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 11, 2012

Why is the District Soliciting Outside Students?

This notice on the Beverly Citizen top news listing this week caught our attention:
The Beverly Public Schools has openings for non-resident students, through the School Choice program beginning in August 2012. Available choice schools include the elementary schools; Ayers Ryal Side, Centerville, Cove, Hannah, and North Beverly in grades 1-5. In the secondary schools there are openings in the Briscoe Middle School for grades 6-8 and Beverly High School for grades 9, 11 and 12.

The schools offer: Modern, state of the art facilities, fine arts, sports and technology programs, a newly renovated high school, One to One Laptop Program at the high school level, after-school programs in the elementary schools.

If you are interested, submit a letter of application/request that includes the following: Student(s) name, name of parent/guardian, address, telephone, date of birth, prior school attended, grade (if elementary level which elementary school).
While we are aware of the school choice program, we found this type of "advertisement" puzzling, given that one of the overriding criticisms of the Beverly Schools is the ever increasing size of classes, and the fact that many of our own students who open-enroll to other Beverly elementary schools have been routinely shifted back to their "home school" in recent years in an effort to limit classes.

Since the beginning of this year, we have heard from several parents at various schools about classes that started the year in the mid to upper 20s, and have since increased further due to students moving into the district.

Furthermore, it has been stated repeatedly that there is a space crunch at most of the elementary schools, as well as Briscoe, and even the new high school. One of the selling points in the recent discussion of moving the 5th graders to the middle school was to alleviate the overcrowding at the elementary schools.

With the turmoil in the schools in Salem, we imagine that Beverly would be an attractive option for Salem parents, especially when other neighboring districts such as Manchester have recently shut the door to outside students altogether.

It's an encouraging sign that many Beverly students who had previously choiced out have decided to return to Beverly schools due primarily to the opening of the new high school.  But what does the district gain by seeking further non-Beverly students?

As with many school isssues, the answer appears to be money. The district receives funding from a student's home district for every student it accepts. But we wonder if the full cost (including any potential SPED services) of these students has been weighed, especially when state regulations require that once a student is accepted under the school choice plan, that the district owns them until high school graduation.

UPDATE: School Committee President Maria Decker contacted us to explain the reasoning further.  She said that the district does receive funding from a student's home district, and tries to select students for particular grades and schools where there is room, and can move them between schools as availability dictates.  The extra funding and students can, she says, in some cases allow the district to add a section of a particular grade, and therefore lower the overall class size in those grades.  She also confirmed that the home district is responsible for any future SPED costs for students we accept.

While this might be a reasonable explanation on a current year basis, it seems that the additional students could easily become a burden in future years, (Decker confirmed that once the district accepts a student, we "own" them until graduation) especially in a district that continually struggles to maintain reasonable class sizes, and in buildings that have been described by the Superintendent herself as "bursting at the seams."

1/19 UPDATE:  This issue was discussed in some detail at this week's School Committee meeting, which can be viewed in BevCam's streaming archive.

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