WVN #291: School Committee hears residents' budget concerns
- Dear Wayland Voter,
More residents than usual turned out to hear the School Committee's proposed Fiscal 2010 budget and didn't hesitate to express their concerns about how Wayland schools are dealing with the recession.
Also in this newsletter: Another large turnout, this time for a meeting on the problem of too many dogs running too freely on conservation land and leaving too much poop.
LARGE, CONCERNED CROWD HEARS SCHOOL BUDGET
The first question after School Committee member and candidate Jeff Dieffenbach finished presenting the School Committee's proposed $31.1 million budget
( http://www.waylandschoolcommittee.org/details/wsc_budget-hearing_2009-03-23.pdf )
on March 23 was from a resident who described herself as the "only oldster in the room".
If there was ever a year when taxpayers need relief, it's this year, she said. Frugality and sacrifice are the words on most lips, she said. She read portions of the school mission statement, which begins "Personal and civic responsibility, love of learning, and empathy for others: these are the qualities that the Wayland Public Schools seeks to instill in its students."
She went on to say that these shouldn't be empty words, that teachers should be asked to accept a wage freeze as a matter of civic responsibility and out of empathy for struggling citizens in the private sector. And that the highest paid administrators should lead the way. They should "walk the walk", she said.
Chairman Louis Jurist responded that the committee had tried to run lean budgets over the years. The current teacher contract is a "very responsible 6.5% over three years", he said.
Near the end of the meeting she tried again. She noted that the Committee never responded to her call for wage freezes, and asked them to respond to her question "have you ever discussed wage freezes" directly. Dieffenbach answered that they couldn't directly answer the question because it involves labor negotiations.
Member Barb Fletcher added that non-union salary negotiations have not yet taken place for 2010. They will occur in June. In answer to a question from School Committee candidate Jeff Baron, she said that a 3 percent increase is assumed in the budget, in line with next year's contracted teacher increases.
A resident commented that we seem to have heavy administrative costs. Dieffenbach disagreed, saying that our costs are in the middle range among "peer towns". He had earlier shown a graphic showing Wayland per pupil expenditures in the middle among those peer towns, under those of Weston, Concord-Carlisle, Brookline, Dover-Sherborn, and Lexington.
In previous years when no override vote was scheduled the School Committee Budget Hearing has typically been a rather pro forma event, with sparse attendance and only a few desultory questions. But presumably reflecting the state of the economy, questions and comments dragged this year's well-attended event out for nearly two full hours in the high school Little Theater.
The parent of an eighth grader reacted to Dieffenbach's description of deplorable conditions at the high school and need for the scheduled debt exclusion override vote by asking if it is safe for her child to go there next year. Will his education suffer, she asked? Dieffenbach responded that we still have excellent teachers who will be the major determinant of a quality education.
School Committee candidate Malcolm Astley asked what the reimbursement for a new high school would have been had it been funded when first proposed. Jurist said that the old reimbursement rate was 61 percent, but by the time of the last proposal, which was voted down by the town, the reimbursement rate had gone to zero. The promised reimbursement rate is now 40 percent.
There was some discussion of how much of the town budget was actually used to educate Wayland's children, as opposed to the nominal school budget which does not include major items like health insurance which are carried on the town side. Dieffenbach reported that his calculations usually came out between 65 and 67 percent.
Many others, who include such items as crossing guards which are part of the police budget, reach numbers over 70 percent. But one resident maintained it might be as high as 80 percent if costs such as maintenance of playing fields, done by the Park and Recreation Department, are included.
A school mother asked how much federal stimulus money Wayland is in line for. Superintendent Gary Burton explained that Wayland will receive money from only one of three available pots, which is $650,000 for special needs. It will not be used to offset the budget but can only be used for new spending.
She then asked if Wayland will have a full-day kindergarten like most other towns in the state. Member Deb Cohen, a member of the study group investigating full-day kindergarten, said it won't happen next year but may in the future.
Another mother of an eighth-grader commented that many are wondering when the spending will stop. She pointed to the plethora of music options available for her child, but noted that the majority of children who aren't musical don't benefit from those offerings.
Is music really core to educational needs, she asked? Her tax bill was like "a slap in the face with a dead fish", she said. She went on that comparisons with other towns were invalid, because Weston and Wellesley are not peer towns.
Dieffenbach replied that 10 percent of the budget is spent on non-academics, and he considers that reasonable.
-- Tom Sciacca
THE REAL POOP
On March 24, the Conservation Commission held a public meeting to discuss dog regulations on conservation lands. Most of the discussion centered on multiple dogs running off leash and on owners who fail to clean up after their dogs.
About 40 people were in the audience, most of them apparently dog owners. Most comments were centered on Heard Farm, where many dog owners from Wayland and neighboring towns congregate.
Residents living near Heard Farm were unhappy about people driving too fast on the short Heard Road, off Pelham Island Road, leading to the parking lot. They also report groups of dogs enthusiastically jumping on small children and coming up to baby carriages.
One resident described himself as the "Poop Fairy" because he periodically goes around Heard Farm and picks up droppings left on or near the frequently used paths.
The possibility of having trash cans and free doggie bags was discussed. This would be an expense as the trash cans would have to be maintained. One resident volunteered to remove full trash bags from cans and take them to another location and replace them with empty trash bags.
Several people asked that the bulletin boards be updated and the regulations be posted conspicuously in several places to remind owners to clean up and to have off-leash dogs under voice control.
Conservation Commissioner Barbara Howell suggested that the other conservation lands be better publicized so dog walkers might be more spread out and not so concentrated at Heard Farm. She pointed out that Cow Common was very large and would be good for walking dogs. Greenways, Loker and Sedgemeadow were also mentioned.
There are 19 conservation lands, but many people in the audience were unaware of any other than Heard Farm.
Most people wanted restrictions on large numbers of dogs running loose and on professional dog walkers. However, they felt there should be places for single dogs on voice control to be off-leash.
About eighty responses to an online survey had already been received and people in the audience who had not already filled out the survey were invited to turn in a survey sheet at the end of the meeting. This survey presented several alternative regulations, including for example forbidding dogs off-leash in some conservation lands during bird nesting season or requiring professional dog-walkers to register and pay a fee for using conservation lands.
A list of conservations lands is at:
CVS AND COMMONWEALTH RESIDENCES HEARINGS CLOSE
On March 26, the Conservation Commission ended hearings on the CVS proposal for the Caraways site on Route 20 and the proposal for Commonwealth Residences, 40B all-rental, affordable housing at the former site of the Barton nursing home on Route 30.
There was no further discussion on the Commonwealth Residences, but an issue concerning testing for fecal coliform came up when discussing the CVS proposal.
The proposed CVS site has a septic system separated from a detention basin above it by an impermeable liner. The liner is beneath the basin and a lined 8-inch concrete wall is proposed around the basin.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has specified that water quality monitoring at the inlet and outlet of the basin be measured biannually and in perpetuity.
The question posed by Conservation Commissioner Robert Goldsmith is how to determine if fecal coliform in the basin comes from the geese congregating in the area or from leakage from the septic system. DNA testing would be expensive. Goldsmith suggested putting dye in the septic system and then see if it shows up in the basin.
Goldsmith also asked that a technical article casting doubt on the efficacy of the impermeable liner material be included in the findings.
In addition, Goldsmith asked that results of a peer review made by Nova Armstrong Associates a year ago be included in the findings. This peer review expressed doubts about how the proposed systems would work in high ground water.
Attorney Brian Levey, representing CVS, was anxious to end the hearing. He agreed to having Goldsmith's doubts and articles included in the findings.
Levey suggested that work would begin soon after the Order of Conditions was finalized and he asked to have that done as soon as possible.
COMMUNITY GARDEN CLEAN-UP APRIL 11
In these uncertain economic times, demand for Community Garden plots has increased. People are already signing up at the Conservation Commission for the 20-by-30-foot plots in the Garden on Route 27 (Old Sudbury Road) adjacent to the Cow Common conservation land between Bow Road and the North Cemetery.
The Wayland Town Democratic Committee is sponsoring a community service project to clean up the Community Garden on Saturday, April 11 from 9 a.m. to noon. All are welcome to help prepare for the growing season. The purpose is to remove debris left by past gardeners and clear weeds and small shrubs which have overtaken some plots.
Gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirts and mud-resistant shoes are recommended. The Conservation Commission will provide some tools such as hand saws, clippers and pruners, but if you have tools like this, please bring them. Conservation Administrator Brian Monahan will be present to point out work to be done.
Bring your lunch if you would like to picnic in this quiet oasis after the work party.
Rain date: Saturday May 9.
-- Betty Salzberg
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor