WVN #536: Good news/School reconfiguration
- Dear Wayland Voter,
A special committee says Wayland will have to pay less than previously expected into a large fund for retiree health costs.
Also in this newsletter: The School Committee will consider a plan to reconfigure elementary schools at a cost likely to require a significant tax increase.
OPEB COMMITTEE REPORT
Good news from the committee appointed by the selectmen to study the town’s contributions to the Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) fund.
The overarching conclusion is that the town can pay less annually than the sum initially recommended by its consultant, The Segal Company, according to the OPEB Advisory Committee. The initial Segal figures do not reflect much lower actual costs incurred by Wayland and other area towns, the committee has discovered.
The committee also notes that the fund total by 2038 could acceptably total $74.2 million instead of $103.3 million. This sum should reflect investment gains as well as town contributions. Only recently has the town been investing the funds.
The committee reported the fund total as $10.2 million at the end of last year. The committee estimates that over $3 million more could have been earned for Wayland’s OPEB fund had the money been invested since 2008.
These new calculations mean the town has funded 36% of its obligations rather than 27%. At the OPEB Committee’s request, the Segal Group recalculated funding based on Wayland’s premium cost, rather than the General Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 45, and reflecting healthcare inflation rising from 0% annually to 5%. As a result, the total liability as of 2012 shrinks from $38.5 million to $28.5 million, according to the committee’s presentation to the Board of Selectmen.
A previous WVN newsletter discussed OPEB funding when it was an issue at the Oct. 3, 2012 special town meeting.
Members are Clifford Lewis, Jay Sherry, Kent George, David Gutschenritter of the finance committee and Maryanne Peabody of the Personnel Board.
The committee offered preliminary findings and recommendations to the selectmen on Dec. 16 that include:
1) Fund OPEB based on the premium cost rather than General Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 45. It notes the town should footnote the alternative funding policy in financial statements.
2) Enterprise and Revolving Funds should make catch-up contributions over the next four years to the OPEB account for FY 08-12. These total $1.2 million, with $962,000 from school funds.
3) Establish an OPEB Investment Committee.
4) Further costs adjustments including:
-- Adjust retiree cost sharing to 50% over a transition period to be determined.
-- Offer new health plans to retirees, such as individual plans instead of family plans for couples without dependents, and lower cost Medicare plans.
5) Request funding for a legal opinion regarding establishing a true trust fund.
6 ) Recover reimbursement for OPEB contributions from towns where retirees have earned creditable service. In turn, Wayland may expect invoices from other municipalities.
The Dec. 16 presentation to the Board of Selectmen can be seen at
fast forward to 2 hours, 16 minutes.
Recordings of OPEB committee meetings are available on the WayCAM archive:
http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/ http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/ .
More information about the OPEB committee is posted on the town website:
-- WVN Staff
SCHOOL BUDGET, ELEMENTARY RECONFIGURATION
On Dec. 16, to an audience of about two dozen -- mostly elementary school parents -- in the Large Hearing Room, School Superintendent Paul Stein made what was probably his most important presentations of the year, laying out his proposed Fiscal 2015 budget and his recommendation to reconvert all three elementary schools back to a K-5 model. Stein concluded his presentations to applause.
On Monday, Jan. 6, the School Committee will consider whether to support Stein’s recommendations or make changes after hearing from the public on the new budget proposals at its Budget Forum. The School Committee plans to meet twice a week to consider its FY15 budget until it votes what will be presented to the Finance Committee on Jan. 21.
See Stein’s budget presentation here:
See the complete budget here:
See the Reconfiguration proposal here:
Stein's budget recommendation amounts to an increase of 5.82% over this fiscal year, to $35,341,172. This does not include the cost of some benefits which are accounted for on the town side of the overall town budget. Altogether, the schools are responsible for about 70% of total town spending.
5.82% is a much larger increase than the norm in recent years. The current year budget is $33.4 million. If Stein's recommendation is accepted by the School Committee and then approved by Town Meeting in April, it will most likely lead to a significant tax increase next year.
The budget increase can be divided into three major components: a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) increase, consisting of such items as contractually obligated salary increases needed to replicate the current year activities; a new set of expenses mandated by state law; and the additional cost of the recommended new elementary configuration over the current configuration.
The MOE budget accounts for about half the total increase, the cost of elementary reconfiguration accounts for nearly another third ($595,000), and mandated service expenses, dominated by Special Education and English Language Learning items, account for the final one-sixth.
The MOE increase is dominated by personnel cost increases, especially for steps and lanes, which are contractually obligated teacher salary increases for longevity and educational attainment. About 80% of school spending goes for personnel costs. The School Committee announced reaching agreement on new teacher contracts last June, but the contract documents still are not publicly available.
Stein's budget assumes athletic fee increases, to $300 for High School athletics and $125 for Middle School sports. The actual increase in mandated services was $731,520, but Stein found savings to offset more than half of that, leaving a net of $342,253 to be added to the recommended budget.
The FinCom had requested a budget of $34.4M, 3% over last year. See the September 30, 2013 FY15 budget guidelines Memo and other related documents:
US inflation amounted to 1.2% for the fiscal year ending in November. See
Since 1980 the cost per student in Wayland has exceeded the inflation rate by an annual average of 1.47%. In total, it now costs 68% more to educate a child in Wayland schools, in constant dollars, than 35 years ago.
The elementary reconfiguration would also require $496,000 of capital spending to outfit the schools for the new setup. But much of that was already being planned to fix serious existing problems at Happy Hollow, such as lack of a private area for the school nurse to see patients.
The impetus for elementary reconfiguration to be implemented for the 2014-2015 school year includes enrollment increases in kindergarten, common area space needs at Happy Hollow, the size of Claypit Hill, and a general lack of flexibility in the current configuration.
A task force narrowed the multiple possibilities down to two equally attractive options: adding a town-wide first grade to Loker, which already houses town-wide kindergarten, or making all three schools K-5. Contrary to the impressions held by many, there is no data to support an educational advantage to either option. The choice was left to Stein. He chose to make all three schools K-5, but with two classes in each grade at Loker, three at Happy Hollow, and four at Claypit. A total of nine sections per grade matches the population needs of the district, Stein said. Each option had many pros and cons, with little data to provide guidance in weighing the factors. The deciding factor for Stein was the literature showing that transitions are difficult for children, implying that K-5, by reducing transitions, is better for educational achievement. Secondary advantages include improved transportation logistics and strong parental support, he said.
Nevertheless, there will be tradeoffs, most notably the loss of focus on the developmental needs of very young children and the challenges of a very small school at Loker. There will be new limits on the availability of Full Day Kindergarten slots. Recent studies show that skills acquired before the first grade largely determine success in middle and high school, so special attention will have to be paid to the youngest kids as they lose their dedicated school. See http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0054651
Other tradeoffs include costs and the uncertainty created by buffer zones. The K-5 plan is the most expensive, by about $200,000, of the reconfiguration options, and would be even costlier if not for the creation of new buffer zones. Those in-between areas would not have a defined neighborhood school; families entering the system would be assigned to a school to best balance capacity. But the plan eliminates the possibility of one school winding up with much smaller classes than another, and having to add extra classes to a school to meet a temporary local population blip.
Happy Hollow and Loker each have about 20 classrooms, while Claypit Hill has about 30. So under the new plan Loker would be most underutilized, using only 12 classrooms, CH would be second, using 24, while only Happy Hollow, using 18 of its 20 would be operating near capacity. But from parental comments noted below, it appears that parents regard Happy Hollow as the Goldilocks school while Loker might be too small and Claypit too big.
Despite the major recommended budget increase, the Dec. 16 audience, composed almost entirely of elementary school parents, focused its comments entirely on non-financial reconfiguration issues.
A Loker mother expressed concern about the small size of Loker, whether there would be adequate support staff, and the effectiveness of a small Loker PTO. A Claypit mother concerned about town-wide equity wondered whether Claypit will get more services than others, and whether the transition from a smaller Loker to Middle School might be harder. A Happy Hollow parent echoed the concerns.
Another parent worried about town fragmentation, especially whether the new scheme would aggravate the North-South divide which has existed for generations.
"This is putting a band-aid on a problem," another said. How about having only two, larger elementary schools?
Another parent commented that kids from Claypit will have a distinctly better social background that those from Loker, which will show up in the transition to Middle School.
Another parent, saying she is a "huge supporter of the model," was concerned that Claypit is too big. She attended a small, intimate elementary school and is still friends with her classmates, she said.
"How will teachers be equitably distributed?" another parent asked.
Another parent commented that there was already anxiety among kids and families, and that the social disadvantages at Loker will be huge vs. Claypit.
When audience comments concluded, School Committee member Malcolm Astley echoed parental concern over Claypit being too big. And in general, at the next meeting, the Committee asked Stein to lay out in more detail the rationale for changing the elementary configuration, and especially for doing so this year.
In a related matter, the FY13 end of year report has gone to the state. It shows the average teacher salary as over $89,000, and the per pupil cost almost $16,000.
-- Tom Sciacca
Lydia Maria Child, the most famous resident of Wayland and namesake of the coveted Lydia Maria Child Award, first received by WVN reporters among others at the 2009 Annual Town Meeting, is best known now for being far ahead of the crowd as an abolitionist.
But she was also the Julia Child of her time, author of cookbooks read by housewives all over America. Her “The American Frugal Housewife” is still in print.
The Wayland Historical Society and Wayland Library join forces on Sunday to celebrate and demonstrate her culinary legacy with tales of her cooking and samples of her recipes produced by Historical Society members. In other words, free food!
Presentation by Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald, authors of books on historical New England cooking. Information guaranteed to be 150 years old. Food samples guaranteed not to be.
Sunday, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Raytheon Room at the Wayland Library.
MEETINGS CALENDAR: All government meetings take place in Wayland Town Building unless otherwise noted. Check town website calendar, clicking on date to access posted agendas:
Monday, Jan. 6:
Selectmen, 6:30 p.m.
Personnel Board, 6:30 p.m.
School Committee, 6:30 p.m.
Wastewater Management District Commission, 6:30 p.m.
Finance Committee, 7 p.m.
Board of Health, 7 p.m.
OPEB Advisory Committee, 8:45 p.m. Presentation to FinCom and School Committee
Tuesday, Jan. 7:
Council on Aging, 8 a.m.
Community Preservation Committee, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 8
Wastewater Management District Commission, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 9:
Conservation Commission, 7:30 p.m.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor