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Dieffenbach: Four aspects of the 2008-2009 school budget strike me as being of particular relevance. So, I'm going to break from the blog's standard chronological format and leave this "table of contents" at the top for a while.

the override (3/3, repeated immediately below)
the half-school decision (2/26)
the 2 1/2 school process (3/8)
the 2007 Happy Hollow window conversation (3/7, also 2/28)

I look forward to turning my attention to the dominant issue of the day: gaining approval of the operating override at the polls on Tuesday, April 8. I trust that families, some of whom may be dissatisfied with either the process or the outcome of the "which school" decision, will quickly come to understand the difference between a school system with an override and one without (see the Committee's full list here).

Class Size
5 fewer sections/
Class size policy exceeded
Class size policy maintained
Middle School
Class Size
4.8 fewer
teaching positions;
two grades moving from 3 to 2 clusters
Class size policy maintained
High School
Class Size
1.6 fewer
teaching positions
Class size policy maintained
Other Curricular Numerous guidance, teaching
assistant, clerical, materials,
and other cuts
Services maintained
Other Co-Curricular:
All Middle School
sports eliminated;
5 High School
sports eliminated,
assistant coaching positions
for 6 other sports cut
Athletics maintained with
some changes to fee structure
Other Co-Curricular:
Elimination of half
of Middle School clubs;
Elimination of most
High School clubs
Clubs maintained

On April 8, please support the override, the municipal services on which we rely, and the education of Wayland's children.
Dieffenbach: A Town Crier discussion board exchange (with a Wayland resident who identified him/herself) in which I engaged tackled the question of anonymous postings. Going forward, I plan to continue to respond to people who call, write a letter, send an email, or post to a discussion board using their name (assuming, of course, that I'm aware of the post; however, I will rarely respond to anonymous posts. Below are some excerpts from that exchange.

Dieffenbach discussion board post: Let's imagine that "Another parent" (a discussion board "handle") takes issue with the school configuration process/decision, but supports the override. Saying so (anonymously or not) would rightly separate two issues that should not in my opinion be conflated. When conflated, the two issues work to undermine the override.

A reasonable (but not necessarily correct) interpretation of the anonymous post in question is that it was made by an override opponent attempting to cloud the waters. An honest criticism of the override is that it's not affordable. There's nothing wrong with saying so identifiably. Even saying so anonymously puts some context to "Another parent"'s original "flawed configuration decision" post.

As posted, however, I encourage all readers to take it for nothing more than an anonymous and defective criticism, perhaps posted by someone who is no friend of the schools.
  Discussion board reader: for centuries comments in the public square have not required identifying information. Only recently, supported by technology, do we impose this requirement. The identification at TM is required to establish that one is a resident, and entitled to vote. WVN has no blog, and when I write for The Crier, I must identify myself because I assert facts that the Crier is liable for. Kim Reichelt chooses identification for her private newsletter - her choice. This is the only independent forum left where one can assert an opinion without fear. ... The author is entitled to express their opinions without worry that their children (under your stewardship) will suffer the consequences. Many voters don't discuss their finances in public.  
I'll argue that for centuries, comments in the public square have required absolute identifying information, in the form of being present to make them. Only recently, supported by technology, do we have the ability to be anonymous in the public square (which is not to be confused with the voting booth).

Not being a lawyer, I'm not sure why the Town Crier would have a different liability with respect to printing an opinion versus allowing it to be posted online on a server paid for by them.

... Instead, I merely cautioned readers against automatically assuming that the claims of an anonymous post are what they allege themselves to be.
Dieffenbach: On occasion, comments arise taking exception to the School Committee's recently completed contract settlement with the Wayland Teachers' Association (WTA), accusing the Committee of not taking a hard enough line. In a 3/13 letter to the Wayland Town Crier, WTA President Conrad Gees challenges this notion of Committee "softness." Key excerpts from his letter are below.
  Gees: The Town Crier has printed a number of comments recently that have accused the Wayland School Committee of not being tough enough with the Wayland Teachers Association during the most recent round of negotiations concluded in September. In fact, the School Committee has been plenty tough.

Other comments have accused teachers of looking out for their self-interest first and short changing both the hard-pressed Wayland taxpayer and the community's children. In fact, the teachers' settlement with the School Committee helps to limit school budget personnel increases and to preserve services to children.

Still other comments decry the expense to the town of employee benefits such as retirement and health insurance for teachers. While the rising cost of health insurance is a crisis for municipalities and employees on a national level, the cost of teachers' retirement to the Wayland taxpayer is nil.


Three years ago, in negotiations concluded in 2004, the Wayland Teachers' Association, already recognizing the fiscal constraints faced by the community, settled with the School Committee for the lowest settlement on record since 1969. This fall, in 2007, the Association settled with the Committee for an even lower percentage increase, 6.5 percent over three years. The Wayland School Committee and the teachers settled for increases averaging less than 2.5 percent for the next three years [editor's note: these increases are also at the low end of settlements reached by peer and other communities.] The School Committee and the teachers also agreed to no increases at all in stipends for department heads, coaches, or co-curricular advisors.


I am hopeful that by publicizing some of the details of our settlement we will help voters understand that the teachers of Wayland are neither callous towards, nor ignorant of, the facts facing us all. We too live in towns where override questions are on the ballot. We too are paying the ever-increasing energy, health, food, housing and higher education costs that are squeezing all household budgets and making override decisions difficult. These overrides are triggered by inflationary pressures we all face, along with reduced state and federal funding for education ...


Having read the facts, I hope you'll see that what we bargained for was done with an eye towards trying to maintain important school services, and at the same time make it possible for Wayland to hire and retain teachers with the level of professionalism that it has come to expect in its schools. When all has been said and done I hope, that the voters of this town will vote to support their town's services, and come to appreciate that we too, are working toward the same goals.
A closing statement
At Monday night’s School Committee meeting (March 10), several audience comments caught and held my attention. Drawing on them, and on the experience of the past several months, I offer the following personal “closing statement” that I would like to have been able to pull together at the time, in the interest of best serving the education of Wayland’s children.

     “The Loker community is owed an apology”
I am truly sorry that we ended up divided, as that was of course never my intent. While I knew that one neighborhood would end up disappointed, it was always my hope that there would be a mood of understanding and acceptance. The closeness of the decision would have made such an outcome at best a challenge; the course and speed of the process only aggravated the emotions already in play.

If I had the process to design from the start, would I have held off for a year? No, I would not. My decision-making has been driven from the start by the desire to approve the override and provide for the education of the Wayland Public Schools as a whole. Starting earlier, an option that information available to us last summer did not suggest, would have been the better path.

Am I satisfied that one neighborhood is bearing the weight of the reconfiguration. No, I am not. In my opinion, however, the only “shared” option—to its credit, offering an additional $180,000 savings above the selected configuration’s $400,000 savings—would have been the much more disruptive, and, from an educational perspective, not clearly preferable “grade level” model with K in one building, 1-2 in a second, and 3-5 in a third.

     “Thinking that isn’t deep, isn’t thinking”
My 2007 Annual Town Meeting comment poorly characterizing one small aspect of the Happy Hollow/Loker comparison elicited the “isn’t thinking” remark. In isolation, fair enough. Unlike business decision-making that takes place behind closed doors, however, town government conducts its debate in public, in real time, and in the face of sometimes long gaps between events.

Responses to questions therefore take one of two directions: on-the-spot and sometimes flawed, or delayed and beyond usefulness. In this case, the School Committee might have noted the question (regarding its intentions for Happy Hollow), held a discussion at its next meeting, and … well, been left with no real way to communicate an answer, timely or otherwise.

Instead, I did my best to answer the question on the Committee’s behalf. My error, which I unhesitantly acknowledged, did not affect the decision facing the meeting at the time, nor did it affect my detailed consideration during the more recent school configuration deliberation.

      "Are you proud?"
I approached this difficult decision openly, honestly, and with the best interests of Wayland’s children in mind. At each step along the way, I considered the available information and my understanding of the overall process and its time line. Whenever possible, I opted to adapt the process.

Over the past few months, I engaged with everyone who elected to weigh in. I thank those who took the fair and respectful tack, regardless of whether we agreed. I regret that some saw fit instead to sling vitriol and mischaracterization, to the disservice of the schools and the town. In the end, while I’m dissatisfied that we failed to uncover a more artful path to a destination at which I submit we were best served to arrive, I’m proud both of my own role and that of my fellow School Committee members for sticking to the high road in principled pursuit of a worthy and still very much attainable aspiration.

      "What does this mean for the override?"
I trust the residents of Wayland, and especially those within the Loker community, to separate the rough process of moving to 2 1/2 schools from the challenge and opportunity of the override. Any dissatisfaction with the Committee, its decision, and its process is wholly separate from the override needed to provide for level educational services. If the override fails, there will be a marked negative impact on our students and the education that we provide for them.

It surprises no one that despite our best efforts, perfection evades our reach. Owing to this reach, the Wayland Public Schools nonetheless excel. For that, I laud our students, our families, our teachers, our administrators, and our community. For my part, I strive with each thought and action to continue to earn the honor of serving this endeavor.

This service now focuses on our proposed budget for the coming school year and the operating override on which that budget depends. In the interest of our children and their education, please set aside for the moment any disagreement you have with the School Committee or its members and join us, the Finance Committee, and the Board of Selectmen is supporting this important override at the polls on April 8th and at Annual Town Meeting beginning April 10th.
Dieffenbach: Here's a letter that I wrote and that was printed in the February 14, 2008 issue of the Wayland Town Crier.


Tom Sciacca (in a 2/7 Town Crier letter to the editor) poses two solutions to the challenge of funding public education: focus and technology. And he’s correct on both counts.

FOCUS: Wayland describes its curriculum as classical rather than comprehensive. Larger districts, and many comparably sized ones, offer a broad range of electives. In part out of fiscal prudence, Wayland chooses to stay focused on the “3 Rs” (including science, social studies, and foreign language) plus rich co-curricular offerings (arts, athletics, and activities).

Mr. Sciacca recommends that a 21st century education feature math, science, creativity, and critical thinking. No argument with these elements. Where my thinking diverges from his, however, lies in what to exclude. He cites golf and skiing, perhaps for the vacation/resort imagery they connote, as lying outside the scope of an appropriate education.

From the financial perspective, these two sports will represent less than 0.05% (no typo—that’s five one hundredths of a percent) of next year’s school budget. Perhaps Mr. Sciacca advocates for the elimination of all sports? Athletics as a whole will total less than 2%, yet figure enormously in our mission of preparing students for their adult lives.

At this past November’s Expanded Learning Time symposium in Boston, a panel on “Integrating 21st Century Skills” presented a survey of 400 national companies that identified needs in four critical areas: professionalism and work ethic, written and spoken communication, teamwork, and critical thinking and problem solving.

It is perhaps an article of faith, but one that I’ll claim inarguable, that the lessons learned on the playing field (and on the stage, and in the studio, and via clubs and activities) contribute to these needs as importantly as those in the classroom.

PRODUCTIVITY: In a white paper that I wrote several years ago for my work in educational publishing, I made the same case as Mr. Sciacca. Educational productivity has not effectively changed in a century: one teacher leading a classroom of twenty or twenty-five students.

Educational technology has long promised to ease the financial implications of this productivity plateau. In my opinion, the necessary technology is at hand: instructional software, communication tools, the Web, and much more, deployed to serve students in an engaging, enriching, and differentiating manner.

But what of the teacher? Implemented well, education technology won’t replace the teacher (except through attrition); rather, it will honor the teacher, freeing him or her to work more effectively where the student need is greatest.

How do we realize the gains of educational technology? The School Committee will shortly receive the results of a comprehensive technology audit. My hope is that the Committee will see fit to launch a community-wide technology task force to work with Committee, the district’s Director of Technology, and the Administration as a whole to extend on the work done to date in mapping out and implementing a 21st century technology plan. I look forward to participating in that effort.
Dieffenbach: The quality of the School Committee's decision-making process in going from 3 to 2 1/2 schools, and in selecting the half-school, has been questioned. Here's my take on the key milestones in that process and what drove the both reasonable and arguable decisions made at each step along the way.
  • November 26: Committee recommends 3 neighborhood schools for 2008-2009 school year
    • The Finance Committee's budget guideline, based on preliminary estimates of salary, special education, utility, and transportation costs, was expected to be sufficient to cover level services
    • Concerns about the size of the anticipated $2.6M override were not prevalent
    • [added 3/12/2008] The Superintendent states that he will create an ad-hoc sub-committee to compare Happy Hollow and Loker

  • December 17: [added 3/12/2008} Committee discusses school configuration
    • Requests that 11/15 "School Consolidations Considerations" memo be relabeled to show that Happy Hollow/Loker decision remains open
    • Updated memo sent to School Committee 12/19/2008
    • Updated memo posted to WSC web site 12/31/2008

  • January 14: Committee selects Loker as Kindergarten "half school"
    • IF Committee opts to go to 2 1/2 school model (not yet decided)
    • [added 3/12/2008] Committee receives in-progress report from ad hoc sub-committee
    • Budget guideline found to be insufficient to support level services
    • Tight budget time line assumed in leading up to April votes

  • January 28: Committee approves reconfiguration from 3 to 2 1/2 schools
    • Driven by increasing concerns about override size and desire for district-wide level services to the greatest extent possible

  • February 4: Committee puts Loker as "half school" decision "on hold"
    • Community makes strong case to allow for public comment
    • Administrators work to extend decision time frame

  • February 11: Committee continues discussion and public comment
    • Continuation of Happy Hollow/Loker comparison
    • Identification and characterization of nearly 70 attributes

  • February 25: Committee affirms Loker as "half school"
    • Aggregation of attributes into four categories: safety, education, finances, and logistics
    • Each member votes based on their assessment of how schools stack up within and across categories

  • March 10: [added 3/12/208] Committee considers additional questions, opts not to revisit the vote
    • Summary of report and comments from privately-contracted traffic safety consultant
    • Summary of 2007 convesation regarding Happy Hollow window replacement
Dieffenbach: This account details the 2007 winter/spring conversation among the School Committee (WSC), the Finance Committee (FC), and the Board of Selectmen (BOS) regarding the School Committee's request for FY08 capital funding in the amount of $735,000 to replace the windows at the Happy Hollow school (HH).

On January 22, 2007, the FC joined the WSC's public meeting. One topic of discussion was the WSC's request for funding to replace the HH windows. A FC member asked about the possibility of HH closing. Superintendent Gary Burton replied to the effect that he did not expect HH to be closed in the near to medium future.

On March 5, 2007, the FC met with the BOS in a public meeting to discuss, among other items, the FY2008 capital budget, including the WSC's HH request. Selectman Alan Reiss asked the FC whether HH would be closed as a result of a failure of the next override, as that information might affect the BOS position on the HH funding request. FC chair Cherry Karlson conveyed the remarks made by the Superintendent.

[added 3/8/2008] Video from the March 5 BOS meeting shows FC chair Cherry Karlson saying (it's not clear if this is in response to a question from Selectman Reiss or not): "One thing that we did specifically ask the schools about is that if enrollment does continue to decline and if they look at combining schools, Happy Hollow is one that would stay open, so this repair is to a building that they would continue to use going forward." What is not clear is whether this is what was said by the Superintendent or a School Committee member at the January 22 (or another) meeting, or rather the FC's characterization of comments along the lines of "not expecting HH to be closed in the near to medium future" (the School Committee not being present at the March 5 BOS meeting).

[added 3/10/2008] Video from the March 26 (2008) BOS meeting shows FC chair Cherry Karlson in essence repeating her 3/5 remarks in response to a question from Selectman Reiss.

On April 29, 2007, at the (public) Annual Town Meeting (ATM), resident Steven Glovsky proposed an amendment to the capital budget requesting that the HH window funds not be approved, raising concerns that HH might be closed in the face of declining enrollment. WSC member Jeff Dieffenbach commented that "Happy Hollow certainly would not be the first choice of elementary schools to close" (citing attributes of that building that I subsequently dismissed early in the January-February 2008 2 1/2 school reconfiguration discussion), and that "were Happy Hollow to be a building that would be closed, however, we wouldn't be closing it and letting it deteriorate."

Selectman Alan Reiss then rose to make the comment that "if an elementary school were to be closed in the future that we had a verbal commitment that Happy Hollow would not be that one, especially with respect to any future override. If there is any disagreement with that, please let me know." Per the frequent reminder of Town Meeting Moderator Peter Gossels, no one is required to respond to any questions or comments made at a Town Meeting. The lack of spoken disagreement at that time was not necessarily indicative of a lack of disagreement.

At its meeting on March 3, 2008, the FC discussed its recollection of the 2007 events recounted above, concluding that an agreement to keep HH open for any specified period of time was not reached [edited 3/17/2008 to correct a typo]. That same night, the BOS did the same, with four of the five members also concluded that there was no agreement. Selectman Alan Reiss differs, characterizing the discussion a spoken agreement not to close HH in the event of a failure of the next override.

[added 3/18/2008: response to Selectman Alan Reiss' 3/15 Wayland eNews post] Alan Reiss and I have had several conversations on this topic--his account above is consistent with those conversations. I'd like to respond with some facts and my opinion, the latter not necessarily representing that of other individual School Committee members or the Committee as a whole.

At the Annual Town Meeting (ATM) on April 29, 2007, I addressed the question of Happy Hollow's status. After making a comment about Happy Hollow's benefits (a comparison that I've since concluded was not particularly apt), I indicated that an enrollment-driven closure was at least 3-5 years out and that if Happy Hollow were to be closed, that we would be wise to maintain it in any event.

Each of the School Committee members (including one who was not on the board during the Happy Hollow window conversations in 2007) has stated unequivocally that they did not consider that an agreement had been struck to keep Happy Hollow open in exchange for the Board of Selectmen placing the window replacement project on the debt exclusion ballot voted on by the public in April of 2007.

At recent meetings, members of the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen (the latter with the exception of Alan Reiss, his "quid pro quo" statement above notwithstanding) also stated that they did not consider that an agreement had been reached.

In my opinion:
  • My 2007 ATM statement "were Happy Hollow to be a building that would be closed" was a strong and clear statement against the notion of an "agreement."
  • The lack of response to Alan Reiss' immediately subsequent "verbal commitment" statement is indicative of nothing, both because there is no obligation to respond (per the ATM Moderator's frequent reminder) and because I had just allowed for the possibility of Happy Hollow's closure.
  • The reconfiguration to the 2 1/2 school model does not remotely resemble a closure; the Wayland Public Schools expect to be educating children in all three of our elementary schools for at least the next 4 years, which is the "horizon" at which our reasonably confident enrollment projections end.
[Excerpted from my 2/26 post] Dieffenbach: I look forward to turning my attention to the dominant issue of the day: gaining approval of the operating override at the polls on Tuesday, April 8. I trust that families, some of whom may be dissatisfied with either the process or the outcome of the "which school" decision, will quickly come to understand the difference between a school system with an override and one without (see the Committee's full list here).

Class Size
5 fewer sections/
Class size policy exceeded
Class size policy maintained
Middle School
Class Size
4.8 fewer
teaching positions;
two grades moving from 3 to 2 clusters
Class size policy maintained
High School
Class Size
1.6 fewer
teaching positions
Class size policy maintained
Other Curricular Numerous guidance, teaching
assistant, clerical, materials,
and other cuts
Services maintained
Other Co-Curricular:
All Middle School
sports eliminated;
5 High School
sports eliminated,
assistant coaching positions
for 6 other sports cut
Athletics maintained with
some changes to fee structure
Other Co-Curricular:
Elimination of half
of Middle School clubs;
Elimination of most
High School clubs
Clubs maintained

On April 8, please support the override, the municipal services on which we rely, and the education of Wayland's children.
The so-called "side agreement"
Dieffenbach: The notion of a so-called "side agreement" between the School Committee and (apparently) the Finance Committee has surfaced as undermining the Committee's recent decision to establish Claypit Hill and Happy Hollow as grade 1-5 schools and Loker as a Kindergarten-only school for the 2008-2009 school year.

Rather than being some sort of "back room deal," the "agreement" refers to (1) a PUBLIC conversation between the two Committees prior to the April 2007 Annual Town Meeting (ATM) and (2) a PUBLIC comment at that ATM. I don't recall the exact conversation with the Finance Committee, but imagine that it was to the effect that the School Committee did not expect to close Happy Hollow in a time frame shortly following the 2007 request to replace that building's deteriorating windows. [Update 3/4/2008: I've since been informed that the conversation may have taken place in at least two public meetings, one involving the School Committee and the Finance Committee, another involving the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen.]

A transcript of the ATM comment submitted to the Committee today (presumably correct, but not one that I have verified) is below. The relevance of this transcript is a bit curious given that the Committee does not contemplate closing Happy Hollow for at least 4-5 years based on current enrollment trends, and perhaps not at all in the foreseeable future.

  TRANSCRIPTION OF 2007 ANNUAL TOWN MEETING Sunday, April 29, 2007, 1pm Wayland High School Fieldhouse.

Under Article 5FY2008 OMNIBUS BUDGET, motion to amend, excepting Capital Budget Item 18,

$735,000 Happy Hollow Window Replacement

Motion made by Steven Glovsky

MR. GLOVSKY: Due to declining population it has been discussed in this meeting that a school will be closed. In the past we have heard that Happy Hollow is the school to be closed. It seems that if we are presented with the possibility of closing a school in the near future, that spending $735,000 on the school most likely to be closed at this time seems to be unnecessary. I am proposing that we not include that in this year's capital budget.

MODERATOR: Anyone want to speak to this motion? Mr. Dieffenbach? [then a few procedural comments]

MR. DIEFFENBACH: Mr. Moderator, Jeff Dieffenbach, Pleasant Street, member of the School Committee. Happy Hollow certainly would not be the first choice of elementary schools to close. It has a much better gymnasium than Loker, it has a cafeteria that Loker does not have.
As I have since learned, the gymnasium comment is not accurate--the two (Happy Hollow and Loker) are comparable. As for the cafeteria comment, I either misspoke, meaning to reference Happy Hollow's full KITCHEN, or was misquoted. [Update 3/4/2008: Having now see a recording of the Town Meeting, it is clear that I misspoke.] Regardless, those factors did not factor into my decision this year.

The important point that I made was that the Committee didn't anticipate letting any of its elementary schools deteriorate, even if not in use.
  We're probably at least three to five years away from having to make a closure due to enrollment needs. People may remember that this year's entering kindergarten class at roughly 190 students, I think was 30-40 more than was anticipated so it's not even clear that there's a downward enrollment trend at the kindergarten level. Were Happy Hollow to be a building that would be closed, however, we wouldn't be closing it and letting it deteriorate; we'd want to make sure it's in a good condition, so that it could be reopened at some point in the future in the same way that Loker was closed and then reopened. Thank You.

MODERATOR: Mr. Reiss, I recognize you sir.

MR. REISS: Mr. Moderator, Alan Reiss, Old Connecticut Path. Well, you gotta fix the windows... and my understanding from the FinCom is that if an elementary school were to be closed in the future that we had a verbal commitment that Happy Hollow would not be that one, especially with respect to any future override. If there is any disagreement with that, please let me know. Thank you.

Following comments and a question concerning the number of windows being replaced at Happy Hollow (the SC did not know), the amendment failed, and the article carried, without further discussion. No one replied to Mr. Reiss.
As has been stated numerous times by Committee members, the "Happy Hollow stays open" assumption was one made without imminent consideration of reconfiguring or closing an elementary school, but not one that significantly influenced the Committee's 2/25 decision.
Reaching a 2 1/2 school decision
Dieffenbach: Typically, I use this blog to respond to issues related to the Wayland Public Schools. In this case, I'd like to provide an explanation of how I arrived at my 2 1/2 school decision.
Dieffenbach: I'll give Selectman Alan Reiss credit for one thing--at least he is honest on his Web site about the implications (larger class sizes and eradicated co-curricular programs) of his coming out against maintaining the quality of the Wayland Public Schools.
  Reiss: The Possible Upcoming OverRide... $2.6M = 8% Real Estate Tax Increase
Since I was first elected to the Wayland Board of Selectmen in April 2005, I have consistently argued against large operational increases in real estate taxation. I was the lone selectman who openly opposed the April 2006 (FY2007) override. My reasons for this opposition are today the same as they were then, but only now magnified in light of the fact that we are now deeper into a larger infrastructure then we were two years ago. That FY2007 override helped to fuel that money engine in a big way.
It's not clear what "larger infrastructure" means in this context. The Wayland Public Schools, for instance, are somewhat smaller in both enrollment and head count than they have been in recent years, and certainly since the last override.

  I am for fair and reasonable taxation for all. I am concerned about having quality education for our children and am just as concerned about the ability of those who cannot keep up with the ever escalating tax increases to be able to remain within our town with a reasonable degree of comfort. The strategy to do this is to continue to work on projects which increase our revenue and at the same time, make the necessary core tradeoffs to keep our costs in line. Having an override every other year (or less) to balance our operational budget is not the formula to be fair and reasonable to all.

When I was a teacher, I was lucky enough to have bright students who wanted to study Physics. However there was a range of talent and skill in that student classroom. If I taught to the top 10% of the class, I would loose much of the bottom. If I taught to bottom 10% of the class I would bore much of the top. The only reasonable approach would be to teach to the median - the 50% point and in that way I could cover the bulk of the students as a matter of practice and I could satisfy both the top and bottom by including some easy and some more difficult materials.
The goal in education (not always achieved, of course) is to differentiate instruction for all students, not teach to the median.

  I see this model in the same light as one might fund a public school system. ... So by applying the educational principle of teaching to the median (from above) by funding to the median, we would have a more reasonable approach to the funding of education in any given town.  
Again, differentiated instruction is the sounder educational principle. Applying this to school (and town) funding would suggest approaches such as taxation based on income rather than real estate or abatements for those with lesser means
  Now here are the reasons why the Town of Wayland needs to put on the brakes and stay within the limits of Proposition 2 1/2 come April 2008...

1. Among 14 Wayland Peer Towns, (by the way, Brookline is not a peer town of Wayland and it was eliminated from the Fincom's selected list which makes it 14 and not 15 as you will see in future slides posted on this site)... Wayland comes in AMOUNG THE HIGHEST in School spending vs. Median Household Income - More detail for follow in the coming weeks.
As outlined in my 1/19 post, this statement is based on a dubious calculation. Whether Brookline is a peer town is open to debate. I happen to think that it is, albeit one at the outer limits of comparison (the same might be said of Needham).

  2. Median household Income is the correct metric to use because it’s directly related to the family unit and the property, which is being taxed in terms of its assessment, of which 67% go towards school funding irrespective of the number of people who are over the age of 17 years old in that household and do not go to public school. What this means is that the FinCom's metric of School Spending 'per Capita' is just plain wrong.  
I continue to assert that median tax bill divided by median household income would be the best metric, but unfortunately, data for the former is not readily available. If someone has this data, I would be happy to see where Wayland ranks relative to its peers.

  3. For every $3 of your tax dollars, $2 of those dollars goes to the schools. The rest is for everything else. Our town’s finance director has confirmed this fact to me personally. 67% of Wayland’s budget is spent by the School Department and 33% is spent on other Town costs. ...  
It's not clear whether there's an ideal balance of school versus municipal spending. I would argue that at present, all town departments are lean. Might some be leaner than others? Almost certainly. But relative to the value that they provide? That's debateable. If the split were even as high as 85/15, that would not necessarily suggest that we are out of balance.

  4. The Finance Committee is currently projecting a $2.6 million budget shortfall prompting a likely override ballot question for the April 2008 election. ...

5. An override of this magnitude would increase your new real estate tax bills an additional 8% ...

6. Since 2002, Wayland has passed an override on average every 1.4 years ...

7. Across the 14 Peer Town comparison, the cost of education has risen 3 to 5 times faster than the Median household Income... Did you get those kinds of raises from 2000 to 2007? If you did, congratulations, you are in a tiny minority. ...
It is interesting that Selectman Reiss chooses 2002 as the starting point for his comparison, since that year represents the high water mark in state aid to towns. Unfortunately, our former Governor's claims of tax cuts at the state level served only to regressively push costs down to the town level where real estate tax is the mechanism for raising revenue.

If the next major override fails then this is what to expect....

This will cause your town government to make cuts.... yes, the cuts will be painful to some... there may be fewer school administrators. There may be fewer teachers. Class sizes may grow 5% or 10% in size. Elementary schools may consolidate sooner than they were already planning on consolidating due to shrinking enrollment. Think about it... are young families moving into Wayland in droves? Can they afford it? Education may have to go back to a model with more core subject focus and fewer inclusive extra-curricular activities. More activities may become fee-based, pay-as-you-go. I remember when my daughter went to France with her 11th grade class... I shelled out $2,700... Not complaining... it’s just the way it should be.
If the override fails and the schools are forced to cut on the order of $1.8M in expenses, the negative impact on education will be deep. The School Committee has already seen a preliminary cut list, and will view an updated version at its meeting on January 22.

  The school committee recently had a chance to save $400K by going to a 2 1/2 elementary school model... they said no. [blogger's note: following the School Committee's announcement that the 2 1/2 school configuration was back on the table, Selectman Reiss added his approval but continued that this move was not enough.] Why? Well, the official reason was bundled into quality of education.... perhaps it was more than that....perhaps it was bundled into convenience and the ability of some to pay at the expense of others who just can't. ...  
Selectman Reiss' ascribing of motive to the School Committee ("convenience and the ability of some to pay ...") is a bit irresponsible, a bit like saying that his opposition to the override is driven by a dislike not only of children but also of puppies and kittens.

  Time and time again the schools have not been able to prove that small incremental changes in class size of 20 to 21 or 22 make any substantive difference in the quality of education.... other studies cite the same conclusions. Changing class sizes from 20 to 22 is a 10% change and that translates roughly into a $4M savings (assuming a $61M overall budget - Ref: FinCom).

Selectman Reiss is guilty of faulty math in concluding that a $4M savings could be achieved by increasing class sizes from 20 to 22. Achieving such a savings would require laying off on the order of 80 of the district's 250 or so teachers.
Dieffenbach: "Our mission is to ensure that Town of Wayland voters are informed about Town decisions that will directly affect them, and to encourage voter participation." So reads the Wayland Voters Network Web site. Despite that mission, WVN doesn't see fit to pass along to its members the newsletters distributed by the Wayland School Committee, for instance.

Moreover, WVN's mission neglects to inform the new visitor to its site of the strong advocacy position that it takes, particularly with respect to opposing the adequate funding of town services and the proposed Town Center project. That is not to say that these aren't positions that some might take for one reason or another; I simply take exception to WVN portraying itself as neutral rather than as the advocate that it clearly is.

The latest case in point can be found in WVN #226, a virtual campaign ad/endorsement of incumbent Selectman Alan Reiss, who has announced that he will be running for re-election this coming August.
  WVN: Selectman Alan Reiss has announced his bid for re-election in April and is quietly campaigning through his website, handing out cards at the Landfill and promising to oppose a property tax override this year.

... [five paragraphs skipped--more on Selectman Reiss' candidacy and Web site comments to follow in a later post] ...

It will be interesting to see who runs against him. Though he has been on the losing side of important 4-1 votes, some groups may seek to eliminate even one maverick. Reiss has approximately zero chance of support from the pro-school political action group SOS Wayland and from WaylandeNews.

Selectman Joe Nolan's seat is also open in April. If he runs for re-election he can expect support from the same forces that supported him and his predecessor, Betsy Connolly.
WVN might argue that Reiss' candidacy announcement constitutes news, and that they will give space beyond a perfunctory single paragraph to Selectman Nolan should Mr. Nolan choose to seek re-election. I eagerly await such equal treatment for Selectman Nolan and others who choose to stand for election this spring.

Two other comments on the WVN newsletter:

(1) WaylandeNews provides a great service to the town with respect to the distribution of relevant information. One might be forgiven from interpreting the WVN comment above to mean that WaylandeNews is a "pro-school political action group." Like the Town Crier as well as major newspapers, WaylandeNews may offer (clearly identified) opinions, including endorsements, but WVN would have done better to write, "Reiss has approximately zero chance of support from online news source WaylandeNews or the pro-school political action group SOS Wayland."

(2) Regarding the "same forces that supported him" remark with respect to Selectman Nolan, it does not take much of a leap to imagine WVN picturing "maverick" Alan Reiss in the role of Luke Skywalker off to do battle with the "forces" of Joe Nolan as Death Star commander Darth Vader.
Dieffenbach: In a 12/13/2007 Town Crier letter, a resident challenged the Finance Committee's characterization of Wayland's spending.
  Tom Sciacca: Last week the Finance Committee made a presentation on the town’s budget outlook for next year. One of their PowerPoint slides caught my eye. As a standard of comparison the FinCom has adopted the 14 "peer towns" identified by the School Committee as comparable to Wayland. The slide showed how Wayland’s per capita municipal spending ranked No. 6, behind (in spending order) Weston, Sherborn, Dover, Carlisle and Sudbury. FinCom Chairwoman Cherry Karlson commented that Wayland’s spending was near average for the 14 towns.

But when I looked beyond the PowerPoint graphics to the labels on the bars, I noticed that all five of those higher spending towns seemed to be exceptionally affluent. And when I went to Boston.com’s statistics of median household income, I saw that they indeed comprised five of the six richest towns in the state.

Wayland, in contrast, only (!) ranks No.14. This is very affluent to be sure, but our $112,000 median income doesn’t compare to the $150,000-plus of the very richest towns.

So I took the FinCom’s spending numbers and normalized them to income level to produce a list of spending per capita per $100,000 of household income. Here’s how it comes out, from highest to lowest:

Wayland: $3,464; Weston: $3,155; Sudbury: $2,895; Sherborn: $2,743; Carlisle: $2,684; Dover: $2,542

As you can see, here in Wayland we far outspend the other top spending towns, relative to our means.
I saw fit to respond in the 12/20/2007 Town Crier.

Tom Sciacca’s letter to the editor in the Dec. 13 Town Crier ("Different perspective when looking at income") distorts Wayland’s funding of vital services in three misleading ways.

He begins with the list of 15 peer towns that the School and Finance committees cite for comparative purposes. Within this group, Wayland places sixth in per capita spending (Department of Revenue, 2006). He observes that the five higher towns rank among the six wealthiest median household incomes in the state (boston.com, 2004), whereas Wayland comes in at 14th. He concludes by inventing his own metric-spending per capita per $100,000 of household income, and then claiming Wayland fares the worst in this regard.

Consider the mischaracterization from least to most egregious:

First, with respect to the invented metric, a curiously omitted Brookline outspends Wayland by a considerable margin.

Second, the household income rank of 14 is not among the 15 peer towns as one might reasonably infer, but among all towns in the state; Wayland ranks eighth within its peer group on this measure.

Third, the invented metric itself defies logic. Dividing a per capita measure (expenses) by a per household measure (income) results in an apples divided by oranges fruit salad that fails its taste test. Dividing instead by per capita income (Department of Revenue, 1999) reveals a different picture altogether. At No. 5 (behind Boxborough, Lexington, Sherborn and Sudbury), Wayland barely finds itself in the top third of its 15 member peer group.

In sum, Wayland delivers – and rightly values – strong and societally critical school and municipal services at an expense commensurate with its income.

That fact, of course, in no way absolves town officials and residents from continuing to work together to find ways to control expenses while still providing these highly important services.

Mr. Sciacca responded himself in the 1/3/2008 Town Crier.
  Tom Sciacca: Judging by Jeff Dieffenbach’s strident response ("Distortions in letter," Dec. 20), my letter of a few weeks ago concerning Wayland’s level of municipal spending really struck a nerve.  
The logic of Mr. Sciacca's comment is curious. Is he suggesting that no one respond to distortions?


In my letter I noted the five higher spending towns are far more affluent than Wayland and that when I looked at the spending relative to median household income, Wayland outspends them all.

Mr. Dieffenbach takes umbrage at my new metric, complaining it is "invented" and misleading, proposing instead using income per capita as a normalization parameter. He also complains I omitted Brookline as exceeding Wayland as a big spender using my metric.

In response:

1. Of course my metric is invented. All metrics are invented. Metrics are tools to examine information of interest. Dollars per capita quantifies only spending. We need a metric to quantify spending as compared to ability to pay.
All metrics may be invented, but that does not mean that all metrics are equal. Quantifying "spending as compared to ability to pay" is a worthy endeavor, just not one accomplished with any fidelity by Mr. Sciacca.

  2. My letter only examined the five towns the FinCom claims are higher spenders than Wayland, therefore implying that Wayland’s spending is not extreme. My metric shows that those five towns spend far less in relation to their incomes.  
But again, that metric is flawed in mixing per capita measures with per household measures.

  3. The choice of the 15 towns is a metric invented by the School Committee. Using my metric against all 15 shows only Brookline exceeds us in spending versus income. But Brookline is a highly urbanized community with many apartment buildings, totally unlike any of the other towns on the list. Half the dwellings in Brookline are rentals. It is not a reasonable comparison against the other suburban towns on the list.  
The School Committee selected 15 towns (including Wayland) based on a variety of factors including school performance, demographics, and proximity. Brookline is certainly more different from Wayland than are the other towns, but educationally, it aspires to and achieves comparable excellence, hence its inclusion.

  4. Dieffenbach’s suggested modification of my metric, using income per capita, effectively replaces median income with average income, since its components are total income and population. Wayland’s average income is much higher than the median income, because we have a small number of multi-millionaires. So using the average makes us look better (that is, drops us down on the spending list) versus other towns with smaller income disparities. But it hides the issue of affordability for the typical (that is, median) resident. No one disputes that Wayland taxes are affordable for the richer people in town.

Using spending per capita is reasonable because services are largely delivered to individuals. Individual children, for example, are educated by the schools. But using income per household is more reasonable as a measure of ability to pay because most economic units that pay taxes in town are households.
Mr. Sciacca is correct that in this case, using median instead of average values is preferred. To this blogger's knowledge, however, median tax bills are not readily available for the towns in question (and average tax bill is not available for Brookline). That weakness, however, is overshadowed by the unreasonableness of mixing per capita and per household measures. In my original response, I suggested that a better metric was per capita expense divided by per capita income.

An alternate approach would be to divide household expense (average tax bill, median not being available) by household income (median, since average isn't available). Perfect? No.

By this measure, Wayland ranks 4th among its peer towns (excluding Brookline):

1. Belmont: $0.091 in tax bill per $1 of income
2. Concord: $0.084 per $1
3. Weston: $0.084 per $1
4. Wayland: $0.078 per $1
5. Lincoln: $0.076 per $1
6. Boxborough: $0.075 per $1
7. Acton: $0.072 per $1
8. Lexington: $0.071 per $1
9. Sherborn: $0.068 per $1
10. Sudbury: $0.066 per $1
11. Wellesley: $0.064 per $1
12. Carlisle: $0.064 per $1
13. Dover: $0.063 per $1
14. Needham: $0.057 per $1

As with the per capita expense versus per capita income ranking, Wayland does not far outstrip its peer towns as originally suggested by Mr. Sciacca.
Dieffenbach: The condition of Wayland High School prompted another round of comments from a Wayland resident in the 10/11/2007 Town Crier.
  Steven Glovsky: It is time to put an end to the "Need a New High School" barrage and make a decision for that facility’s and Wayland’s future.

Parents Night at Wayland High School was as much a vehicle for the teachers to lobby for a new building as was last week’s Town Crier article on new High School principal Patrick Tutwiler in which his only stated priority was getting a new facility. Clearly the message advanced and obviously reiterated at every opportunity by our School Department to the High School staff and the town’s citizens is to get a new building approved.
While the High School isn't the only focus of the Administration, the High School Building Committee (HSBC), and the School Committee, it certainly is a high priority.

  My son has classes in each of the school’s buildings. Again this year, I saw basically a clean, modern facility, perhaps in need of some ceiling tile repair, but otherwise in excellent condition. And while one of my son’s classes has 25 students, another has only 13.  
The condition of the facility is far from in "excellent condition," as concluded by the New England Association for Schools and Colleges accreditation report as well as the 2002 Feasibility Study Committee, the 2003 Study Committee, and the current 2004-present Building Committee.

  If cost were not a factor, who would argue against the advantages of a new facility? But, of course, cost is a major factor. I have friends in Swampscott, a community which to me seems in many respects similar to Wayland, who are shocked by the size of our property taxes compared to theirs. Relative to projected costs of new construction, meaningful state help to build a new facility is never going to come.  
While much work remains to be done, and with reimbursement still uncertain, there is certainly reason to be optimistic with the November 2007 announcement that the MSBA had selected Wayland as one of 83 out of 423 projects to move ahead with the reimbursement process.
Dieffenbach: With the season for deciding on town services heating up, the blog is back from "sabbatical." I'll start by catching up on some issues that were raised last fall. First up, a 9/27/2007 letter to the editor from a 1967 WHS graduate.
  Kyle E. Kelman: I am a proud graduate of Wayland High School and have gone on to a long and successful career as a high school teacher. I recently had the opportunity to return to the Wayland High campus and was appalled, indeed chagrinned [sic], at the sorry state of the facility.


I understand that a great percentage of your school budget is spent on teachers’ salaries and that they are currently working without a contract – shame on you. ... My research revealed the citizens of Wayland defeat overrides to improve your schools on a regular basis, but my goodness, the Town Building (though incredibly unattractive) looks just swell.

I thought it might add an interesting perspective to the residents of the town to hear what an "outsider" sees when on your campus. It isn’t pretty; it’s unbelievable.
Unable to top Wayland resident George Harris' response to this letter, I'll excerpt from his submission instead.

Harris: A letter appeared by a member of the Wayland High School Class of 1967 ("Wayland High campus is in a sorry state"). ... The writer partly blames citizens for the "deplorable conditions" at Wayland High. Some of the criticism about filth and trash may be justified, but citizens didn’t cause this problem (if true). He appears to be ignorant of the fact that the state Legislature in early 2003 imposed a moratorium on funding school reconstruction projects. The Town Crier and other newspapers have published numerous articles this year describing visits by the new Massachusetts School Building Authority of hundreds of schools statewide seeking funding, including ours. Wayland awaits word about when it will be invited to continue that application process. [blogger's note: in November of 2007, Wayland was notified by the MSBA that it had passed the first hurdle towards reimbursement.]

In his letter, he claims to have done research that "revealed the citizens of Wayland defeat overrides to improve your schools on a regular basis." Did you [blogger's note: "you" refers to the Town Crier] happen to inquire as to the nature of his "research"? You did a disservice to this town by printing such a blatant distortion. I suggest that you accurately report the school-related override statistics for Wayland [blogger's note: with one exception in 1989, Wayland has seen fit to preserve school and municipal services by approving all overrides since the introduction of Proposition 2 1/2 in the early 1980s] and send a copy to the writer. You and he might be surprised.

That letter also stated that Wayland teachers "are currently working without a contract." But as editor you knew that a new labor agreement had just been reached (reported on page 3 of the same issue).

Dieffenbach: well said.

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