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599WVN #453: New school financial tools deployed

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  • waylandvoters1
    May 7 7:32 AM
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Wayland schools are reorganizing fiscal operations and expanding the use of financial software. And the superintendent is introducing something new for School Committee meetings: regular presentations on what's new in classrooms and the administration.

      Also in this newsletter: New board chairs and another chance for water customers to comment on proposed new rates.

      SCHOOL SOFTWARE DEPLOYED

      The Wayland Schools business office has deployed Munis accounting software to most areas of the schools as part of its goal to increase financial accountability and transparency. Principals, secretaries, and the athletic directors are now using Munis, and training for others will continue through May.

      Paper vouchers have been eliminated, replaced by purchase orders that are approved by the appropriate authorities who can see what funds remain in their budgets. While this may sound elementary, this capability previously was not broadly available.

      As part of Superintendent Paul Stein's efforts to update the School Committee, meetings now regularly feature a glimpse into new efforts in the classrooms as well as in the administration. All presentations follow the outline of "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats."

      A recent meeting featured two dynamic math specialists who explained their roles aiding elementary teachers in successful teaching techniques and helping to make math fun and interesting.

      Reorganizing Fiscal Operations

      At the May 1 meeting, Business Manager Geoff MacDonald explained efforts to restructure fiscal operations to promote efficiency, transparency, and accountability. Chris Hinckley, accounting manager, demonstrated the Munis system that has been rolled out to the schools. MacDonald said transfers are now tied to Munis, offsets are no longer in line items, and full time equivalency (FTE) is in the personnel budget document to facilitate more FTE analysis in the future. This is all part of the drive to correlate the budget with system goals.

      In line with Stein's memo of Feb. 6, these efforts will lay the foundation for examining student-faculty ratios, having separate budgets for transportation, technology and a new initiative on impact analysis that takes into account benefit costs on the town side of the ledger. As part of the effort, personnel are now identified with a budget account, and there is a strengthened procedure for documenting overtime.

      Looking to the remaining Munis work to be done, in Fiscal 2013, which begins on July 1, there will be new capabilities on budget control, and position control in FY 14, MacDonald said. The student activity aspect "still needs work" on training in record keeping, he said.

      Bus and Food Services

      In ancillary operations, FY 12 saw a new three-year bus contract that saves money by enabling First Student (the bus contractor) to realize federal tax credits from fuel purchases, MacDonald said. The office needs to work on optimizing the use of the bus routing software, and MacDonald contracted someone to educate the office on better use of the software. Abrahams Group consultants had recommended that First Student do the routing. The food service is self sufficient and covers all benefit costs, and is moving to implement healthier meals that will be required next year, he said. Facilities is moving to be a stand-alone department and Stein expects further benefits as a result.

      The only authorized checking accounts are for student activities; the other nine have been closed, MacDonald said.

      School Committee member Malcolm Astley urged that the supervisory ratio be considered in staffing plans. Stein said that in some school districts high school department chairs have more of a supervisory role. This topic was tagged for further discussion.

      The Committee debated at length what was and was not permitted by the Open Meeting Law.

      Support an Audit?

      Another lengthy discussion involved whether the committee would endorse the Town Meeting's adoption of Article 28 calling for the state to perform an audit, and what to do if the state auditor declines (referred to as Plan B). This ranged from asking for the money to conduct an independent review/audit to having the Board of Selectmen's new audit committee conduct the effort. Another issue was whether the SC should assist in scoping the project.

      Committee member Ellen Grieco proposed that the committee endorse the effort prior to an invitation to the state auditor by the selectmen. Chair Barb Fletcher agreed to relay this information to the Board of Selectmen. Fletcher repeatedly referred to a review of accounts instead of a full audit.

      Astley noted that such issues should be thoroughly considered before Town Meeting.

      Grieco provided the Committee with a draft review of the Operational Review Committee (ORC) findings based on the Abrahams Group consultants' report. Fletcher said the Committee needs to address findings on food, transportation and facilities and to explain improvements on cost savings.

      In public comment, former committee member/chair Louis Jurist told the committee there is no need for an audit if the state declines to do one. He dismissed a resident's earlier comment about inequities resulting from his child not being able to participate in full day kindergarten because of space considerations by noting there was really no pilot or study of the effect of full-day kindergarten, so one couldn't conclude there are inequities.

      Superintendent Evaluation

      It's time for the annual evaluation of the superintendent, which was being prepared by Astley and member Beth Butler. They recognize that much of Stein's first year has been spent establishing guidelines. There was the usual discussion of whether the report would be a public document, and Stein said he thought a review by a public body is a public record, whereas a review by one employee of another employee is not.

      The School Committee now has two websites but is attempting to move relevant information over to the one that is on the town's servers; the link from the town web site will be changed to that site rather than the privately run site set up by prior school committees.

      -- Molly Upton

      NEW BOARD OFFICERS

      Several town boards have elected new leaders. Boards and committees generally rotate chairs annually.

      John Bladon is the new chair of the Board of Selectmen; Steve Correia is vice-chair/clerk.

      Kent Greenawalt is the new chair of the Planning Board. Colleen Sheehan is vice-chair.

      Mike Lowery is the new chair of the Board of Public Works. Tom Abdella is vice-chair.

      Bruce Cummings is now chair of the Board of Assessors; Susan Rufo is vice-chair.

      WATER RATE HEARINGS CONTINUE

      The Board of Public Works will hold another hearing on Monday May 7 to gather public opinion before setting rates for water service. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Building with public comment. The hearing begins at 7:30 and conservation incentives are a listed topic.

      At a hearing on April 30 some residents who use little water complained about administrative charges that result in excessive and disproportionate charges. They asked for conservation incentives.

      Responding to concerns expressed by board members that high rates could persuade customers to dig their own wells, two residents recommended regulating those wells, which draw on the public aquifer.

      Rates have risen sharply in recent years, partly to pay for the new $10.5 million Baldwin treatment plant and for replacement water meters. New rates are expected to be in effect by September.

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      Michael Short, Editor