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WVN #234: Furor, action over school closing

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Parents of Loker School students are angry about the School Committee s vote to close part of the school and use the rest for all of
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 6, 2008
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Parents of Loker School students are angry about the School
      Committee's vote to close part of the school and use the rest for
      all of Wayland's kindergartners. They have issued extensive
      research and mounted a campaign by phone and email to
      rescind the decision and study options again.

      The furor has even produced a write-in candidate who argues
      that the School Committee has shown itself incompetent to
      make decisions in a studied, rational way.

      "The School Committee seems ill-equipped to make difficult
      decisions," says Jeffrey Baron, who seeks one of two contested
      Committee seats on the April ballot. Though Baron's daughter is
      in kindergarten at Loker, he says he is not arguing against the
      closure per se, but rather against slipshod decision-making.

      "Rather than relying on facts, figures and hard data to support a
      decision on which school to close, " Baron says, "they have
      instead relied on hunches, feelings, incomplete data sets and
      politically-motivated recommendations by school
      administrators."

      There was no serious research of traffic or anything else
      comparing Happy Hollow and Loker as kindergarten sites,
      Baron said in a WVN interview: "not a dime...not a moment."

      Loker parents paid for a traffic study by Michael Abend, who has
      consulted for Wayland in the past. Abend concluded that Happy
      Hollow would be a better kindergarten location because of its
      more central location and inherent traffic limitations.

      Parents also produced a 29-page analysis arguing that Loker
      has more capacity, a better cafeteria, more parking and larger
      grounds. Loker also represents the better long-term fiscal
      choice should the town shut one facility entirely because of
      dropping enrollment, the study asserted. The parents also
      dispute school administration estimates of revenue from renting
      unused Loker space.

      Among those who follow school administration and School
      Committee actions there has been the general impression that
      Happy Hollow would remain open, at least in the near term.
      School Committee decisions as far back as 2005 helped to
      create that impression.

      In November 2005 Superintendent Gary Burton presented two
      scenarios should an expected property tax override fail: 1) Close
      Happy Hollow; 2) Retain Happy Hollow by eliminating many
      Middle and High School programs, including all athletics.
      Concerned Happy Hollow parents commented at length.

      When the School Committee then met on Nov. 28, it decided to
      spare Happy Hollow. The override passed in 2006, rendering the
      decision moot.

      At the annual Town Meeting on April 29, 2007, Steven Glovsky
      (now a candidate for the School Committee) moved to cut
      $735,000 in Happy Hollow repairs from the capital budget
      because of a belief that the school would be closed in case of
      downsizing. School Committee member Jeff Dieffenbach told
      voters, "We're probably at least three to five years away from
      having to make a closure due to enrollment needs."

      Selectman Alan Reiss said, "...my understanding is that we had
      a verbal understanding that Happy Hollow would not be that
      one...If there is any disagreement with that, please let me know."
      No town official responded, and the $735,000 remained in the
      budget.

      The 2007 commitment to major repairs (still not completed)
      solidified the sense that the school would remain open.

      In November 2007 the School Committee initially rejected
      reconfiguring the schools unless an override failed.
      Superintendent Burton appointed an ad hoc committee to study
      possible school reconfiguration because of override failure or in
      the longer term. Loker parents say they were expecting a
      long-term study. But, after the ad hoc group had twice met briefly,
      the School Committee on Jan. 15 suddenly announced its
      "2-1/2 school" plan to reduce a budget shortfall that threatened
      some athletic programs. On Jan. 28 the Committee voted to
      adopt the plan but put off a decision on which school should be
      "halved." After an outcry, the Committee put off final action until
      the public could be heard. The decisive vote came on Feb. 25.

      The Committee's plan is expected to save about $300,000,
      mostly in personnel costs. The saving was part of Finance
      Committee revisions reducing the requested April 2008 override
      from $2.6 million to $1.9 million.

      Superintendent Burton says Happy Hollow is "a structurally
      sounder building" with a better floor plan for its intended purpose
      than Loker's. Facilities manager John Moynihan estimates
      saving about $13,000 annually in utility costs if Loker is used
      only for kindergarten.

      Baron, a Wayland resident since 1999 and a financial consultant
      with an MBA from Cornell University, says his experience with a
      multinational consulting firm gives him skills in research and
      financial analysis that the School Committee needs.

      The candidates on the April 8 ballot are Glovsky and incumbents
      Barbara Fletcher and Louis Jurist.

      You can read more about Baron at www.jeffreysbaron.com.
      Incumbent Jeff Dieffenbach writes about the controversy at
      www.deepbrook.com/waylandblog/.

      -- Michael Short

      SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING

      The School Committee will meet at 7:30 p.m. on Monday March
      10 (second floor, town building) "to address several additional
      thoughts that have been raised by the community." The
      announcement was issued on March 5.

      ENVIRONMENTAL COMMENT DEADLINE

      Comments on the Wayland Town Center Final Environmental
      Impact Report are due at the Massachusetts Environmental
      Policy Act office by March 21. The mixed-use project developers
      withdrew an earlier final report. The revised plan can be found at
      the Wayland Library.

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      Michael Short, Editor
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