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FinCom, School Committee, BOS Discuss Possible Override in Spring

There was no resolution on Thursday night, but it appears that a Prop 2 1/2 override could occur in Westford this spring.

 

Westford voters will face difficult budget decisions this spring, and perhaps some of the most difficult decisions were on the docket were on the Finance Committee’s plate on Thursday night.

Superintendent Bill Olsen and the Westford School Committee was on hand to present a proposed Fiscal Year 2014 department budget of $49,775,689 for the inspection of the Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee, a number that grew approximately $400,000 in the past few weeks due largely to the addition of a new special education student that recently moved into the district.

The figure presented an increase of 4.59 percent, which Olsen informed the boards was near the average statewide increase of 4.25 percent and included teacher salaries that were $2,182 below the state per pupil average and included multiple new fees as well as new positions the School Committee believes are needed to maintain the district’s current standards, such as a new districtwide technology director.

However, much of the over two hours of discussion on the figure revolved around the possibility of the need for a Prop. 2 ½ override, leading to broader questions on the town’s long term fiscal realities.

The possibility of an override itself caught some members of the Finance Committee off guard, such as Chairman Mike Princi, who participating remotely from St. Louis. 

“It’s almost the fourth quarter in making a decision,” said Princi. “What I do know is that overrides that have been successful in the past have had sufficient time and a lot of voter dialogue, and we’re going to be going into a situation this year where we’re not going to be able to afford that.”

For Selectman Bob Jefferies, the discussion of an override was one that will eventually be addressed, saying that money could be taken out of next year’s capital expenditures and going under recommended reserves to avoid an override.

However, he also noted that would only delay the inevitable and it didn’t address the real issues of the town’s structural deficit and approach school budgets as a whole.

“It’s interesting that we always have a different conversation with the schools than with other departments and that it’s a political conservation. Other departments ask for money, but we don’t ask the police department what they’re spending per crime,” said Jefferies.

For Selectman Kelly Ross and others at the table, if the district’s requests for new positions are kept within any budget, an override is a necessity due to last year’s teacher contract negotiations.

“I understand the case for pursuing (an override), I just want to make sure it’s done in a responsible manner. Our unions stepped up and took two years of zeroes and that was a big help to us, that’s what helped us get through to now,” said Ross. “We said to them, ‘we are doing this to save your jobs,’ so I don’t want to take money out of our reserves to hire new people if it breaks our commitment to saving jobs. If we add new employees to the system, we have to provide new revenue, so an override would have to happen.”

Ultimately, no decision was made on whether or not to pursue an override vote on Thursday, with Town Manager Jodi Ross advising the two boards that an override vote could be delayed if needed, but that “the clock was ticking” and a decision would have to be made soon.

Earlier in the evening, Nashoba Valley Technical High School District superintendent Judith Klimkiewicz presented her request of $534,430 from Westford to the boards.

Klimkiewicz told the board about new sports fields and a new performing arts center coming to the school and indicated some of the biggest costs in the overall budget included renegotiations in the district’s bus contract and the addition of a new school resource officer from the Westford Police Department, in addition to other expenditures.

However, Klimkiwicz also told the board that projected spending could be lower than projected depending on Chapter 70 aid from Beacon Hill, with estimates there currently not available, and resolution on final figures for federal grant money pending the resolution of the Fiscal Cliff and Debt Ceiling negotiations in Washington.

Wayne Wagner January 18, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Andy... maybe I am misreading this part --> "increase of 4.59 percent, which Olsen informed the boards was under the average statewide increase of 4.25 percent "... how is 4.59 "under" 4.25? Thanks.
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) January 18, 2013 at 05:52 PM
Whoops, typo on my part. Thanks for the catch.
Judith Culver January 18, 2013 at 05:53 PM
We need to be very cautious when talking about the costs of educating any Special Needs (sped) student. Every child has the right to be provided with the learning services that will meet his/her educational needs. That often involves physical and emotional services which will enable the child to reach his/her potential. Any non-local residential placement can cost several hundred thousand dollars annually. Some disabilities require that an aide and/or specialized equipment accompany some sped students when in a local classroom setting. These costs are in addition to the cost of the classroom teacher. Westford has an extraordinary sped staff, where each child is truly unique and educated as such. Families move to Westford for many reasons. Some for the quality of life and some for quality of education. There is a reason that the privacy of students is important. Never should we look at any student or family and blame them for the costs of their education. Each Massachusetts town is responsible to provide an appropriate education for its children until they graduate or reach age 21 (age out). Since this law was enacted in the early 1970s, countless children have reached adulthood with the tools and skills needed to be productive and contributing citizens - the historic and elemental purpose of public education. Judith Culver, retiring School Committee member
WestfordMom January 18, 2013 at 05:59 PM
If I came across as critical or unsupportive of the special needs student it certainly was not my intent nor my mind-set. I'm just curious as whether the bulk of the $400,00 is one-time increase (i.e. building modifications) or if it will be an on-going annual cost (i.e. staff and services).
Judith Culver January 18, 2013 at 06:34 PM
annual cost for an external placement for this student
James Andolini January 18, 2013 at 07:23 PM
Sped law is sped law and 'is what it us' but the fact teachers accepted a zero zero one Co tract where year 1 step delayed till the end of year 3 because the town was so financially hard up for 2014, 2015 AND YET here is a budget that's brings back an $80,000 administrative IT position that was cut during financially better town financial times is just a slap in the face insult to ALL WPS teachers! SC member Culver I hope you are reading this and thinking about how hypocritical and untruthful that makes the SC look in the eyes of teachers.... Believe me teachers are expecting next negotiations to be generous as we have evidently found that missing magic money tree as SRO and IT positions are being added that should have gone for budgeted teacher steps last year. Tough to swallow.....
Sam January 18, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Each department in Town should be forced to it's budget by 3-5% period.
James Andolini January 18, 2013 at 07:29 PM
As far as I'm concerned WPS teachers were duped into accepting an unfair contract offering well below 'market value' for their services by a smoke and mirrors act by the town. SHAME on the SC for their antics and shame on WEA leadership for waving the white flag at the 11th hour. Shouldn't be allowed to happen again next year
Markiv January 18, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Maybe a certain WA Administrator will just send out AAC directives which endlessly violate the contract over and over...maybe even a copy of that 'forced contract' should be sent to his desk so he can read the language about teacher work hours, extra help, after school meetings etc. Doesnt he realize he is losing face with his staff when he delivers mandates like he is taking to children? Is there a problem all the sudden with WA teachers we are unaware of? Does he understand he is legally obligated to follow the contract and when he refuses to do so he makes a mockery of his authority and erodes respect his staff might otherwise have for him? I am still waiting for the PATCH CHAT with this WA Administrator but guess he gets so irate when his leadership is questioned in any way that he knows better!
Dan D. January 18, 2013 at 08:37 PM
slap in the face to taxpayers too!
Cynthia January 18, 2013 at 09:27 PM
I will vote against ANY tax increase. Sliver off the waste and live with what you have. Teachers are fortunate to have their jobs. Most non government work positions have not received increases for 5 years, work longer hours, have less vacation, no pensions and minimum health insurance. These are the people paying government salaries. Why should the boss get less benefits than the employees ? Don't like it, try working in the private sector. We don't NEED more sports fields or performing arts, you WANT them. If you WANT them then raise the money privately. It's not in MY budget to pay higher taxes. ENOUGH ! NO Proposition over-ride.
Randy Winslow January 18, 2013 at 10:02 PM
This is a direct slap in the face to the teachers of westford, who were offered no steps! Now they want to force through a 2.5 override to help fund a ITdirectors salary, that was cut years back when the economy was better. A number of teachers have left already, more will go this year. We are already headed towards the educational system of Dracut, people will stop moving here for the schools soon enough. Home prices will then drop. Tax revenue will go down and all because the school committee wanted to save a few bucks.
Teacher voice January 18, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Note to residents: This teacher is frustrated with last years WPS teacher negotiations and absolutely feel teachers were not paid competitively even in these rough financial times other towns are not denying steps to their teachers. HOWEVER I said it last year and I'm saying it again I am not looking for residents to pay more taxes to support my step increases! I don't support the prop override either! Demand Admin cuts (NOT additions such as a Theater Arts coordinator position or IT director!) I feel just as frustrated as you Westford residents at the spending of your SC when they add add add("saying the numbers justify it") but its an increase in the budget every year when you keep adding new positions! Vote NO in the override and demand greater accountability from your School Committee with its $50 million budget! I want my steps but NOT with a tax increase and its doesn't have to be framed that you are being asked for more $$$ to pay for teachers raises! Demand a hiring freeze and cuts to new positions added in the past 2 years first!,
Franklin January 18, 2013 at 10:57 PM
Sounds like it's time to reflect on our core values again!
joseph mcgruff January 19, 2013 at 02:43 AM
100% Agree with Cynthia and Teacher Voice! Bewteen Deval's and Westford's big ideas of tax more cut/get less, I am looking at moving out of state ASAP. Get ready for scare tactics like no football or soccer teams, no buses and paying per bag for trash pickup. Prop 2 1/2s usually get pounded through by voting and voting and voting again until 'they' get the numbers 'they' need. The voting usually takes place on Monday nights around 5pm too, how courteous to the taxpayers and the community. We've seen it before: The now Privatized East Boston camps after town voted for to renew the lease. The Cameron Taj Mahal, I mean Senior center. Town voted against for 1 & 2 Mil dollar renovations, yet passed them for $6 million!?! Funny I don't see any gold fixtures in the already paint peeling Senior center, time to do an audit? Are the playing fields on Nutting Rd open yet? They were built with NO access road or driveways. Let me know when you see more than 3 people a year using the sidewalks from the Common to the 4 corners/ 495...which are only useful to those who live around the Common btw. Only in Westford!
Heater Prin January 19, 2013 at 09:39 AM
Imo, all it means is that when the School Committee and Town Manager say 'we would like to do better but this is the best we can offer' next year during negotiations they are Not going to be believed. Since teachers also opted to forgo a year 1 step raise for 3 full years they should at the very least get $3,000 at retirement as SI Olsen was able to get added to his new deal
Dan C January 19, 2013 at 12:22 PM
School Comittee member Culver: how come you will interject on the issue of $400,000 Special Education student costs but remain silent on questions pertaining to the creditabity of the School Committee when it says 'broke' while continually adding new staffing positions?
Robert January 20, 2013 at 07:11 AM
No football or busses possibly!? Yikes!
Sam January 20, 2013 at 01:44 PM
People have got to wake up and stop voting in these retreads. I hope there are options, any options, for the upcoming election. If there are then they get my vote no matter what they stand on. It can't possibly be any worse.
Paul F January 20, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Sam, As they say, "Smile, things could be worse. So I smiled, and sure enough..." I hope you'll be running for office or can help convince someone to run. It sounds like you'd be a good spokesperson for the "silent majority" that are looking for alternatives.
Adam Goldstein January 20, 2013 at 06:23 PM
A bunch of teachers, many of whom are voting residents, would elect a bowl of cold Oatmeal over the past pair of School Committee Chairs! A school system with awesome positive culture was run into the ground last year over what amounted to nickels and dimes of the total budget, how about some accountability?
Peter C January 21, 2013 at 10:13 AM
Teachers got served last year because they only kept work to rule for a week, the gap between Westford Teachers and teachers in neighboring towns just continued to grow last year... And the savings the town isn't returning to the taxpayer but spending on new positions to the extent residents are going to be railroaded into approving a 2.5 vote
Randy Winslow January 21, 2013 at 12:45 PM
True story.
Cole Porter January 22, 2013 at 11:30 AM
Sad but TRUE (Metallica said it best), Maybe WPS thinks it can retain the best teachers by paying them with 'your appreciated, have a nice weekend' emails rather than competitive paychecks! LOL!
McTeigue January 26, 2013 at 11:02 AM
Rumor is work to rule might be brought back next year if negotiations aren't going well, get those letters of recommendations early next year and hope the SC has the magic money tree in its possession because our biggest union from what I hear what's a contract to make up for the hit it took last time around and 'be happy you have a job' won't fly when all teachers have seen is their jobs being 'saved' by WPS hiring for more and more new staff positions
westford Dad February 25, 2013 at 11:25 PM
My kid is one of those "Burdens" - Andrew.... She is not going to enjoy the all the wonderful resources and activities that the school system offers.....ever. Seems like a small price to pay when you are living it. Count your blessings Andrew as we thank goodness for the people who wrote the SPED laws Westford Dad
Patrick Henry February 27, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Are you related to Don Vito Andolini?
Patrick Henry February 27, 2013 at 09:43 PM
Increase the class size from 20 to 25, lay off 20% of the teachers and there will be money tp give steps and salary increases. Any takers WEA
Patrick Henry February 27, 2013 at 09:47 PM
It worked for the soldiers on Omaha Beach, the Marines on Iwo Jima, Army Air Corps on Ploesti and the Navy in the battle of Leyte Gulf.
Patrick Henry February 27, 2013 at 09:53 PM
Another 47% heard from. How about the old members of the community busting their backs at minimum pay to pay taxes so the so called autism children can be coddled. BTW A recent change to the description of qualifying symptoms for a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder will remove 70% of the diagnosed individuals from the pool of SPED.

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