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WVN Newsletter #156: Potential school closing

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, REMINDER: TODAY, April 5, is the last day to register to vote in the town election on April 25 and the annual and special Town Meetings
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2006
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      REMINDER: TODAY, April 5, is the last day to register to vote in
      the town election on April 25 and the annual and special Town
      Meetings beginning April 27. The town clerk's office
      (508-358-3630) will be open until 8 p.m.

      Possible school closings and various enrollment projections are
      a serious topic for the School Committee, as Tom Sciacca
      reports below.

      OTHER DATES TO NOTE

      April 5 -- A subcommittee meets at 7:30 p.m. to discuss rewriting
      the mission of the High School Building Committee. The posted
      location is 73 Draper Road, home of School Committee member
      Bob Gordon. (This is, and must be, a public meeting. It is
      unusual but legal for public bodies to meet in private homes.)

      April 7 -- Deadline for public comment to the Highway
      Department on the proposed redesign of the West Plain/Route
      126 intersection.

      April 11 -- The League of Women Voters holds its 56th annual
      Candidates Night, 7 p.m. at the Middle School. All local
      candidates are invited to participate, though formal Q and A is for
      contested races only. A hearing on the fiscal 2007 school budget
      follows the candidate forum.

      April 12 -- Deadline for public comments to the Environmental
      Protection Agency on a draft permit concerning the waste water
      treatment plant at the former Raytheon property. See
      www.wayland.ma.us for details.


      ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CLOSING POSSIBLE

      Wayland's existing elementary school structure could soon be
      history, assuming current trends in school populations continue.

      Last fall, after strong parental objections, the School Committee
      backed down from the idea presented by Superintendent Gary
      Burton that Happy Hollow elementary school could be closed to
      meet the Finance Committee's request for an 8 percent budget
      reduction plan. But now both Burton and School Committee
      members are speaking of school consolidation as inevitable,
      possibly in one or two years, if school populations keep trending
      down. It could be as soon as next year if the override fails this
      month, or it may take a little longer if voters approve the
      requested budget.

      It also seems most likely that it would be Loker closing,
      assuming voters approve the debt exclusion override that would
      fix Happy Hollow's leaking roof. Burton's earlier choice of Happy
      Hollow was partly based on the roof condition, but Loker is less
      well equipped than Happy Hollow. Loker was closed in the
      1980s when school populations dropped. If the override fails,
      because the population is not yet low enough to cram
      comfortably into two schools, Loker will be used for kindergarten
      classes.

      Consolidation of the elementary schools "prematurely" (in
      Burton's word) would account for nearly half of the necessary
      reductions in a no-override scenario.

      HOWEVER... at the March 27 School Committee meeting Burton
      made the surprise announcement that there seems to have
      been an influx of 4-year-olds into town. His projection of next
      year's kindergarten enrollment had been 159, but there are now
      192 names on the kindergarten mailing list. Not all of these will
      result in actual kindergarten attendees, and Burton promised
      more definitive information later. An influx of new school children
      would be contrary to the claims made by some, including town
      center developer Chuck Irving in a meeting with the School
      Committee, that Wayland had become unattractive to school
      parents because of a perceived lack of support for the schools.
      It would, however, support the contention of others that
      excessive taxes are driving out senior homeowners, to be
      replaced with young families.

      STUDENT TRAVEL

      On March 13 the School Committee approved a high school
      study abroad program in Greece for 12 students. Last year 20
      went to South Africa, and a trip to India was already approved this
      year.

      ENROLLMENT

      Enrollment was down from September in all schools. The tallies
      were:
      Claypit 1
      Happy Hollow 3
      Loker 5
      Middle School 1
      High School 9

      MUSIC POSITION RESTORED

      Burton announced his decision to restore a .6
      full-time-equivalent music specialist position in the elementary
      schools. A librarian with an annual salary of $89,000 has asked
      for a leave of absence, and can be replaced with a more junior
      librarian earning much less. Rather than reduce the budget,
      Burton plans to use the savings to restore the music teacher
      previously slated to be cut as a money-saving measure.

      In a public comment period the head of the teachers' union,
      Conrad Gees, referred to the cuts made in the proposed budget
      relative to a "level-services" budget as "minor". The School
      Committee fiscal 2007 Budget Message mailed to all
      households refers to them as "moderate". They amount to
      cutting approximately two positions out of the approximately
      400 total school employment roster.

      HIGH SCHOOL BUILDING

      At the meeting of March 27 Burton announced that he wrote a
      letter to the Massachusetts School Building Authority challenging
      the "3" ratings given to high school buildings by a state
      inspector; Burton believes they should be rated a "4", the worst
      possible rating and most likely for state reimbursement.

      Vice-Chair Bob Gordon, standing in for the absent Chair Jeff
      Dieffenbach, noted that under the new program the money spent
      on a project would be lower than under the old program
      because there would be immediate reimbursement of the
      state's share. "The difference is huge," he said. Interest charges,
      which can double the cost to local taxpayers, would apply
      only to the town's share of a project. The big question, according
      to Gordon, is whether the new rules would allow phasing. This
      would make it possible, for example, to build a new academic
      building first and then build additional facilities for sports or arts
      later. Under the old rules such a plan would have been treated
      as separate projects, with a 10-year minimum gap required
      between them to be eligible for reimbursement.

      TOWN CENTER PROJECT

      The selectmen have asked the committee if it wants to comment
      on the Route 20 redevelopment project. The committee had
      already indicated that it prefers the mixed-use development that
      will be decided at the May 3 special Town Meeting. Burton again
      expressed his inability to estimate the impact on the schools,
      but Gordon argued that the committee should support the
      commercial development because of the anticipated extra
      revenue. The committee voted to reaffirm its earlier decision,
      and authorize Dieffenbach to draft a letter to the selectmen and
      the Town Crier to that effect.

      SUPERINTENDENT'S EVALUATION

      The battle between the Middlesex district attorney's office and the
      Wayland School Committee continues. The DA is still insisting
      that Wayland make public the individual inputs to the
      superintendent's evaluation. Gordon, an attorney, said "It's a
      wrong-headed way to interpret this law," referring to the DA's
      position. The committee voted to authorize school counsel to try
      to persuade the district attorney that she is wrong.

      MODULAR SCIENCE LABS

      They are still not occupied. The one-year anniversary of their
      approval by last year's annual Town Meeting is approaching.

      TOWN MEETING

      There will be two school-related articles, one requesting
      $50,000 for short term repair and one adding four new members
      to the High School Building Committee.


      Thank you for reading this WVN newsletter. Please forward it to
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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