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Town Crier Guest Column - School Committee: School budget scenarios
17 November 2005

Wayland residents who attended the October 17 school budget hearing learned about the extremely difficult budget situation facing the town. In order that residents understand where we currently stand in the school budget process as well as the steps that will lead up to a vote in April of 2006, the School Committee offers the following status update.

Prior to the budget hearing, the School Committee projected core needs for the 2006-2007 fiscal year (FY07) based on contractually obligated increases in compensation and on unavoidable growth in utility and transportation expenses. The committee did not include an increase in special education costs or inflation for materials and supplies. The resulting minimal need to maintain our core level of service amounts to $28.7M.

In October, the Finance Committee projected the FY07 fiscal year budget shortfall to be on the order of $3.3 million town-wide. As a result, they gave the School Committee a budget guideline of approximately $2.5 million dollars (8%) less than the $28.7M that preserves the faculty-student ratio, accounts for rising utility prices, and accommodates transportation increases.

Earlier in the year, the Board of Selectmen, Finance Committee, and School Committee each appointed representatives to the FY07 Ad Hoc Budget Advisory Committee charged by the Selectmen with identifying revenue enhancements and cost savings that might reduce the $3.3 million deficit without appreciably affecting the level of service that Wayland delivers. The Budget Advisory Committee expects to estimate a possible deficit reduction dollar amount in December.

In addition to service level cuts and deficit reduction, an override represents a third way to bridge the gap. With input from the Finance Committee, the Board of Selectmen will make a decision most likely in February or March about whether to place an override on the ballot, and if so, for how much.

Because the deficit reduction and override amounts are not yet known, the School Committee finds itself along with the other boards in town in the unenviable position of putting together a budget with an 8% reduction for delivery to the Finance Committee at the end of November.

On Monday, November 14, Superintendent Gary Burton presented the School Committee with two avenues to arriving at a $2.5 million reduction: for simplicity, they are “preservation of class size” and “preservation of neighborhood schools.” Both cut deeply at the fabric of the education that Wayland has traditionally delivered. While neither is by any means a given, it is important for residents to understand what they entail as they are indicative of what we will be forced to live with if we do not bridge the budget deficit.

Both plans share common elements. While a much-needed K-5 math coordinator and reading teacher would be added, the district’s five librarian positions would be eliminated. The elementary school music program would be cut. Kindergarten would be reduced by 20 minutes a day so that an afternoon session could be added. At the Middle School and High School, all extracurricular activities would be eliminated. Almost all funds for curriculum and staff development would be removed.

“Preservation of class size” would close the Happy Hollow elementary school. Kindergarteners through second graders would attend Loker, while third through fifth graders would attend Claypit Hill. The athletic program would be cut in half.

“Preservation of neighborhood schools” offers a different reduction. All five schools would remain open, but class sizes at grades 6 through 12 would increase. The athletic program would be cut entirely.

Setting aside the damage that either of these plans will cause to the public education that Wayland offers, consider for a moment the negative impact on property values. Certainly, cuts of this magnitude would send a strong negative signal to the real estate market. Countless studies show that investment in education pays dividends in housing values. Consider the representative $500,000 home. A drop in value of a mere 1% equals $5,000, an amount sufficient to cover 4 years of above-normal increases in school expenses. The cuts under consideration threaten drops of this magnitude if not much more.

By the end of November, the School Committee will at the Finance Committee’s request select and perhaps modify one of the two plans outlined above. It is imperative for the town to understand that this selection will not be a recommendation. In December and January, the committee will advocate for an operating override to allow us to avoid the types of catastrophic cuts outlined above. In February or March, the Board of Selectmen will make their decision regarding an override. In April, Wayland will vote.

Visit www.waylandschoolcommittee.org to learn more and keep abreast of developments by adding your name to our email list.

Please re-read the two plans above. Imagine the severe impact on the town’s children as they attend a program stripped of the critical elements that turn basic academics into the multi-faceted education necessary to prepare tomorrow’s citizens. Then work with us to find a path forward that is both financially and educationally sound.

The Wayland School Committee
Jeff Dieffenbach (chair), Robert Gordon (vice-chair), Barbara Fletcher, Louis Jurist, and Heather Pineault
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