Newburyport, High Street and Development

I’m really disturbed by this new “infill” project at 325 High Street. This isn’t just any old street, (not that any of our streets are really “any old street”) but this is High Street, the “Grand Dame of Newburyport,” the amazing gateway to our small, historic city.

One of the things that concerns me is that as small properties in the Northend and Southend of Newburyport gradually get “eaten up,” what’s left for developers to make money on in Newburyport’s historic district is High Street.

There is a tremendous amount of land behind those gorgeous houses that are on the “Ridge” side of the street. 325 High Street is an excellent example. So is the Wheelwright House (again, I have no idea what is happening with that property.)

It would be incredibly ironic if having fought MassHighway so hard for the beauty and historic character of High Street, only to have it be marred by developers. Ouch.

Not to sound like a broken record here, but this sort of thing was something very much on the mind of former Planning Director, Nick Cracknell. And he was working on solutions to this dilemma. Like putting a zoning overlay on the front part of the “Ridge” (the area on High Street between State and Lime Street) to protect people from building in front of those beautiful houses. (You know, as a City we can still do that one.)

I’ve talked to people about putting on deed restrictions on their High Street properties. Some have actually done so. Others want the option of being able to sell to developers, because they know that that’s how they are going to make the most money.

Again, things felt a lot safer when Nick Cracknell was around, because at least I trusted him to come up with thoughtful and sometimes, to me, astounding solutions to what often seemed to me to be unsolvable dilemmas.

And frankly, I don’t think any of the alternatives (shown on the Undertoad Blog) are in anyway acceptable. Not even the one that shows the potential use of the new cluster zoning law, because it’s still a version of urban sprawl on High Street. Good grief.

And when I read that a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals was the seller, let’s just say that my blood pressure went way, way up. There is the New Yorker in me that just wants to shake my finger and go “honey, you should know better.”

So what do we do? Hope that Mayor John Moak comes up with a new planning director who can negotiate with developers, and architects and lawyers for the overall good of the city. We had one of those and he’s gone.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Neighborhoods and Developers, What Now?

This is what I wonder. What happens now when a developer wants to start a project in a neighborhood? The infill project at 325 High Street, proposed by Jim Mellett of Marlin Properties, for example. If neighbors are unhappy with a proposed project, whom do they go to?

Before, the people of Newburyport, Massachusetts could turn to the Planning Director, Nick Cracknell. He would give them the information they needed, and help them negotiate with the developer for one of those great “Cracknell win-win” situations.

Now developers, architects and lawyers might not have like this process (I’m sure some did,) but it really, really helped the people whose lives were effected.

My own opinion is that the Newburyport Planning Board at the moment is very trustworthy. But it is my understanding that the Planning Board and the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) relied on Nick Cracknell to help them with the myriad of projects that came before the city. I don’t know if these boards, and they are volunteer boards, simply have the time and sometimes the expertise to help everyone that needs helping.

Personally I think that as citizens we’ve been spoiled. It seems to me that before Nick Cracknell arrived as Planning Director, when a project came before these boards, if the neighbors complained, the project didn’t happen and if there were no complaints the project was a go. (This may be simplistic, but it seems as if that was the case.)

In our project, in our neighborhood (see previous post,) in a “pre-Cracknell era” the project as it was originally proposed never would have happened, because the neighborhood was unanimous in feeling that we just didn’t like it. But we had Mr. Cracknell to give us information and act as a go-between between the neighbors and the developer.

What probably would have happened in a “pre-Cracknell era” is that as neighbors we would have killed the project. And then the developer would have come back with something else, which he could have worked within the zoning codes. But the project would have been much less appropriate and much, much worse (many examples of that in Newburyport, Massachusetts.)

So who is here to help your average citizen figure out what to do and help them negotiate with developers when they arrive in their back yard, so to speak?

Everyone tells me that Julie LaBlanche, in the Planning Office is great. I’ve only met her once. I’ve never worked with her on a project. But when people ask me whom to turn to (the alleged in-fill project at 30 Marlborough Street for example) I always suggest that they call Julie (The Planning Office phone number is 978-465-4400.)

But people really feel at a loss. And if anyone has any ideas, please let us all know. I for one don’t want to go back to the “pre-Cracknell” way of doing things. As a citizen I’ve learned too much. I know now that it is possible to help your average resident get a “win-win” situation when a developer shows up in their neighborhood.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

(Editor’s note: Spelling correction, it’s Julie LaBranche, not Julie LaBlanche who is the City Planner in the Newburyport Planning Office.)

Newburyport, An Experience With a Neighborhood Design Review

Ulrika Gerth did two terrific articles on “design review” for the Newburyport Current. I think I’ve finally calmed down enough after reading those articles to actually be able to write about the subject.

On a personal note, our neighborhood had an experience where “design review” became really important. (This was in the good old days of the once Planning Director, Nick Cracknell.)

We had a developer who wanted to redo a garage into a one family home.

The neighborhood was unanimous in feeling that the first design did not work. We were also unanimous in the feeling that the second design did not work as well.

Luckily, Nick Cracknell was still around and I got in touch with him ASAP. It turned out that the project was not within the zoning codes, so we as a neighborhood had the luxury of having a whole lot of say in what could actually go there. (Because, we had the luxury of killing the project if the developer didn’t work with us.)

(I did talk to a number of people about what would happen if we actually did kill the project, and the overwhelming advice was, “don’t,” because the developer would come back with something else, and he’d come back angry. Very good advice. I’m definitely passing that one on.)

As neighbors we were very specific about what we wanted, it was down to earth, common sense stuff. And yes it was Nick Cracknell who took an hour or so and drove around Newburyport looking at houses with the developer. And he and the developer came back to the neighbors with a “tweak” for the second design, which made the all the difference. And as a result (I have no idea if the developer was happy) the final house looks very nice. Something I believe the neighborhood is proud of.

(Nick Cracknell also made sure that a brick sidewalk got thrown into the deal as well as a very nice looking driveway.)

So this turned out to be an impromptu neighborhood “design review.” But thank goodness we had the opportunity, otherwise, no offense to the developer, but good grief, it wouldn’t have looked so good. And it wouldn’t have been as easy, btw, (that’s just my opinion…I think it would be the rest of the neighborhood’s opinion as well) for the house to sell.

As a result of an experience in my own backyard, so to speak, I’ve become an extra big fan of “design review” for the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Am I for a balanced design review for projects in the city? You bettcha. One that includes a member of the planning board, the historical commission, and the Planning Director – oh, yes.

Do I like the idea of having a design review board made up of developers and architects, and the developer gets to pick which architect and developer he or she would like? Not on your life.

No offense (and I think this has been said before,) but what a recipe for complete disaster.

And do I think that the fight over a design review board, should it exist and who will be on it, is really, really important? Yup. And do I trust the present Newburyport Planning Board to do the right thing? Yes, I most certainly do.

And I would really, really like (what wishful thinking this is) is for developers and architects and the mayor just to stay out of the Newburyport Planning Board’s way, thank you very, very much. Wouldn’t that be a nice one. Wow.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Chain Stores and Local Businesses

Hi Mary,

I just thought I’d bring you up-to-date on my research concerning the impact chain stores have on communities and why local business ownership needs our support.

As you know, I became interested in the issue when Nantucket recently adopted a “Formula Store” ordinance. I have discovered, Nantucket is not unique. In fact, communities all over the country, in the mountains, by the seaside, in the Mid-west, have adopted similar zoning regulations. Some of these efforts have been in response to a proposed “big box” development project, such as a Wal Mart or Home Depot. Other efforts were born out of the desire by local business owners and residents to maintain the neighborhood character of their business district, as is the case in Nantucket.

I’ve spoken to a couple of people in town who hold community policy roles. By and large; folks are in a “wait and see” mode. However, they do concede they have a more than passing interest in the Nantucket ordinance and are open to learning more. So in the spirit of self-education and openness, I’d like to offer the following list of benefits most frequently cited for supporting local businesses and limiting chain stores. I hope you and your audience find it informative.

Why support local businesses?

1) Local Character and Prosperity
In an increasingly homogenized world, communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character have an economic advantage.

2) Community Well-Being
Locally owned businesses build strong communities by sustaining vibrant town centers, linking neighbors in a web of economic and social relationships, and contributing to local causes.

3) Local Decision-Making
Local ownership ensures that important decisions are made
locally by people who live in the community and who will feel the impacts of those decisions.

4) Keeping Dollars in the Local Economy
Compared to chain stores, locally owned businesses recycle a
much larger share of their revenue back into the local economy, enriching the whole community.

5) Job and Wages
Locally owned businesses create more jobs locally and, in some sectors, provide better wages and benefits than chains do.

6) Public Benefits and Costs
Local stores in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure and make more efficient use of public services relative to big box stores and strip shopping malls.

7) Environmental Sustainability
Local stores help to sustain vibrant, compact, walkable town centers-which in turn are essential to reducing sprawl, automobile use, habitat loss, and air and water pollution.

8) Product Diversity
A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based, not on a national sales plan, but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.

Allyson Lawless, Newburyport

Lack of Expansion Towards the South End of Newburyport


As a South End Newburyport resident, I have often hoped to see more development moving toward the South End of Newburyport along Water Street. I have noticed however, that there seems to be an imaginary line drawn at Federal Street, perhaps due to zoning, which prevents any restaurant from moving any further south beyond this area.

My mother and grandparents grew up in Newburyport, and being in my 40’s, I have seen the tremendous growth of the 70’s, 80’s and even the 90’s. During this last decade, however, the growth seems to have slowed to a snails pace, especially in the area south of Federal Street, all the way to the Newbury line.

I recall the days when we had local establishments in the South End such as Tony Baker’s Market, and Chargrises Deli (sp?) along Water Street, as well as the Richdale up on High Street. We had the Sportsmans Lodge out on Plum Island as well as the Beachcomber.

Can you tell me why there is such a lack of any restaurant type of establishment down our end of the City? I can understand the desire to keep the neighborhood/residential feel to that end of town, but I think that could be accomplished while at the same time adding some sort of local restaurant similar to 10 Center Street or the Grog.

Also, can you tell me why there does not seem to be much interest in continuing to develop the waterfront further East (South) of the Starboard Galley? I had heard at one time that the waterfront development was going to continue all along the coast beyond the waste treatment plant and right up to the seawall. Has that idea died in committee?

Finally, can you tell me if there are any plans or if any developer has purchased the land yet previously occupied by the Beachcomber? That was such a great, eclectic place to go, and the location seems ideal for something similar to take it’s place.

Thank you for any information you can provide or please pass this on to anyone who can provide some information to me.

David A. Perocchi, Newburyport

Newburyport, The Power Group

I feel very angry at what Harvey Beit way back in March 2006 in a Letter to the Editor in the Newburyport Daily News called the “power group.”

Harvey Beit never identified who was in the “power group” in his Letter to the Editor. But I imagine that Mr. Beit was talking about folks like Jonathan Woodman, Bill O’Flaherty, Terry Jones, some of the people who were the most out spoken, strident and openly critical of our former Planning Director, Nick Cracknell.

(What makes things so difficult is that we are a rather small community, and I know all these folks. And on a day to day basis, I like them.)

Ok, I’ll admit it, if you weren’t on Nick Cracknell’s wave length, he could be kind of “difficult” to deal with. Mr. Cracknell could be so focused on whatever projects were at hand that it could take a bit of doing to get him to focus on or possibly see other possibilities.

However, that being said, what worries me is that the “power group” could do whatever they can to either eradicate or undermine many of the planning policies that have been enacted in the last 4 years under Nick Cracknell’s guidance.

The “site plan review” is one that comes to mind. When the Newburyport Five Cents Savings Bank wanted to expand, the “site plan review” was seen not as the possibility of a dialogue with informed and caring citizens, but an obstacle and a nuisance.

Of course time is money, and this “site plan review” thing, along with the “demolition delay” thing, was just plain inconvenient. Never mind the integrity of an historic town.

I sat through those hearings, that particular “site plan review,” and I was appalled by the disdain and contempt with which the “power group” treated the proceedings and the people connected with them.

And I think that it is unfortunate that the “power group” basically ignored so much of the input of a very intelligent and informed community.

I would hope that the business community would not support the present plan for the “strip mall” proposed by developer Scott Morrow for 81-83 Storey Avenue. If they do endorse it, I would be dismayed. This is exactly the kind of project that the “site plan review” is so appropriate for (and believe me it was very appropriate for One Temple Street — the Five Cents Savings Bank project, too.)

I would hope that the desire for “tax base at any cost” would not cloud the business community’s (or the Mayor’s) judgement, and that they would be supportive of the Newburyport Planning Board and the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals. And that the business community would not undermine this very important ordinance, one that is in place to try and ensure an appropriate quality of life for everybody in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, A Sense of Unease

I have this sense of unease in a “post Cracknell world.”

I read about the pre-application site plan review for the proposed project on 81-83 Storey Avenue in the Undertoad Blog (Lots of information in that post on the project along with a picture of the submitted conceptual drawings -which to me are very unnerving) and the Newburyport Daily News.

I’m glad and not surprised to read that the Planning Board was not overly impressed — no “letter of support.” Thank goodness we now have the “site plan review” in place. Whew.

(For the “power group” as Harvey Beit has referred to them — this is why we need the “site plan review,” get it.)

I read on the Undertoad Blog about our “friendly” developer, Bernie Christopher, who has violated the special permit granted him by the Newburyport Planning Board for 52 Ferry Road. Lovely.

I think about the flooding that has occurred around where Mr. Moak is now thinking of allowing the 40B project to go ahead on Low Street and shudder.

And I hear rumors of the possibility of a large piece of “infill” property at 30 Malborough Street that has reportedly been sold to a developer (there’s already a dumpster there.) The property is right across from Mayor John Moak and extends all the way back a block to the street behind it. Reportedly Mr. Bill O’Flaherty has been seen walking the property. Once I wouldn’t have cared about a rumor like that, now it makes me feel ill.

I don’t know what the status of the Wheelwright property on High Street is. I’m feeling gloomy today. I’m not optimistic.

In a “Cracknell world” I would have know that the Planning Director would have been right “on top” of the proposed 81-83 Storey Avenue project. He already had a solution to the 40B Low Street project. And I would be calling him ASAP about the property on Marlborough Street. And he was already negotiating for the city concerning the Wheelwright property on High Street.

The city feels un-moored to me, and I don’t think it’s just because of all the rain and the flooding.

I am glad that the Undertoad Blog is reporting (with pictures) all these proposed projects and violations by developers. It helps to have an informed public.

But there is just so much stuff and it just seems so overwhelming. And I would imagine that the Newburyport Planning Board and the Newburyport Zoning Board of Appeals must feel a great deal of weight.

To juggle all these things would take the energy and drive of our former Planning Director.

And it still begs the question, either Mayor John Moak just doesn’t get it, or equally as bad, he just doesn’t care.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, The Yankee City Theater Project

I always love it when art and politics mix. I received this press release from the theater company Independent Submarine. And because it is so apt to subject matter of the Newburyport Political Blog, I am passing it on to the blog’s readers

(Mary Eaton, Editor of the Newburyport Political Blog)


Newburyport, The Yankee City Theater Project
Newburyport Mass 1956-2006
Searching For The Soul Of The City
A Documentary Theater Production
At The Firehouse Center For The Arts
May 25-28, 2006

Independent Submarine and The Firehouse Center For The Arts are proud
to announce an original documentary theater piece, “The Yankee City Theater Project.” The YCTP is a multi-media documentary theatre piece chronicling the changes that have swept through the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts in the last 50 years.

Through interviews with over fifty Newburyport residents (including former mayor Byron Matthews; local business owner Sue Little; journalist Bill Plante; poet Christopher Michael; and many others) from all walks of life, Gregory Moss, Stephen Haley, Myron Moss, Maureen Daley and Dylan Fuller have generated an important, illuminating and entertaining piece of oral history.

The Yankee City Theater Project traces the historical arc from the initial highly contested reconstruction of Newburyport in the late 60’s to our current debate over land development and use of the waterfront. The play shows Newburyport once again on the edge of a major change.

The play, which features a mix of live actors and video-taped interviews, also tells the story of life on Newburyport’s streets, documenting the slow change from the rougher, more eccentric city of the 70s and 80s into the upscale bedroom community Newburyport is becoming. Newburyport’s heroes and eccentrics, now gone, are remembered and revisited.

May 25-28 2006
The Firehouse Center For The Arts,
Market Square, Newburyport, MA
Thursday – Saturday at 8 PM; Sunday at 5 PM.
Tickets are $14, $12 for students and seniors.
For tickets, call the Firehouse Box Office at 978-462-7336 or
purchase them online at
Greg Moss:

Newburyport, Massachusetts, Larry McCavitt and Ward 1

I find myself deeply ambivalent about the outcome of the Ward 1 election.

As a progressive, technically I’m pleased that an unabashed progressive won. I am now counting 6 progressive votes on the Newburyport City Council. If something like the issue of “Infill” (see earlier post) should be brought in front of the City Council again by the Newburyport Planning Board, I would imagine that it would have a pretty good chance of passing.

I believe in a former post I described the winner of the Ward 1 election, Larry McCavitt as being “bombastic” and having a political “sledge-hammer” approach. I would add to that, that in my experience, Larry McCavitt makes Jim Roy look calm.

Now I would like to add that I am very fond of Mr. Roy, and I can imagine Jim Roy reading this, chuckling (I hope so Jim!) and nodding his head. And for those of you who don’t know Jim Roy, he is the one who has a “bombastic” column every other week in the Newburyport Current called “View From the Left Field” (which I happen to enjoy enormously.)

And I became very fond of Jeremy Gillis. We ended up forging a friendship much to the surprise I think to both of us. I watched Mr. Gillis chair an extremely difficult Public Safety Committee as City Councilor, and was impressed by his political deftness, his political finesse and obvious affection for people in the room on either side of the issue. I remember being very proud of him.

So when I walk in the South End neighborhood of Newburyport, which is part of Ward 1, I feel kind of sad.

My fear with Larry McCavitt is that Mr. McCavitt’s possible inflammatory style could give “progressives” not such a good name and things could backfire when it comes to the next elections in, let’s see, 18 1/2 months. And the electorate would do anything just to have peace and quiet, and would settle for anyone, never minding their political positions, as long as some civility and decorum was in order.

I asked any number of people who met Mr. McCavitt as he went door to door if “he behaved himself.” The answer was unanimously “yes.” So I hope (against hope, possibly) that trend has a chance of continuing. And that Mr. McCavitt will remember that yes, he is 1 of an 11 member legislative body.

Pollyanna? Maybe.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Educating Our Children, Why Should We Bother, Why Should We Care

After reading yesterday’s Newburyport Daily News it appears that there is the possibility that the Newburyport School Committee would not feel it needed to ask for a ballot override. The question appears to be still very much up in the air.

But the fact that this issue of a ballot override for teachers (which is still a question mark,) even at the beginning of a possible process, is so emotionally charged, intrigues me. It begs the question, why should those of us who are older 20-95 and everything in between care about the education of the children in Newburyport Massachusetts?

The bottom line for many, and frankly for most of us, is “What’s in it for me?”

And I’ve thought about that question a lot.

What’s in it for all of us is that the children of today will be taking care of us in the not too distant future. They will be our doctors, lawyers, politicians, sanitation workers.

There comes an unnerving time in one’s life when one day you realize that your doctor is younger than you are.

It also begins to dawn on one that the politicians representing you are starting to be made up of a whole other younger generation.

All of a sudden one day the “blue collar worker” who used to be your uncle’s age, is now your nephew’s age.

And you start to feel very old. And you also hope they know what the heck they are doing.

And that’s why education is so important from Kindergarten to High School in all municipalities.

I want my doctor to know what she or he is doing. I want the person at the UN who may have started to learn languages early in Middle School to get their translation right. I want the reporter to have an understanding of both the English language and a host of other things so that she or he can report the news correctly. Obviously the list is endless.

Educating our children well is vital. So if you are a law maker on Capital Hill or a taxpayer who doesn’t want to dig into their pocket, remember, when you are sitting in a doctor’s office, you probably would want the children of today to have had a first rate education so that when it’s their turn, they can make the right diagnosis and possibly save your life.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport Schools, Administrative Positions

The Newburyport School Committee’s efforts in conjunction with administration has always been to try and do what is best for the children, to provide continuity and stability and prevent crisis.

That is our ethical, and primary responsibility within all of our dealings with the community. And we are entrusted, by vote, to do this to the best of our ability.

Administrative positions in the Newburyport schools have been looked at, have been cut, and while we have maintained small class size, we have made lean our supervision ratio.

In FY ’06 there was a total cut to administration of 1.6 FTE to save $107,500. But at what cost?

The supervision ratio between administrator / supervisor to teachers today, in the Newburyport district could be 8 : 1 ? 10 : 1 ? or 20 : 1.

However, it is not. Instead it is: 30 : 1, and 34 : 1.

Administration is related to the supervision of teachers. Cuts to administration has tremendous impact on the climate and culture of our schools, but especially on the supervision and evaluation of staff, curriculum and instruction, as well as the organization and administration of MCAS.

Dean of Student life equates to “Assistant Principal” at the high school. Dean of Student services has the role of working closely with guidance, and with all of our students, including those with special needs, to see that their educational plans are properly implemented.

The Curriculum Coordinator works closely with building administration and teaching staff to ensure that the curriculum is well aligned and that efforts in curriculum and instruction are effective.

One type of administrator is the Curriculum Director. These administrators are closely involved with K-12 support and monitoring of curriculum, instruction and assessment practices, oversight of the continuity of all instruction, helping to provide professional development opportunities, and more.

The Student Services person at the Middle School, actually heads up all special education, as Special Education Director in our school system. A key position, which when slippage occurs, can be very costly. I believe this is one area that has hurt Pentucket in the last year, resulting in special education costs failing to be reimbursed.

Special Education costs and programs are well managed in Newburyport, providing appropriate services, which prevent students from needing to go out of district for these services, which would end up costing the district more.

The two House Coordinators at the Middle School are analogous to two assistant principals, one for grades 5 & 6, and the other for grades 7 & 8. The separation of these two groups is essential in our middle school model, and was recognized as very innovative in this state when the Middle School first opened in 1972 – it was one of the first middle schools.

As a member of the Newburyport School Committee I look forward to opportunities to increase the value of public education in Newburyport, so that it is a win-win for all involved, the children and the community. I am thankful to the citizens of Newburyport who have supported improvements to our schools. And yes, there is still work to be done, and personally, I want to be a part of that.

Steven Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

(Editor’s note: A longer version of this post can be found on Around the North Shore Blog.)

Newburyport, Massachusetts, New Venture LLC Landfill, Public Hearing

Landfill Public Hearing Wednesday, May 10, at 7 pm — Please Attend, Your Health is in the Balance.

Dear Friends,

This project taking place in Our Newburyport, New Venture LLC landfill, could be the greatest tragedy in the history of this community since some politicians and deep pockets wanted to build a thermo-fix plant in the wetlands.

This project should frighten every citizen who plans to live in this community for the foreseeable years.

The project was conceived by political intelligences to build a soccer field on top of the mountain, between the gas flares, once completed. That one example will give you the consideration given to the public’s welfare. I have seen other landfills of this LLC group.

The citizens of this community, after raised voices, finally won a seat at the table of discussion; not in the original plan. The air and water pollution that is being created has not been totally evaluated of its potential lethalness to all life in the surrounding area. The Little River runs along side the west slope of this man made style of Three Mile Island. Within a short walk of the Little River is the Artichoke and the citizen’s water supply.

If this project is allowed to continue with the mentality that created its conceptual plan, the effects may be experienced by our great, great grandchildren.

I urge all who may read this to tell everyone you know.

The status of the landfill today was arrived at by ignorance and pure greed.

If not completed properly, not only is the public’s health at risk, but years of Proposition 2 1/2 overrides to try and correct the ill results. The LLC of Delaware will not be available to help. It is only the public awareness and involvement that can bring the pressure to save the day.

Albert G. Decie II, Newburyport
Citizens for Environmental Balance ®

Newburyport, The School Administration’s Effort to Reduce Expenses

Many people have expressed concern about what the Newburyport School Committee has done in terms of reducing expenses.

We have supported our school district administration’s effort in this regard. The administration has acted prudently and in good faith, and has reduced expenses.

First, the school district has had a spending freeze since October 17, 2005, on all discretionary expenses, and those not related to student needs. Yes, that is most of the school year.

The administration has implemented energy conservation efforts, to include shutting down all of the school buildings during winter vacation periods, and turning down the thermostats during those periods, as well as on weekends, to 55 degrees.

School administration also asked, and received cooperation from custodial staff to use vacation time during these periods, and the staff were graciously supportive, and participated with this plan.

By doing all of this, Newburyport has maximized the number of days to save dollars, which has led to more dollars being saved. There are some cities in this state that did not make these efforts in as timely of a way, and now they are looking at huge shortfalls, or have had to lay off personnel in January of ’06, as a result.

As a School Committee member, I was pleased to learn today, that Mayor Moak has been able to add approximately $100,000 more of an appropriation for the schools in the budget that he presented to the City Council. And I hope that the Massachusetts State Senate can add more dollars to Chapter 70, and I have lobbied legislators in regard to this, as recently as April 26, 2006, joining Mayor John Moak at the State House.

We hope to get more dollars for extraordinary relief from the Special Education Circuit Breaker account, perhaps as much as $100,000. And there is the possibility of attracting “Choice” tuition students to our schools. We especially have room in next year’s grades 5, 7, & 9, with limited availability in other grades — especially limited in our elementary schools.

Students who enroll as “Choice” in grades 5, 7, & 9 will not threaten class size guidelines, as there are desks to fill, in each one of these grades.

To summarize, efforts by the administration to save dollars have been prudent, and done in good faith, especially with the expectation of increasing utility costs, and done with the idea that the more that can be saved today, the less that will require reduction, or cuts, later.

At the expense of this year’s canceled Winter Carnival, Mother Nature’s help with a pretty mild January and February certainly is something to be thankful for, as well.

Steven P. Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

Newburyport, School Committee ’07 Budget Dilemma

This year the School Committee has already voted to cut $265,675 from the FY ’07 budget. Reductions include areas like summer help, supplies and materials, athletic budget, secretarial hours, custodial support and personnel, and more restrictive hiring in some areas to replace teachers who are retiring at the middle and high school levels.

However, the School Committee stopped there. After much deliberation, the vote was to pass an unbalanced budget to Mayor John Moak. If this budget becomes balanced via the Mayor and City Council, it will include the following cuts totaling $328,388:

Library Assistants at the Brown and Kelley Schools.

Elimination of one Instructional Assistant in the high school learning lab – the position is designed to assist 30-50 students in the program especially those who are struggling.

Elimination of one high school teaching staff.

Elimination of one art teacher at the Nock Middle School which will reduce the number of times that students in grades 5 – 8 have art to one time per week.

Reduction by 90% of one foreign language teacher at the middle school which would reduce foreign language instruction for 5th and 6th graders by 33%, limit the student choice of three foreign languages to grades 7 & 8, and restrict 5th and 6th graders to choose Spanish as the only available language. Sections of foreign language would likely increase to 26 or more students, as well.

Eliminate four electives at the high school, which reduces the availability of elective offerings and limits the options for students while increasing the class size of some electives.

An elimination of two elementary school teachers at the Bresnahan School, one from 1st grade, and one from 2nd grade, was taken off of cut consideration on May 1, 2006 when it was announced, during the Working Meeting of the School Committee, that enrollment would be increasing in these grades at the Bresnahan by 11 students over FY ’06 figures.

And that does not include any children that move into the large Bresnahan neighborhood between now and when school begins in September. Four Bresnahan parents were also on hand at the Budget Hearing, that preceded the Working Meeting to speak against these cuts, as well. And they were the only four parents to speak at the hearing.

While these positions will be preserved out of necessity, it means that Superintendent Mary Murray, along with the Administrative Council of the school district, will have to find an additional $82,000 in cuts in place of these two teaching positions, and present those to the School Committee, likely at our Business Meeting, on May 15, 2006.

Cuts on top of cuts . . . consider foreign language. A student who took Spanish as a 2nd grader last year, did not have it this year as a 3rd grader. The student will now have to wait until grade 5 to take Spanish again, and at best, with the current proposed program cuts, have it 33% less than a 5th grader taking Spanish, right now.

Or consider a fourth grade student who wishes to learn German or French. They now will have to wait until the 7th grade to get started . . . cuts on top of cuts . . .

Steven Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

Newburyport, 1 Million Dollars of Cuts to Schools Last Year

Thank you for letting me use the Newburyport Political Blog as a way to communicate what we as a City are facing in regard to the education of our children.

Last year the Newburyport School Committee was forced to make over $1 million dollars of cuts to our school programs.

Especially difficult were cuts eliminating foreign languages at the elementary school level — a critical period to learn foreign languages. As a result, this school district’s foreign language department, which took 20 years to build to this point, has now lost its elementary foundation. Our school district’s foreign language program was so well structured that other Massachusetts school districts would inquire, and even visit to find out how Newburyport got the job done.

Another was the elimination of a popular theater arts program that touched just about every student at the Nock Middle School. It was hoped to be replaced, or at least fill some of the need, with the help of a fee based after school drama program. When the substitute program was conceived, developed and ready for sign-up, it drew less than 10 children.

Finally, one of the smallest cuts involved the total elimination of the music department’s strings program. At a cost of less than $8,000, the program included a part time and very flexible strings instructor. The program served 40 middle school students, five of which came from other districts as “Choice” students.

Steven Cole
Vice Chair, Newburyport School Committee

Newburyport, Getting Informed on our Schools

I would like to thank Steven Cole, the chair of the Newburyport School Committee, for writing to the Newburyport Political Blog to give the public more information on what our schools are dealing with and what our children are facing.

The issue of a possible, proposed Newburyport School Committee override is already emotionally charged, and from what I understand the issue thus far has only been sent to a subcommittee.

Mr. Cole has already sent in the first short post and is now working on others. I look forward to learning more about all the questions and concerns involved before making up my mind one way or another on how I would vote on such an override if it were to be an actual ballot question.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport

Newburyport, Ballot Question Override, What has been Voted?

Dear Mary:

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

If it would be all right with you, I would like to use the Newburyport Political Blog to share and communicate issues that we as a School Committee deal with, and that I am able to appropriately report on.

For example, related to the issue of the idea of an override that was recently published in the local newspaper. On May 1, 2006, in our Working Meeting open to the public, as a School Committee we did: “Vote to refer the issue of a Prop 2 1/2 override to the Finance subcommittee for preparation of a ballot question to present to the City Council.”

I look forward to more opportunities to communicate issues, again, that I am able to report on.


Steven P. Cole
Vice Chairman, Newburyport School Committee

Putting on an Activist’s Hat

Hi Mary,

You mentioned you might be ready to put on your activist hat. I’ve just dusted off mine, and am wondering what one issue could we rally around that would speak to the overall problem, and in some way demonstrate how the majority feels about the direction of our city. There seems to be plenty of people writing about their concerns about over development, the erosion of our city’s character and the void left by Nick Cracknell’s removal.

What do you think of this idea? Recently, the citizens of Nantucket voted for the adoption of a Formula Store Article which essentially sets aside a percentage of their downtown area to be chain store free.

This type of initiative has several appealing aspects. One, it speaks to the desire to maintain the character of our downtown area. Two, it supports the valuable efforts and contributions of our local businesses. Three, it focuses on a single issue that many folks of different persuasions could get behind. I have in mind the person who wrote about the Hummer citing downtown, the young man who wrote about selling out the city and the Around the North Shore blogger who is monitoring the Tracy Street development.

I’m not proposing a love fest here, but surely there’s just so much grousing we can do. At some point I feel I need to take some positive action to dispel this feeling of helplessness.

So with this post I’m taking my first action. My next action will be to drop a letter in the mail to the woman who started the initiative in Nantucket. I’m going to ask her:

a) How did she get the initiative started?
b) Who wrote the bylaw?
c) Who in state government did she contact to help her through the process?
d) How many people worked on the initiative and what roles did they play?

My final action for today is to invite you and anyone else who would like to help with this initiative to contact me. My email address is: Please put in the subject line “I want to help,” that way my spam control won’t delete your message.

” The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing.” E.F. Schumacher, economist (1911-1977)

Allyson Lawless, Newburyport

The School Committee Ballot Override

This business of the School Committee asking for a budget override, not for a building, but for people to teach and inspire our children. I like the idea, but am waiting to find out more details of exactly what will be proposed.

I think so much of my reaction to this proposition comes from having a child go through the public school system in Newburyport, and be someone who is grateful for it. And realizing that my son would not be graduating from college this May without all the guardian angels that he had all through the public school system.

I feel very strongly about public education, feeling philosophically that public education is good, not just for lower or middle income families, but for upper income families as well. As well as for children of different learning skills.

I went to a private school for 12 years, and I think my son got a much better education “in life” than I did. Also, when he went to college, he really appreciated all that it had to offer, and never took things for granted the way I’ve seen some young adults who came from a private school education.

The public school system for me represents part of the “American Experience,” Liberal Democrat that I am. I think it’s important for children of a variety of different backgrounds to learn together, so that when they leave, they have some hope of an unconscious appreciation of each other’s differences. Instead of feeling that they may be “special” and others are not.

However, when I lived in Newburyport and did not have a child, I would not have wanted to vote for such an override. I would have been insulted, feeling that way too much of the budget was allocated to the public schools as it was. And from the outside, it looked as if things were not being well handled.

If I had children who were in private school, I might not like the idea of having to pay for other children’s education when I was already paying so much for my own.

And if tax increases meant that I or my family could no longer afford to live here, well, that would affect my thinking too.

I would much prefer to be asked to vote for money for our schools for teachers, than a new school building (I think it’s going to be very difficult for the City of Newburyport and the Newburyport School Committee to ask for both.) My own opinion is that what happens inside the schools it is much more important than what the building physically itself is like. That’s just me.

I think it is wise to ask the City Council to make this a ballot question. It is one of those difficult issues that people feel so passionately about on various sides. I think it would be hard to come to a fair consensus on this one unless the people of Newburyport get to vote on it. And my guess is that there are and will be some very heated and passionate discussions both public and private that will and are already happening all over town.

Mary Eaton, Newburyport