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Thread: Where's the demand for cutting Wayland's school budget by 10%?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Wayland MA

    Default Where's the demand for cutting Wayland's school budget by 10%?

    In response to what the Wayland Voters Network describes as "citizen action in recent years aimed at controlling costs," the Finance Committee has asked the School Committee to prepare two budgets for the 2013-2014 school year.

    1. "One with level services (after being adjusted for steps and lanes, settled contracts, and utility changes) and ..."
    2. "... one with a reduction of approximately 10% to help mitigate the potential impact for residents."

    On Monday, October 15 (tomorrow), the two committees will be meeting to discuss this request.

    • Date: Monday, October 15
    • Time: 7pm
    • Location: School Committee meeting room, second floor, Wayland Town Building

    With the exception of several isolated comments at the School Committee's recent October 9 Fall Budget Forum, I've heard of nothing to suggest that the aforementioned "citizen action" translates to a desire to take such a heavy axe to the Wayland Public Schools. In terms of actual spending, this action focused instead on two entirely unrelated areas: (a) the disposition of Free Cash reserves and (b) on contributions to "OPEB" retirement benefits.

    So, I ask, where's the appetite to deliver such a significant blow to our public schools?

    How the School Committee and administration would plan to enact such a devastating cut remains to be seen. Even the substantial effort--no doubt measured in hundreds if not thousands of hours--required of our administrators and other educators to simply develop a "-10% plan" would do harm to our system in diverting them from their educational responsibilities. But we can speculate on what such cuts might mean to the children attending the Wayland Public Schools.

    • The elimination of tens of teaching positions, driving class sizes up significantly across the district

    • The termination of the promising One-to-One Learning Initiative in place at the High School and being piloted at the Middle School

    • The discontinuation of the school-within-a-school "house" model at the Middle School

    • The shifting of the elementary schools to a K (Loker), 1-2 (Happy Hollow), and 3-5 (Claypit Hill) grade configuration

    • The imposition of even higher fees for athletics, transportation, and other aspects of what should be--but isn't always--a publicly-funded education

    Are tax bills in Wayland high? Yes, but not out of line with those of peer communities with whom we compare ourselves (and against whom our tax bill ranks in the middle of the pack).

    Do we get value for these taxes? Yes--for instance, we deliver an outstanding public education. Consider, for instance, Wayland High School's recent ranking of 6th in the state by Boston Magazine.

    Compared to the towns that make up the top 10 by this measure, Wayland is among the most affordable--by far--from a housing cost perspective. What we certainly do NOT want, however, is to undermine the value of our real estate by attacking the most important contributor to that value.

    It is not at all clear how the arguably reasonable actions recently taken on Free Cash and OPEB translate to the suggested, damaging, and wholly unreasonable cuts to our school budget. Residents interested in answers to this and other questions are encouraged to attend tomorrow's meeting.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Wayland MA


    I was pleased to see on the order of 60 residents packing this evening's joint meeting to discuss the Finance Committee's request that the School Committee develop a budget that cuts 10% from a level service offering for the coming 2013-2014 school year. I was even more pleased that of the 18 people who chose to speak, not a one argued for anything remotely approaching a 10% cut. In fact, only one speaker suggested any percentage cut at all.

    Instead, there were a number of nods for "efficiency" (and just as many for "stay the course"/"preserve our schools"). I'm all for efficiency, having spent five years on the Finance Committee and another ten on the School Committee looking for exactly that as part of the budget process. I have no doubt that efficiencies will continue to be found.

    Make no mistake, however--"efficiency" won't get us anywhere close to a 10% budget reduction that in any way preserves services. Several speakers took exception to the "trotting out" (my phrasing) by the schools of teacher layoffs in response to proposed budget cuts. The problem is that with personnel accounting for somewhere between 85% to 90% of the budget, there's simply no practical way to cut 10% without laying off teachers.

    If my understanding is correct, the Operational Review Committee found that Wayland is already lean on the administrative front. Certainly, we aren't paying more for such essentially fixed costs as transportation and utilities than we need to. Perhaps we might buy fewer curricular materials, or print fewer pages, or raise more fees (although that latter option would hardly count as an efficiency). If these or other measures are smart steps to take, we should take them. We just shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking they'll save us anything approaching 10%.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Wayland MA


    As highlighted by my comments interspersed below, WVN's latest editorial offering mischaracterizes in several ways the nature of the joint Finance Committee/School Committee meeting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    Dear Wayland Voter,

    The Finance Committee stirred up the School Committee when it asked for two possible budgets, one of them including reductions of 10%. When the School Committee arranged a joint meeting with the FinCom to discuss it, residents made up a standing-room-only crowd.

    The discussion indicates that some want the best possible education and don't much care what it costs, some care about costs and suggest efficiencies, but nobody wants to cut the budget by 10%, at least in the short term.
    I don't recall hearing anyone advocate for "the best possible education" regardless of cost. This portrayal creates the perception (unfounded) of the existence of an unreasonable pro-school population, and as such, harms the discussion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    The Oct. 15 meeting yielded few surprises. The Finance Committee explained that maintaining current services in FY 14 would mean an 8-10% increase in taxes. The 10% budget alternative being requested is not arbitrary, nor is it written in stone. The FinCom asked for a prioritized list of reductions and their impact on services so the town can know the impact of any service reductions.

    The town could wind up with a 4% reduction; the choice of tax increases is up to the town, observed FinCom Chairman Bill Steinberg.
    WVN's writing here isn't clear--a 4% cut isn't a specific proposal on the table the way that a 10% cut is. Finance Committee Chairperson Steinberg was making the point that any eventual cut or increase is the decision of the town.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    Several attendees requested more precision in the budgeting rather than budget reductions, but in fact these could lead to the same end point.

    The day after meeting with the School Committee, the FinCom issued a letter to the town calling for citizens to become involved and saying that it has no present plans to ask departments for 10% reductions. (See article below.)

    The School Committee reiterated its protests about the request to prepare a prioritized list of possible budget reductions and descriptions of the impacts on services. "It's not meant to be all or nothing," Steinberg commented. FinCom Vice Chair Tom Greenaway stressed the need to debate the budget now rather than on Town Meeting floor.

    School Committee member and attorney Ellen Grieco persistently cross examined the FinCom on the 10% figure, making sure that the public would associate the 10% figure with the FinCom. In fact, the FinCom has never said it expects to achieve a 10% reduction, but rather requested committees to sharpen their pencils and prepare options for review.

    "Why now?" she asked. She said citizens understood the use of free cash at the special town meeting was a one-time event. Grieco also suggested using more free cash, but the Finance Committee said it has only $6 million in free cash remaining, and plans to use about $3 million toward defraying tax increases.

    "It's about jobs," Grieco declared. "Doing analysis for the sake of analysis is harmful." Chair Barb Fletcher explained that the SC, as a public entity, faces an "incredibly difficult" process versus regular procedures in private enterprises.

    School Committee member Malcolm Astley and former member Louis Jurist said Town Meeting has approved prior budgets. Astley cited programs the town lacks, such as full day kindergarten and elementary language instruction. Another former Committee member, Jeff Dieffenbach, said the focus should be on tax bills rather than the tax rate, and any reductions in the schools will "decimate real estate values."
    This is NOT what I said. What I said was that a 10% cut would decimate education and real estate values.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    Grieco said she hopes FinCom reconsiders its request by asking for either a smaller reduction and/or reductions over several years.
    I did not interpret Ms. Grieco's remarks to be in any way advocating from smaller reductions or reductions spread over several years. Rather, she was saying that such reductions would be preferable to 10% this year.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    There was some consensus for a further, higher level discussion between the committees.

    Public comments were numerous. Topics included the opportunity presented by the upcoming contract negotiations, love for the schools and the need for better budgeting up front rather than drastically reducing the budget.

    Donna Bouchard cited Fiscal 2011, when the town cut seven teachers, saying it didn't have the money. Later, the town discovered extra money. All told, taxpayers supplied $7 million extra in that one year, she said: "I don't support a 10% cut; I want precision budgeting." Both the schools and the town need to work toward greater efficiencies, she added.

    Tony Boschetto echoed Bouchard's statements and asked for "precision in the process and root cause analysis. What areas generated excess cash? Identify issues, and correct budgets with zero-based budget techniques," he advised. No one should spend time looking for a 10% cut, he said.
    This is a minor point, but Mr. Boschetto did NOT echo Ms. Bouchard, as he spoke before she did.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    The day before the joint meeting, a 2005 co-founder of the SOS (Save our Services) pro-school political action group, Brenda Hsu, had circulated an email titled "10% School Budget Cut?!" which some view as a scare tactic, linking the Finance Committee's budget reduction exercise to "The recent push by a few vocal residents for cuts......" None of the speakers in fact expressed support for a 10% cut. Some proponents for finding efficiencies specifically spoke against it. Others cited the need to maintain the town's excellent schools and other services.
    The WVN's use of "some view as a scare tactic" is disingenuous, and follows in a long line of such unattributed assertions on the part of WVN. It would be equally valid for me to say that, "Some argue that WVN presents a strongly biased view of Wayland, primarily in the form of a negative portrayal of town government, while couching itself as simply a provider of information." I'm not saying that here, but some anonymous "some" is.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wayland Voters Network
    SOS co-founder Lisa Valone expressed support for the committee members. Another parent praised the extraordinary commitment of Wayland school teachers; she's worried that cuts could put that in jeopardy.

    Alan Palevsky reminded the room that 70% of households do not have children in the schools, and warned that if the SC refuses to engage in thinking about reducing its budget, this could backfire.

    Kent George said the growth in town expenses is unsustainable, and noted that we almost had the highest tax rate in the state. He doesn't want to cut the schools, but believes they need to do zero-based budgeting. He pointed to one-time expenditures whose costs were then added to the base. No one wants to blow up the school department but we need to do things sustainably, he said.

    Margo Melnicove said that no one wants a 10% cut but cited the contract negotiations as an opportunity to start applying cost saving measures without affecting services. The next contract could exclude cost of living raises. She noted that the average step increase, which every teacher receives every year, is on average about 4%, and ranges up to 15-26% for years of employment 9-11. Nearly one third of teachers make over $100,000 she said. We need savings without eliminating positions, she said.

    Dave Bernstein, a retired technologist and corporate manager who said he has handled budgets much larger than that of the SC, said "hierarchies habitually over-budget at every level. It is always possible to cut (expenses) without impacting quality." He said he wants a credible budget so it will be approved.

    In a followup email to the FinCom and School Committee he explained that managers at each level in a hierarchy, under pressure to always come in under budget, include safety factors in their budgets which collectively add up to much more than needed. He suggested changing management goals from coming in under budget to coming in close to budget, and consolidating the safety factors at the highest level.

    Suzanne Geiger said we will need to live for the next three years with the upcoming contract, and "I've got to believe there is plenty of room to make changes. There are some provisions that don't make sense, and how did they get there? We're resentful that the first thing said is cut X number of teachers. I'd be shocked if you cannot find areas in the negotiations."

    Louis Jurist said the recent Town Meeting votes being cited by the FinCom were not to cut the budget.

    Andrea Case said she moved to town three years ago from New Jersey. Wayland is much better, she said. She moved here for the schools.

    Alice Boelter requested the School Committee look for savings beyond teacher positions.

    John Flaherty, a frequent attendee of School Committee meetings, said the budget shouldn't be cut.

    Former Selectman Alan Reiss, who has participated in contract negotiations in the past, maintained that contracts must be brought under control.

    After the FinCom left, the School Committee entered executive session to discuss bargaining strategy for upcoming contract negotiations.

    -- WVN Staff


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