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LETTER: Reader Strongly Disagrees with Letter from the BOS

Response to the Board of Selectmen letter regarding teacher negotiations.

 

Dear Editor,

After reading a letter , I felt the need to speak out on a few points.

"The Board of Selectmen is disappointed that negotiations between the School Committee and the WEA (teachers’ union) have broken down. The Board remains supportive of the School Committee’s resolve to protect jobs and to preserve educational programming"

The problem is that our elected officials aren’t supporting the protection of jobs. They’re supporting shortsighted spending. The jobs were hired with temporary money. The money goes away and now teachers and other town employees are expected to pay for it? Those jobs are the ones we should be protecting. 

"The Board is disheartened by the WEA’s apparent unwillingness to appreciate these difficult fiscal times. The WEA continues to demand two years of step increases for teachers. It has rejected multiple counterproposals offered by the School Committee. And, it is their refusal to move off this demand that has led to the current impasse. Simply put, the WEA’s uncompromising demand that teachers receive two years of step increases is not possible given the Town’s current financial resources without significantly impacting programs and services."

On page 43 of the 2010 Town Report, the Selectmen said, "Westford didn’t just survive the monumental challenges of 2009, we thrived. And so with great confidence and optimism, the Board looks forward to 2010."

They were downright proud themselves. The economy didn't seem to be hitting Westford so hard.  What happened in a year that we went from thriving to the brink of collapse? 

The teachers have been very willing. The School Committee's selection of what to put in print as "offers" is very self-serving. Our elected officials continue to say they are demanding two years steps and it's false.

They want to return to normal steps next year. Meaning they are willing to skip a year, but not willing to be held back a year for the rest of their career. Every time they put in print they are demanding two years steps they’re doing the town and the very teachers whose jobs they said they’re concerned about protecting a disservice. 

A town is a business.  If you want to save money you may have to cut services. That's just life.  I feel for the people who may be laid off, I’ve been there.  But layoffs are not something the teachers caused and isn’t something they can solve.

Westford may have to do without trash pickup like many other towns did long ago. What would that save you, $1.5 million? Trash pickup for even the largest of families can be gotten for $160 a year, less for a typical size family; I looked into it. Waste not Want not is the name of the company who can do it for that price. (I have no affiliation with them whatsoever)

72 percent of Westford makes as much or more than teachers and that's using the average teacher salary. 65 percent of Westford makes twice as much or more.

Why is $160 considered unaffordable for a median $130,000 a year family, but $1,700 for teachers making $65,000 considered acceptable?

Our elected officials keep presenting the teachers as unreasonable, Westford can do without trash pickup, considering how expensive it is, and that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

"The WEA’s demand also goes well beyond agreements reached with other Town unions. The Town has settled five union contracts. Each of these unions, recognizing the difficult fiscal times the Town is operating in, agreed to no cost of living increase for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 and no step increases in fiscal year 2012. In a show of good faith to those unions who agreed to forego step increases this year, the Town agreed to a re-opener provision that may be triggered if the Town negotiates base wage increases for fiscal years 2012 or 2013 with any other Town union. If the Town had to fund such increases, it would have to lay off employees, cut services and eliminate programs."

This is so utterly dishonest and without context it makes me nauseous.  Please just answer some very simple questions about the already "settled" contracts from these reasonable people.

1. What are the educational requirements for those jobs in town? An average degree needed to go into teaching costs about $70,000, if you do it cheaply. 

2. What is the average starting salary of those town employees? Teachers start at $42,000 a year, while firemen start at $58,000 without having to pay off student loans and working fewer days than teachers. Is educating children somehow less noble?

I’d be pretty ticked off if I was a teacher and saw the office workers’ contract.

Many other positions in town require no education, get paid double on Sundays, paid overtime over 40 hours, paid holidays, earlier & larger longevity pay, gas stipends, some even get paid lunches.

3. How many years are other unions’ steps stretched out over? I’ve seen as little as five and eight is common, but with teachers it is 14, and this offer would make it 15. With these facts in mind, how can one possibly consider teachers wanting to stay at 14 unreasonable?

4. How many of those "good faith" employees are already at top pay?

Considering they attain top pay in a half or third of the time it’s probably significant.  If most teachers were near the top steps, they’d probably be willing to forego increases, but they aren’t. They have mortgages, kids, taxes and expenses just like anybody else. They don’t live in a bubble.

5. How will future steps for these new hires be more affordable than steps for the existing teachers?

Layoffs are a fact of life. Teachers aren’t going to stop it. We’re overstaffed, we either need to increase revenue or decrease staff. That is a very simple business principle that you can’t avoid. It’s not the other teachers’ fault that the School Department hired 25 people with nearly $1 million in temporary money.

Even if the teachers conceded to everything the School Committee wanted, it’s still unsustainable all you are doing is creating an even more unsustainable future.

6. What or where are the new mandates requiring all these positions?  I’m asking sincerely as I’d like to read them but I’m unable to find anything new.

"The Board also must correct recent misrepresentations made by the President of the WEA. Contrary to her statement that the teachers have accepted “major concessions” in health care benefits, the recent switch by the Town from Blue Cross/Blue Shield to Tufts Health Care has resulted in employee savings of $275 to $925 in premiums depending upon the particular health insurance program an employee chooses while maintaining current benefit levels. Retirees save $1500 in their premiums and a wider scope of benefits is available to them. Notably, the co-pay for office visits has stayed at $5.00!"

It saved a bit of money for a year, but what is it going to cost next year? Tufts wanted the contract so they give us deal for a year to get it; now the town is at their mercy. And yes it is a concession to alter insurance they were happy with to save the town money, that’s what concession means.  But there is no appreciation shown, not mentioning in that paragraph that it saved the town money. I also wonder if one would readily advertise the co-pay and like increases.

"The WEA has stated that it remains open to mediation. The Board hopes that after a cooling off period, negotiations can resume. We value our teachers and their dedication and commitment to Westford’s students. We recognize the time and effort they put in to educating our children. We hope that a fair contract can be reached within the bounds of the Town’s fiscal resources."

Why are other towns able to remain competitive while Westford can't even hit "average" compensation?

We’re one of the wealthiest towns, with high achieving, low dollar using teachers.

This can't be blamed on the economy as it has hit every town, in fact it has hit Westford proportionately less according to income and employment statistics.

This is from one of the School Committee's releases

Compensation Issue

Year One (2011-12)

Year Two (2012-13)

Salary step increases

Freeze at 2010-11 level

Return to step increases: step increases average 3.39 percent annually based on the 2010-11 contract

The total amount of teachers’ salaries for 2010-2011 in Westford was $24.753,858 according to a spreadsheet provided by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

School Committee chairwoman Angela Harkness . I used the larger figure. Step increases would average 2.322 percent.  I can’t reverse math my way into that 3.39 figure no matter what I do. Even combining the years, adding new hires, subtracting new hires.  It’s possible I’m calculating something wrong if so I’m curious what it is.  But if I’m not shouldn’t a correction be printed?

Let’s start telling the truth, the whole truth.  The town continues to misrepresent, leave out context and otherwise treat teachers like they are disposable, living the high life or as a problem when in fact they are one of the town’s largest assets.  I would not call that “valuing” our teachers.

The financial advantage is already not on the town’s side. Treating teachers this way removes any incentive to stay.  Teachers will leave; it's an unavoidable fact. And who will we attract after that?  Only teachers that could be considered the bottom of the barrel, or the most desperate.

Westford can’t keep its elite status after that, once schools go, everything else will. A municipality is a delicate balance and schools hold a lot of that weight.

There are some very simple solutions to the problem that should be considered. Nix trash removal. Stop hiring new positions, especially for new projects and previously unfilled positions we were doing fine without. Get rid of two professional development days. That almost covers the town’s 2014 shortfall.

There are a number of rather simple solutions to the problem; the town just doesn't want to do them. Our public officials want the teachers to bail us out. I talk to people in Chelmsford, Littleton, Acton, and Westford’s handling of its financial problems are being laughed at. Elite Westford is being viewed as a joke.

You might say who cares what other communities think and I understand that sentiment. But if this town were smart and humble we would care. You have to remember this is a business; we need to put any pride aside.

Learn from the people who are succeeding because all this pride I see that won't let our elected officials relinquish trash removal, pay teachers fairly, or be honest about where the mistakes are being made. That will ultimately be our downfall.

Look at the brain drain after World War II.  We have all the makings of it now, and are not immune to collapse. Lowell and Lawrence used to be desirable; and we are setting ourselves up to crash and burn just like them.  I’ve seen quotes like “Westford has not been immune to the down economy”  Neither are we immune municipal collapse, in fact, with the way our elected officials are choosing to “fix” your problems, we’re right on track. 

Sincerely,

Alex Finnegan

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dan C June 07, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Teachers: consider this- IF the SC really is doing everything possible to put their best possible offer on the table why is there 'sunset clauses' attached to the tradeoffs for less pay? When the contract expires your salary forever reflects 2-3 years no cola and the town insists you revert back to days/meetings of old? Best possible offer? I don't think so they must really think we are dumb or weak
Alex Finnegan June 07, 2012 at 06:34 AM
"Where does the average age a teacher starts his or her career comes from?" The schooling, waiting for a position, & half of all teachers leave the "dream" job in 5 years. "No one said anything about retiring at 55 - 30 years & a 75% payout is still unreasonable." - U still aren't contributing the extra 4.8% to a 401k. U keep comparing retirement of SS & teacher's pension. Teachers contribute 4.8% more in their career. 77% more than SS. Use a 401k calculator & add that to ur true SS retirement. U can find the answer. In MA 68% of their payout is funded. 75% return is reasonable. "The SS example might not use master degree wages" - No, ur numbers were grossly deflated, so y did u use it? "i never got 7 weeks off with my masters degree." - Because u weren't a teacher, fireman, radiologist, nurse, military. No one cries @ their pension & time off. "5 weeks of vacation w/a masters degree is rare" - Very common @ a lifetime career, in many jobs w/o a degree, look it up "Teachers get a week at christmas" U get X-mas & New years. "a week for the Feb break" U get Pres. day "a week for Mar's break." April, Patriots day coincides there. If it's so great be a teacher. "U do not make less the longer you live in a contribution plan." Retired teachers in their 80's get $19k a year. I was talking @ inflation. "I haven't seen any 70 year old teachers in Westford."- I said MA average. Do real math w/ur retirement comparison tell us how it works out.
Alex Finnegan June 07, 2012 at 07:21 AM
"love the actuarial report! Sometime i'll have to print that out and really study it." No better time than the present as you have already shown you don't understand what you are reading. "Right off i find it fascinating that 31 people from age 0 - 24 can already have over 5 years of service. Amazing!" Why is that so amazing. That is State employees not teachers, a toll booth operator can start at 19 pretty easily. "Less than 5% of teachers are over 65 so i really dont think many of them are working until 70. Seems the numbers suggest 60 as the retirement age." You are right. The retirement age I had wrong, nationally it's 58 for teachers. In MA it's 62. Westford I don't know. Page 19 of that actuarial report average age is 44.2 Average years of service is 12.8 = Average starting age of 31.4, which would explain the average retirement age of 62 as that would equal 30 years of service. MA and WIsconsin are different on so many levels it's ridiculous to compare the two. MA pensions are no where near as favorable as other states.
Franklin June 07, 2012 at 09:07 AM
I was befuddled by Mccuskers comments also, for someone negotiating my contract she didn't seem to have any fight left in her if she is good with 3 years of big fat zeros and allowing a step to be paid at END of year 3 rather than start of year one! Please if you bring this back try to make clear without violating negotiations ground rules what a terrible deal that is. if the Mary Mccuskers of7 years ago was told this is what we brought back she would have called for heads! Don't give up on us Mary by selling the towns deal with the Devil as acceptable, lead us to reject it like we know you can with the given hell attitude we elected you with
Franklin June 07, 2012 at 09:15 AM
Please note: when Kevin S stated that the deal nearly reached last week was a 'they're screwing us' deal the applause was the longest of the night. There was a message being sent by the teachers with this applause, take note. This might be a offer the negotiations team is bound to return for a vote but it's a deal that needs to be voted down as soundly as the last offer. remember: your work is being cheapened by these offers that allow Westford to fall further and further behind neighboring towns that it compares itself to, over and over.
Patrick Henry June 08, 2012 at 12:54 AM
In MA and federal law, a highly compensated non-union employee ~$32,000/year is not required to be paid overtime. The normal workday for a HCNU employee is 8 plus hours. In many jobs, you are expected to take your lap top home and set up a VPN so you an receive e-mails and work over the VPN. The hours the teachers put in during the school year is between 4.5 and 5.5 hours/school day. The most dangerous intersections in Westford are the exits to the school parking lots at 2 to 10 minutes after the end of the last period.
Tony June 08, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Sentiment like that expressed below is just another example of why teachers need to vote NO and reject the insulting offer that devalues teachers, the teachers are bashed in the press as greedy and at the table by the town, for the love of Pete teachers don't take this lying down. You deserve your steps each year be cautious of agreeing otherwise with a yes vote, this time steps delayed, next time no step. Mark my words if this is ratified its the beginning of the end of teachers getting their steps yearly.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) June 08, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Hi all, There was a comment earlier that was not allowed because of its reference to another user, which has been stated as inappropriate due to the charged atmosphere here. If that user resubmits that comment without referencing other users, I'm happy to approve.
Patrick Henry June 08, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Let the gladiatorial games begin. I will cheer when the Prop 1/2 over ride goes down in flames and the so called professionals hit the bricks.
c keeting June 08, 2012 at 01:34 AM
The town can start by tapping its $5 million dollar reserve fund over what's required for bond rating before any brick hitting
Patrick Henry June 08, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Since the average SAT scores of individuals entering the teaching professions is in the lower 25% and the schools these individuals attend are rated in the lower 25%, why do these individuals believe that they should be paid like they are indispensable to society. I can understand that a cop on detail should be paid $72 to $80/hr or a toll booth operator being paid $65/hr because of the hazards that they face but teachers working less than 1000 hrs a year expect to be paid astronomical salaries. Marie Antoinette had it right. Let them eat cake.
Vincent DiRico June 08, 2012 at 01:58 AM
take a look at slides 21 and 22 https://dms.westfordma.gov/imageapi.php?docid=Qmx1ZVJpdmU2OTI1NnItU3lzdGVtcyAxNyA1 then pray for a 2.5 override, when that fails you got what you asked for Back to the Cs
c keeting June 08, 2012 at 04:13 AM
What does this articles author think about teachers being asked to delay their step 3 full years so the town can use the money to fund new positions? What say you sir?
Alex Finnegan June 08, 2012 at 06:59 AM
How are Westford's teachers "so called professionals?" What about their job, schooling and performance do you know that would cause you to think that?
Alex Finnegan June 08, 2012 at 07:01 AM
"take a look at slides 21 and 22 https://dms.westfordma.gov/imageapi.php?docid=Qmx1ZVJpdmU2OTI1NnItU3lzdGVtcyAxNyA1 then pray for a 2.5 override, when that fails you got what you asked for Back to the Cs" What exactly are you looking at in those slides? What line items and what do they mean? I want to understand what you are implying. Also, what does "Back to the Cs" mean?
Alex Finnegan June 08, 2012 at 08:10 AM
"Right we expected nothing less! More sacrifice: 2 California cities voters embrace pension cuts http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/06/05/national/a011240D80.DTL Did you see the union numbers from Wisconsin? Walker stopped taking union dues from checks and 60% (?) of union members decided they no longer wanted to belong/pay. Funny how that works!" First of all you know that California Public employee pensions (what's being talked about in that article) and California teacher's pensions are two totally separate things? The vote was not against teachers. This is from a 2011 report "• Teachers. Retirement benefits received by this group are significantly less generous than most other public sector employees. This is partly because teachers covered by CalSTRS are not in social security, their retiree health care is provided by school districts and tends to be less generous than the State of California, and their pension formulas of those terminating before full retirement age is less generous than other public funds." Comparing California or WIsconsin or most other states to MA is a losing battle for you. MA has long required 11% contribution, Wisconsin I'm pretty sure was 0%, California is/was 8%. Many states are just now upping it to 5%-8% up to 10%. Also, some allow you to collect SS benefits as well. Not MA. The pension abuses you hear talked about are not from MA teachers.
Alex Finnegan June 08, 2012 at 08:50 AM
"Since the average SAT scores of individuals entering the teaching professions is in the lower 25% & the schools these individuals attend are rated in the lower 25%, why do these individuals believe that they should be paid like they are indispensable to society." I can understand that a cop on detail should be paid $72 to $80/hr or a toll booth operator being paid $65/hr because of the hazards that they face but teachers working less than 1000 hrs a year expect to be paid astronomical salaries." Are u being serious? Because none of what you just said has any context or evidence. Do some research on how many hours MA teachers work, and consider that Westford has higher expectations. You think they work less than 5.5 hours a day? C'mon now. "In MA and federal law, a highly compensated non-union employee ~$32,000/year is not required to be paid overtime. The hours the teachers put in during the school year is between 4.5 and 5.5 hours/school day. The most dangerous intersections in Westford are the exits to the school parking lots at 2 to 10 minutes after the end of the last period." You don't' understand MA labor laws at all, why bother posting stuff that is wrong? Highly Compensated = $100k+. Teachers qualify as exempt, to benefit the state. www.foleyhoag.com/.../FoleyHoag_MassWageHour_newCover.ashx Pages 5 and 7 points out it's to save employer cost. Your traffic cause hypothesis is just plain silly.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) June 08, 2012 at 11:58 AM
Alex, The Celtics played last night. The Truth's shooting was painful to watch though.
Alex Finnegan June 08, 2012 at 07:56 PM
"Alex, The Celtics played last night. The Truth's shooting was painful to watch though." Ahh, very non-sequiter, that's why I didn't follow. I'm a huge celtics fan, but had to get rid of cable this year to cut down expenses. Just have Hulu now $7 a month. Pierce imo is the streakiest player on the team, final seconds when they put in his hands I'm always nervous.
Vincent DiRico June 09, 2012 at 01:21 AM
I saw a LOT more in WI: Walker exhibited fiscal responsibility, 38% of union homes supported Walker, the tax payers had Walker's back. Someone standing up for the tax payer, now that is a refreshing idea!
Alex Finnegan June 09, 2012 at 03:22 AM
"I saw a LOT more in WI: Walker exhibited fiscal responsibility, 38% of union homes supported Walker, the tax payers had Walker's back. Someone standing up for the tax payer, now that is a refreshing idea!" Walker threw the baby out with the bathwater. I wouldn't call that fiscal responsibility. You are also only looking short term, how are Walker's actions going to affect the education system? Some of you don't believe it but teaching is a hard, stressful job. It involves a lot of hours (incidentally I've been monitoring Westford Teachers hours for the last few weeks as I know some and 12 per day is average) lots of schooling, and very little appreciation. 50% of teachers leave in 5 years because it's not the 9-3, 3 month vacation and low stress job they thought it was. Wisconsin's pension system for teachers was unreasonable, but aside from bringing that in line if Walker thinks his heavy handed actions or further cuts are going to positively affect education he is not thinking long term. I don't think Walker solved anything, I think he has opened the door to a lot of problems he didn't anticipate. He cannot abolish supply and demand and his actions now, might actually cost Wisconsin more money in the future. Short term solutions have been a large part of the problems we are in, how are short term solutions the way to get us out?
Alex Finnegan January 29, 2013 at 04:11 PM
Vincent said "I appreciate what teachers do.You seem to have forgotten some major facts:If the steps had just been paid this year: can you tell me with a straight face that any teacher / administrator / union organizer / union member / YOU / ??? would have said BOO about the new positions and over staffing? I DOUBT IT! The people I listed are not just victims.The teachers are NOT the only group "giving": all other town employees, tax payers, ... ARE "giving". It just so happens one group does not want to go along this year.I expect: some interference from a liberal wacko judge, a prop 2.5 override down in flames and then a through clean out IS NEEDED! It seems this one group is dead set on that, so be it!" I have pointed out countless times other town employees you report as "giving" have less education, start at higher pay, reach top pay in almost double the time, some make more money, some make more money & work less hours. To say that teachers need to give also as anything else would be "unfair" shows a complete ignorance of what is going on w/your town employees. The question you ignore over & over again is why are your taxes so high? Your schools are super efficient w/your money, & your teachers are paid below average. Where is your money going? Those are the facts. Far less than average spent per student, far fewer $$ sped children, teachers paid on average at the 40th percentile. Yet taxes are so high,why? It's not your schools, where is it Vincent?
Vincent DiRico January 29, 2013 at 04:42 PM
Take a look at the resolution rolled out MONTHs ago!
Sam January 29, 2013 at 04:43 PM
So the teachers are victims now! That is a bit much. I agree the town should cut costs across the board. That also includes the school system. Some of those cuts should come out of administration.
Alex Finnegan January 29, 2013 at 05:16 PM
Read the contracts. Then honestly tell me you don't see a discrepancy. Expecting more from your schools is only going to drag them down. I've already shown you they save you a lot of money compared to so many other towns with far inferior school systems. You cannot say to someone who has more education, starts at lower pay and takes 14 years to get there giving up a step is the same as a less educated job that starts higher, reaches top pay in 8 years, makes more money and in some instances works fewer hours. Cuts across the board would be fair if they were paid in the same increments and time frames as everyone else but they are not. It's not a difficult concept to understand. The playing field is not level to begin with, that is a fact. Don't insert "victim" into it. Read the contracts. It's fact. So to treat them like they are all equal now is ignoring reality. They can't cut anymore from the schools, I pointed out why in my above post. The schools and teachers are not the problem. If you can't see that with everything I rolled out over the last year or so you are destined to walk around blindly pointing the finger at the wrong source of your tax drain. For the life of me I can't figure out why people are so stuck on teachers being the problem. If you are genuinely concerned about your taxes why aren't you looking for the real problem?
James Andolini January 29, 2013 at 08:26 PM
Teachers are the easy scapegoats... If some people thought last year was rocky just wait for negotiations next year when the poop really hits the fan, SC members are already talking around town about how they anticipate a replay but the teachers OKing last year's deal was a one time thing I am willing to bet most are unwilling to repeat. My gut feeling is if negotiations don't go smoothly a work to rule situation by next spring, NO WAY teachers believe there isn't money for steps and COLA after they gave seen all these new added positions. No way.
Vincent DiRico January 29, 2013 at 10:36 PM
EVERYONE took a haircut last time. I doubt the same will be asked next time BUT also doubt there will be an override. Save the chest thumping, how are the lawsuits working out for you?
Chekov January 30, 2013 at 01:31 AM
Lawsuits working out about as good as Mitt Mentum right now old buddy sad to say
Science Guy January 30, 2013 at 10:54 AM
Superintendant Olsen said all last year he was tring to 'save jobs' by playing hardball at the table and offering his teachers basically nothing, I would like to see Andrew S do a Patch Questions this year on how the addition off all those positions this year and a proposed school budget for next year that includes many NEW staff positions is consistent with his 'saving existing jobs' pledge. Having a hard time putting those pieces together myself and would love some help from Andrew next time he sees Bill Olsen. I KNOW I am not the only one around here with this on my mind right now. #feelingprettydeceived
Vincent DiRico January 30, 2013 at 04:49 PM
Dreams of another FSF spending spree dance in their heads, ... :O

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