2012 ATM Article 28 is seriously flawed--vote no
Shawn Kinney submitted a letter to the Town Crier arguing in favor of Article 28. I responded with my own letter arguing against the article--the contents of the original version of that letter (condensed for Town Crier publication) are posted below.
Letter: Do the right thing for Wayland's schools
By Jeff Dieffenbach
WAYLAND — TO THE EDITOR:
Wayland School Committee member Shawn Kinney's March 26 guest column ("Do the right thing on school accounts," written on his own behalf, and not that of the WSC) starts well enough. He's certainly correct that the school revolving funds, which cover programs including athletics, transportation, elementary instrumental music, high school parking (together, I'll call the preceding services "school day programs"), and the Wayland School and Community Programs (WSCP), have not been accounted as intended.
Namely, fees paid by families were not fully used to offset the cost of these programs. Note that any such fees may only be set high enough to cover the cost of the program (including indirect costs)--they are not permitted to generate a "profit." For at least three of the programs in question (athletics, instrumental music, and parking), the fees charged don't come close to covering the full cost. That may be true of the remaining programs as well--that's beyond what I happen to know.
It's important to understand why the school day program fees weren't applied in a timely manner, and that effort is already well underway within the Wayland Public Schools. Moreover, Superintendent Paul Stein has already put in place improvements going forward.
At its March 26 meeting, the WSC decided to return the "school day program" funds in question to the Town's Free Cash fund. In effect, this will right the "wrong" that Mr. Kinney notes: as the WSC intended all along, general taxpayers will not have footed the bill for these programs. With respect to the WSCP, many of the questions that Mr. Kinney raises are good ones that need to be answered, a process that's also underway by the WSC and WPS.
All of the above notwithstanding, Mr. Kinney's column contains significant problems, however, that merit a response.
ONE, Mr. Kinney's statement that funds were moved from the "custody of the town treasurer" to privately held checking accounts appears to be in error. It is my understanding that these funds were moved from revolving funds. It is of course important to understand whether the transfer was valid. For more on the privately held checking accounts, look here: http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/t...cking-accounts.
TWO, Mr. Kinney, despite being corrected on several occasions by the School Committee, refers to "donations" that were in fact transfers.
THREE, Mr. Kinney is incorrect that a theft occurred from one of the checking accounts that remained open recently. That theft ($2,000, discovered by the schools in 2010) is documented here (http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/n...ng-from-school).
FOUR, Mr. Kinney does the schools and the town a great and undeserved disservice when he writes, "The Wayland Public Schools administration and School Committee" have lost considerable credibility and the trust of many taxpayers and parents." That may be true of some taxpayers and parents, perhaps, but that expression of a loss of trust does not by any stretch make that loss deserved.
FIVE, Mr. Kinney repeats earlier errors of his in asserting that teachers were laid off because a $1.2M school surplus (an amount incorrect in its own right: http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/t...onds-to-column) wasn't known. Almost every case (if not every case) of a reduction in force was driven by enrollment numbers and sound fiscal thinking.
SIX, Mr. Kinney is well off the mark when he writes of the "school consolidation effort that we are now uncertain ever resulted in cost savings since the administrative costs associated with the school that was closed were somehow improperly charged to the parents paying for BASE." Mr. Kinney may be uncertain, but that's his burden to bear. I've heard nothing to suggest that the WSC stance on the costs savings that coincided with the elementary school reconfiguration has changed. A summary of those cost savings--on the order of half a million dollars a year--can be found here: http://www.waylandschoolcommittee.or...on-savings.htm. For the first several years of the reconfiguration, Loker operated without a separate Principal--those duties were performed by the Happy Hollow Principal. More recently, a new Principal and administrative assistant has been shared by the Kindergarten program and by WCSP, reducing the savings by what appears to be what appears to be about 60% ($85,000)of that ~$140,000 expense (http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/Wayla...mentReport.pdf).
As a School Committee member, Mr. Kinney is bound by a code of ethics (see section BCA here: http://wayland.sharpschool.net/UserF...File/sect2.pdf). In particular, I note:
"I.1. Realize that his/her primary responsibility is to the children."
"II.2. Recognize and support the administrative chain of command and refuse to act on complaints as an individual outside the administration."
"III.5. Make decisions only after all facts on a question have been presented and discussed."
Acknowledging and defending his freedom of speech, Mr. Kinney's public obligations don't disappear when he exits the School Committee meeting room. I contend that his flawed Annual Town Meeting Article 28 seeking an audit infringes well into the territory of I.1 above and that his Article and column also do the same to II.2 and III.5.
In principle, I'm all for the spirit of Article 28. The handling of the revolving funds should be understood and corrected. Article 28 is severely deficient, however, in several ways. (1) As written in the ATM Warrant, it provides no funds to cover the cost to the Wayland Public Schools of supporting the proposed audit. (2) There is no longer a need to include an accounting of the school day services; spending time here would be a waste of money. (3) It is my understanding that the checking accounts referenced in Article 28 have been closed. (4) The article proposes to audit the Wayland School and Community Programs going back five years. Unless such an audit covers each program from its inception, the picture that will result will at best be partial. (5) Much of the State Auditor’s focus is on fraud—that focus is misapplied in Wayland’s case. It would be much more appropriate to have a cost accountant do the proposed study.
Until such corrections are made, I cannot support Article 28, nor should reasonable Wayland voters interested in the education of our children.
Mr. Dieffenbach is a former member of the Wayland School Committee and the Wayland Finance Committee. The views above are his alone, and do not necessarily represent those of either board.
Our schools' budgeting policies and procedures that led to illegal bank accounts and inappropriate movement of funds is seriously flawed. Let's take a look at it.
Vote YES on Article 28.