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WVN #255: DA to appeal school ruling

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, The district attorney plans to appeal the School Committee s victory in a lawsuit alleging a violation of the state Open Meeting Law. 
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 4, 2008
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      The district attorney plans to appeal the School Committee's victory in a lawsuit alleging a violation of the state Open Meeting Law. 

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- The High School Building Committee plans to use the same two firms  that worked on the $57-million proposal that voters rejected in 2005.

      -- With the state projecting significant declines in high school enrollment, any  renovation or rebuilding may  be much smaller than the HSBC's  earlier proposal.

       DA TO APPEAL

      Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone says he'll appeal a Superior Court ruling that the School Committee wasn't violating the Open Meeting Law when it discussed the superintendent's evaluation in closed session.

      "For more than 15 years, it has been the position of this and other prosecution offices that the law requires the evaluation of a superintendent be done openly and in public,'' Leone said. "While we believe the town of Wayland's actions were done in
      good faith, we also respectfully disagree with the judge's decision in this case."

      Leone's statement continued, "We have filed our intention to appeal because we believe that openness and transparency in government is an important matter of public interest and that the law compels that these evaluations be done in public.
      Further, this is a potentially precedent-setting decision, and we believe it is necessary for us and for communities across the state to receive a clear statement from the Court on how the evaluation process should be conducted in the future.''

      School Committee Chairman Louis Jurist told the MetroWest Daily News he was surprised at the appeal.

      "In terms of the suit, we'll have to discuss it with our lawyer," he said,  "but I think my inclination is we'll continue to try to support our position...I  do think we're obliged to defend our position.'' According to Jurist, the Committee has  spent $6,000
      on the case so far.

      The DA sued the School Committee after the Wayland Town Crier filed a complaint  over a 2004 evaluation of Superintendent Gary Burton. Supporters of the Committee's position believe that some confidentiality  is needed to arrive at candid
      evaluations, which are linked to compensation. Burton is by far the town's highest paid employee, and has received  high marks from the Committee. On the other side of the legal argument are those who believe in maximum transparency in public
      matters.

      Superior Court Judge Leila Kern's decision on July 2 held that the Committee met  Open Meeting Law requirements by releasing minutes of executive (closed) sessions and other communications by Committee members. 

      The DA's decision to appeal became public on July 29, the day after the School Committee's most recent meeting, at which this year's evaluation of Burton was discussed in public. Jurist had said earlier that the process would be discussed in light of
      the court decision and any appeal.

      -- Michael Short

      BUILDING COMMITTEE AGAIN CHOOSES PROJECT MANAGER 

      The High School Building Committee considered eight proposals and chose  as the project manager the same company that produced the $57-million proposal  that voters rejected in January 2005.

      Some HSBC members argued for KVA Associates, an 11-person firm, but Turner Construction Co. won the chance to negotiate an agreement.  Turner, a nationwide firm boasting $9.4 billion in building  in 2007, has been in the news as the project
      manager for the controversial Newton North HIgh School, for which estimated costs have ballooned to about $200 million.

      The Committee consensus was that Newton's cost overruns and resulting adverse  publicity weren't Turner's fault. According to Committee members, any Wayland project should come in at less than half the cost of Newton North.

      The decision, presented to and approved by the School Committee on July 28, means that the HSBC plans to work with the same firms that created the earlier plan. HMFH  is the favored architectural firm. George Metzger of HMFH, who worked on
      the Wayland project, was quoted recently as questioning state Treasurer Tim Cahill's hope that communities could save money by using off-the-shelf designs.  

      Turner had announced plans to stop working on schools, but reversed itself when Massachusetts ended a moratorium and committed the state to spending serious money to aid school construction. Dick Amster, who became well known to many
      Wayland residents as the manager of the earlier Wayland project, has left the firm. 

      The Committee will present its project manager choice to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for approval. Under the new state reimbursement plan communities will work in step with the MSBA. Wayland could receive approximately  40
      percent reimbursement. 

      HIGH SCHOOL POPULATION PROJECTIONS

      HSBC Chair Lea Anderson showed the School Committee the MSBA's new enrollment projections for Wayland. Current high school enrollment is 914, and MSBA projects a steady decline over the next ten years to 731. Superintendent Gary Burton has
      said that a high school project can't get done until at least 2011, by which time MSBA projects a decline to 828. In 2004 one of the major bones of contention was whether the proposed new school was too large.

      The original proposal was for 1200 students and the  project eventually presented to the town was for 1100 students, with  classrooms for 1000 (expandable to 1100). School population projections from Wayland officials at the time were for the
      peak to occur about this year at over 1000. MSBA numbers are far smaller, and School Committee members expressed nervousness that they might be unrealistically small. Anderson mentioned that they would probably be thrilled if MSBA allows
      them to build for 930, which was a number casually mentioned by a former MSBA official. Wayland officials have said that if a school is more than 85-90 percent  full it feels tight, making scheduling more difficult.

      HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS

      High School Principal Pat Tutwiler talked with the School Committee about his  memo evaluating  high school athletics. "The athletics program clearly stands out as one of the best that I have experienced or observed in my tenure as an educator."
      his memo said.  "Our sports program is as comprehensive as our peer schools and is on a par with many private schools with its diverse offerings." On the controversial subject of fees, he said that most peer schools charge comparable fees.

      He said that "participation is very, very broad" but raised the possibility of instituting a tiered fee system to encourage even more participation. Presumably Frisbee would attract even more participants, for example, if players did not have to pay the
      same flat $200 fee as for playing football.

      Tutwiler's memo also broke out total costs and cost per student of most of the 31 subsidized sports. (A few, such as crew and ice hockey, are entirely student-paid.) The most expensive appears to be boy's volleyball, with golf close behind, both
      over $800 per student. Football, the sport with the most participants, cost $58,821, or $582 per student.

      CURRICULUM

      The Committee briefly reviewed end-of-year curriculum reports for a number of subjects. Discussion centered around the balance of effort devoted to students of differing ability levels. Chair Louis Jurist asked "How do we challenge superior
      students in the elementary grades?" This has been the subject of debate for decades, with some, like Jurist, believing that the lack of "advanced classes" limits high achievers, while others believe average children are shortchanged for the sake of
      extra emphasis devoted to both excellent and struggling students. And still others believe that inordinate resources are devoted to special needs students, while many parents of such students believe they are shortchanged. No conclusions were
      reached.

      ELEMENTARY SCHOOL REORGANIZATION

      Superintendent Gary Burton reported that the moves are on schedule to deal with the partial closing of Loker School and, so far, no elementary class is over size guidelines. In most prior years, with three schools, several sections have been over
      guideline, given the vagaries of number of children per grade in a smaller per-school population. The schools are quite full, however, with 612 at Claypit and 411 at Happy Hollow.

      POSSIBLE SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS?

      During public comment one school parent with a management background reported that she has studied the school bus logistics and believes that limiting busing to state mandates would save $400,000 annually.  The state requires busing for
      students in the lower grades living more than two miles from school, while Wayland uses a 1.5-mile standard for all grades. Students could be charged a fee for busing  beyond state standards.  $400,000 is more than the expected savings from
      the elementary reconfiguration.

      The parent also volunteered to help implement her suggestions. Jurist responded that it would be unfair to families to make such a change this late in the year.

      -- Tom Sciacca


      CAMPAIGN LAW VIOLATION

      At its July  7 meeting the School Committee discussed Middle School Principal Charlie Schlegel's violation of state campaign law. Schlegel, who had already announced plans to leave Wayland for a principal position in Indiana, wrote an email to
      parents about the proposed $1.9 million property tax override just before the April  vote. The state Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled the action a violation, but declined to assess a fine or take other action. The finding was intended to
      warn Wayland officials against further violations, the OCPF said.

      "It's been dealt with," commented Committee Chairman Louis Jurist. He said new administrators need to be told about the law.

      Superintendent Burton said that when he became aware of the email, "I immediately realized this was a questionable act and notified the School Committee...Had (Schlegel) asked permission, I would have said no. I think he crossed the line here."
      Burton called it a "minor infraction."

      WEBSITE PUBLIC OR PRIVATE?

      At the same meeting the Committee maintained its position that operating a private website is appropriate. Former Selectman Alan Reiss and others, including WVN,  had raised the question. It was argued that a private and potentially partisan site
      representing members'  views shouldn't link with public sites because it blurs the distinction between private and public matters.  As a private entity www.waylandschoolcommittee.org can advocate for overrides.  Committee member Jeff
      Dieffenbach explained that the site, which he owns, is "privately funded at the discretion of the School Committee." 

      Member  Heather Pineault said the site should be part of the school system.  Dieffenbach countered that public status  would create a burden for staff to maintain. The consensus was: no change.   
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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