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179WVN Newsletter #170: Million-dollar HS turf plan

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  • waylandvoters1
    May 23, 2006
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The chairmen of the School Committee and the selectmen have
      been quietly pushing a million-dollar plan for artificial turf at the
      High School. Tom Sciacca reports.

      Also in this newsletter: Race, cheating and Newsweek's rating
      of Wayland High School.

      NEXT MILLION-DOLLAR PROJECT?

      Selectman Chair Michael Tichnor and School Committee Chair
      Jeff Dieffenbach requested that the plans for the next
      million-dollar school project, a new artificial turf playing field, be
      kept quiet until the override and town center votes were resolved,
      according to President Craig Foreman of the Boosters in a report
      to the School Committee.

      Foreman reported on May 15 that the bulk of the project would be
      paid for by private fundraising, but Tichnor has been quietly
      guiding the effort to fund about a third of the project with CPA
      money. That included having Town Counsel Mark Lanza spend
      significant effort to check the legality of using CPA money for
      such a purpose. Lanza has issued an opinion that it would be
      legal.

      The Community Preservation Act (Chapter 44B), a state statute
      that was adopted by vote of the town, is funded by a 1.5%
      surcharge on property tax bills. Under "Community Preservation
      Purposes" the Act reads as follows:

      "Fund monies may be spent to undertake the following
      community preservation purposes: a) The acquisition , creation
      and preservation of open space. b) The acquisition and
      preservation of historic resources. c) The acquisition, creation
      and preservation of land for recreational use. d) The creation,
      preservation and support of community housing. e) The
      ehabilitation and restoration of open space, historic resources,
      land for recreational use and community housing, that is
      acquired or created using monies from the fund."

      Wayland Voters Network has obtained a copy of an email from
      the Department of Revenue to the Community Preservation
      Committee, which reads in part:

      "We doubt a use of CPA funds to replace an athletic field's
      natural sod with artificial turf can be justified on the theory that
      the installation of artificial turf will save wear and tear on natural
      sod athletic fields. CPA funds can be used for the acquisition,
      creation or preservation of recreational land. That no recreational
      land would be acquired seems obvious, and creation does not
      apply because the site is already used for recreational
      purposes. For the project to qualify as preservation, the
      improvements have to protect the particular parcel from
      destruction or harm. For instance, if a retaining wall had to be
      built to keep the athletic field from being washed out by floods,
      we think that would constitute preservation within the meaning of
      44B:5. We don't think that saving wear and tear on other athletic
      fields constitutes preservation of recreational land within the
      statutory meaning. Saving wear and tear seems to us more
      nearly akin to maintenance, such as re-sodding athletic fields. It
      might also be considered rehabilitation, since presumably it is
      intended to extend the useful life of the fields. A community
      cannot spend CPA funds for maintenance, or to rehab a
      recreational site it did not acquire or create with CPA funds."

      The field currently is limited in use, and fields all over town are
      being "chewed up", according to Foreman. A lighted artificial turf
      field could be available 24 hours a day, limited only by the
      tolerance of the neighbors for light and noise. The goal is to
      build it in the summer of 2007.

      Currently $8,000-12,000 per year is spent on maintaining the
      field, which would require only $500 per year to maintain after it
      is turfed. But when it wears out, probably in 12 to 14 years, the
      town would be responsible for replacing it. Thus the total annual
      cost could be much higher than now.

      The field would be used for football, lacrosse, soccer, and field
      hockey.

      Private fund-raising is on schedule but has been quiet while the
      override and town center debates were ongoing, Foreman
      reported.

      CHEATING, RACE AT WAYLAND HIGH

      Cheating and race relations are issues at Wayland High School,
      according to student leaders in their annual meeting with the
      School Committee. "Cheating's like speeding, a lot of people do
      it", said one, though it's more copying homework than cheating
      on tests. And the cheating i limited because if students cheat
      too much they won't learn enough material to pass.

      And although there seemed to be a remarkably collegial
      atmosphere with the two black Metco leaders in the group, all
      agreed that race at Wayland High was in fact an issue. They
      suggested that Race Class be moved from senior to freshman
      year, because it educates students about their own hidden racial
      attitudes. Metco students are very separated from other students,
      they said. In fact, there's a lot of segregation of different groups.
      Several summed it up: "It's so high school."

      Some also commented on the pace of life at Wayland High.
      "Wayland has so many clubs and activities it kind of hits you over
      the head the minute you get in," one student said.

      The students also complained about the physical conditions at
      the high school. Lack of space, temperature swings, and dirty
      bathrooms were among their complaints.

      SUPERINTENDENT'S EVALUATION

      The School Committee voted to use an evaluation process this
      year whereby the chair writes a draft of an evaluation, the full
      committee discusses it in open meeting, the chair will modify it
      accordingly, and then a final discussion will occur in open
      meeting. This process avoids individual committee members'
      written inputs. There is a dispute between the Wayland School
      Committee and the Middlesex District Attorney's Office as to
      whether such individual inputs are public.

      Superintendent Gary Burton's evaluations for the last two years,
      which have been made public by order of the District Attorney's
      office, contained no significant criticisms. Last year's evaluation
      encompassed the failure of the high school renovation proposal,
      but the committee declined to hold Burton accountable for any
      part of that failure by ascribing it entirely to uncertainty over state
      funding. Subsequently a survey answered by thousands of
      voters made it clear that the excessively large scope of the
      project, which was Burton's responsibility, was at least partly
      responsible for the negative vote. It remains to be seen if the
      committee will now hold Burton accountable.

      This year there were two notable school management failures:
      special needs outplacements and a year's delay in installing the
      modular science labs so badly needed at the High School.
      Burton has taken credit for years for highly efficient management
      of the Special Education program by avoiding very expensive
      out-of-district placements. This year six sets of parents prevailed
      in state hearings that forced the town to spend an extra $180,000
      for such placements. This extra expenditure was included in the
      override recently passed. In interviews with WVN, SPED parents
      have expressed extreme anger with the schools and with Burton
      personally, leading them to push for a judicial resolution.

      The modular labs were scheduled to be in operation last
      September, but will not be usable until next year. Burton blames
      the problems entirely on irresponsible vendors. But Burton was
      responsible for choosing the vendor, and a citizen has told WVN
      he warned school officials before the decisions were made that
      the chosen vendor was unreliable.

      In most organizations the senior manager is held accountable
      for results, with excuses disregarded. But current School
      Committee Chair Jeff Dieffenbach has in the past expressed
      great admiration for Burton, and with the new evaluation process
      Dieffenbach is responsible for drafting the evaluation.

      ASSIGNMENT CHANGES

      Heather Pineault was elected chair, and Barbara Fletcher
      vice-chair, of the School Committee effective July 1. Fletcher and
      Louis Jurist were appointed to a subcommittee that will choose
      candidates for appointment to the the High School Building
      Committee.

      Special Town Meeting passed an article expanding the Building
      Committee from 11 to 15 members.

      OTHER ITEMS

      The committee voted to award an initial contract for the Happy
      Hollow roof replacement, hoping to get the $600,000 project
      started once school is out.

      Enrollment is up two since last month. Next year's kindergarten
      class now looks like 165, higher than the forecast of 159 but far
      lower than feared last month. But at least one and possibly two
      more sections will be needed over the forecast.

      Burton recommended a new family fee cap of $1,000.
      Twenty-five families hit the cap this year. There are more
      requests for waivers this year, but Burton does not believe fees
      have hurt participation.

      Burton plans to bring in Dick Amster of Turner Construction for
      $5,000 without bidding to advise on prioritizing urgent work at the
      high school, leaving $45,000 of the $50,000 voted by Town
      Meeting to do actual work.

      Burton is not yet ready to make a recommendation as to how to
      respond to Assistant Superintendent Wayne Ogden's plan to
      leave Wayland to take over the Franklin school system. There
      was general agreement that Ogden's departure is a significant
      loss for Wayland.

      WHS: 874th BEST?

      Newsweek's annual survey ranks Wayland High School 874th in
      its list of the best high schools in the United States. Weston is
      No. 242. Does this mean anything?

      Not much, experts say.

      Wayland School Committee Vice Chairman Bob Gordon told the
      Town Crier that the rankings are based on unreliable data but
      still affect public perception of educational quality.

      "It bears on a system's attractiveness to teachers and
      administrators," he said, and "...influences property values,
      because buyers are so thirsty for information about public school
      quality..."

      Newsweek rates 25,000 high schools by one measure: the per
      capita number of College Board Advanced Placement exams
      taken by students. Because it doesn't measure how well
      students do on the exams, schools can achieve a high rank by
      encouraging many students to take the tests even if they do
      poorly.

      Thus Locke High School, one of the poorest-performing high
      scnools in Los Angeles, ranked 520th, even though 73 percent
      of the students failed the AP exams they took.

      "It does not make sense to evaluate high schools on this basis
      alone," Daniel Hastings, MIT's dean for undergraduate
      education, told the New York Times.

      An inexact but better measure of a high school's effectiveness is
      students' success in getting into college. Wayland High School
      is known for that at many college and university admissions
      offices.

      -- MIchael Short
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor