BEVERLY — Rising class sizes and the potential loss of two neighborhood schools has parents scrambling for another way to cut costs.
"Everyone — not just at McKeown, not just at Cove — is up in arms," McKeown PTO President Julie DeSilva said.
PTOs across the city are organizing meetings and plan to meet with the mayor today at 9:30 a.m. in City Hall to discuss Superintendent James Hayes' proposal to turn McKeown Elementary School into an alternative secondary school and Cove Elementary School into an early childhood education center. The proposal is a way to close a $2.6 million gap between spending and revenue in next year's budget.
In the proposal, students at McKeown would be split between Ayers and North Beverly schools. Students at Cove would be split between Centerville and Hannah schools.
"People buy houses to be in a certain district," said Victoria Hackett, who has a child going into first grade at Cove School in the fall. "We walk to school, and now we would go to Centerville and have to drive."
Parents are also upset because class sizes, which are already a concern, would increase.
"This is not fixing any of the problems we already have," DeSilva said.
Yet enrollment projections are declining, Hayes said. Although class sizes would be larger than they are now, they would not exceed the maximum levels set by the state.
In a previous scenario that involved cuts to programs, class sizes in the third, fourth and fifth grades would have gone from 30 students, which is the maximum, to 35. This new proposal keeps them within state standards and keeps most of the academic and extracurricular programs in place, Hayes said.
Students will receive a good education, he said, no matter what building they're in.
"When you close that door, you're going to have the same curriculum and good teaching," he said.
Mayor Bill Scanlon expressed support for the proposal, "or some variant of it," acknowledging that costs for health insurance, utilities and special education continue to rise beyond the district's control,
"This gives us an opportunity to actually have a sustainable school budget, which is an important thing for our future," he said.
Scanlon said most of the savings would come from the proposed 61 layoffs, including 47 elementary school teachers and staff.
"Obviously there is some dislocation here," he said. "It will undoubtedly be upsetting. But it doesn't impact the actual education delivered to children."
Some parents, however, wondered exactly how "sustainable" the plan would really be.
"It's not doing anything to address the costs to solve this problem," DeSilva said.
Health insurance and utilities will continue to rise, she said. And although there's an attempt to combat special education costs by creating an alternative secondary school, "Who wants to bring their kids back into a school system that shuffles kids year to year?" she asked.
Other school systems have cut programs because they have no other choice, he said. Will it come down to that for Beverly, even after the reorganization?
"Much of the answer rests at the state level," he said.
In the meantime, he said, "What I think we've tried to do is preserve programs for kids."
Current class sizes
First Second Third Fourth Fifth
Ayers 22 23 22 22 24
Centerville 18 20 30 28 22
Hannah 20 22 30 30 24
No. Beverly 18 22 22 25 20
McKeown 25 24 25 25 18
Cove 21 17 24 22 27
Proposed class sizes
First Second Third Fourth Fifth
Ayers 24 23 30 26 30
Centerville 25 24 27 30 30
Hannah 25 24 27 30 30
No. Beverly 24 23 30 26 30
McKeown Alternative secondary school
Cove Early Childhood Center
Maximum class sizes set by state
Kindergarten 20 students
Grades 1-2 25 students
Grades 3-5 30 students
The plan at a glance
r Turn McKeown Elementary School into an alternative secondary school for special needs students. Send current McKeown students to Ayers and North Beverly schools.
r Turn Cove Elementary School into an early childhood education center. Send current Cove students to Centerville and Hannah schools.
r Eliminate 61 full-time positions across the district, including 47 at the elementary schools, for a savings of $2.6 million. That leaves a budget shortfall of just $46,373 for next year.
r Keep most of the academic and extracurricular programs in the elementary schools.