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WVN # 262: Irate parents; important tax mailings

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, An estimated at 60 to 100  parents showed up to complain to the School Committee about busing and other problems stemming from the partial
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 22, 2008
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      An estimated at 60 to 100  parents showed up to complain to the School Committee about busing and other problems stemming from the partial closing of one elementary school. Some  complaints came by email. Some  filled a page of the Wayland
      Town Crier.

      All of which added up to the largest demonstration of parent unhappiness since the furor that followed the decision last winter to consolidate  three schools into 2-1/2.

      -- Also in this newsletter: Watch for two mailings about your property taxes and be prepared to spend some time to be sure that new assessing methods produce a correct figure for your property.


      "A catastrophe"..."The first two weeks were an unmitigated disaster."  These were typical  comments from  parents during about two hours of unplanned dialogue during a School Committee meeting on Sept. 15. The meeting had to move to a larger
      room to accommodate the crowd. 

      In person or in writing, parents say their children spend hours a day on buses, traffic around the elementary schools is chaotic and  dangerous, and delays interfere with other activities of parents and students. Parents also criticized class sizes and too-
      brief lunch periods, asked the Committee to admit making a mistake and accused officials of failing to plan properly. Some said their earlier complaints had gone unanswered.

      Parental complaints focus largely on busing and safety. Superintendent Gary Burton said the only real problems were in leaving Claypit and Happy Hollow. Problems  at the now all-kindergarten Loker have already been fixed, he said.  He said the new
      15-minute delay in the start times would solve other problems. Another bus will be added at Loker as soon as a driver willing to work for only two hours a day can be located.

      Much parental dissatisfaction involves lack of flexibility of bus schedules. Parents want "play date" dropoffs so that students can take a different bus to a friend's home. Burton has banned them until the situation stabilizes.

      Burton reported that elementary enrollment was 21 more than projected. Two thirds of that increase was in kindergarten. However, the sixth grade class that left the elementary schools this year and the fifth grade class that will leave next year are
      both well over 200. The decline in population was part of the rationale for partially closing Loker School this year.

      The Middle School population was down by two and the High School up by 20 from projections. The High School population moves somewhat unpredictably as a function of students moving to and from private schools.

      Burton maintains that schools internally are running very well. Claypit and Happy Hollow now have the same populations as they had seven years ago. The physical move of classrooms from Loker to the other schools went very well, he said.

      Responding to complaints about short lunch periods, Burton said students get 20 minutes and can stay an additional 10.

      Committee Chairman Louis Jurist responded that only two class sections are over guidelines, better than in previous years.  Member Jeff Dieffenbach commented that Wayland is not a small-class-size district, but focuses on having excellent teachers
      in moderate-size classes.

      Moving away from busing problems, another parent complained that Weston and Wellesley have full-day kindergartens and Wayland doesn't, so Wayland is not really a peer to those towns as claimed by the School Committee and Finance Committee.
      Burton responded that 110 kindergarteners stay until 3 o'clock in the BASE program (Before and After School Extension), which is entirely fee-supported.

      Burton and Jurist both commented that they are looking at full-day kindergarten, possibly even for next year.

      But another parent reported that there was no transportation home for BASE kids and no nursing services for them even though there were asthmatics in the group. 

      Another parent complained that she had made all her plans based on the original school starting and ending times and her "world was now disrupted" by the 15-minute delay to address bus problems. There was general applause.

      More comments: "An astounding amount of damage has been done to  the schools, the community, and our kids...You had one chance to make a first impression on these kids, and you blew it." Our kids have suffered. Which one of you has the courage
      to say you made a mistake? My emails aren't answered. Details weren't planned for. "This is a one-product town, and you have completely ruined it, and you sit there and say it's going great." "We moved here for the schools-- the only thing Wayland
      really has to offer. After what I've witnessed over the last ten months, I believe that the administration and the School Committee are presiding over the descent of the Wayland Public Schools into mediocrity. This is a one-horse town, and when the
      horse isn't watered and fed, it can't run."

      Former School Committee candidate Jeff Baron, who had challenged the Committee's financial justification for the reconfiguration, asked what the real net savings had turned out to be.  Dieffenbach answered that they were $60,000 more than the
      projected $400,000  as a result of needing one less classroom section at Happy Hollow than projected.

      Two parents, as well as Jurist, became emotional as the evening progressed.

      Police Chief Bob Irving was summoned from another meeting to comment. He reassured parents that safety is the first priority and he is working with the school administration to resolve all concerns.

      High School Building

      When  the Committee moved on to other matters, High School Building Committee Chair Lea Anderson and member Dianne Bladon requested approval of the HSBC's choice of architect, HMFH. This is the same firm involved in the last proposal defeated
      by voters in 2005. The Committee approved the choice unanimously, which allows it to be submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

      MSBA still needs to approve Wayland's choice of project manager, also the same firm as used last time.

      (In both cases, however, the players within the firms are at least somewhat changed.) 

      The last major piece will be agreement  with MSBA on enrollment projections. The defeated proposal provided for 1200 students in the common spaces and 1000, expandable to 1100, in classroom space. MSBA wants one number, with 85 percent
       utilization. An MSBA official informally threw out 930 in a meeting, but a real number must be negotiated. After that a new feasibility study can be done. 

      Grants and Gifts

      A grant of $125,000 a year for four years was received for drug and alcohol education, mostly aimed at educating parents of the need to lead in the effort to prevent abuse.

      A major gift was received from Juniper Networks, estimated to be worth up to $100,000, of networking equipment and fiber optic cabling to upgrade the high school networking infrastructure. Currently the entire high school is served by the same
      single Comcast internet service channel as any house in town. The gift will upgrade the service to Verizon fiber optic with much higher bandwidth and distribute the service among the buildings.

      One of the members of the Technology Task Force works for Juniper. This reporter, who is a member of the Technology Task Force, commented to the Committee that the new infrastructure would allow technology expenditures in next year's budget
      to focus on elements which would immediately save more than they cost.

      -- Tom Sciacca

      New Assessment Methods

      Wayland residents will find their Fiscal 2009 property tax assessments have been developed with new methods and should scrutinize their notices of new assessments.

      In particular, residents with designated wetlands may find their notices lack a deduction for wetlands because this information was not carried forward from the old property record cards and wasn't available in digital form for incorporation into the
      new cards. So the onus is on the property owner to check all notices carefully.

      The Board of Assessors will explain the new assessment methods at a public hearing Wednesday Oct. 15. Residents will receive two different mailings from the town.

      Estimated tax bills (based on the previous fiscal year information) will be mailed in early October. But the mailing that bears scrutiny is the "impact notice" that details your new valuation which will be applied in either the third or fourth quarter tax bill,
      depending on the timing of approval from the state.

      Read Your Impact Notice

      After Oct. 17, the assessors will mail impact notices to property owners, pending preliminary approval of the town's assessments by the Department of Revenue. Residents should examine these notices immediately because they can request individual
      appointments to correct their records before the information is finalized.

      The correction process in the fall offers the last chance for the assessors and Vision Appraisal to rectify errors that may affect not only individual properties, but an entire class of properties wherever they are located in town.

      Vision, the firm that conducted the revaluation of all town properties and instituted the new methods, will conduct the individual appointments.

      Sales Inspections Critical

      The valuations are "based on sales" which means it is critical that sold homes are inspected thoroughly to calibrate what is responsible for the sales price. For instance, if a colonial sells for more than the assessment, it would be helpful to know it had a
      very fancy kitchen before assigning all colonials of the approximate same size the same relative value.

      For the second consecutive meeting, assistant assessor Molly Reed was unable to tell the board how many sold homes were inspected internally. She assured the board that all homes sold in 2007 "had been looked at" but explained in some cases the
      assessors had driven by the homes and had used Mutiple Listing data as well as the questionnaire returned by new buyers to update property cards.

      Chairman Bruce Cummings has stated several times an important goal is the thorough inspection of a vast majority of sold homes. Homes sold in 2007 are the basis for assessed values in Fiscal 2009. Reed also did not explain how the office is
      handling refusals of entry at sold homes. The regulations state that, if refused entry, assessors can consider the home to equal in quality to the best house on the street.


      Several changes in method affect both buildings and land.

      Grading of homes should be more consistent according to type, e.g. raised ranch, regardless of location.

      The recent inspections revealed several homes that were sporting undeserved high grades. (This means some homeowners' bills were too high.)

      Board member Jayson Brodie said he spotted 18 homes with letter changes of 4 to 5 grades. Four grades would be, for example, from A to B. The Vision Appraisal representative said the firm looked at a large sample of homes and said there was a
      "clear reason for change" in grade. Some were very obviously incorrect in the past, he said, citing one that went from an A to C+.

      How did the records get so far off? The Vision spokesman said that formerly if the assessors could not get the value from the land, the grading of the house was changed to increase the total value of the property. In addition, the grading tended to
      reflect the geographic neighborhood.

      Grade is one of the key determinants of a building's value in the current system. WVN has learned that Weston, for example, has worked with Vision to extend the range of grades to better reflect the real value of very high-end properties. The Vision
      spokesman indicated that sales showed those homes sold at the high end went for higher prices than their assessments.

      Property owners questioning the grading assigned to their homes should bring to the assessors' attention properties they think are comparable.


      An effort also has been made to categorize land values. There will be six designations for the site index, which now indicates the type of neighborhood, from high-density traffic to "very good" location. The term "neighborhood" is no longer based on
      geography, but rather the market value of the property. Thus a ranch on Route 20 might be in the same "neighborhood" as a ranch on Route 30.

      Members of the board questioned Vision on the subjectivity of the various land categories. The conclusion was there is "no simple way to translate market area;" essentially one takes the same building costs, and location makes the difference in the
      sale value.

      Thus it is critical that sold homes are fully evaluated to ensure accuracy on the building as well as the land value.

      Next Property Tax Bill

      The tax bills going out in early October will be estimated, based on last year's values. An unanswered question is whether the town will receive state certification of assessments in time to send out finalized, third quarter tax bills (which homeowners
      are accustomed to receiving at the end of December) that reflect the valuation derived from the new method. If not, then the town will, for the first time, issue estimated third quarter bills.

      This would mean the abatement process wouldn't start until spring, when the fourth quarter bill is issued.

      Wayland assessors are running a month behind the schedule they had set for themselves in providing data to the state. The new deadline for data submission is Monday, Sept. 22.

      The assessors are still apparently insisting that the new property record cards will show the original "committed" value rather than the abated (decreased) value. Because a couple of interrelated errors in the Dudley Pond area cards were discovered last
      January, last year's stated values for this area are much higher than the corrected value used in the tax bills.

      -- Molly Upton


      Videos of recent government meetings made available by www.WaylandMass.US, a private website.

      Finance Committee, Sept. 15: Fall Town Meeting articles, budget projections, state tax resolution, ad hoc strategies.

      Windows Media Player
      Adobe Flash

      Board of Assessors, Aug. 18 (55 minutes)

      Quick Time
      Windows Media Player
      Adobe Flash

      Ad Hoc Committee on cost savings, Sept. 19

      Windows Media Player
      Adobe Flash
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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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