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Beverly

School will be spared

Even if override fails, Cove saved

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / May 25, 2008

The Beverly School Committee has approved a last-minute plan by Mayor William Scanlon to keep open one of two elementary schools recommended for closure by School Superintendent James Hayes as a deficit-reduction measure.

Scanlon's plan, adopted on a 5-2 vote Tuesday, would close the McKeown Elementary School but leave open the Cove Elementary School.

"I'm not happy in any sense here. I really wish I could save both schools, but I can't do that," Scanlon said, adding of his plan, "I think it's a better decision than closing both schools."

But the district could avoid either school closure if voters approve a proposed $2.5 million override at a June 3 special election.

Scanlon's plan uses $680,000 from projected savings in trash and recycling costs to keep the Cove school open.

Proceeds from the override, if passed, would erase the school deficit, projected at $2.67 million, keep open the McKeown school, a facility built for $6.7 million 10 years ago, and save an as-yet undetermined number of jobs.

The mayor's plan was presented more than a month after Hayes announced the budget shortfall.

Citing rising utility, health, and special education costs, the superintendent recommended in late March that the city close the Cove and McKeown schools, and cut 61.1 full-time jobs. Last week he adjusted that figure to 56.6 jobs.

Under Hayes's plan, the Cove building would be used as a city-wide early childhood center for preschool and kindergarten classes, and the McKeown building would house a secondary school-level alternative program.

In response to his proposal, parents in late March petitioned to hold the city's first override referendum, forming a pro-override group - Yes for Beverly! In April, the City Council approved the request and set June 3 as the date of the referendum.

If the override passes, the owner of a median single-family home valued at $369,850 would pay an additional $152 a year in taxes.

Hayes, whose plan was rejected by a 4-3 vote prior to the committee's approval of the mayor's plan, said he was disappointed.

"I thought we had a very solid plan that continued to provide education at a considerable cost savings, which is really important for this city," he said.

"The plan was very well thought out and developed and could have been implemented pretty easily."

Hayes said he is concerned that the mayor's plan may not eliminate the entire deficit, which could result in a need for further cuts.

He said he also worries that the adopted plan may not be sustainable, noting that it provides for roughly $1 million less in salary reductions than his plan.

Scanlon said his plan is based on figures provided by the superintendent.

He said any shortfall it fails to cover would be small in relation to the overall budget and "the superintendent will have to make it work."

"I believe we are going to be able to sustain it," he said, noting that "recycling has really caught on in this city," allowing Beverly to save on its trash costs.

Hayes said that the mayor's plan will require a complete redistricting of the city's elementary schools, while his plan would only require a reassignment of students from the McKeown to two other schools.

But Scanlon said he believes "some level of redistricting is quite appropriate" to address an imbalance in the numbers of at-risk students now at the various schools.

Scanlon noted that 37 percent of the students at the North Beverly Elementary School were classified as at-risk (those receiving discount lunches because of low income), while the other elementary schools had fewer than 20 percent at-risk students.

Despite his disappointment, Hayes said he has begun the work that will be needed to implement the mayor's plan if the override fails.

He said the committee has approved an alternative budget plan that will be put in place if the override passes. It would involve no school closures or layoffs.

Ward 3 School Committee member Jim Latter said he preferred the superintendent's plan because it "manifested more of a savings."

But once Hayes's plan was defeated, he voted in favor of the mayor's proposal because of the need to eliminate the deficit, Latter said.

And, he said, voting in the majority also preserved his option to later move for a reconsideration of the vote.

Leaders of the two main grass-roots groups that have advocated for and against the override both voiced disappointment with the committee's action.

Elliott Margolis, who founded the anti-override group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, said it is "totally irresponsible for the mayor to take funds that are designated for trash removal and give it to the schools."

Scanlon said the $680,000 earmarked for the schools does not come from trash fees.

He said it is money from the general fund that he projects will become available because of the city's reduced trash costs. (Beverly funds its trash costs through fees and the general budget.)

Joan Sullivan, a leader of Yes for Beverly!, called the mayor's plan "just another set of cuts to our schools and another Band-Aid solution.

"This plan will close our fourth school in five years, lay off teachers and staff, increase class sizes, cut programs, and redistrict students all across Beverly."

"Passing the override would close the budget gap and provide the time to implement sensible, effective, sustainable solutions to the schools' funding crisis," she said.

Steven Rosenberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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