At a sparsely attended (estimated at less than 20 people) joint City Council/School Committee meeting last night at the high school, Council members appeared as surprised as we were about the 5-8 middle school plan they were handed. Council President Mike Cahill sharply criticized the openness of the process; Pat Grimes seemed incredulous that they were just finding out about this report now when it was completed last Spring; and Jim Latter focused on the additional cost of building a four-grade middle school vs. a three-grade building, asking "will this increase capital costs by 33%?"
Prior to the meeting, School Committee President Annemarie Cesa informed us that she would delay tonight's vote by a couple weeks in order to allow the public a chance to digest the proposal, and schedule a public forum or focus group. She stated last night that a focus group would be tentatively scheduled for December 6, and a vote a week later.
Score one for the power of social media, and thanks to everyone who shared yesterday's post, and helped convince the Committee to slow down and open up the process. Based on the City Council's reaction last night, we think they may have put the brakes on any rushed vote, anyways.
The poor attendance last night was due in large part to the fact that there was virtually no public notice of the meeting by either the School Committee or the City Council. It was on the School Committee's meeting list, which is on a PDF three levels deep on the district website and often inaccurate (no mention of this past Monday's meeting). And we could find no mention of it on the City's website at all. There were also at least two PTO meetings that conflicted, and a meeting at City Hall about the downtown parking garage that some councilors attended instead.
We look forward to having at least two new City Council members, Brett Schetzsle @BrettWard6 and Jason Silva @JaSizz, who are adept at social media to teach city government some better methods of communications.
11/17 UPDATE: At Wednesday night's School Committee meeting, the middle school plan was
discussed some more. It's clear that the committee has backed off a bit
from their aggressive timetable, and will include time for community
input, although they still want to meet the January deadline for submission to the MSBA.
President Cesa and Superintendent Galinski also
attempted to clarify
the elementary school aspects of the plan that we posted last week. They
say that the Early Education Center is not on the table at this point,
if ever. While it was part of the discussion and recommendation of the
subcommittee, it was not "moved forward" by the administration as a
proposal. The current discussion, and vote, will look solely at changes
to the middle school model. There will be benefits to the elementary
schools from this part of the plan, they say, by freeing up space in
each of the elementary buildings. But any restructuring of the Pre-K-K
grades is not under consideration.
Still, many in the
community feel that to fully weigh the benefits and risks of changing
the middle school structure, any future changes proposed to the entire Pre-K-8 model must be considered at the same time.
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.