WVN #391: $32.439 million school budget proposed
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The School Committee has approved a budget of $32.439 million for the next fiscal year. Wayland teachers rank second in pay among peer towns.
Also in this newsletter: Residents express concern at a hearing on proposed new playing fields.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE PROPOSES BUDGET
The School Committee has approved a budget for Fiscal 2012 of $32,438,840, of which $31,096,713 is being proposed to Town Meeting for appropriation. The balance will be raised by fees and other offsets. The Committee said the appropriation represents a 1.63% increase from the FY11 level.
The budget presentation voted on March 7 is available here:
The budget can be viewed here:
A recent union contract settlement provides for a 1.175% annual salary increase for teachers over the next three years, the committee said. However, that math was questioned by citizens. Anette Lewis pointed out that the teachers were receiving additional bonuses not included in the 1.175% number, which raise the effective increase to 2.095%. Step and Lane increases further enhance the compensation of teachers for longevity and advanced degrees, adding $530,000, or 1.6% to the FY12 budget.
The budget does not include next year's contract salary increases, which are carried on the town side ("unclassified" heading) of the budget.
Ranking Teacher Pay
Member Barb Fletcher, who presented the budget on behalf of the School Committee, used one graphic showing Wayland teachers as second highest paid among 10 "peer towns", which are generally the richest towns in the state. Wayland, at an average annual salary of about $83,000, was second only to Dover-Sherborn and ahead of Concord-Carlisle, Weston, and Lincoln-Sudbury. Wayland was near the middle of the pack, however, in student-teacher ratio and per pupil expenditure.
Fletcher voiced the committee's intention to continue to manage class size policy, which has raised average class sizes in the last several years. However, there has been no discussion of amending the policy to allow larger classes, which recent extensive national media coverage indicates many districts have been forced to do in recent years. There are also ongoing efforts to evaluate administrative efficiency.
Almost $407,000 is being added for additional teachers, including two new sixth grade teachers, two elementary math specialists, and a new high school health and wellness coordinator.
On the other side, $357,000 less is being budgeted for utilities and bus fuel because of lower rates last year than anticipated, and there will be $556,000 in additional offsets from the Special Education circuit breaker, full day kindergarten, and other fees.
Enrollment continues to drop, most notably by 30 students at the high school, where per pupil costs are highest. Of interest for the future, however, is a rise of 15 students in kindergarten. Typically, students who enter kindergarten in Wayland remain in the system through high school.
In addition to the operating budget, $350,000 is being requested for technology as a capital expenditure. This is roughly half last year's technology budget, despite technology being listed as one of the "opportunities for efficiencies." The Finance Committee has indicated that after this year school computer expenses will be part of the operating budget, not a capital expenditure.
Questions arose concerning the disposition of unspent capital money from previous years. For example, in 2007 Town Meeting approved an appropriation for emergency repairs of the deteriorating high school buildings, to be spent only if needed. It wasn't needed, and the new high school is slated to open next December, after which the existing buildings will be demolished. So where did the unspent money go? Fletcher said a meeting with the Finance Committee was scheduled to answer that question.
One item on which there was broad agreement between committee members and citizen commenters was the performance of the new school business manager, Geoffrey MacDonald, who has been finding a number of problems in the school accounts since he joined the administration last summer. In spite of some criticism last year of the process by which he was hired, including accusations of cronyism and criticism of his salary, all who spoke on Monday (including some of the former critics) agreed that the only problem with MacDonald was that he is working at an unsustainable pace and doesn't have enough help to do his job.
School Committee member Shawn Kinney, who has questioned whether the system has too many administrators, followed up on a suggestion by citizen Donna Bouchard by proposing hiring an assistant for $55,000 to help MacDonald. SchoolCom Chair Louis Jurist supported Kinney, but the motion was voted down by the other three members who prefer to wait until a financial review report arrives next week. All members agreed to revisit the issue at the next meeting.
Kinney also proposed discussing an email the members had received from resident Brenda Sharton regarding a report from the Abrahams consulting firm. Sharton, "a lawyer who has substantial experience...regarding potential improprieties at many institutions," begins by saying "I write regarding the recent Abrahams Group Report ("the Report"), which details, among other things, the need to turn on the system's MUNIS (software) controls to prevent deficit spending in certain Schools' accounts/areas and facilitate the transfer and reallocation of resources...It was noted that there is/has been a lack of segregation of duties and lack of controls within the School's business administration. As I am sure that you are already discussing, these findings put the School Committee in a position to question whether there has been mismanagement and/or fraud in past years."
Jurist described Sharton's language as "disturbing or offensive, depending on how you view it". School Committee member and former judge Beth Butler called it "strong language." Sharton did not directly accuse anyone of criminal activity, but implied it was something that warrants the committee's review given its fiduciary responsibility.
Members decided to put off further discussion until the next meeting, by which time the final Abrahams Group Report will have been received.
-- Tom Sciacca
ROCKY LEDGE COULD AFFECT FIELD PLANS
The Recreation Commission voted to support a $530,000 debt exclusion item for two new natural grass fields at the Middle School and a more extensive study of recreation sites in town, but only after hearing from a room full of neighbors and others who expressed reservations.
Although the site had been identified by the 2010 Gale Associates consultants' report on possible field utilization, no in-depth examination of the site has been done, the March 7 hearing revealed.
Bill Hearne, who lives nearby, told the Commission that borings done when the Middle School was constructed caused the building to be moved to avoid a ledge where the fields would be placed. The ledge also required abandoning a plan for low-income housing at that location, which is 60 feet above the school, he said.
Public Works Director Don Ouellette said that if the budget for the fields is approved an engineering firm will investigate the site and then a decision will be made whether the ledge can be "overcome" at the allocated cost. If not, the money won't be spent, he said.
Recreation Director Nancy McShea said the cost for each field is approximately double that for a flat location because of the need to remove trees and alter the topography.
The Gale report did not identify other sites for new fields that were acceptable to the Recreation Commission, and that led to the decision to include Loker and the municipal portion of Greenways in the next phase of the study. The Loker property also includes a lot of ledge, three ponds and a stream that drains into the Willow Brook wetlands across the street. In last year's heavy spring rains, condo basements at Willow Brook were damaged by flooding.
Residents Express Concerns
Several residents of Keith Road reiterated objections to the plan, fearing that cars would park on the street and parents and players would tromp through yards to reach the fields.
Ouellette said plans call for a buffer of trees about 100 feet wide between the residents' yards and the fields.
Elisa Fruitman, a neighbor, said her basement is dry, and worried the change in topography might adversely affect her basement. Ouellette assured her that if she had a dry basement last year she would have no worries. But Hearne pointed out that east of that ridge, the water flows to Snake Brook watershed and west of that ridge toward Dudley Pond. If the ledge is removed, he said, who knows how the flow might be altered.
When the nearby Spencer Circle subdivision was built off Route 27, terrain changes occurred during construction. Some abutters, longtime residents of Peck Avenue, experienced flooding in basements, a problem they told the Planning Board they never had before the subdivision was built.
"If the engineer says yes, at what point will there be an environmental study?" Fruitman asked. Ouellette replied that such a study would cost $150,000, and furthermore the Surface Water Quality Committee was pondering using the new fields as a leaching field for the pond area, so it would be a net positive. That would involve running a sewer line some distance down Route 27 and up to the fields; there is no feasibility assessment or funding for that.
This reporter reiterated the point that removing the trees and changing the topography could change the speed and amount of flow into the marsh swamp that cleans water before it enters Dudley Pond, and requested an impact study. Some residents of nearby Rolling Lane, where homes were damaged last spring by flooding for the first time in history, have expressed concern about newer houses at the end of their street whose construction included terrain changes and the removal of many trees.
Ouellette said blasting of the ledge would not automatically change the water flow and perhaps the ledge could be hammered. Blasting can cause fissures in bedrock. When the new MWRA tunnel was built running 400 feet below Dudley Pond, blasting negatively impacted the pond and required extensive and costly design changes to address the fissures.
Karen Brennan, assistant principal of the Middle School, cited the school's concerns regarding parking, access for construction and the impact on the school, and student safety, especially pick-up and drop-off. The response was that construction could be done in the summer, and perhaps hours could be restricted so as to ensure adequate parking.
The School Committee, which owns the land, was busy at its budget hearing the same night, at which it deferred voting its position on the proposed new fields pending more information.
An underlying question is whether it is advisable to approve the $500,000 in the debt exemption on the April 5 ballot despite the lack of sufficient site investigation to assure the project is feasible.
Rec and DPW to Meet
Judging from discussion that occurred before the open hearing, there is a lack of communication between the DPW and the Recreation Commission, and this topic will be addressed at a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen on March 21.
-- Molly Upton
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor