WVN #332: SchoolCom chair calls superintendent "disingenuous" on cuts
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A School Committee email that the public wasn't supposed to see criticizes the superintendent's opposition to administrative reductions and contemplates a tax override next year.
Also in this newsletter: Volunteers are needed for a temporary committee to look for ways of avoiding the delays and controversy that marked the recent special Town Meeting.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN CALLS SUPERINTENDENT "DISINGENUOUS"
The chairman of the School Committee says in an email to his Committee colleagues that Superintendent Gary Burton is being "quite disingenuous" about budget cuts and calls an administrative staff reduction necessary for public relations as well as practical reasons. Cutting now could help to get a tax override passed next year, the email suggests.
The Jan.12 email, provided to news media on condition of anonymity, also raises questions about adherence to the state Open Meeting Law and the Public Records Law, which requires disclosure of most correspondence.
The state Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Dec. 31 that the Wayland School Committee violated the Open Meeting Law when it used private emails in creating a 2004 evaluation of Burton. The district attorney is investigating complaints that the Board of Selectmen violated the same law when it assembled quorums of the selectmen and the School Committee for an unannounced visit for a briefing session and Town Center site tour with by U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas.
"I had thought before the meeting that we had a near consensus that we needed to make an administrative secretarial cut, for both financial and PR reasons," Chairman Louis Jurist writes in the email. "We still need to do so." Was the "near consensus" arrived at during a public meeting as the law requires?
The meeting referred to is presumably the Jan. 4 or 11 regular Committee meeting. Jurist's Jan. 12 email has the appearance of deliberations by email, which the Supreme Court ruled impermissible.
The email begins with a joking but insulting reference to two Wayland citizens, saying that when agreeing with them "one must question one's sanity before proceeding." But Jurist goes on to say that he agrees with one of those citizens and others calling for a reduction in administrative staff.
During the Jan. 4 public hearing on the proposed 2010-11 budget several citizens objected to Burton's retaining his three secretaries while eliminating employees who deal directly with students.
Jurist writes: "When we have our most strident supporters saying we need to do this (not just me, whom no one listens to) we should pay attention. Even a .5 cut will send a message. The work will still get done. Gary (Burton) is being quite disingenuous when he says how vital they are while ignoring similar claims from the departments he was quite willing to cut instead."
Jurist goes on to put administrative cuts in the context of preparing for an override vote in 2011: "A famous tactician (I'd remember who if I wasn't so damn tired) said, 'We must always be fighting the NEXT battle.' In this case, that would be next year's potential override, and I do think an Adm cut now would help us in that regard."
Jurist didn't respond to a WVN request for comment but told the Wayland Town Crier he regrets sending the email. He said he was forwarding comments from one of the people he mentioned at the beginning of his email but inadvertently failed to delete that person's name.
Though the email ended with "More later," Jurist said there were no replies to it and therefore he believes there was no violation of the Open Meeting Law.
Burton told the Crier he had not seen the email.
The School Committee meets again tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss the budget.
-- Michael Short
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR TOWN MEETING STUDY
Responding to controversy over vote counting at the November special Town Meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted on Jan. 11 to create a temporary seven-member committee to look for improvements.
Town Moderator Peter Gossels, who suggested forming the committee, will be the chairman and appoint two members. The selectmen will also appoint two. In addition one member of the Board of Selectmen and one member of the Finance Committee will serve.
The aim is that the committee will be formed quickly, hold at least two public hearings in February and issue preliminary findings and recommendations by April 26. It's expected that the committee will study any pertinent petitioners' articles that are likely to be on the May Town Meeting agenda.
One such article, filed by former selectman Alan Reiss, calls for electronic voting on articles that can't be decided by voice vote. Time-consuming and perhaps inaccurate counts of standing voters marred the November Special Town Meeting. Details of the proposal are at: http://www.ElectronicVoting.info
Large crowds make it difficult for officials to control access and count heads accurately. Voters are free to move about the field house. An accurate count is not a sure thing. A switch of four votes would have changed the outcome of one November warrant article.
Later there were unconfirmed reports that unauthorized people attended, among them a real estate developer apparently interested in seeing what happened to the Town Center development proposal. There were no allegations of illegal voting, but some voters said that the size of the crowd made it impossible for overwhelmed officials to be sure that only registered voters were in voters' seats.
A number of citizens have endorsed the idea of electronic voting along the lines of Reiss' article, which would provide tamper-proof transmitting devices to identified voters.
The selectmen have called repeatedly for thorough study of any proposed changes (which amounts to rejecting anything proposed in the spring) and drawn attention to the cost of electronic voting equipment, more than $100,000.
Moderator Gossels cautions that electronic voting, equivalent to a secret ballot, would conflict with the centuries-old Wayland practice of Town Meeting as a legislative act in which everyone votes in public.
But in recent years, as interest groups have "packed" town meetings with voters timing their arrival, minds made up, to vote on only a handful of issues, there have been increasing complaints about voter intimidation. During the November Special Town Meeting, for example, one woman rose to say that she was jeered when she stood to vote against the appropriation for the new high school endorsed by the political action group SOSWayland. On that warrant article a robust negative No voice vote resulted in a counted vote in which only a tiny minority of No voters stood.
Other voters, speaking on condition of anonymity, have told WVN over the years they fear reprisal from other parents or school officials if they are seen publicly opposing "establishment" positions.
Gossels says that dividing voters in more distinct seating groups could make for more efficient and accurate counts. During a recent meeting with the selectmen he noted that in November he discreetly replaced two tellers (vote counters) and have a section recounted after voters reported to him that a tally wasn't being done properly.
The special committee is expected to file a final report by June 2 so that any proposed changes could be on the agenda for a fall Town Meeting and anything enacted could be in effect by the spring of 2011.
Citizens interested in serving on this short-term committee should send applications by Jan. 27, including a biographical summary, to the moderator and the town administrator:
The selectmen grouped possible areas for committee study into four general areas:
"1. Proposals that attempt to modify the Moderator's Rules or amend Town By-Laws that govern the conduct of Town Meeting, such as electronic voting, restricting the right of 7 voters to challenge the declaration of vote by the moderator to voice or standing votes, limiting the time for debating an article, or restricting a motion to move the question.
"2. Suggestions for logistical changes, such as improved sound system, changing the layout of the assembly, appointment and training of tellers, better defined sections to separate groups of voters, or restricting movement during voting.
"3. Proposals to change the form of Town Meeting, such as establishing a representative town meeting.
"4. Ideas suggested to improve participation in the decision-making component of Town Meeting, such as scheduling Sunday sessions, use of the Australian ballot for certain articles, or dividing town meeting into separate sessions to debate articles followed by an election to vote on the articles."
The selectmen plan to give the committee the report of a 2005 Town Meeting study committee, along with results of its recommendations. Gossels appointed anybody who volunteered to that committee, which initially numbered more than 20 and broadly represented Wayland's demographic groups ranging from parents of young children to senior citizens. The new committee gives the selectmen and the selectmen-appointed Finance Committee the majority of appointments.
-- WVN Staff
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor