99WVN #99: School Superintendent Evaluated in Open Meeting
- Jul 12, 2005Wayland Voters Network
July 12, 2005
Dear Wayland Voter,
WVN's Margo Melnicove and Michael Short are on a committee put
together by Town Moderator Peter Gossels to try to improve attendance
at Town Meeting. Committee members have been asked to ask their
neighbors for suggestions. Would you please take a moment to reply to
this email: If you do not attend Town Meeting, please tell us why,
and what would induce you to attend. If you do attend, please give us
your ideas for making Town Meeting more appealing to those who do not
attend. We will share your suggestions with the committee. If you
would like to present your ideas in person, the committee is meeting
at 7:30pm in the Town Building on July 12, July 27, August 11 and
August 23. Or contact the committee chair, Judy Currier, 653-8554.
This newsletter is a report on the School Committee meeting of June
22 prepared by WVN subscriber Tom Sciacca.
SC 6/22: SUPERINTENDENT EVALUATED IN OPEN MEETING
On June 22 a special meeting of the School Committee was held on a
Wednesday rather than the usual Monday meeting night to deal with the
issue of the superintendent's evaluation. Reporters from the Boston
Globe and the Wayland Town Crier were present. Several more routine
items were discussed before the main agenda item.
Superintendent Gary Burton reported that, so far, the costs for the
high school science modular labs approved at spring Town Meeting
continue to come in under budget. They will be ready by September if
everything goes according to schedule. They will be located behind
the Field House; this will require the removal of two pine trees.
School Committee Chair Jeff Dieffenbach reported that the minutes
from June 28, 2004, which were amended at the last meeting to reflect
the holding of an executive session to evaluate the superintendent,
actually had such a reference in the first place, so the committee
voted to rescind the vote of June 6, 2005, correcting them.
Moving on to the main agenda item of Burton's current year
evaluation, Dieffenbach said he did not hear support for discussing
the evaluation in executive session. "Can we take that off the
table?" he asked, to general agreement from the group. This left the
choice between discussing the evaluation in open session or having
Dieffenbach discuss it privately with Burton.
It was reported that the Massachusetts Association of School
Committees indicated that the majority of evaluations are held in
open session. Dieffenbach reported that Town Counsel Mark Lanza
believes that if the evaluation were done in executive session there
is a 50-50 chance that the District Attorney would take the town to
court, and a 75% chance that the DA would win at the first level.
Lanza also believes that if the ruling were appealed, there is a
better than even chance the town would lose again. Dieffenbach
expounded that the multiplicative nature of probability means that
the total probability of the town losing in court was therefore
considerably less than 50% and therefore a good bet.
"The probability that it would be annoying and expensive is 100%,"
commented member Louis Jurist.
Lanza's estimate for legal cost was reported as $15,000-25,000.
Member Heather Pineault moved to discuss the evaluation in open
meeting. Member Barbara Fletcher seconded the motion.
Jurist said, "Like it or not, the intent of the Open Meeting Law is
that this be public."
Dieffenbach countered that "it is the DA's interpretation," and spoke
for the viability of the other option. Member Bob Gordon also argued
for keeping the proceeding secret, because he believes the press,
including "the perversion of journalism in Wayland Voters Network,"
would misrepresent what they do.
Pineault replied, "What I know for sure is we're overseen by the Open
Meeting Law," and argued again for her motion.
Gordon responded, "I don't believe you have any more insight into the
law than Gary Burton or Jeff Dieffenbach or anybody It is entirely
lawful that this should not be done in open meeting." Referring to
Pineault's comment that poor publicity would hurt the committee's
chances to get future spending approved by voters, he said "publicity
be damned and that comment goes for Waycam, too." Waycam has
announced plans to wire the School Committee meeting room for video
recording. Gordon went on to comment that the committee shouldn't
just accept Waycam's plans.
Jurist, in contrast, said "this has become a major diversion" and
what counts is public perception. He said they may not like the law,
but the best interest of the district is what counts.
Gordon countered that criticizing a superintendent in public would
make it hard for him to operate with his faculty in the future.
Fletcher said that perhaps some other school committee would want to
be a test case in the future, but she was not willing to be one.
Gordon said he put the value of the school committee's political
position as "zero." Pineault retorted, "We rely on the town for
funding." Jurist noted that the majority of communities release some
document (some release the full evaluation and some a summary, while
Wayland has released nothing during Burton's tenure). Dieffenbach,
however, responded that they shouldn't minimize the distinction
between the summary and the whole document. Jurist asked
Gordon: "Does it bother you to know only what you wrote and not what
anyone else wrote?" Gordon responded that he has always been
impressed at the quality of the evaluation document. Then he asked
Burton what his preference was.
Burton said, "I don't like being on the front page of the paper,"
referring to a Middlesex Sunday News front-page article on the
controversy. "It's a circus-like atmosphere." He thanked Gordon for
his "principled stand" but said he didn't want to spend school money
on this issue. "I wish you well in this process," he said. When asked
if he had any specific requests of the committee, he said, "I ask
that you not reduce my performance to a number or a grade."
The group voted 3-2 to pass Pineault's motion, with Dieffenbach and
Gordon voting against. The meeting continued in open session.
Gordon asked whether Burton should leave, or at least whether Doris
Goldthwaite, head of the Special Education program and a member of
Burton's direct staff, should leave. It was agreed that Burton should
stay, and Goldthwaite stayed at his request.
"We are now descending into complete absurdity," said Gordon.
The committee proceeded to discuss the evaluation draft written by
Dieffenbach. With regard to budgeting, Pineault said, "I see that as
one of Gary's strengths." Fletcher added, "Agree." Dieffenbach
said, "We had a good process putting together the budget this year."
The group went through the sections on Curriculum and Staff
Development, Staff Recruiting, Hiring, and Retention, and
Communication with similar laudatory remarks. Pineault said she would
like to see continued progress in hiring candidates of color. She
also said that it would be helpful if future goals were more
measurable. With some minor modifications, the group voted
unanimously to approve the evaluation.
During the subsequent public comment period, Boston Globe reporter
Matt McDonald asked for a copy of the draft evaluation so that he
could refer to it in his story, which was due the next day.
Dieffenbach refused to release it because it was a draft, but said
the final document would be ready in a few days. Pineault pointed out
that if a document is discussed in an open meeting, it becomes a
public document. Dieffenbach said a request for the document could be
submitted in writing, but the committee had ten days to honor such a
request and the final evaluation document would be available well
This reporter asked if a copy of the evaluation could be made
available electronically. After some speculation on the part of
members that if an electronic copy were made available Wayland Voters
Network would publish it in its entirety, the committee declined to
do so. They did agree to provide a copy of the final, revised
document in response to an email request.
The meeting was adjourned.
Wayland Voters Network requested and received by US mail the
following week a copy of the final evaluation document. It refers
to "performance against those goals" (the superintendent's goals
delivered to the committee on September 17, 2004) as a major basis
for the evaluation.
The document congratulates Burton for completing the fiscal year with
a small budgetary surplus and completing the Claypit Hill roof
replacement on time and under budget. With regard to the budget, the
"Perhaps most impressive with respect to the 2005-2006 budget was
your ability to maintain morale in the face of the prospective
significant cuts that we published and that we would have implemented
had the operating override not been approved by the voters. Moreover,
you deserve a substantial portion of the credit for the override's
passage as the result of your tireless efforts educating the
community as to the need."
With respect to the 2005-2006 budget, the committee writes: "As we
learned at this past Annual Town Meeting, voters may be interested in
additional detail regarding our capital needs. We ask that you plan
to provide such detail for future meetings." (One of the "capital
needs" not specifically listed in the warrant for April's Town
Meeting or in the School Budget booklet was a new car for the
Although the committee credits the superintendent for helping to win
passage of April's operating override, it declines to assign him any
blame for the failure of January's override for design funds for a
new high school. It writes: "Given the margin of defeat on the
proposed architectural design study for the high school modernization
and expansion, the failure was likely not the result of poor
execution, however, but rather the inevitable result of the state
moratorium on school building reimbursement and other factors."
With regard to curriculum/staff development and staff
recruiting/hiring/training/retention, the committee acknowledges that
it has very little direct visibility and states, "As such, our
evaluation depends far more on what you report to us."
Burton is praised for the Literacy Initiative in the elementary
schools and encouraged to proceed with the analogous math program. He
is congratulated for successful contract negotiations and "general
personnel-related strengths." (No mention is made of generally high
teacher salaries - third highest average salary in the state,
according to the 7/3/05 Boston Globe, after Boston and Shawsheen
Valley - nor of any parent or teacher dissatisfaction such as that
expressed by parents and by non-resident teachers forced to travel to
Wayland through the aftermath of last January's blizzard when Burton
Burton is further lauded for his communication abilities with "peer
town officials such as the Executive Secretary, Finance Director,
Town Clerk, and Highway Director; members of boards including the
Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee; the Town Moderator; the
press; residents at large; and our elected representatives on Beacon
Under the heading "Last Year's Evaluation," the document includes the
following note: "On a more tactical note, we ask that you reinstate
the collecting of parent email addresses along with the other contact
information that is recorded each fall. This is needed again next
year." (Why email addresses will be needed again next year is not
This reporter could not find a single significant criticism of the
superintendent in the document.
The closing section includes the following: "As you harvest this
document for our recommendations, please do so while bearing in mind
your countless successes, both delineated here and not."
A complete copy of the superintendent's evaluation can be obtained
from his office.
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Wayland Voters Network
Margo Melnicove and Michael Short, Editors