179WVN Newsletter #170: Million-dollar HS turf plan
- May 23, 2006Dear 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
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
Private fund-raising is on schedule but has been quiet while the
override and town center debates were ongoing, Foreman
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.
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.
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
Special Town Meeting passed an article expanding the Building
Committee from 11 to 15 members.
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
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
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
-- MIchael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor