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, May 31, 2011

Galinski Discusses FY12 Budget in Detail

BevCam has posted the most recent edition of its Focus on Education series, in which host Muriel Zaginailoff discusses the FY12 budget with Superintendent Galinski is detail.  The video is embedded below.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Committee Approves FY12 Budget

Without further debate over the specifics, the School Committee tonight approved the FY12 school budget in a series of unanimous votes on each school and cost center. There were no significant changes from the budget that was presented at the public hearing earlier in the month.

Following the vote, there was debate over which items to include in a restoration list, which would prioritize cut items to be reinstated if more money is found in the budget before the start of the next school year.

The restoration list previously suggested by Superintendent Galinski is as follows:
  • Elementary Teachers to Centerville grade 3 and Hannah grade 5
  • TLC teachers to 5 elementary schools
  • Reading coach for Hannah & North Beverly
  • Guidance Counselor at BHS
  • Add to the special education contingency
  • Add administrative support for HR
The committee debated this list with the intention of voting on an official list of priorities.  

President Annemarie Cesa pushed for the elementary teachers, but Karen Fogarty asked whether the committee wanted to set a precedent of adding back teachers when a class is within the district guidelines.  Paul Manzo suggested putting the money for the teachers in a contingency fund to be added back only if a class rises above the district maximum of 30 before September.

Kris Silversteen argued for adding back teachers to the TLC program as a more pressing priority. Such a move would be trickier, however, because unless enough money was found to add back all 5 that were cut (one from each elementary school), a choice would need to be made as to which school had the greater need.

In the end, the committee declined to vote on an official list, instead instructing Superintendent Galinski to consult with each building principal for their list priorities for restoration at their school.

So ends another budget season that saw further cuts to school programs, and more class size concerns, but one that fell far short of the dire situation many expected, and lacked much of the drama of recent years.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

School Committee to Vote on Budget Wednesday

The School Committee will take a final vote on the FY12 budget tomorrow evening at 7:30 in the meeting room at Memorial.  They will also create a final restoration list of priorities to be reinstated if additional money is freed up before the start of the school year.

The most recent budget can be read here; the overview that Dr. Galinski presented at the public hearing is here; and you can view the full public hearing, including presentations by Galinski and School Committee President Annemarie Cesa here.

Most of the elements that have figured into the budget up to this point are detailed in previous posts and links to news reports on this page.  We are not aware of any specific changes that have been made to the proposed cuts since the public hearing on May 11.

Strategic Plan Finalized

The new 5-year strategic plan for the district, which has been in the works for the past 9 months, was approved by the School Committee at last week's meeting, and is now posted on the district website.

The detailed plan is the work of dozens of parents, community members, staff, and administrators. It builds a framework of strategies, actions steps, and measurable objectives to achieve three strategic goals of the district:
  • Provide engaging and equitable opportunities to enhance & sustain learning.
  • Prepare students for higher education and the 21st Century Workforce.
  • Increase sustainable and productive community partnerships to maximize educational opportunities.
These goals, in turn, are intended to support the district's mission:
To maximize academic achievement and personal growth for every student.
and its top level vision:
To produce the Nation’s best!
The document itemizes detailed strategies, assigns responsibilities for their implementation, and identifies a method of measuring the success of programs at all educational levels in support of these goals.

It states the following, as its "theory of action:"
If we focus on strengthening the relationship between teachers, content, and students, design and implement high quality instruction that engages and interests students, and build strong community partnerships, we will raise student achievement and prepare students adequately for higher education and the 21st Century workforce.
While the plan doesn't answer some of the specific visible concerns of parents such as "is there a restructing plan for the elementary schools coming?" "will class sizes continue to creep upward?" and "what about Briscoe?," it does lay out a detailed and forward-thinking roadmap for the educational mission of the district, and will be used to make decisions on those issues in the future.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Young Fresh Fellows

Today's Salem News takes an in-depth look at the Merrimack College Fellows Program, which the district is planning to participate in next year.  The fellows will be used to support classroom teachers in the 6th grade at Briscoe, 5th grade at Hannah, and 3rd grade at Centerville, all classes with projected class sizes of 29 or above.  A second fellow will also be used at Centerville to staff the TLC intervention program, which lost one teacher due to the loss of federal ARRA dollars. 
Unlike more traditional programs that place student teachers for only a few weeks or months, the Merrimack students will work in the Beverly schools full time for the entire school year...

...[Superintendent] Galinski said the graduate students are more experienced than traditional student teachers, who are undergraduates and work in the schools for only a few weeks, and some teacher's aides, who only need two years of college.

"These are people that have a bachelor's degree and are working sometimes toward certification in two areas," she said. "It's a nice opportunity for the fellow and for us."...
...Galinski said the fellows will be co-teaching with experienced teachers and providing small group instruction.
"It's not replacing teachers," she said. "It's providing support because we have a larger number of students."
Most community members we have spoken with support the concept as a creative way of dealing with today's budget realities, although some wonder how much say school administrators will have in choosing specific fellows for their schools.

The News also visits the Riverside Elementary School in Danvers, which became one of the first schools in the area to take part in the program which began this year.
Emily Janakas has spent the school year as a fellow at Riverside Elementary School in Danvers, where she helps out as a special education aide. Janakas, a 22-year-old Lynnfield resident, enrolled in the fellowship program after earning her undergraduate degree in elementary education last June.

"It's definitely been an intense year," she said. "It's been challenging, but I have an excellent support system at Riverside and at Merrimack. I've learned so much this year I can't even describe it. It's furthered my passion for teaching."
[Note: Kudos to any readers who get the post title reference.]

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Video of FY12 Budget Hearing

BevCam has posted the full video of Wednesday's public hearing on, which allows us to embed it here. It's also available on BevCam's new Facebook page. Go there and "like" them.

Also, Dr. Galinski's presentation is posted here and our summary of the meeting is in the post below.

Thanks BevCam, not only for recording and airing these meetings, but now for presenting them in a more convenient format.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

This Year, Centerville Speaks for Smaller Classes

For the past several years, the public hearing on the school budget has become an annual parade of parents speaking out against the district's class size policies.  The speakers are generally from whatever class has been newly "compressed," that is, squeezed from three classes to two in order to eliminate a teacher.  Last year, it was mostly Hannah parents, who were seeing their third and fourth grade children squeezed into what they saw as excessively large classes.

This year, it was Centerville 3rd grade parents who picked up the torch, and spoke out against the administration's decision to squeeze next year's third grade into two classes with an average of 29.5 kids in a class.  The majority of tonight's speakers were Centerville parents, many echoing the exact words of previous years' speakers.

An added element to Centerville's case that many parents spoke about was the school's designation as home to the SSP program for social, behavioral, and emotional disabilities, as well as the school with the most free-and-reduced lunch students (one measure of students most at-risk).  Further, the school has failed to make AYP (adequate yearly progress) in the MCAS ratings for two straight years.  Many parents said that it is especially unfair to expect the school to meet those challenges with classes approaching 30 students in the third grade.

A few speakers also spoke about similar class size issues with Briscoe's incoming 6th grade, which is projected at 29.4. Others expressed concern over the loss of the TLC program, an intervention program for elementary students with social-emotional needs that had been funded by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant, which runs out this year.

It should be noted that Hannah's 5th grade, which last year was compressed to two classes, also has a projected class size of 29 for next year. While no Hannah parents (including this writer) chose to speak last night, this illustrates the point of several Centerville parents who said that once a class is compressed, it is likely to remain so for the remainder of those students' elementary years.

Many speakers did commend the administration's creative approach to mitigate the large classes with full-time graduate students from the Merrimack College Fellows program, but questioned whether that was enough to offset the loss of a full-time teacher, and others wondered how much say school administrators would have in choosing the most qualified student teachers.

Prior to opening up the microphone to the audience, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa and Superintendent Marie Galinski gave an overview of the budget.  While acknowledging that there were some areas that were far from ideal, Cesa also stressed the positives, such as being able to again hold onto nearly all district programming such as four languages at the high school, which Cesa contrasted with many neighboring communities, [including, we believe, the much-heralded Hamilton-Wenham district] that have only one.

Cesa also announced that next year there will be NO students in study halls at the high school, an important milestone. And she stated that as many as 40 Beverly students who previously had choiced out or attended private schools, had recently chosen to return to Beverly schools.

Galinski presented this overview that itemized some of the key points in the budget, including key challenges, decisions, and items on a restoration list that will be reinstated if additional funds are freed up prior to the start of the school year.

If past years are any guide, it is unlikely that anything that was said tonight will have much impact on this year's budget, but the Committee will meet at least one more time to discuss the budget before it is finalized.  That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 25th at 7:30 in the meeting room at Memorial.

One note on the format of these meetings: We've heard from many, especially those who take the time to speak, who find the lack of any acknowledgment or response from the Committee to be very frustrating.  As has been the case for the past several years, the members sit on the stage as the parade of parents come to the microphone. Then the night ends abruptly, with no more than a "thank-you for coming." Absolutely no response is made to any of the issues brought up.  Even direct questions to the Committee are answered with silence.

One speaker asked if it would again be only the school department that is required to make significant cuts, or if the city side would also be required to make equal cuts.  There was no answer or even acknowledgment of the question from the Committee (including the Mayor).  We'd like to know the answer to this question as well, as the final comparison of job cuts last year, clearly showed a large discrepancy between school side cuts and city side cuts.

5/12 UPDATE: Here is the Salem News report on last night's hearing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

FY12 Budget Set for Public Hearing

The complete draft of the FY12 school budget has been posted on the district website, and the public will have a chance to voice their opinions in a public hearing next Wednesday, May 11th at 7:00 at the Beverly High School Auditorium.

This week's Beverly Citizen brings us up to speed on the most recent changes that eliminated the remaining $250,000 gap in the budget.
The proposed changes included eliminating the director of personnel position at the district’s central office. To make up for this cut, $4,000 was added to the budget to purchase database software and pay for training for other personnel. A part-time clerical position was also added to help the coordinator of child welfare with the additional workload, Galinski said, explaining that the cut puts more stress on the rest of the staff because the work still needs to be done.

The draft budget also proposes eliminating five special education teachers, one at each elementary school, who work as part of the TLC program, an intervention program for students with social-emotional needs. Those positions are currently funded by an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, which runs out this year.

Galinski said these teachers, who serve as part of a TLC team along with other staff members, will each by replaced by two part-time paraprofessionals at Ayers Ryal Side, Cove, Hannah and North Beverly elementary schools. Centerville Elementary School has requested a Merrimack College Education Fellow to fill this position instead.
The Citizen also provides more details on other places within the district where Merrimack fellows will be used to augment staff positions. The fellows, who for the most part are already certified teachers, are placed in a school for a full year, and the district pays the teachers tuition of $17,000, not a regular salary or benefits.
Five other teaching fellows are being placed in classes with large class sizes — one in grade three at Centerville, one in grade five at Hannah and three on the sixth-grade team at Briscoe Middle School, which is expecting roughly 343 sixth-graders next year.
A Merrimack Fellow was going to be placed in grade three at Hannah, but five open-enrolled students and one School Choice student were moved to other schools in the district, which brought class size down there and eliminated the need, Galinski explained, adding this freed up a Fellow to work on the TLC team at Centerville.

In addition to these changes, the budget also reflects other additions discussed at previous meetings, including adding a foreign language teacher at the high school, an expressive arts teacher and a part-time reading teacher at the middle school and a fifth-grade teacher at Ayers, and other staff reductions caused by ARRA grants running out, including the lose of a guidance councilor at the high school and a several part-time reading coaches at the elementary level.

Galinksi said that after all of the additions and subtractions, the equivalent of 3.6 full-time staff positions were cut.
The posted budget document also includes the most recent class size projections, showing highs of 29.5 in Centerville 3rd grade, 29.0 in Hannah 5th grade (both grades which will be receiving fellows) & 27.7 in Ayers 3rd grade (apparently below the district's threshold for needing teaching assistance). Briscoe's 6th grade, which will be receiving 3 fellows, has a projected class size of 29.4.

All parents are urged to attend Wednesday's hearing.

5/10 UPDATE: Here is the Salem News' recap of the budget details.