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Thread: Thoughts on an evolution of the Wayland Public Schools

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Here's something you said a few posts back about the $9000 in annual ski lift tickets:

    "I for one was not aware of the $9k lift ticket expense. At a bit less than 0.03% of the budget, it did in fact "slip" past me on my watch, as do many items of that magnitude."

    If “many” = 10, then that $30 per household becomes $300.and I am confident that the majority would not agree that this is acceptable.
    The post in question is here. To be clear, my point was that I am not aware of every expenditure of $9,000. I'm in no way suggesting that there are "many" inappropriate expenditures of this magnitude, nor even that this expenditure itself was inappropriate.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The post in question is here. To be clear, my point was that I am not aware of every expenditure of $9,000. I'm in no way suggesting that there are "many" inappropriate expenditures of this magnitude, nor even that this expenditure itself was inappropriate.
    Let's stay on point.
    You DID say that this $9000 annual expense "did in fact "slip" past me on my watch, as do many items of that magnitude."

    Inappropriate or not, if "many" expenditures of this size slip by you unnoticed, there remains the possibility that some of these are inappropriate.

    More to the point, these expenses - perhaps as many as $300 per household or more - are unaccounted for and this is just not acceptable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Let's stay on point.
    You DID say that this $9000 annual expense "did in fact "slip" past me on my watch, as do many items of that magnitude."

    Inappropriate or not, if "many" expenditures of this size slip by you unnoticed, there remains the possibility that some of these are inappropriate.

    More to the point, these expenses - perhaps as many as $300 per household or more - are unaccounted for and this is just not acceptable.
    While I don't expect much constructive to come of this exchange, I've certainly kept it on point. As to the "slip" comment (your word, not mine), not only did I not deny it, I provided the link to it.

    To say that these expenses aren't accounted for is false. The voters oversee the School Committee. The Committee oversees the superintendent. The superintendent oversees the principals. The principals oversee their staffs. There is budget oversight at each of these levels. To suggest that the School Committee be aware of every expense at the staff level, or even just those on the order of $10k, is to be far removed from your "real world."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    To say that these expenses aren't accounted for is false. The voters oversee the School Committee. The Committee oversees the superintendent. The superintendent oversees the principals. The principals oversee their staffs. There is budget oversight at each of these levels. To suggest that the School Committee be aware of every expense at the staff level, or even just those on the order of $10k, is to be far removed from your "real world."

    Jeff,

    I would agree that it simply isn't possible for the committee to catch everything. You are volunteers, not full time paid employees. That said, how do we fix this? Does any of this "numbers crunching" fall under the umbrella of the business managers responsibilties? Also, What are the budgeting responsibilities of the Asst. Super?

    Secondly, how much money did we recieve from the state for our school budget, and where was it spent?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    I would agree that it simply isn't possible for the committee to catch everything. You are volunteers, not full time paid employees. That said, how do we fix this? Does any of this "numbers crunching" fall under the umbrella of the business managers responsibilties? Also, What are the budgeting responsibilities of the Asst. Super?
    I don't see what budgeting problem there is to fix. To be sure, there is always room for improvement. But to suggest that a system of budget and expense review doesn't exist, or doesn't work, is not only inaccurate but unfair to the educators to whom we entrust our children.

    Our system works similarly to that of corporations and public institutions. As I said in an earlier post on this thread, there's a chain of review that proceeds from the voters to the Committee to the superintendent to the principals to the staff. The central office administrators, including the assistant superintendent and the business manager, are integral to this process.

    These professionals throughout the school system care about our mission and our students. Their primary objective is to deliver the best education that they can. Spending foolishly is contrary to this objective and not something that they practice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    Secondly, how much money did we recieve from the state for our school budget, and where was it spent?
    The largest funding that we receive from the state comes in the form of Chapter 70 (education) aid. I don't have the Chapter 70 amount handy, but I think that it's on the order of $3M-$4M (the April 2008 ATM Warrant shows total state aid for FY09 at $4.9M).

    If I'm not mistaken, Chapter 70 money technically comes in to the town as a whole. When the voters appropriate funds at town meeting, they are not assigning particular sources of funds (tax levy, Chapter 70, etc.) to particular expenditures of funds (math, athletics, electricity, etc.).

    In addition to the voter appropriation, the schools raise funds through fees and other offsets (athletic fee, METCO offset, BASE offset). These funds too are co-mingled. For instance, as our Budget Book shows, the approx. $830k that we will spend on athletics this year will be partially offset by about $200k in fees. There is, however, no mechanism that directly ties this revenue and this expense together.

    That said, I think that there are some funds (special education, for instance) that must be spent for particular purposes. But, since these funds rarely if ever cover the full cost of what they support, they don't need to be kept in program-specific "silos."

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    Exclamation Is it inappropriate to question the budgeting process?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I don't see what budgeting problem there is to fix. To be sure, there is always room for improvement. But to suggest that a system of budget and expense review doesn't exist, or doesn't work, is not only inaccurate but unfair to the educators to whom we entrust our children.
    Questioning an expense or failed policy is perfectly within the rights of all taxpayers, and one shouldn't be characterized as being "unfair to the educators to whom we trust our children" for doing so. In fact, I do not believe that our teachers are responsible for budget and expense review, are they?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Our system works similarly to that of corporations and public institutions. As I said in an earlier post on this thread, there's a chain of review that proceeds from the voters to the Committee to the superintendent to the principals to the staff. The central office administrators, including the assistant superintendent and the business manager, are integral to this process.
    Would you then agree that an accountabity issue exists when efficiences of $100,000 (or more) go unnoticed for as long as 10 years as was the case with the past years bus routes? Do you think that is an accountabilty problem, and do you think that the taxpayers have a right to then question it without fear of retaliation? Remember, you voted to reconfigure our elementary schools for $395,000 in personnel savings (4 years of neglected bus route management).



    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The largest funding that we receive from the state comes in the form of Chapter 70 (education) aid. I don't have the Chapter 70 amount handy, but I think that it's on the order of $3M-$4M (the April 2008 ATM Warrant shows total state aid for FY09 at $4.9M).
    What are the smaller sources of funding from the state?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    If I'm not mistaken, Chapter 70 money technically comes in to the town as a whole. When the voters appropriate funds at town meeting, they are not assigning particular sources of funds (tax levy, Chapter 70, etc.) to particular expenditures of funds (math, athletics, electricity, etc.).

    That said, I think that there are some funds (special education, for instance) that must be spent for particular purposes. But, since these funds rarely if ever cover the full cost of what they support, they don't need to be kept in program-specific "silos."
    When creating the FY09 school budget, was the amount of money we received from the state included in the budgeting process for FY09?
    Last edited by Mary Barber; 09-25-2008 at 12:36 PM. Reason: clarification, spelling

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    Questioning an expense or failed policy is perfectly within the rights of all taxpayers, and one shouldn't be characterized as being "unfair to the educators to whom we trust our children" for doing so. In fact, I do not believe that our teachers are responsible for budget and expense review, are they?
    I did not say that questioning an expense was unfair, I said that saying that we had no system of budget review in place was unfair. Teachers have minimal budget responsibility, but their bosses (the principals) and the other "higher ups" certainly have that responsibility.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    Would you then agree that an accountabity issue exists when efficiences of $100,000 (or more) go unnoticed for as long as 10 years as was the case with the past years bus routes?
    I would agree *if* "efficiencies" on the order of $100,000 were being ignored. This ignoring is not the case, however.

    As I see it, we've operated a middle of the road (sorry, I couldn't resist) transportation system. We are certainly not as generous as Weston, but at the same time, we have provided better service than what's mandated by law. Historically, we have not attempted to fill our buses to capacity and live with the relatively longer routes that such capacities entail. As a result, we may have had more riders (and perhaps buses) than we might have otherwise had. As the Police Chief noted at our 9/15 meeting, it's safer to have more children riding buses than arriving by car. Moreover, more bus riders means less pollution and less traffic, making arrival and dismissal better for everyone.

    In a perfect world, we might have continued with our past policy. Clearly, based on the (reasonable) reaction of parents to the transportation problems of the first two weeks of school, no one likes long and crowded rides. As financial pressures have grown, we elected this year to reduce the level of transportation to help preserve the classroom experience. Could we have done so sooner? No doubt. But were the efficiencies "unnoticed?" Hardly. Rather, they were traded off in the interest of a level of service appreciated by families.

    Also, I note that student enrollment over the last decade (FY99-FY08) averaged 2,872, and ranged from 2,965 at the high end (93 above the average) to 2,723 at the low end (149 below the average). My understanding is that the number of bus riders is on the order of half of enrollment (I don't have exact ridership numbers), so that range is likely lower by the same factor (between 50 above and 75 below the average). Spread over the 11 buses and 2 runs per bus, that's relatively few incremental riders per bus. During the last decade, the number of runs did fluctuate somewhat, with morning and/or afternoon runs being added or dropped based on need.

    As a final consideration, remember that fuel was less expensive during the period in question, with the large increase in the last 1-2 years. From 1997 through 2005, the price of diesel in New England climbed from about $1 per gallon to about $2 per gallon. It then climbed to $3 per gallon about a year ago, then to nearly $5 per gallon this year before dropping back to a bit more than $4 per gallon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    What are the smaller sources of funding from the state? When creating the FY09 school budget, was the amount of money we received from the state included in the budgeting process for FY09?
    I don't have a list of all of our funding sources. Technically, all such sources don't directly play into the school budget, which is built up based on the number of students (need). Rather, such revenue sources affect the extent to which the tax levy is increased in a given year--more outside funding means less of a burden on the tax levy. The consideration of revenue is done by the Finance Committee in parallel with the school budget construction, so in that sense, it is contemporaneously included.

  8. #23
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    Default What's the tradeoff for playdates on buses?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Historically, we have not attempted to fill our buses to capacity and live with the relatively longer routes that such capacities entail. As a result, we may have had more riders (and perhaps buses) than we might have otherwise had. As the Police Chief noted at our 9/15 meeting, it's safer to have more children riding buses than arriving by car. Moreover, more bus riders means less pollution and less traffic, making arrival and dismissal better for everyone.

    In a perfect world, we might have continued with our past policy. Clearly, based on the (reasonable) reaction of parents to the transportation problems of the first two weeks of school, no one likes long and crowded rides. As financial pressures have grown, we elected this year to reduce the level of transportation to help preserve the classroom experience.
    So I can understand the trade-off here: How much would it cost to add enough additional bus capacity to create the necessary amount of slack on the buses to let students have a friend come home with them on the bus? This part of the service change in transportation has been most inconvenient for parents, and (I assume) is adding significantly to the pickup lines (adding more drivers, more pollution and more traffic, while reducing safety and wasting lots of gas).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    So I can understand the trade-off here: How much would it cost to add enough additional bus capacity to create the necessary amount of slack on the buses to let students have a friend come home with them on the bus? This part of the service change in transportation has been most inconvenient for parents, and (I assume) is adding significantly to the pickup lines (adding more drivers, more pollution and more traffic, while reducing safety and wasting lots of gas).
    The short answer is that I don't know how many buses we'd have to add. The administration has said that once they determine whether transportation has "settled down" (my phrase), they will consider allowing "play date" rides.

    As for the cost of a bus run, let's say that we have $660k in transportation (to make the math easy) and two sets (HS/MS and ES) of 11 bus runs morning and afternoon. That's $30k per morning/afternoon run. Adding a single afternoon run would therefore cost half of that, or $15k. If we needed the extra run at both CH and HH, that would be $30k.

    This is a rough analysis--I'm not sure if the way that I'm thinking about it makes sense. But I don't think the answer is $3k or $300k--the order of magnitude is probably right.

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    I'm not sure why the play date thing is even an issue.
    As I recall, Gary has said repeatedly that they have to allow space on each bus for anybody on a given route who is eligible.

    This means that on any given day, due to illness, after school activities or parents who've just thrown in the towel on this outrageous (but marginally improving ) bussing system and drive their kids, there are going to be s number of available seats on most every bus.

    So, I don't know why there is not already sufficient room on the buses for play dates.

    Of course, with stories of kids sitting 3 and 4 to a seat, on the floor and standing, maybe Gary's policy of leaving a space for all who are eligible is not being followed.

    Something here doesn't add up.
    John Flaherty

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    Paul, this is an excellent and important post. My thoughts interspersed below.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    After attending last night's SC meeting and specifically listening to the discussion about full-day K, I wonder how any of the items in your evolution list can be achieved. Apparently there is no room in the budget for any incremental curricular program, academic or otherwise, even one that puts Wayland in line with our peer towns. Although the decision to pursue state aid and continue with the committee's work to vet a full-day K program, it was done begrudgingly and under the specter of "this better be worth it, budget-wise." That discussion was not representative of a top-tier school system, in my opinion.
    For my part, my vote to push ahead in exploring full-day K was by no means "grudgingly."

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Mary Camp's post brings specificity to some of my abstract points about expectations, priorities, and ultimately the hard decisions that the Wayland Schools must make to maintain its status. Indeed, if I may characterize an aspect of Mary's post it is that Wayland Schools may not be living up to that status. Her examples of that in comparison to the 'Wayland Evolution' list are interesting, but in light of last night's meeting I find them depressing. How will we ever get there?
    This is the most important question that we face, in my opinion. Here's my list of "evolution" paths without the elaboration that's available here. I don't find the picture as depressing as you do--please see my annotations in red (increased cost), blue (no or small increased cost), and green (cost savings).

    • More professional development: increased cost, perhaps on the order of $100k-$200k per year
    • Longer school day (at the ES level): significant increased cost
    • Technology infusion: potential cost savings
    • Differentiated instruction (meeting each child at his/her challenge level): no cost other than PD
    • Differentiated instruction (splitting ES into reading/social studies and math/science): no cost increase
    • Curriculum enhancement: no/small cost increase*
    • Co-curricular program: no cost increase
    • Adequate facilities: capital cost for the HS

    *Regarding curriculum enhancement, the "regular" work already takes place. Adding a foreign language such as Chinese is replacing one cost (for instance, students currently taking French) with another after an initial implementation cost. Improving health/wellness likely has both an implementation and ongoing added cost.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Again, I come to the definition of basic academic and curricular service levels, and how items within them are then prioritized. There are two major directions on which budgets and services/products can be managed: 1) Product differentiation and quality -- which is where I think the evolutionary list items fall, as well as where the expectations and status of the Wayland Schools lie; and 2) Operational efficiency -- meeting the budget, in other words. The two directions aren't mutually exclusive, but they cannot both be defined as the core focus. It seemed last night that the product -- full-day kindergarten -- was being viewed through the lens of the operating budget. In my world the decision tree for something like this would be: 1) Is it defined as a "basic service"? 2) Is it academic or co-curricular? 3) Given my personal preferences: It is defined as a basic service, academics assumes a higher priority than co-curriculars, it gets put into the budget.
    I agree that curricular programs have a higher priority than co-curricular ones, but not such that the former excludes the latter. Given that we will always be wanting to do more academically, we would by this logic never have any publicly funded co-curricular programs: no athletics, no music, no drama, no art, no activities. I don't see such an offering helping to draw people to or keep people in the Wayland Public Schools.

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Grasso View Post
    Obviously I've simplified a whole host of factors with this example, such as public input and support, peer review of the benefits of such a program, defining the "basic service" threshold, and others. To be fair as well, the SC and administration are asking similar questions. The problem I have is that the program is burdened by having to be cost-effective first, and merit-worthy second. The first question shouldn't be "how much does it cost?!"
    Yes, that is indeed the problem. I am interested in ideas beyond the ones that we are already looking at for how to address this challenge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post


    I would agree *if* "efficiencies" on the order of $100,000 were being ignored. This ignoring is not the case, however.




    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I don't have a list of all of our funding sources. Technically, all such sources don't directly play into the school budget, which is built up based on the number of students (need). Rather, such revenue sources affect the extent to which the tax levy is increased in a given year--more outside funding means less of a burden on the tax levy. The consideration of revenue is done by the Finance Committee in parallel with the school budget construction, so in that sense, it is contemporaneously included.
    To quote our now famous Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson:
    "Heaven help us all."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    To quote our now famous Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson:
    "Heaven help us all."
    I can't tell if you are taking exception to (a) my choice of words, (b) the nature of the process (need balanced against availability of funds), or even (c) anything at all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I can't tell if you are taking exception to (a) my choice of words, (b) the nature of the process (need balanced against availability of funds), or even (c) anything at all.
    I take exception with revisionist history.

    The elementary routes had not been looked at in over 10 years while at the same time you point out how enrollment has declined over a 10 year period.

    If we were to go back to the 3 school model of last year would we still use 7 buses for Claypit? I think not.

    Why were bus routes not looked at last year in order to save money? The administration and the sc decided it was it easier to close a school and re-work all of the bus routes rather than just re-working all of the bus routes!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mary Barber View Post
    I take exception with revisionist history.

    The elementary routes had not been looked at in over 10 years while at the same time you point out how enrollment has declined over a 10 year period.

    If we were to go back to the 3 school model of last year would we still use 7 buses for Claypit? I think not.

    Why were bus routes not looked at last year in order to save money? The administration and the sc decided it was it easier to close a school and re-work all of the bus routes rather than just re-working all of the bus routes!
    Enrollment has *not* been declining over a ten year period. Rather, it started at 2,723 in FY99, climbed to 2,965 in FY04, then dropped to 2,776 in FY08.

    Short of eliminating all transportation for K-6 students within 2 miles, and for all 7-12 students, reworking the bus routes would not have netted savings comparable to that of the reconfiguration.

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