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Residents, Town Officials Gather to Brainstorm at Kimball Farm

Despite near triple digit temperatures, Westford town officials and local residents came together to brainstorm on town policy at the Second Annual Westford Strategic Planning Retreat.

In what could be called Westford’s informal “Summer Town Meeting”, nearly 100 town staff members, local government officials and Westford residents gathered at for the Second Annual Westford Strategic Planning Retreat.

Built as an informal brainstorming session for those interested in shaping town policy, the event brought disparate portions of Westford government together to share ideas and information and to help increase awareness and think of solutions for issues that impact the town.

The event began with a questionnaire session dominated by one of the primary issues facing Westford: the current expected $2.4 million shortfall for Fiscal Year 2014.

Town Manager Jodi Ross began by and using it to build upon strides the town has made to make up the upcoming budget deficit and help solve the Fiscal Year 2013 shortfall

These efforts such as getting 11 out of 12 town unions to forego a cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase for Fiscal Year 2013, something she stated had not been done for 31 years in Westford, and a directive from the Selectmen to engage in multi-year fiscal planning forecasts moving forward.

However, local resident Rob Creegan voiced his concerns on this point, saying the town’s fiscal issues were a matter that should be projected for the next 20 years, not just the next three or four, and that continual override votes would not be a feasible solution if no other revenue sources were found, particularly in regard to rising school budget costs.

“You cannot have a budget rising faster than residents’ income,” said Creegan. “You can’t raise money from people that don’t have it.”

Superintendent Bill Olsen replied that the rise in school budgets were due in large part to new mandates placed upon the department by state and federal regulations along with the fact that enrollment has doubled over the past 20 years.

“We don’t look for ways to spend money, but we have students coming into town that cost $200,000 a year, and we’re obligated, as we should be, to educate them,” said Olsen.

Olsen went on to tell the audience that despite budgetary concerns, Westford retains one of the lowest cost-per-pupil averages in the state while remaining in the upper echelon when it comes to test scores, something that local resident Rose O’Donnell also commented on.

“I don’t see a 2 to 3 percent increase a year to be a problem,” said O’Donnell, who recently stepped down from the town Finance Committee. “It’s not to say that the people who come here don’t come for the Police Department or the Fire Department, but I think a lot of people come to Westford for the schools.”

Ross went on to joke that she came to Westford for the roads, which had doubled since 1970 without any employee increases in the Highway Department or any significant deterioration in road quality.

Other topics, such as potential regionalization of services, were discussed among the full crowd before dinner and a split into break-out sessions discussing , , and public works initiatives.

Although the near triple digit temperatures could not generate a crowd much larger than last year’s rainy day affair, Ross was pleased with the event as a whole, and thinks improvements can be made for next year’s retreat.

“I definitely think (this event) has meaning for (town officials) in terms of educating the public and them educating us in terms of what their concerns are,” said Ross, who also noted that this year's event had more residents not currently serving on town government boards.

More information on the event is available on the Town of Westford’s Strategic Planning Retreat webpage.

Amber July 13, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Alex, I read the spreadsheet but you're using cost averages and numbers. SPED isn't about averages. A district may have 100 kids with severe anxiety and ADHD who need minor accommodations while another has 10 kids who are profoundly deaf, blind, or severely autistic. The 10 kids are exponentially more expensive to educate than the 100. The pubic schools have an obligation under IDEA to provide a free and appropriate public education to all students via an IEP or 504 plan. If, through their own ineptitude or the nature/severity of a child's disability the home district is unable to provide said education, the district must pay to send said child to an out-of-district placement which can. That includes transportation and in some cases, in-home educational support services. Not all students require the same level of services to get them to the level mandated in IDEA. Some may require accomodations for preferential seating, modified homework, and test-taking support (reasonably inexpensive) while others require a special school and daily transportation to Boston or Southborough. That's why they call it an IEP - it's individualized to the needs of the child, and no two are exactly the same. If there are some other mandates to which you are referring, I'm not sure either of us understand the question. ;)
Amber July 13, 2012 at 05:48 PM
By the by, I don't think of them as the "burden we can't handle". My son is autistic and on an IEP and I'd probably knock someone's tooth down their throat if they suggested he was less worthy of an education or a burden on me or anyone else. Just to clarify. :) It's the default fallback at budget time for Olsen to blame SPED. Ironically, he has an autistic grandson so one would think he'd be more sensitive when choosing his words, but old habits can be hard to break I guess. We have a zillion and one overpaid un-mandated curriculum coordinators who effectively seem to serve to exist only to tie teacher's backs when it comes to pedagogy. Can't we get rid of a few of them instead?
Amber July 13, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Psst: http://idea.ed.gov/
Alex Finnegan September 09, 2012 at 06:52 PM
"Alex, I read the spreadsheet but you're using cost averages and numbers. SPED isn't about averages. A district may have 100 kids with severe anxiety and ADHD who need minor accommodations while another has 10 kids who are profoundly deaf, blind, or severely autistic. The 10 kids are exponentially more expensive to educate than the 100. The pubic schools have an obligation under IDEA to provide a free and appropriate public education to all students via an IEP or 504 plan." What are you talking about? I posted actual sped enrollment of schools, & actual # of sped teachers. It doesn't get any more concrete than that. W has way less sped kids, it's not even close. Your 10 cost 100 theory is true but demonstrably not the case in W. The law of averages is called a law for a reason. You can know how much attention & $ the level of sped requires by correlating sped enrollment & sped teachers. The more sped kids & the more sped teachers per child, the more difficult and expensive to educate. W is way light on both counts. There is no way around it W saves a TON of $ on Sped, both in # enrolled & level of sped required. Where is it? I won't go deep into the "burden" comment. If you read through my posts you'll see I am pro sped. I have friends & family, close ones, who are Autistic & would do some teeth removal as well were people to slight them. I was referring to Olsen's blaming sped for budget problems. My spread sheet shows that what he is saying is untrue.
Alex Finnegan September 09, 2012 at 07:27 PM
"We have a zillion and one overpaid un-mandated curriculum coordinators /// Can't we get rid of a few of them instead?" I agree 100% Constantly buying new curriculum is a waste too. On many occasionsI've seen the W teachers doing that job anyway. Many other schools save huge money by paying teachers a stipend to do it. You're not paying the full time salary of another employee, the payroll taxes, or any of the benefits both retirement & insurance. This is an instance where the teachers, the ones actually teaching the curriculum, seeing the response, experiencing it all first hand…they should be the ones in charge of it. Nobody tells a mechanic what tools he can use b/c that would be stupid. He knows best, leave it to him. I posted a while back @ helping my cousin correct homework & many of the answers on the test (grade 2) I would have gotten wrong, b/c they were worded so strangely. I sited specific examples in the post, search if you want to see it, I can't recall them at the moment. She often omits lessons b/c they are confusing or marks answers correct that technically aren't b/c she understands how the kid came up with that number & their thought process was right. I can't speak for all of W, but I've seen examples that are no different. If you want to know why W has them it's b/c it's a status symbol, just like the # of Prof Devel. days. It's to maintain that elite image. If you are serious @ saving money status symbols have to go, they are costing you big.

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