration. Due to the method by which these types of large restructuring proposals were sprung on the community in the past, many fear that an announcement is imminent, but Dr. Galinski stated clearly Wednesday night that these changes were NOT being considered for next year, but were more long-term in nature.

    While some of the results were interesting, many feel that the questions were grouped and worded arbitrarily and lacked context, making the results inconclusive.

    Some of the comments from members of the Committee seemed to support this view, with some questioning the use of the term "neighborhood schools," when true neighborhood schools havn't existed for quite some time, and wondering how people defined "small" class sizes.  Galinski even acknowledged that some questions resulted in competing priorities being chosen by the respondents, and would require further study.

    Nonetheless a few points stood out as interesting.
    • Respondents (Parents, Staff and other Comminitee Members) all rated Art & Music and the Kindergarten program at the district's most important programs.
    • Parents and other community members rated "small classes" as the most important "resource" while teachers and staff rated "Salary and Benefits" number one.
    • All groups were clearly against moving 5th graders to the middle school.
    • When given a list of priorities in any future redistricting plan, all groups rated "quality of education" first and "open enrollment" last.
    The survey also gave respondents ample opportunity to write narrative responses, however Dr. Galinski didn't include those in her presentation as many had hoped.  Seeing these responses might help add context to some of the results, and give a clearer perspective on the community's views on any future restructuring proposals.

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Galinski to Present Shortfall Survey Results

    The School Committee will meet and hear a presentation from Superintendent Galinski on the results of the recent Budget Shortfall Survey at this week's regular meeting.  The Wednesday night meeting at City Hall starts at 7:00 and will be televised live on BevCam.

    We also hope to hear an update on the numbers regarding the FY12 budget, which were last discussed at the Committee of the Whole meeting in February.  While the figures at that point didn't look as bad as most expected, many of the underlying numbers from the state were thought to be overly optimistic.

    If there are any further details on the meeting agenda we will post and tweet an update.

    Here is the schedule of upcoming school committee meetings as we get deeper in budget season.