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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.

Franklin June 25, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I heard Antonelli was the only one writing up staff members on the last day of the year for needing to take an entitled personal day the last week of the year, what goes around comes around
Martin Luther June 25, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Entitled Personal Day????? to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the labor contract approved by a majority vote of the WEA members??? And municipal union members wonder why the Tea Party finds fertile ground in bashing their attitudes alongside that of Welfare Queens. You reap what you sow. The attitudes displayed by a vociferous minority of malcontents does not bode well. I call for the Westford School Committee to public identify the individuals that were identified by Principal Antonelli and put them on public notice that any further grandstanding will cost them their jobs.
Franklin June 25, 2012 at 08:07 PM
The contract language allows for it, end of story. Any such action as mentioned by the SC would result in Unfair Labor Practice charges being filed against the town
Robert C June 25, 2012 at 09:02 PM
The Boston English situation has no bearing on WPS unless WPS becomes chronically underpreforming like B English enabling greater power over teachers, sounds like people link outside newsevents with little practical understanding of their direct relationship to WPS
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) June 26, 2012 at 12:56 AM
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Vincent DiRico June 26, 2012 at 01:29 AM
I also would have written up any staff member who tried to play me, further all staff members would be on a very short leash next year. I would not stand for any more belly aching, spewing of innuendo in public (aka here under false names), ... All staff members would be brought back into line or shown the door!
Patrick Henry June 26, 2012 at 08:53 PM
When will this ranting ever end? When will it ever end? When the SC plays hard ball and terminates with prejudice those individuals that try to game the system. If a student tried the same logic to support transgression of the rules in the student handbook, the teachers would demand swift and severe punishment. What is good for the student needing discipline is also good for the immature and irresponsible teachers and other employees of the WPS.
Jamaal June 26, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Except that contract law doesn't support the analogy
Chris Daley June 27, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Work for the town or work for a union, what about working for the pupils? Just observing.
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 06:08 AM
"Section 1 In-house Professional Development Teachers and school personnel who are covered by this contract are required to attend all professional development days offered by the Westford Public Schools." That contract is null. What are you going to write them up for?
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 06:16 AM
"Rather presumptuous of posters that define the job of the Superintendent of the WPS. According to MGLs that is the prerogative of the Westford School Committee. If you do not like the job description of the Westford Superintendent of schools run candidates and capture 4 seats on the Westford School Commitee. BTW You have to be a registered voter in the town of Westford to either run for school committee or vote in support of your choice." A few posts up you did it yourself. Why is it presumptuous to define his job but not for teachers ?
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 06:31 AM
How is it extending your vacation if you have another professional development day the following day? The last day of school for kids is not the last day of school for teachers. There is a reason Olsen threatened to deny anyone requesting that day off backed off. He probably consulted an attorney and realized there was nothing he could do. The following is conjecture, but there is actually a document (the contract) that gets circulated and signed by the staff. All this voting and ratification is just part of the process. Until they have signed that document which may or may not have happened yet by that point ( I really don't know) but until that happens, nothing is really official. It's kind of a stupid and small point to be concerned with IMO. The SC played dirty with not paying the obligated steps the first couple days of the year, IMO because then they couldn't go back on them. A couple teachers skipped a useless professional development day (I'm familiar enough with them to make that call) Karma. I'm pretty sure they didn't violate anything. But if you know how stupid and useless Westford's PD days were you probably wouldn't care anyway. To the above, if you only knew how much the teachers do for the kids. You seem like a reasonable person, look into it with an open mind and I think you'll start to see why this whole situation has left teachers feeling very demoralized.
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 06:50 AM
"I suggest that various posters that associate Free Cash" visit the Dept. Of Local Services and read--The Free Cash available to Westford for FY13 allocation will not be certified by DLS until late August or early September." I know exactly how it works. The FY 2013 Budget was $98,689,073 of which $94,516,030 was for the operating budget. The school budget was allocated at $48,235,939 which includes $624,656 for Nashoba Tech. Free Cash to be applied at the Fall STM was estimated at $2,795,731." 07-09 was over 3 million, why was a it ok then? "Cash Reserves will be underfunded by ($3,397,288) which would require ~6% increase in real estate taxes via a Prop 2 1/2 override. There are capital request of about $10 million which would require based on a 10 year bond issue ~2.5% debt exclusion. The average Westford taxpayer would be faced with an increase of ~8.5% or about $600/year." Highly doubt it. Look at her past history of estimating two years in advance. "The above numbers do not take into account Full Day Kindergarten which I have heard is estimated to cost around $800,000 for FY14 or an additional 1.2% for a total of $660/year without pay raises." Yep, but saves the parents daycare money. But we have no money, how can we be introducing more services.
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 06:52 AM
"BTW Have you heard of the economic problems facing Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France?" What of it. Have you see all the other surrounding towns in the same financial situation but manage to pay there teachers competitively? Did you look at the excel sheet I posted? Where is all that sped savings going? Where is all your Westford $ going?
Alex Finnegan June 27, 2012 at 07:11 AM
"Do you understand credit rating and it's costs? I am sure that a whole bunch of voters would opt to give free cash not to the employees, but back to it's original owners, the taxpayers, if it did not hurt the credit rating and raise costs again. There would be something truly remarkable and a true accomplishment if taxes were actually lowered for once." It would go back to the people w/out kids. The people not using the facilities that take up half the budget. Complaints about your taxes are getting old. Plenty of people are getting screwed. Teachers are on that list now too but they will continue to be treated like the live in a bubble. It would probably be mind-blowing when some of that money went back to teachers, who are tax payers and living in the same world you are. THey get fired, they get laid off they average $66K a year, half the median income of Westford and average higher health insurance and retirement contributions. http://www.massbudget.org/report_window.php?loc=Compensation_3_11.html
Patrick Henry June 27, 2012 at 04:23 PM
It appears to me that $66K/year for 185 days of less than 6 hours plus all the prime time off would be a good deal but certainly not to individuals who suffer from delusions of grandeur. How many teachers have been laid off in the last 5 years from the WPS? How many teachers have been fired in the last 5 years from the WPS? How many teachers in the WPS( MA or US) scored higher than a 500 on a SAT test? How many teachers in the WPS( MA or US) scored higher than a 180 on a PSAT test? How many teachers in the WPS( MA or US) passed an AP test in Mathematics or Science with a sore of 4 or 5? How many teachers in the WPS( MA or US) could have completed an engineering, mathematics, physical or biological degree from Northeatstern University or UMass Amherst/Lowell?
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 04:48 PM
Very good observation. IMHO a small number of WEA members are not interested in working for the pupils but to be compensated at a level that would result in the layoff of upwards of 40 teachers.
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 04:53 PM
There is always the option to leave WPS and go to Greener Pastures either a better paying school system like Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, etc or launch into a new career in the private sector.
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Ignoring facts lead to incorrect conclusions. The town budget is highly dependent at the state level on items such as Ch70, Ch90, lottery receipts aid which fluctuate from year to year and in some case within a current fiscal year. By Law towns must use Cherry Sheet data to compute their budgets which are then used to generate Recap Sheets which must be approved by Dept. of Local Services before a tax rate can be set. So the TM's budget which is approved by Westford Town Meeting is only the beginning. If you have a problem with the TM's or SC's budget you can with your friends, if you are registered voters, attend the Annual Town meeting and modify the budgets. NB The SC's budget can only be modified at the bottom line (SJC opinion (Not Ruling) circa 1982. This past 3 years (FY 10,11,12)budgets were modified to unsustainable levels by the application of Federal Stimulus Funding (~$13 million) that was never reviewed by Westford Finance Committee or approved by Westford Town Meeting. Many creative expenditures were made that were aided by the use of credit card spending aka bonding for capital items. When the FSF disappeared for FY 13, the regular budget had to absorb the cost. The parents of the beneficiaries of Full Day Kindergarten vote in the Town of Westford, obviously many of the ranters do not live in Westford. Point, Set, Match.
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 05:25 PM
If you think 2008 and 2009 were financial debacles, you have not seen anything yet. The economic collapse of these countries will lead to the bankruptcy of many large US financial institutions that have bought their government bonds and extended commercial credit to foreign companies. One of the biggest users of Bail out money was RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland). Bank Santander is a large player in the US which will go belly up in Spain defaults. Where is all my Westford $ going? To paying a large number of disgruntled employees, wages that the town cannot sustain without a 10 to 15% increase in taxes. It may be time to declare bankruptcy and negate all union contracts.
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 05:34 PM
People getting screwed. In Westford, taxpayers have been screwed for the last 22 years when the LWV convinced town meeting to switch to a town manager form of government. "Complaints about your taxes are getting old" Spoken like an individual that does not pay taxes in Westford. "It would probably be mind-blowing when some of that money went back to teachers, who are tax payers and living in the same world you are." The school budget is over $46 million/year, what do you think is a "Fair Amount". An alternative to increasing the school budget is to reduce staffing and pay the remaining staff "Fair Wages". For every 1% increase in spending for COLAS or steps, ~10 teachers will have to be laid off.
Martin Luther June 27, 2012 at 06:00 PM
BTW You are comparing the average wages that a WPS teachers receives for 185 days of less than 6 hours against the Median Household Income in Westford. The Median Household income includes the wages of all wage earners plus any dividends, capital gains, etc. (i.e The AGI line on your 1040). Over 60% of the households in Westford are composed of 2 wage earners which leads a ~$119,000 median household income which would be exceeded at $136,000 by two teachers earning the paltry average of $68K for 185 days of less than 6 hours. Comparing health benefits and cost is a complex process since the coverage and co-pays can be modified to achieve a desire monthly cost. If any WPS staff member thinks that private industry has superior pay and benefits, they are welcome to try it.
Amber July 08, 2012 at 01:15 PM
Don't parents currently pay for full-day Kindergarten, at about $7k per child, per year? You get half day free, but if you want extended day, I was under the impression you pay for it. So the revenues should offset some or all of the expense. Especially at THAT price.
Amber July 08, 2012 at 01:26 PM
*Where are the sped mandates?* Fairly certain you can find these under federal and state law; however, since an IEP is an individualized plan, certain students may require more intensive or expensive interventions than others. Any outplaced students come out of our budget but wouldn't impact our staff-student ratios because they are off-campus. At $100k per year, those outplacements could disproportionately skew the "average" while not impacting the in-district ratios.
Alex Finnegan July 08, 2012 at 09:03 PM
"*Where are the sped mandates?* Fairly certain you can find these under federal and state law; however, since an IEP is an individualized plan, certain students may require more intensive or expensive interventions than others. Any outplaced students come out of our budget but wouldn't impact our staff-student ratios because they are off-campus. At $100k per year, those outplacements could disproportionately skew the "average" while not impacting the in-district ratios. Please find them for me? I'm being sincere not sarcastic, sometimes it's hard to read the tone of a persons comments. I've looked everywhere I can think of, I've emailed Bill Olsen about it and gotten no response. I just want to see and read them. If you can find them, Brava to you and please send them my way. Also, you might be interested in the excel sheet I posted. Towns with similar teacher and enrollment counts have 2 and 3 times as many sped students as we do. It's in the first couple comments under the main article. How can we have so many fewer SPED kids yet they are the burden we can't handle.
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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