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315WVN #278: $32M school budget proposed

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jan 13, 2009
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      After four meetings to study and question it, the School Committee voted unanimously on Jan. 12 to submit the Fiscal 2010 budget as proposed by the superintendent to the Finance Committee. It's up about 4.5 percent and could change if state aid

      Also in this newsletter: A look back at a time when Wayland High School basked in national attention.


      Superintendent Gary Burton's proposed Fiscal 2010  budget comes after a school population drop of  58 students and staff reduction of about six. The total budget is $32,073,713. Of that, $642,000 will be raised by fees, including a new busing fee,
      leaving $31,431,713 to be appropriated by Town Meeting voters.

      The primary reasons for the increases are increased salaries resulting from union contract settlements and increased Special Education costs. Chair Louis Jurist noted that although the personnel account is up by only 1.77 percent because of personnel
      reductions, about half of the teachers are getting 2.5 percent  raises and the other half are getting significantly more because of step and "lane" changes (such as when a teacher receives an advanced degree). 

      There was some discussion of per pupil expenditures and how comparing them among towns is difficult because it is a "squishy" number, calculable in many different ways. But the Committee often cites a modest PP number when publicly questioned
      about having the highest paid teachers in the state.


      The biggest reason for the budget increase is Special Education, whose increased cost accounts for about half the total increase. This is the classic unfunded state mandate (older readers may remember the flap over the passage of Chapter 766) and is
      largely unpredictable, as a relatively small number of new special needs students entering the school can have large financial impacts. Especially unpredictable is the need to pay for very pricey special schools if a child cannot be adequately served within
      the Wayland schools.

      "We see families move to the town because we have a good reputation for Special Ed," said Student Services Director Marlene Dodyk, who has taken over the SPED program from the retired Doris Goldthwaite. Burton hastened to add that families move to
      town because of the good schools in general, and that special needs families are no different.

      There will be $72,000 net received from newly imposed bus fees, after paying costs of about $12,000 for a part-time administrator. Under the new policy free bus service will be supplied only to K-6 students more than two miles from school, as
      mandated by state law, and all others will pay $180 per year for service. This fee is less than half the $375 average cost to provide the service, but amounts to a dollar per  school day. Business Manager Joy Buhler judged it necessary to keep the fee
      modest to discourage parents from driving students to school in private cars and creating huge traffic problems.

      All other fees (sports, music, parking) will remain the same as last year. In defending his choice to keep fees modest, Burton repeated his traditional concern that fees hurt "poor young families."

      But a WVN analysis indicates that few young families remain in Wayland. With the help of computer expert and former Selectman Alan Reiss, using data from the town census and voter registration databases, WVN found that virtually all Wayland
      residents between the ages of 20 and 35 live in households with adults over  age 45.

      A reasonable conclusion would be that these are largely adult children of older residents. The data indicate that there are only about 100 twenty- or early thirty-something households left in town (who may not all be poor or school families), versus
      about 1,500 school households and a total of almost 5,000 townwide.

      Burton has ignored comments indicating that people no longer move to Wayland before their mid-30s, when they are already established in their careers.

      The athletic program will remain unchanged, including such activities as golf and frisbee.

      The committee, after lengthy agonizing, decided not to review a list of $350,000 in cuts to the proposed budget which might have to be made if state aid is reduced from previously announced levels, as seems likely. Just in case the cuts are not required,
      they decided that a public airing of lost positions now would unnecessarily upset the personnel involved.

      Burton acknowledged that the Finance Committee  request to have an additional $350,000 in cuts prepared was based on a guess that state aid would decline by a modest amount and cuts would be spread equally among towns.

      As the Committee met Monday night, State Rep. Tom Conroy was delivering a grim report to the Board of Selectmen on action expected this week to cut an additional $1 billion in current-year state spending.  Sparing aid to cities and towns would mean
      cutting direct services to state residents including Medicaid recipients, the disabled and foster children, he said.  A lower 2009 allocation to Wayland  would create a lower base for a percentage increase in 2010.


      Why have Wayland schools been so good for decades? According to one account, because  an era  began with a visionary plan  and buildings created with much imagination and little money.

      At the Jan. 5 School Committee meeting Peggy Wang, who graduated from Wayland High last year, gave the Committee a lesson in the history of the school. A large part of her thorough presentation laid out "lessons learned."   

      Before the high school was built in the 1950s Wayland schools were considered poor and served a town population of about 4,000. There was a huge influx of new residents in that decade, including many scientists and engineers from emerging Route
      128 technology companies and the new Wayland Raytheon facility.  These education-minded professionals created an atmosphere ripe for educational progress.

      Superintendent Edward J. Anderson led the effort to build a unique school designed around an innovative team teaching approach of mixing 100-student lectures, 35-student classes, and 8 student seminars. The school was designed by The Architects'
      Collaborative of Cambridge, led by internationally famous architect Walter Gropius (of Bauhaus  and "form follows function" fame).

      The school was so innovative that it was featured in Life magazine, Time magazine, Architectural Forum,  The New York Times and The Boston Globe. As a result it became a magnet for excellent teachers wanting to work in a town so demonstrably
      interested in forward-thinking education. The school opened in 1960, and by 1970 Wayland's reputation as a town with top-notch schools was secure.

      But Wayland High was incredibly cheap to build. The head of the contracting firm that built it, a Wayland resident, said it was the cheapest per square foot of any  project his company had built since World War II. "Improvement doesn't have to come at a
      high cost, necessarily,"Wang said.

      Wang pointed to Sputnik and the newly realized need to focus on science and math as motivating town action to build the new school.

      She also highlighted the value of innovation and risk-taking, pointing out that some failures are inevitable when taking risks but that the overall result can still be a huge success.

      As one example, the three-tier teaching model was already defunct by the mid-1960s and many of the rooms in the school were re-purposed, yet the excitement and impetus created by building the school endured.

      Her points seemed in marked contrast to Wayland's recent failure to keep up with technology, taking ten years to address science and math deficits in the elementary schools, and emphasis on having a "classical" high school.

                    -- Tom Sciacca

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor