181WVN Newsletter #172: School Committee fights DA
- Jun 29, 2006Dear 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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor