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133WVN Newsletter #131: new look at high school project

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dec 14, 2005
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      Dear Wayland voter,

      A reminder: the Finance Committee holds an important hearing
      at 7 p.m Thursday at the Town Building as it wrestles with a
      budget shortfall in the 2007 fiscal year estimated at more than
      $3 million.

      Meanwhile, the High School Building Committee is discussing
      how to proceed with another proposal for rebuilding or repairing
      the Wayland High School campus.


      Meeting on Dec. 8 for the first time since summer, the High
      School Building Committee discussed its own credibility and
      future as it studied an accreditation report calling for physical
      improvements at Wayland High School.

      Stung by harsh criticism of the committee and its $57-million
      rebuilding plan which voters rejected in January, some
      members suggested adding new colleagues with diverse views
      and asking the parent School Committee to redefine the HSBC's

      If the committee has such low credibility, member Eric Sheffels
      said, the School Committee should do something about it.
      Further discussion is planned.

      A survey mailed to 7,921 voters last summer drew 2,075
      responses. The results lack statistical validity since they
      represent only those who chose to reply. The 26 percent who
      responded were reasonably representative of Wayland
      demographics and often strongly opinionated.

      Of those who said they voted against the project, 90 percent
      were critical of the committee. Of those who said they voted yes,
      nearly the same percentage approved of the committee.

      Chairwoman Lea Anderson acknowledged "some pretty brutal
      remarks" from critics. It's not uncommon for voters to reject the
      authors of a proposal they dislike.

      Mast survey respondents agreed that high-quality education,
      academic spaces and health and safety concerns are important.
      But they diverged on the size, scope and cost of proposed
      changes. Some who said they could afford the consequent tax
      increase still found the price tag too high.

      Some School Committee members have expressed the hope
      that when reimbursement questions are answered voters might
      approve the full project. Survey respondents, though, said that
      size and scope were bigger concerns than reimbursement.

      "People really weren't sold on the idea" of a rebuilt campus, said
      committee member Dianne Bladon, who directed the survey.
      She suggested that voters may not have understood the cost of
      the project. But she acknowledged that voters may have
      disbelieved estimates issued by the HSBC and the School
      Committee. When voters rejected a $4.2 million allocation to
      design the project, there were fresh memories of the Public
      Safety Building, which came\ in behind schedule and over
      budget and was sometimes called the White Elephant.

      The School Committee initially assured voters that the state
      would share the cost of rebuilding as in the past, even though
      the reimbursement system had changed. The committee
      backed away from that position but continued to say that
      reimbursement was a good possibility, even after the new head
      of the Massachusetts School Building Authority warned in an
      interview with WVN that any town undertaking a project at that
      time should be prepared to shoulder the entire cost.

      The committee is considering its next steps as the High School
      prepares its response to an October evaluation by the New
      England Association of Schools and Colleges. Principal Charlie
      Ruopp explained the evaluation, which began with the school
      studying itself in 2002. If action isn't taken, he said, the school
      risks a warning, followed by probation and eventually loss of

      Virtually all schools in New England choose to be accredited.
      Loss of accreditation is rare, though Beverly faces just such a
      decision soon. The NEASC looks for good-faith effort at progress
      over a period that can last several years, he said.

      Accreditation is not a governmental inspection, but rather a
      periodic evaluation by a corporation comprising professional
      educators. An NEASC group visits a school for a relatively short
      time and typically issues a weighty report dependent to a great
      extent on the schools' self-study findings.

      The report praises many things about Wayland High School but
      calls for physical improvements, some of which the school had
      used as a rationale for a rebuilt campus.

      For example, when the school submits a progress report next
      April 1 it must address 13 items including "a common space for
      whole-school assemblies and sufficient seating for
      performances and theatrical events." Such an auditorium is not a
      requirement for accreditation but was an expensive and
      controversial goal of the rebuilding project. The field house now
      on the campus was meant to serve as a common assembly

      In contrast, Ruopp said, health and safety matters are not
      negotiable. This could be where the NEASC, the voters and
      school officials might look for areas of agreement.

      Despite renovations in the 1990s, which officials billed as good
      for a generation, the campus doesn't meet current building
      standards. Superintendent Gary Burton estimated that bringing
      the buildings up to code could cost $12 million.

      Building a new campus as conceived by HMFH Architects for the
      HSBC, after waiting for state reimbursement approval, is now
      estimated at more than $80 million because of inflation. The
      state could contribute significantly, though new reimbursement
      standards won't be known until next year.

      When Massachusetts' generous reimbursement system ran dry,
      a moratorium was declared while more stringent procedures
      are prepared. When the state begins accepting new applications
      on July 1, 2007, the state will play a much larger role in
      evaluating applications. State inspectors are scheduled to look
      for health and safety problems at every school building in

      There may be many applications because towns and cities have
      been waiting for the new reimbursement system. The HSBC has
      about $20,000 remaining from $355,000 appropriated by voters,
      and believes that money could go toward an application.

      The state plans to award $500 million in the first year and
      increase the total in future years. Grants may depend on clearing
      a backlog owed to cities and towns for projects approved under
      the former system.

      -- Michael Short

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to
      your friends and neighbors in Wayland. If they want to receive
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      Click reply and send after receiving an e- mail confirming the

      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor