141WVN Newsletter #138: School Budget Rises More
- Jan 27, 2006Wayland Voters Network
January 27, 2006
Dear Wayland Voter,
The School Committee has approved a proposed fiscal 2007 budget after
several meetings and will hold a forum at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Middle
School Auditorium, a chance for extended public comment.
Emails are flying around town urging supporters to turn out for this
and other key meetings. Some residents see the future of the schools
linked to building a housing/shopping development on Route 20. (One
email headline: "TC and schools need your support at mtgs.")
Tom Sciacca reports on a wide-ranging School Committee meeting on Jan.
23, dealing with expensive repairs to the high school and the
proposed Raytheon property development as well as current budget strategy.
MEETINGS OF INTEREST
Wednesday, Feb. 1, 7:30 p.m. Large Hearing Room, BORC public hearing
over West Plain/Old Conn Path intersection
Thursday, Feb 2, 8 p.m. Middle School auditorium, School Committee
public hearing on FY07 budget
SC PROPOSES 4.1 PERCENT INCREASE
Some may see the FY07 budget proposal approved by the School Committee
on January 23 as 99.5% full. Others may see it as a half percent
empty. Still others may see it as 104% or even 108% full.
In its last four meetings the committee has focused only on the empty
part, particularly the areas Superintendent Gary Burton suggested as
possible cuts. But the committee Monday affirmed its decision to keep
the ski and swim teams as official high school sports and add a new
math/science coordinator for the elementary schools, which added about
$175K back into Burton's proposed budget. It decided to add about
another $50K in elementary music and lunch fees to partially offset
the spending addition, making its potential proposal to the Finance
Committee next week about $125K over Burton's original budget, which
was a 3.7% increase over last year's budget. However, at least some
members of the committee believe that a truly "level-services" budget
would require $100-230K more to restore some minor cuts that
consolidate classes (but within size guidelines) and add a bit to a
few teacher workloads. Burton said that with the latest additions the
budget was now arguably at level services. Chair Jeff Dieffenbach said
they were "in shouting distance" but that's not the same thing.
The new budget proposal is approximately $28.5 M, $1.1M or 4.1% over
last year. This does not, however, include an increase for school
employee health care and pension benefits accounted for on the town
side of the budget which may be just as large or larger. All other
town departments together spend half as much as the school department.
At one point the Fincom believed the town was headed for a total
budget increase of over $3M next year, which could lead to property
tax increases of over 10%. It asked each department to come up with a
"level services minus 8%" budget to see what would be required to
avoid an override, so the budget now being submitted by the School
Committee is about 108% of what is allowed under Proposition 2 and 1/2
without an override. The Fincom is scheduled to finalize the total
town budget by February 6 and present it to the public on the 13th.
The School Committee received many letters from parents of swim and
ski team members lobbying for retention of the teams as school-funded
sports. More parents made such comments in person at this meeting.
Burton came up with a plan for fees which offset the teams and new
coordinator, but recommended that the committee reject it. He thinks
fees are too high already, and that the School Committee was perfectly
justified in presenting a budget right up to the Fincom's
"level-services" guideline. He thinks the Fincom may order all
departments to cut a fixed amount from whatever they submit, so they
should submit right up to the guideline.
The committee mostly honored Burton's request to not raise fees
further. They rejected the notion of busing fees entirely, even though
Burton had only laid out the possibility of charging $1/student/day,
far below the $420 per year total cost of busing each student. Sudbury
charges busing fees of $225 per child. But administrative costs would
subtract from any revenue. Member Louis Jurist said "I think we may
have overdone it with the fees" at this point. Fees account for about
one third of the total cost of those services for which fees are
charged, according to member Barbara Fletcher.
In terms of the total budget, member Heather Pineault said "I have
concerns about coming in below" the level services number, and that
she wanted their "top number" to be presented. Dieffenbach suggested
presenting the Fincom with a level-services and a "level-services
minus increased fees" number and asking the Fincom if they will use
whatever they are presented as the base for more cutting. The
committee agreed to follow this procedure. The committee clearly
believes its current proposal to be reasonable, but several members
indicated they expected the Fincom to reduce it. Burton asked the
group what they would do if that happens. He got no answer.
The committee will meet with the Fincom next Monday (1/30) to present
its budget, and present the same budget at a public hearing on February 2.
HOUSING ON ROUTE 20
Developer Chuck Irving met with the committee to inform them of the
status of potential new housing on the former Raytheon property,
recently the subject of a rejected Town Meeting rezoning proposal. He
is planning to build 200 units on the site under the state 40B law,
which allows him to bypass town zoning laws if 25% of the units are
affordable. He said he never did a 40B project before. "I'm learning
about a 40B as we go along", he said.
Next month he will file his plan with the state, and he expects a one
to three year approval cycle. He believes he can build up to 410
bedrooms with the wastewater capacity of the existing wastewater
treatment plant and up to 600 bedrooms with additional septic systems,
so there is a possibility of up to 200 three-bedroom units, But he is
currently planning to build 40 three bedroom and 160 two bedroom units.
Dieffenbach expressed a preference for the fewer-bedroom plan, which
would attract fewer young families with school children. When the same
developer proposed 120 housing units as part of his town Center
proposal last year, the only noticeable comment from the School
Committee was a note from Dieffenbach indicating that the schools
could handle any increased school enrollment.
HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING
Chair Lea Anderson and several members of the High School Building
Committee appeared to discuss the status of the high school and their
committee. Anderson asked whether the School Committee should revisit
its charge to the HSBC, saying it currently "leaves no room for less
than a total solution" for high school problems. She believes it would
be better to be able to address specific prioritized problems.
HSBC members said that the School Committee constrained them too much
with the large scope of the charge. "It demanded the perfect
solution," said Anderson. Member Mary Lentz said they needed to come
up with a proposal which is "salable and good enough".
Anderson offered to resign as chair, but was also willing to continue.
Dieffenbach said he believed the current composition of the committee
is wonderful, but it might be desirable to add more members. There was
a mixed response from HSBC members present to this notion, with some
believing that additional members would make the committee unwieldy.
Dieffenbach suggested the HSBC meet to suggest a new number. But HSBC
member Dianne Bladon said it was up to the School Committee to
determine what sort of skills they want on the HSBC first.
There was a general feeling that Anderson was stuck with her job.
An HSBC member suggested that the School Committee think about setting
a budget for a new high school effort. But School Committee member Bob
Gordon said that a budget is what comes out of the process of
prioritizing, not as an initial step. Lentz responded that a number
should be picked early in the process. Dieffenbach came back with "I
don't know how I'd pick a number."
Dieffenbach said the School Committee needed to determine how much
money is needed to proceed to redo the HSBC effort to come up with
other options. That number needs to be presented as a Special Town
Meeting warrant article in April along with a potential recharge and
possible reconstitution of the HSBC. Burton put $50K in the budget to
work on a short-term plan to address urgent problems. It will pay for
architects, engineers, and other professionals to establish what the
most urgent needs are, and pay for some minor repairs. He expects the
new state School Building Authority regulations, due out momentarily,
to help define reasonable standards. But he is worried that they will
not appear on schedule.
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Michael Short, Editor