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141WVN Newsletter #138: School Budget Rises More

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  • waylandvoters
    Jan 27, 2006
      Wayland 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.

      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


      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.


      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.


      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.

      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor