739WVN #540: Committee asks large school budget increase
- Jan 20, 2014Dear Wayland Voter,
The School Committee recommends a budget increase of 6.2%, the largest in more than 10 years.
Also in this newsletter:
-- The Finance Committee welcomes public comment Tuesday night on the Fiscal 2015 budget and warrant articles submitted for the April Annual Town Meeting. .
-- The wastewater commissioners hire some help to deal with problems including falling three quarters behind in billing customers last year.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE VOTES $35.46 MILLION BUDGET
After several sessions of reviewing the superintendent's proposed FY15 budget with school principals, the School Committee on Thursday night voted to present the largest budget ever, and the largest budget increase in over ten years, to the Finance Committee on Tuesday.
At $35,461,047, the recommended budget is 6.2% over the current year's budget. Given the current rate of inflation, it is a real increase of about 5%.
In inflation-adjusted terms, school budgets over the last four years have been close to flat. In nominal terms they have increased an average of 1.8% per year. The FinCom had requested a "Maintenance of Effort" budget increase of about 3%. Superintendent Paul Stein said, "I didn't want to go over the FinCom guidelines, period. I hate that that happened."
The FY15 budget guidelines memo issued to all departments last September:
One factor contributing to school department spending increases is the employment contracts with the teacher union approved by the School Committee in 2013. The final contracts have not been signed, but the salary increase for FY15 has been announced as 1.5%, FY16 as 1.5%, for the first half of FY17, 1.5%, and for the second half of FY17 an additional 1%. Compounded over four years of the new contracts approved last June, the total increase is over 6%.
The Committee suggested no reductions in the superintendent's recommended budget, and in fact added $50,000 to continue funding a temporary tech support position at the high school at the urging of member Donna Bouchard. However, it agreed to raise bus fees when it discusses them on Tuesday, which will likely more than offset the added position.
When Superintendent Stein came to Wayland in July 2011, School Committee Chairwoman Barbara Fletcher was already serving on the Operational Review Committee, which hired the Abrahams Group “to conduct a review of Town and School budget and expenditure reporting, an evaluation of non-educational service delivery structures and a review of the School Administrative structure.”
In its January 2012 report, on pages 31-32, Abrahams made specific recommendations for consolidating town and school administrative functions to avoid duplication the consultants had found and to operate more efficiently and transparently. After two years, the recommendation on page 32 to adopt a state statute to enable such actions will finally come before voters at the spring town meeting as a warrant article, offered by petitioners, not by a town department or board.
Elementary Schools Reconfiguration
The Committee also voted Thursday night to move ahead with an elementary school reconfiguration next year. The $594,000 cost of the most expensive option (K-5 classes at all three schools) was included in the recommended budget although the committee has not yet decided which option to approve. The reconfiguration cost accounts for most of the difference between the FinCom guideline budget and the budget voted by the School Committee. Stein has made it clear that a K-1, 2-5 option is also viable, and about $200,000 cheaper. Brian Jones, principal of Loker, told the Jan. 9 meeting of the School Committee there are educational advantages to having kindergarten and grade one in the same location.
The committee also discussed possible consideration of a K-5 option with the same number of classes at each school, though Stein cautioned that such a choice would bring both Loker and Happy Hollow to near capacity and sharply reduce the ability to respond to population growth at the south end of town.
Member Ellen Grieco, also a member of Stein’s reconfiguration task force, asserted the need to take action this year. The task force is upset at the notion of putting it off a year, she said. She made the motion to include $594,000 for reconfiguration in the budget. Her motion was approved unanimously.
Member Malcolm Astley commented that the schools should spend more money for elementary program enhancements, like adding languages or full day kindergarten. We're not working with the plasticity of early-stage life, he said, referring to research showing that younger brains are more flexible and rewire themselves to deal with new situations and learn more quickly. That makes the cheaper K-1 option interesting, he said.
Grieco spoke to increasing bus fees, noting that they were substantially less than those of peer towns. Business Manager Geoff MacDonald noted that fees cover only 24% of total costs, so there is plenty of room to increase them without triggering the requirement to not exceed actual costs.
The Committee rejected the idea of adding a .7 FTE position to the business office. MacDonald said he is working too far down in details but with additional help would be able to save money with redesigned financial and procurement systems. Stein added that financial questions from the public take up a lot of his, MacDonald's, and Assistant Superintendent Brad Crozier's time, and a new person taking those on would free them to focus more on educational matters. But the committee was unwilling to add another person to the staff in a year of such heavy increases.
WayCAM’s recording of the Jan. 16 School Committee budget discussion:
For the Tuesday, Jan. 21 School Committee agenda:
IMPORTANT FINANCE COMMITTEE MEETINGS
Wayland’s finance director kicked off the budget season on Sept. 30 by issuing budget guidelines. Town departments submitted their capital proposals in October and their operating budget proposals in November. January is the month when the Finance Committee fine tunes all requests, including those from the School Department.
On Tuesday, Jan. 21, at 7:15 p.m., the FinCom will hold a public hearing to discuss the 49 warrant articles submitted for the April 3 Annual Town Meeting. This will be the first comprehensive discussion of what town boards and citizen petitioners have proposed. The public is encouraged to attend, ask questions and participate in the discussion.
The warrant articles are posted on the town website:
That same evening, the FinCom will continue discussing the School Committee’s requested FY15 operating budget followed by the ongoing review of other FY15 budget requests. http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_MeetingsCal/S01C725A3-01C725A7.0/AgendaFinCom01212014.pdf
The FinCom will continue FY15 budget deliberations on Thursday, Jan. 23 at Traditions on Route 27, across from St. Ann’s Church. The meetings of a town governmental body are always open to the public, regardless of the meeting location.
-- WVN Staff
WASTEWATER COMMISSION HIRES HELP
At its January monthly meeting, there was a new person sitting at the table of the Wastewater Management District Commission (WWMDC). While struggling to make decisions on fees, surcharges and betterments -- while a lawsuit by the Town Center developer loomed in the background -- the commission fell three quarters behind on issuing bills last year.
Residents moving into the new Wayland Commons condo community had never seen a wastewater bill, and some did not realize they faced that additional expense.
By the end of 2013, the WWMDC had almost depleted its reserves and faced the need to prepare its FY15 budget.
The Department of Public Works provided some clerical time last year to the WWMDC to help set up a new billing system, but the enterprise said it needed more business management expertise. Jan Holly, a temporary town employee, is now providing that assistance. The WWMDC is a self-sustaining enterprise fund with a three-member appointed commission that still has a vacant seat.
With Holly’s help, the new year has started with plans for several rounds of customer billing to catch up. The WWMDC says it needs to do more public outreach and education.
Frustrated plant customers hired their own attorney and made a lengthy public records request in November. They are concerned that all plant users pay their fair share. A business owner and plant customer called the town’s written response totally inadequate and demanded substantive answers.
The WWMDC reviewed its proposed draft FY15 budget. A detailed discussion, including suggestions from the public and FinCom liaison Cherry Karlson, resulted in some line item adjustments. A consistent revenue flow still needs to be established. Once the operations of the new plant are finally approved, betterment charges have to be applied within six months. The commissioners will hold a public hearing on March 5.
While the commissioners ultimately agreed on a budget of about $682,000 slightly less than FY14, several significant questions remained unanswered.
They don’t know if they will continue to use surcharges in FY15 or finally change to betterments to pay for the borrowing on the new $5.6 million treatment plant. Calculated betterment charges will be much higher as they include principal and interest on the loan. See documents posted on the WWMDC website:
It is not clear if the WWMDC will ever agree to require flow meters so that user fees can be based on actual flow to the plant, as often recommended by meeting attendees, instead of the commission’s formula based on 80% capacity and 20% flow. Some customers are paying higher fees because they are allocated wastewater capacity they are not using. Others, like the Whole Foods Plaza, sometimes exceed their 4,000 gallons per day allocation. The WWMDC has said that Twenty Wayland, the Town Center developer, won’t agree to the meters.
There also is no line item in the budget to cover the cost of the lawsuit lost to Twenty Wayland last June. The Town and the WWMDC have been ordered to pay more than $1.2 million to the Town Center developer. That expense is not in the WWMDC’s budget, so it is not clear who will pay that bill.
-- Linda Segal
Tuesday, Jan 21:
Health Dept. Shingles Vaccine - call 508-358-3617 for appointment for free vaccination
Thursday, Jan. 23:
Three volunteers needed to work with consultant and help select the next town administrator. Letters of interest should be submitted by Thursday to the selectmen’s office. More information:
All meetings take place in Town Building unless otherwise noted. To access meeting agendas posted on the town website calendar, click on the date and then the name of the board or committee:
Tuesday, Jan. 21:
Council on Aging, 4:30 p.m.
Finance Committee, 7 p.m., Agenda includes warrant Article public hearing at 7:15 p.m.
School Committee, 7 p.m.
Board of Health, 7 p.m.
Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee, 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 22:
Board of Health, 7 p.m.
Recreation Commission, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 23:
Economic Development Committee, 8:30 a.m.(MORNING), River’s Edge housing project
(inaccurately listed on the town website calendar for Friday morning)
Finance Committee, 7 p.m., Traditions, 10 Green Way, across from St. Ann’s Church
Friday, Jan. 24:
Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee, 8:30 a.m.(MORNING)
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor