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181WVN Newsletter #172: School Committee fights DA

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jun 29, 2006
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Only months after agonizing over a budget that led to a $2.1
      million tax override, the School Committee plans to spend an
      unknown amount of money fighting the district attorney in court.

      The committee wants the right to use private communications in
      preparing evaluations of Superintendent Gary Burton. What
      practical effect this might have is uncertain, since the committee
      rarely says anything critical of Burton. Tom Sciacca reports
      below.

      Also in this newsletter: Comcast's monopoly on cable TV service
      in Wayland could end in the near future. The selectmen are
      looking for volunteers to join the cable advisory committee. Other
      appointive positions are also open.

      WAYLAND VS. DA

      The School Committee voted on June 12 to contest Middlesex
      District Attorney Martha Coakley's demand to disclose individual
      communications that committee members used in creating the
      superintendent's 2004 evaluation.

      The committee has been battling the DA's office for months. The
      DA has now made it clear that if the documents are not made
      public it will go to court against the town, setting a deadline of
      June 13 for a final response from the School Committee.

      Chair Jeff Dieffenbach argued against making the documents
      public. Member Louis Jurist questioned the wisdom of going to
      court and later abstained in a 4-0 vote. "We have much bigger
      fish to fry," Jurist said. Dieffenbach responded, "At what point do
      you stop sacrificing principle?"

      Jurist commented, "Whatever it costs us is not in the budget."
      Member Heather Pineault noted that a legal victory would have a
      lasting impact by settling the issue of "Open Meeting Law vs.
      Public Records Law." Member Bob Gordon argued that "the
      entire credibility of the assessment process" is at stake.

      The school special counsel estimates that the case could cost
      the town $15,000. Superintendent Burton is attempting to see if
      the law firm will accept that number as a cap.

      At its June 19 meeting the committee approved a resolution
      asking the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to
      propose legislation that would eliminate any requirement to
      release individual inputs in circumstances like the Wayland
      case. Burton reported that the Massachusetts Association of
      School Superintendents supports fighting the DA, and may
      assist financially, but wants to see whether the MASC acts first.

      SUPERINTENDENT'S EVALUATION

      The committee began its public discussion of the evaluation for
      the 2005/2006 school year as drafted by Dieffenbach. As in the
      past, the draft evaluation contained no significant criticisms and
      numerous laudatory comments. Full of references to
      "constructive criticism" and "lessons learned," it sounded more
      like a middle management review than a results-oriented
      evaluation of the CEO of a $35-million enterprise.

      On the subject of the badly needed modular science labs that
      are taking a year longer than promised, both Dieffenbach and
      Gordon commented that nothing could have been done except,
      perhaps, to manage expectations better. There was no mention
      of the possibility of picking another vendor or whether Burton or a
      subordinate should have had a better technical understanding of
      the issues involved in installing a science lab. Only positive
      comments were made regarding Burton's budget management
      performance. No mention was made of the unexpected
      $180,000 Special Education costs.

      The committee agreed with Burton to put off his final evaluation
      until he submits his report of the results of the school year in July
      or August.

      ENROLLMENT

      There was a drop of 20 students in the system from September
      2005 to June 2006. However, there are now 178 confirmed
      entering kindergartners, about 20 more than forecast, and
      probably more to come. In a previous meeting Burton said that a
      large number of 4-year-olds have unexpectedly moved into town.
      As a result Burton recommends adding two new kindergarten
      teachers and two new teaching assistants next year. He is also
      recommending adding a half-science teacher in the high school.
      It was unclear where the money would come from to support
      these additions.

      HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING

      Meeting with Lea Anderson, head of the High School Building
      Committee, the School Committee voted to approve a Statement
      of Interest Form to be submitted to the Massachusetts School
      Building Authority regarding the high school. This starts the
      process that the committee hopes will ultimately lead to a new or
      renovated high school.

      The MSBA has only recently issued the draft regulations that
      were due in January, and there is fear that there is insufficient
      time to do an adequate review before they are finalized. A
      number of towns have voiced objections to elements of the draft.
      One provision, for example, allows high schools only one gym,
      which would affect the earlier Wayland plan for a new gym in
      addition to a renovated Field House. Another objection was to a
      provision forbidding a town from using the same architect and
      project manager for construction as well as the initial feasibility
      study. While this would clearly eliminate a potential conflict of
      interest, it would also discourage top-tier architects from doing
      feasibility studies, critics say. Wayland proposed using the same
      firms for both functions.

      CPA APPLICATION

      The committee endorsed an application for $300,000 from the
      Community Preservation Act funds to install artificial turf on the
      current high school football field. There was no significant
      discussion about the merits of the proposal.


      CABLE TV COMPETITION

      Verizon is interested in competing for Wayland's cable TV
      business, which would end Comcasts's monopoly and could
      mean extra funds for the town's cable activities. At the June 27
      Board of Selectmen meeting, Selectman Alan Reiss presented a
      detailed report. He and his colleagues may decide soon on the
      next step.

      Comcast, which has about 76 percent of U.S. cable business,
      serves 88 percent of Wayland households. Verizon is a new
      player in this arena.

      Six Massachusetts towns already have more than one cable
      supplier. More information is available at
      www.ajreiss.com/CableLicensing2006/ and
      www.ajreiss.com/CableFranchising101.

      Selectmen Chairman Michael Tichnor said his board would
      welcome applications for four 3-year positions on the Cable TV
      Advisory Committee. He also noted that other appointed bodies
      have vacancies.

      Other vacancies are listed for the Council on Aging, Cultural
      Council, Dudley Pond Area Planning Committee, Historic District
      Commission, Housing Partnership, Metrowest Open Space
      Task Force, Route 20 Corridor Committee, Route 30 Corridor
      Committee, Taxation Aid Committee and Wastewater
      Management District Commission. For information, contact the
      Town Administrator's Office, fturkington@... or
      508-358-7755.
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      Michael Short, Editor