Category Archives: Youth

Newburyport Schools are Doing Awesome-Congratulations

From today’s Newburyport Daily News

Newburyport Leads Local Schools in MCAS Results

“The state released the results of the Spring 2013 MCAS, and once again local schools outperformed the state average in nearly every category, with Newburyport leading the way.

Overall, Newburyport had the highest scores across all grade levels and subjects in the region…”

Congratulations to all our wonderful teachers. The complete story can be read here.

The Newburyport School Vote and Senior Center Passes

The Newburyport school vote and the Senior Center Passes!!

Good go’n Newburyport!!

Below are the election results thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page!!

School vote and Senior Center passes (photo thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page)

School vote and Senior Center passes (photo thanks to the Port Pride Facebook page)

Here is a breakdown of the voting totals, thanks to Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron.

Question 1, Building a new Bresnahan Model School building (Press to enlarge)

Question 1, press to enlarge

Question 1, (Press to enlarge)

Question 2, Renovating and upgrading the Nock/Molin Upper Elementary school (Press to enlarge)

Question 2 (Press to enlarge)

Question 2 (Press to enlarge)

Question 3, Building a new Senior & Community Center (Press to enlarge)

Question 3 (Press to enlarge)

Question 3 (Press to enlarge)

All three questions together (Press to enlarge)

Newburyport Election, June 5, 2012

Newburyport Election, June 5, 2012 (Press to enlarge)

They did it

Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, Season 2011, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).

Green Theatre Collective at Sylvester Manor, Shelter Island, NY, As You LIke It (press image to enlarge).

They did it. Green Theatre Collective (GTC) raised $10,000 in 4 weeks.  Oh me of little faith.  And that means that this eco-theater company with its roots (pun intended) in Newburyport, can gather the just plain old lovely young men and women who made up the company last year, and go for it again this year, this time with Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, The Tempest.

And GTC had its maiden voyage right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts, sponsored by Theater in the Open, in a gorgeous setting for Shakespeare’s As You Like It at Maudslay State Park last summer.  With a big thank you for a plug by Tom Salemi  at Newburyport Posts and JC Lockwood at Newbuyrport Arts, along with the Newburyport Daily News and the Newburyport Current.

Ok, its personal. The GTC founder and Executive Producer is my son, Hal Fickett, who got his education right here in Newburyport, Massachusetts (yes, we do have great schools that are most worthy of our support).  And the first performance was dedicated to most beloved Newburyport High School theater teacher, Suzanne Bryan and all Newburyport educators (those graduates do appreciate you folks!).

Am I proud and excited for this young eco-theater company.  You betcha!

Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, Season 2011 (press image to enlarge).

Green Theatre Collective at Maudslay State Park, Newburyport, MA, As You Like It (press image to enlarge).

School Snow Days

I wake up at 4AM. No snow, yet.

At 6:30 sharp, I hear 4 siren blasts signaling no school for the young men and women, children of all sorts, in the Newburyport Public School system. And I imagine all over our small New England seacoast city, mothers and fathers either saying, go back to sleep (and hoping everyone sleeps till about noon), or bundling up all and sundry and getting them to day-care, so that they themselves can begin, what weather forecasters forecast as being the commute from hell.

Parents all over the city wondering to themselves, in a cabin-fever winter, how to get through yet another Newburyport snow day. Children all over Newburyport, MA marveling in delight at yet another opportunity not to go to school, again, not realizing that in the joy of springtime, all those days will, of course, be added on to the Newburyport school calendar. But that reality is way, way in the future, a whole new far off season.

I look out the window and only tiny snow-flakes are falling, accumulation is therefore light. Not until later in the day when the temperature rises will Newburyport, New England be blessed with big fat snow flakes falling and accumulating rapidly. And then I gather we will be blessed by all that snow being soaked with ice and rain, and then dropping temperatures and a frozen white mess.

But for now, a day that promises some good hours of work, before the snow removal thing begins, and the wild dash to remove the fluffy stuff, before the ice and rain starts to fall.

On my walk the other day, I noticed that the light is changing, the way it starts to change in late September, signaling that the days will shortly get shorter. Only this time, it is the reverse.

It gets dark at 5:15 now instead of 4:30, and the sky has that promising pinkish huge at the end of the day.

And I imagine that parents and people all over Newburyport, New England, tell themselves that February is almost here, and that we must surely be on the backside of a long Newburyport, New England winter.

Stephanie Weaver, Newburyport School Committee Election

Well, I learned something.

For me, anyone with a name associated with the “Yes for Newburyport” folks would be “polarizing.”

But, I think that the election for Newburyport School Committee is really, really important, and I got to tell you I know almost zip about the candidates. (Now I know a little bit more than completely zip.)

So since Stephanie Weaver (who is running for Newburyport School Committee) lives near by, I decided to stop by on one of my walks and introduce myself.

Well, I gotta tell you folks, I had an incredibly pleasant surprise.

Stephanie Weaver, in my book, turned out to be not a “this is how we are going to do it” sort of person, but instead someone who is a “listener” and appears to have a talent that is very much needed– a communicator and a “bridge-builder.”

It takes a whole lot to impress me, and I was way impressed.

I’m sure many of you have noticed signs around town. Most of the time they are clumped together in ideological groups.

But take a look at this twosome:

weaver_roberts1.jpg
Stephanie Weaver, School Committee
Gary Roberts, Councilor at Large

In most people’s books, this would be a political and ideological “odd couple.”

But there they are. Two folks very much trying to be Newburyport “bridge-builders.” And I got to say that this works for me.

And the feedback that I’ve gotten from other folks, and I gotta say unlikely candidates, is that Stephanie Weaver is one of the folks at the top of their list.

Ms Weaver has been working real hard at going door to door. So if she happens to knock on your door, take a moment, have a chat and take the time to introduce yourself to this young lady. Be a bridge-builder too.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Art and Real Estate

It dawned on me… Yes, I know what caused yesterday’s post to percolate up into my brain. It was my brief visit to Providence, RI.

3 decades ago, in the 70′s, before it got “gussied up,” (sort of) I lived there. Living there was one of the reasons I fell in love with Newburyport, MA when I saw it for the first time 25+ years ago. In part, it reminded me of Providence, RI.

As of 1992 Providence has 7 local historic district overlay zones. Wow.

And it shows, big time.

Downtown Providence (Downtown Historic District) reminds me a little of my hometown, NYC, when Soho was getting it’s “comeuppance” or rather “up and coming.” One street would be swanky, the next street over would resemble the “Bowery,” in the old days, when it was “sketchy” (not like it is now).

I went on a hunt in downtown Providence, determined to do my own version of eating on $40 a day or less.

And I came across a place that was packed with folks. It was on the verge of the “sketchy” part of town. It turned out to have a restaurant and a bar, and the best fish tacos I ever ate for $3.35 or something. I ate a whole lot of fish tacos and also managed to sort of get the recipe.

When I started to pay attention to the place, after about my 3rd visit and a lot of fish tacos, I realized that I was hanging around, with a bunch of young artists in their 20′s and 30′s. (I guess that’s why I felt so “at home.”)

The place not only had a fun/funky restaurant and bar, but it also had an art gallery on one side, a small “black box” real live theater on the other side, and a place for great live bands on the inside.

And it turns out that there were a lot of “young’ns” from Newburyport, folks I knew and recognized.

Pretty cool.

And an awesome idea. But won’t happen in a place that’s too gentrified (that’s us now, Newburyport, MA)… It’s gotta be a place that’s kind a “sketchy,” with low cost real estate, to pull something like that off.

Made me miss Taffy’s and Cathy Ann’s. Glad we still have Angie’s. Glad to still have the “black box” theater at the Tannery.

Made me think that folks involved in the “arts” could be good for something.

And you know, since that place is so hopping, it won’t last long. Real estate brokers will move in, and all those good art folks will move on like nomads finding the next hot real estate market.

So the Republicans could be grateful for those liberal, art kids.

I sure am. And I’m dying for more of those fish tacos.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Son, Shakespeare and Theatre Stuff

One of the “perks” of being the editor of the Newburyport Blog is that I get to brag brazenly about my son.

The justification of course is “education,” that a young man who went through the Newburyport Public School system could this day be doing Ok.

MY son, in NYC 10 months and in his fourth play. Yes, very proud Mom.

And the theatre company, Hipgnosis, has picked, for such a young, “hip” theater company, in today’s world, a very politically incorrect play, “The Taming of the Shrew” (by William Shakespeare).

Could Mr. Shakespeare consider moi, a female blogger with an occasional strong, uncooperative opinion, a “shrew?” Goodness, who knows? Maybe.

Taming_shrew.jpg
Hipgnosis Theatre
William Shakespeare
Taming of the Shrew

How did the Hipgnosis Theatre Company go about reconciling what could easily have been done in 1950, no problem, in the year of political correctness, 2007– the solution, a combination of Shakespeare and vaudeville. What can I say, I loved it.

A wonderful romp and what I considered a tongue in cheek approach to the “taming” part (which would be considered “spousal abuse” today) by the hubby and the “compliance” part by Kate, the “tamed shrew.” Plus, by the end of the play, there was no doubt about it, it was real obvious, that they were real, real “hot” for each other. Sizzle.

For goodness sakes, Shakespeare, if he were around today, would be right. It’s not until real, real recently, that women have gotten the privilege of speaking up about stuff (for which this female blogger and painter is most grateful, good grief) without being labeled a “shrew” or whatever nifty label equivalent. (Not that that doesn’t still happen on occasion today.)

We’ve had millenniums, not just centuries of women not being able to have a “say.” And it is this blogger’s humble opinion, that it’s not just in previous millenniums, centuries, decades that men like to have their women good looking, and to shut up and be quiet, and for goodness sakes do and say what you are told to say and do.

But in today’s world, my goodness, there are equivalents. Take the “trophy wife” with a lousy pre-nup:

Darling the sky is purple.

Yes, dearest, the sky is purple. And now can I have my Mercedes-Benz?

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, A Young Municipal Candidate

A concern I have about Gardiner Bacon as a possible mayor, is yes, Mr. Bacon has no experience being part of the city government of Newburyport, MA. I think, as I mentioned in the previous post, having well thought out opinions on issues is very different than dealing with the day to day decision making that goes on as an elected official.

And my second concern would be the lack of life experience. The optimism and energy of youth is infectious. However, dealing with life’s inevitable setbacks and responsibilities could, one always hopes, provide a maturing process, combined with a perspective that could help with life’s altering choices and decisions, that would aide leadership on the municipal level.

That being said, I am very excited about following Mr. Bacon’s journey as a candidate. Self assured and articulate, my great hope is that with Gardiner Bacon’s leadership, possibly for the first time, we could see the “youth” of Newburyport, MA mobilized and energized in the municipal political process.

One of their own is running for mayor of Newburyport, MA.

And running as a serious candidate.

Although, I still maintain that most of the populace of Newburyport, MA is oblivious to mayoral debates, I think Mr. Bacon would enliven those debates, no matter who would be running for mayor of Newburyport, MA (including the possible candidacy of Jim Roy, the ever articulate and feisty Newburyport activist.)

Charming, articulate and quick on his feet, I would imagine on some level many would be routing for Gardiner Bacon.

And I also think that we as a community would be very proud that such an intelligent and thoughtful young man from the Newburyport public school system, would be willing to step up to the plate, so to speak, and take civic involvement so seriously. What an incredible example not only for the “youth” of Newburyport, MA, but for the “youth” everywhere in our country. Not to mention being an example for the general populace of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Parenthood and Education

Being a parent. No small thing.

I have one child, a son, who turns 23 this Thursday.

He lives in my home town of NYC and opens in his 3rd off (sometimes off-off) Broadway production since being in NYC for 9 months.

My son is the product of the Newburyport public school educational system.

When I first moved here, low so many years (decades) ago, I would most definitely have considered the Newburyport public schools to be “mediocre.”

Somewhere along the line they could have gone from “mediocre,” as Jim Roy has said in his article in the Newburyport Current, to “average.” The great fear is that they could be “mediocre.”

When my son entered the public school system I had no illusions that he would at any time get anything close to a private school education. He did not.

And when he went to a private college following Newburyport High School, the college was well aware of the discrepancy between a public and private education and adjusted their curriculum accordingly.

No, my son did not learn Latin, but I think he learned many more valuable lessons. One can always learn Latin if one is so inclined.

He learned what it was to be part of the community of Newburyport, MA, the good, the bad, ugly and the downright wonderful and moving.

He did not think he was “special,” but he knew that he was appreciated and that he was loved.

And somehow, along the way he acquired a great curiosity for learning. Maybe one of the greatest gifts that an educational system can bestow. In his freshman year, although it was not on the curriculum at Newburyport High School, he discovered the “Beat” writers and read everything there was to read from Jack Kerouac and company.

He continued to read at a college and post college level, which again had nothing to do with curriculum, all the way through Newburyport High School. Reading Nietzsche as a high school sophomore is pretty impressive. I have never read Nietzsche, so believe me, this is something he did not get from me.

To this day he reads on, as well as discovering and reading authors that I have never heard of.

He also writes poetry and plays.

And I thought for today’s post, I would include one of my favorite poems that my son has written.

in my belly is the sea
of my mother
i am the wind
a white dress
slips through a hand
like water
this is love

© Hal Fickett

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, State Educational Funding and Reform

In my quest for trying to find some sort of resolution to local funding problems that is less divisive to our community (and other communities) than a local override, I came across an organization called “Stand for Children,” www.stand.org/ma.

This is from the Massachusetts Stand for Children website:

“The financial crisis in education is no secret. On March 14, 2007, our own Education Commissioner Driscoll testified to the Ways and Means Committee that this year’s school funding crisis was the worst he had seen yet…”

“Today’s outdated foundation budget shortchanges state and federal mandates, curriculum frameworks, classroom technology, the cost of educator development, early education needs, and best practices established in the 13 years since Ed Reform. In addition, it grossly understates the costs of special education and other services to at-risk populations…”

“On Wednesday, April 25, nearly 2,000 education supporters, representing more than 85 communities across the Commonwealth, joined the Stand for Children School Funding Rally on Boston Common. And early in the day, Stand for Children brought more than 400 citizens in to the State House to meet personally with 48 lawmakers and legislative staff to deliver a simple message: our schools need funding relief and reform.

Parents, teachers, and students from across the state demanded that Massachusetts lawmakers provide immediate financial relief to school districts facing teacher layoffs and school closures. They also urged legislators to find a long-term solution to our state’s school funding crisis by committing to reforming state education funding.”

Governor Deval Patrick addressed the crowd. And in an article in the Boston Globe, May 2, 2007, “Patrick Targets School Funding,” by Lisa Wangsness:

“Patrick issued some of his most pointed comments to date, saying the state can no longer afford to rely on the local property tax to fund public education…

The pressure on the local property tax in recent years has chafed cities and towns, as the cost of healthcare has ballooned and state aid — despite recent increases — has not kept up with inflation…

Currently, the state covers less than 40 percent of the cost of local education, with cities and towns picking up the rest through the property tax. While it is a stable source of revenue, it places a sometimes difficult burden on the elderly or people with fixed incomes, and some argue it increases the disparity between communities based on personal income and property value.”

Governor Deval Patrick hopes to release a comprehensive education reform plan in June.

Well, whew, someone on the state level is listening to the anguish of cities and towns across the state of Massachusetts.

There is a “Chapter” of Stand for Children in Lowell. And there is a “Team” for Stand for Children in Gloucester.

It would be nice if there were a “Chapter” or “Team” for Stand for Children in Newburyport, MA. And that at any further rallies for state funding for our schools, Newburyport, MA might be in the forefront of those meeting with lawmakers and legislative staff fighting for educational funding and reform.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Override Politics

My experience is that in politics as an election gets closer, people forget nuance, people forget logical thought process. It almost always comes down to an emotional, two or three sentence, gut level response.

And in politics folks are basically trying to “sell” you their point of view.

Think about something as benign as juice drinks. Do you think about the nuance of why one juice drink might be better than the other? No. You think about which juice drink stinks, and which juice drink will “change your life.” (Slight exaggeration.)

Would political issues be any different? Personally I don’t think so.

Remember that famous political phrase, “It’s the economy stupid.” Another words, vote for the other guy and your future will go down the drain. And it worked.

There are many thoughtful folks on either side of the override issue (the Spring override for the $1.58 Million for the Newburyport Schools) and well thought out reasoning on both sides as to why the override should or should not be voted for.

But I think basically it’s going to come down this:

1) If you vote against the override, you don’t care about the children. It’s for the kids. Our children are our future. You will force young families to leave Newburyport, MA in droves and Newburyport will no longer be a vibrant city.

Or

2) If you vote for the override you will force the elderly and the lower and middle class folks who are just getting by out of their homes and destroy their lives. Newburyport will become a place that only the wealthy can afford.

And both sides would scream that I am absolutely wrong, that I could not possibly be right. But you know in your heart of hearts that I most probably am. (If you haven’t already, keep an eye on those Letters to the Editor. They have and would most likely aim for right for the gut.)

And also, I think it often comes down to which side folks feel has the most integrity. Who do you like? Who do you trust?

Small slips, much less big slips can turn a campaign in a completely different/wrong direction. Once that happens, it’s very hard to recover.

It’s like going to a restaurant. One bad meal, and unless there is incredible loyalty, most folks don’t go back.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Reasons to Move to Newburyport, MA

When I moved here in 1981 (I was 29… Oh, to be 29 again…) it didn’t take much of a gander at Newburyport, MA to know that if “excellent” schools were at the top of my list of “must haves,” that Newburyport, MA was not the place to move to.

If a really good school system was at the top of my list, I would have considered moving to places like Hamilton, Wenham or Wellesley, wealthy suburban communities.

But I didn’t want to live in a “wealthy suburban” community. I wanted to live in this wonderful small seacoast city, that was actually a city, not a suburb. That was a short drive from miles of gorgeous beach along the Atlantic Ocean. And that had an historic quality that was just downright captivating. And I thought it was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.

And I still think that today.

And this was before Maudslay or the Tannery ever existed.

Many of my friends and acquaintances home schooled (home schooling was very big back then) and many took advantage of the many first rate private schools in the area on all grade levels. I never expected the Newburyport public schools to be “excellent.”

When the bambino arrived I thought long and hard about my options. And I made a very conscious choice to choose Newburyport’s public schools.

An “excellent” education was not at the top of my list. “Life lessons” were. And I decided that life lessons for my child would be best learned in the Newburyport Public Schools, which I rated anywhere from a C+ to a B+. Certainly not an A+ or even an A-.

And I also felt that Newburyport as a community had so much to offer (which is one of the reasons why I chose it) from the Pioneer League, to the Newburyport Art Association, to Theater in the Open etc. etc. etc., that whatever deficiencies the Newburyport school system might have, the City of Newburyport offered a wealth of tangible and intangible gifts that would last in my son’s soul far longer than what he might find in a traditional educational system.

In my mind, the many assets that Newburyport has to offer contributed to my son’s acquisition of knowledge.

And I found my to my surprise that this was confirmed in an article linked to by the “yesfornewburyport.org” website, “Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.” (April 11, 2007).

“School, what is it good for? When it comes to home prices, school matters. Buyers will pay a premium to live near top schools.”
By Sarah Max, senior writer

“Not true everywhere

Of course, not everyone has school on the brain.

According to an NAR (National Association of Realtors) survey of buyers in 2003, 25 percent of buyers in the suburbs cited schools as an important factor in their buying decision. But in urban areas, only 12 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list of priorities. Shopping, recreation and entertainment proved more important. In resort areas, meanwhile, only 8 percent of buyers ranked schools high on their list.

“There are only two places we have found school values going out the window,” said Bainbridge. One is beach property and the other is what he calls “historically preserved areas,” urban areas that are being redeveloped.”
CNN/Money, August 30, 2004

So it is quite possible that historic preservation and gorgeous beaches might be part of the reason that Newburyport, MA has become so desirable. And that the Newburyport school system could be part of a larger equation.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Losing Our Town

My Dad is 89, lives on his own in New York City, goes to work everyday and is one smart cookie. He also loves politics. On the political thing, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

I wanted his opinion on the hostility over the whole issue of the override for our Newburyport Schools.

The parent side was easy. The parents care about their children and want them to have a good education. Good schools are a good community investment. (My own feeling too, is the decibel sound may be so loud, at least to my ears, because parents may feel that up to this point, no one has been listening. “Bingo”??)

But how to articulate what the folks against the override feel? And my Dad, smart cookie that he is, had this to say… they feel like the override folks are going to “take over.” They feel like “they are going to lose their town.” A definite “Bingo” in my book.

And yes, I’ve been wandering around town on my walks and talking to folks, and what people say to me boils down to my father’s 2 succinct phrases.

What I hear is that, the folks (for the most part) who are pushing for an override do not have roots here. Their kids may not stay in the system. And they may not stay here at all.

The folks pushing for the override don’t see the big financial picture. All of Newburyport is in a fiscal crisis, just not the schools.

And yes, there are definitely already people on the financial edge, not only “seniors” but folks who moved here in the 70′s and early 80′s and, who in many instances, are not in high paying jobs.

That taxes would become so high, that people not only would want to move, but they might not be able to move, because no one would want to move into a town that would be so unaffordable, especially in an economic downturn.

That a place like Salisbury is becoming the “it” town, because compared to Newburyport, a middle income family could afford to live there.

And that by driving out the people who “made” this town, the soul of the city would be lost.

That for years, the children of the people who live in Newburyport, have not been able to afford to live here, and that trend would only escalate. (One of the things that Gardiner Bacon told me was that he was running for mayor now, because once he goes off to college, he would never be able to afford to live in Newburyport, MA again.)

All of that is of course a much more “tactful” version than what I was actually hearing.

My father, good Liberal Democrat that he is, was all for education, and pointed out that there’s “no free lunch.” His solution, which was very much like the solution by a gentleman in a Letter to the Editor in today’s Newburyport Daily News, was to raise state taxes, and then the state would have enough money to pass onto local cities and towns.

He was not optimistic that we would see any money for our fiscal woes any time soon from the Feds.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Magical Thinking

I worry that we’ve gotten to a state of magical thinking about how we could solve our Newburyport school’s dilemmas.

Instead of the frenzy dying down after last Monday’s Newburyport City Council meeting, the volume, at least to my ears, has gone way up.

I think it came as a big, and very disappointing (is this a vast understatement? yes) surprise, my last post… that yes, in black and white and with an email from Mass DOR’s legal department, no less, that an $1.6 million dollar override would only be allocated, legally, to the schools for one year. And then that money goes into the general funds.

I can almost sense, the panic and the fear and the anger of the parents and concerned folks who read that paragraph.

But to be determined that it is not so, unhappily, is magical thinking.

And the other reality is that expenses go up and $1.6 million dollars plus its 2 ½ increase would diminish.

I pay for my own health insurance. It went up 10% this year. The city of Newburyport’s health insurance expenses, just like everyone else’s health expenses go up a whole lot more than 2 ½ % each year. Heating bills, electric bill. Mine have sure gone up. I bet so have yours.

We had department heads this year that got 5.5% raises (not that they didn’t deserve them). That’s more than 2 ½ %. Negotiations are coming up with most of the city’s unions for new contracts. We have all just lost 2 fire trucks. $450,000 to replace one. And one was purchased 1968. A very old fire truck.

There are no silver bullet answers. And it is my opinion that the $1.6 million dollar override that permanently raises taxes, is not a silver bullet answer.

I have a very old friend, who is a doctor, who told me a wonderful story. He was a resident and it was back in the days when doctor’s still made house calls (so, yes, this is a very old friend). He received a message that there was an emergency and he rushed over to where it was. Before he knocked on the door, he stood for a moment and straightened his tie, calmed himself down and then went in and coped with the calamity.

His supervisor asked him what was the most important thing that he did, in that crisis. My friend looked at his supervisor, and with some hesitation said, “straightening my tie?” And the supervisor, said yes, that was the most important thing that this, then young intern did.

We have a wonderful example of a gentleman in our community, in the situation that we face with our schools, who has done and is doing (at least to my knowledge) just that, “straightening his tie.” And that is Newburyport School Superintendent Kevin Lyons. A remarkable example of leadership.

It doesn’t appear to be courage, it appears to be leadership, it appears to be “tie straightening.”

I think it might be a good idea for all of us who are caught up in this drama to pause and to do a little “tie straightening.” It’s important to deal with the facts of a crisis in a calm way, because magical thinking may be comforting, but, unfortunately it will not solve this very complicated Newburyport school dilemma.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, School Funding

After reading Mr. Cole’s post(s) about the Newburyport School override, I was still confused about whether or not the entire amount of the $1.6 million override would be allocated to the Newburyport schools after one year, or if the money would go into Newburyport’s general fund. That is if the Newburyport school override would be voted in.

So I went on a hunt. And I talked to a whole lot of people. And spent a whole lot of time at the Mass DOR website.

“Proposition 21⁄2 establishes a limit on the annual property tax levy and approval of an override or exclusion question only increases the amount a community may raise in taxes. It does not authorize or require spending for the purpose of the question.”

“The additional funds raised by the override are “earmarked” for the stated spending purpose only in the first fiscal year.” (Mass DOR’s underlines, not mine)

For PDF version, please press here.

So as I understand it, an override for the Newburyport schools would only be earmarked for one year. After that, the money would be allocated with all other funds as part of the annual budget process.

Whether or not the override would continue to be allocated to the Newburyport schools, as I understand it, is a very grey area. There are no guarantees.

The only guarantee that an override would be allocated for the schools permanently, is if it were for purposes of funding a Stabilization Fund or a “Rainy Day Fund,” a change made to Massachusetts General Law in 2003.

The one thing that is definite, is that if an override would pass, it would be a permanent tax increase.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Editor’s Note: I received this email from Mass DOR which I will pass onto the readers of the Newburyport Blog:

“Mary:

In order for an override for schools to be effective to increase the town’s levy limit, any appropriation for the specific purpose of the override must be at least the amount of the override, in the first year. That does not necessarily mean that additional appropriations have to be made to the schools, dependent on the specific language of the override purpose. After the first year, there is no requirement that the override amount be appropriated to the schools in order for the override to provide additional levy capacity. See our publication entitled Proposition 2½, part IV.A.1 on page 9 (PDF version), which also provides more information on Proposition 2½.

Gary A. Blau, Tax Counsel
Bureau of Municipal Finance Law
PO Box 9569
Boston, MA 02114-9569
617-626-2400
blau@dor.state.ma.us”

From the Chair of the Newburyport School Committee, Part 1

Dear Mary,

I am humbled and honored to be a member of the Newburyport School Committee, and serve as the committee’s vice chair. As a School Committee member, within my relations with the community my primary responsibility is to the children. As an elected official, I have been entrusted by the voters with the responsibility to help provide the best education for the children of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

At this time, as I have in the past, I would like to use the Newburyport Blog to share and communicate issues that are most relevant today, and that I am able to appropriately report on.

I would like to start with a detail that you included in the entry posted March 28th, 2007 “Newburyport, School Override.” Your premise that the schools would only benefit from the override for one year, should it be approved by the City Council to be voted on by the citizens of Newburyport, and pass, is incorrect. Please let me offer an explanation.

To use a recent recorded article, I’ll refer to the article in the Newburyport Daily News on Tuesday, March 27, 2007. At the top of the Newburyport page, A-3 there is an article “High School Proposal eliminates more teachers.” In the article there is a “proposed budget of $21,956,582.” Let’s use that number as a base.

That number results from Dr. Lyons restructuring and school reconfiguration plan, to be voted on by the School Committee on April 2, 2007. It reduces the budget deficit that was above $1.5 million dollars. While reducing expenses, it also creates an opportunity to add value to our schools by reengineering our educational programs to improve student achievement. This process would add value to our school district. It would also add value to the educational tax dollar, by reducing costs and adding value. Value equals quality over cost.

The plan also creates a platform from which to raise student achievement and add more value to the educational dollar within five areas of focus:
A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum
A Best Practices Literacy Program Grades K through 6
Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking across the curriculum for grades 7 through 12
A Redesigned Math Program for Grades 5 through 9
and
A Sustainable Technology Program

The first piece of good news is that the Redesigned Math Program is already built in, through the restructuring. It needs to be. As math achievement in grades 5 through 9 needs improvement, now. This is especially evidenced by middle school MCAS scoring.

As a School Committee we have stated our intent to hear the recommended FY ’08 budget, formally presented. This was completed on Sat. 3/24, at the conclusion of a 51/2 hour meeting, and provides adequate opportunity to invite more public discussion an input during meetings on March 28 & April 2.

Steven P. Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

(Editor’s Note: Part 1 of a two part post)

From the Chair of the Newburyport School Committee, Part 2

The School Committee has been clear that we will vote on the Dr. Lyons’ recommended restructuring and reconfiguration on April 2nd, along with voting on a final override list, on that same evening.

The list is expected to cost $1.63 million dollars, the basis of the override question. We will provide detail to what each item costs, for the City Council, for our April 3rd resubmission of a transfer and order for a special election.

Should that transfer and order pass, should the special election pass an override, those dollars will be added to the school district budget.

The $21,956,582 will have $1.63 million added to it. The total FY ’08 budget will be approximately $23,586.582. I say this as I do not know the exact dollar or penny what $1.63 million will be, could be $1,630,499 for example.

When we go to prepare the FY ’09 budget, it will be based on that number, plus the typical City appropriation of 2.5%. And yes, the property tax increase stays in effect for all property owners in the city, for FY ’08, 09 and for years to come. The hope is that revenue from the state will increase in three years, and revenue from the city will improve as well.

Because we have reduced expenses we will have less cost increase for FY ’09.

Another way to protect against cost increase is to include items in the override such as a technology purchase, and allocate dollars so that the first year purchase has an impact for some of the next year, we take out less that we will need to buy in ’09.

What drives this plan is the state of Massachusetts’ outlook for school funding to be flat for the next three years, including this year. If we didn’t reduce expenses this year, we would not have closed the deficit. If we don’t add value by dollars via an override, we will not be able to add value to our educational programs. Our budget gap would remain wide today, and get wider tomorrow. By approaching it in this way, we reduce expenses, add revenue, which mitigates against a widening gap, and provides a platform to add those items to improve student achievement.

With less expenses we should have less exposure to cost increases. Of course, there will be some, but some of those may be mitigated against by results of the plan, again in reducing expenses.

What I would like to do, over the next few days, would be to provide some clear explanation and detail of what each of the five areas of focus are. I would begin with “A Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum.”

As always, any opinion that I express is my own, and does not necessarily reflect those of the School Committee or any of its individual members.

The explanation detail that I would provide is public knowledge.

I look forward to these opportunities to share this information.

Thanks,
Steven P. Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

(Editor’s note: Part 2 of a two part post)

(Editor’s note: Since the “whole being sued thing” I have not had a “guest blogger” pretty much since October, and I’ve grown to like it that way. For the moment I’ve removed the “Guidelines and Overview” as well as the “FAQ” page from the Newburyport Blog. I am giving a lot of thought to what the policy of the Newburyport Blog might be. Many thanks to Steven Cole, but I think Mr. Cole will be the last guest blogger, at least for a while, until I figure out what I would like to do. Mary Eaton, editor of the Newburyport Blog.)

Newburyport, School Override

One of the things I learned on Monday night, March 26, 2007, watching the Newburyport City Council meeting on TV, was that even if an override for the Newburyport schools could be voted in, the Newburyport schools would benefit for only one year.

After that year, the money would go into the general fund, and the schools would only get 45% or 50% or whatever the percentage of the Newburyport budget is, that goes to the Newburyport schools each year. The residents of Newburyport, MA would still pay their higher taxes.

And next spring, parents and the Newburyport School Committee would be in the very same predicament, and the residence could be asked to raise their taxes yet once again.

We would be voting for a band aid that wouldn’t stick. It would a band aid that would peel off.

This was new news to me. And I was even less inclined to upped my taxes than I was before.

I do want to reinstate so many of the cuts that have been made to our schools over the last 4-5 years. But an override does not appear to be the way to do it.

I have no idea about these things, but I would be much more inclined to support a one-time debt exclusion where the money goes into a fund for the schools, is managed, and the schools can draw from the income of that fund every year. And that fund could gradually be added onto.

I do not know if this idea, or something like it, would be possible or not.

And when I read that the Newburyport School Committee and various parents would be planning to resubmit the override at the next Newburyport City Council, my blood pressure just about went off the charts. (The override did not pass by a 7 to 3 vote.)

As I understand it, resubmitting the override may be legal, but it is my opinion that it would be politically unwise.

Residents in the city of Newburyport are angry over this matter. The city of Newburyport is already divided. And to resubmit an override after it was defeated 7-3 would be to invite further hostility towards young families and the Newburyport School Committee. I do not believe that this would a good idea or in the long run, help solve the problem at hand.

Let’s say the Newburyport City Council is worn down by a repeat (or repeated??) resubmissions. People will vote, but they will be pissed.

I would urge the Newburyport School Committee and the parents who are behind the present Newburyport school override to think. To act wisely. To use political savvy. Because at the moment, it feels like emotional blackmail, at least to this blogger.

It would be much better to figure out a thoughtful, beneficial, win-win solution, than to go down this very detrimental path. It might be one thing to “win the battle,” but it would be quite another thing to “lose the war,” something that would hurt the entire city of Newburyport, MA.

Mary Eaton
Newburyport

Newburyport, Conversation About our Schools

I had a conversation with a Newburyport School Committee member about my complete confusion about what is going on.

One of the things I was told was the Newburyport Elementary School Needs Report would be completely off the table. With the refiguring of the Newburyport Kindergarten and the Newburyport Elementary Schools, building new elementary schools would no longer be necessary.

Let me tell you, if this is true, this is big news to me, and I would imagine it would be big news to most folks.

That means, if this conversation is valid, the Taj Mahal approach to our Newburyport Elementary Schools Needs is no longer an issue, and would NOT be something that the residents of Newburyport, MA would be asked to vote for. (ie NOT be asked ever to vote for a 30 million plus spanking new elementary school system. Repairs, most definitely needed, new school, maybe not?)

The Elementary School Needs report is still on the City of Newburyport Schools website, so it doesn’t sound like this one is exactly official. But if it is being considered, this is something the voters would definitely like to know about, pronto.

One of my other (of many) inquiries was whether the Newburyport School Committee was supporting Newburyport Superintendent Kevin Lyons and his refiguring of the Kindergarten and Newburyport Elementary Schools. The answer was “yes.” And the Newburyport School Committee would be taking a vote on that plan soon.

Also big news to me. And I think big news to most folks.

There was also a conversation about selling the Kelly School and putting that money into a trust, to be used for improvements to the Newburyport school system. In theory, other people and organizations could also add to that trust. (Wouldn’t that be nice. I’d love that one.)

And there was also a discussion about no longer needing the Cherry Hill property. And now having the option of selling that property and adding it to the theoretical trust.

Really big news on that one.

All of this sounded rational, organized and sane. I hope that it is all true.

If any of this information could be true, it would be my wish for the Newburyport School Committee to “communicate” this. Because I most certainly have been very confused. First asking for a Taj Mahal approach to our elementary schools, a very short while ago, and then asking for an override vote for capital expenditures, and no vote yet on Superintendent Kevin Lyon’s restructuring plan.

May rational thought rule. And could any of this be true, may we all be informed of this “new” agenda.

(And as a PS… I’ve now started to monitor my phone calls again, after a happy, but brief “no monitoring” period, until this whole school override, restructuring thing is resolved. Otherwise I’d be on the phone 24/7 with various and sundry “trying to set me straight.” An emotional issue.

My condolences to the Newburyport School Committee members, the Newburyport City Council and the Mayor. They don’t get the “blogger privilege” of the “call monitoring” thing. But then they ran for office.)

Mary Eaton
Newburyport