LETTER: Update on Mediation from School Committee Chair

The following is a letter to the editor. To send your own letter to the editor, e-mail us at westford@patch.com

Regrettably, the teachers and the School Committee were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract at our Mediation session last evening. 

The teachers began the evening proposing a settlement that was, to our surprise, more costly than the last proposal they made two weeks ago. The School Committee responded with two possible settlements both of which were rejected by the teachers. 

Finally, we were informed that the teachers could not and would not agree to a proposal that did not include a total of two years of step increases. 

This is well beyond what we can afford and still maintain existing programs and staff.  It is also well beyond what has been proposed to and accepted by other unions in town.  The School Committee made our best and final offer which was rejected.  It is our sincere belief that we cannot support a contract that can only be paid for by cutting services to students and laying off staff.  

At this point we assume that the teachers' union will proceed on their Unfair Labor Practices claim against the School Committee.  A fact finding session is scheduled in that proceeding for next Wednesday. 

We will now have to wait and see whether this process will result in cuts to services and/or layoffs of staff.   I would also like to correct statements recently made by the teachers that they have made "huge concessions" with regard to health insurance. 

The recent change in health insurance negotiated by the Town Manager and agreed to by every Town union provides comparable or better coverage at a huge savings to both the Town and the employees. 

Depending on what type of plan they select employees will save between $275 and $925 per year.    We remain ready, willing and able to discuss any proposal that is in the best interests of the schoolchildren of Westford in the context of resources available.     

Angela Harkness

Chairman, Westford School Committee

AB February 10, 2012 at 03:05 AM
Rich, numbers copy and pasted from mluther in another thread. I believe this provides a more complete picture, though it is still steps only. Step FY2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 FY2011 3 Yr % Inc 1 $48,180 $50,767 $53,493 $56,382 17.02% 2 $49,490 $52,112 $54,873 $57,800 16.79% 3 $50,800 $53,457 $56,253 $59,216 16.57% 4 $52,110 $54,801 $57,631 $62,266 19.49% 5 $52,015 $56,143 $60,599 $64,136 23.30% 6 $55,834 $59,035 $62,420 $66,007 18.22% 7 $57,558 $60,808 $64,241 $67,878 17.93% 8 $59,286 $62,582 $66,061 $69,749 17.65% 9 $61,013 $64,356 $67,882 $73,031 19.70% 10 $61,527 $66,130 $71,077 $74,938 21.80% 11 $65,738 $69,242 $72,933 $76,847 16.90% 12 $67,497 $71,050 $74,790 $78,812 16.76% 13 $70,978 $72,859 $74,790 $78,812 11.04% 14 $72,794 $74,723 $76,703 $78,812 8.27%
Rich F February 10, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Amber - What is the annual compensation for these jobs of 60+ hours per week with take home work and weekend flying? Also, how many men is "most men I know"? 3, 5, 10?
Paul February 10, 2012 at 01:34 PM
How is this insulting? The steps are not previously negotiated. The contract ended last June. They are negotiating steps, cola, working conditions, etc. now. The sooner the union realizes steps and or pulse pay (pay increase for having a pulse in the next school year) are not guaranteed the faster an agreement can be made. Five other unions realized this and have agreed. Why are the teachers different?
Rich F February 10, 2012 at 01:49 PM
What is the complete picture you are attempting to provide?
Vincent DiRico February 10, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Well said Paul, CONTRACT EXPIRED and a dose of reality is needed!
Rich F February 10, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Vinny, here is your dose of reality. "The teachers' union has filed an unfair labor-practices complaint with the state Department of Labor Relations because the School Committee did not pay teachers step increases on Sept. 1 after the previous contract expired on Aug. 31. The Department of Labor Relations is holding a probable-cause hearing on Wednesday. The union contends that in the past, teachers were paid step increases even if the contract expired. In a separate decision, the Department of Labor Relations recently ruled in favor of the Lunenburg teachers' union after it charged the Lunenburg School Committee with unfair labor practices for failing to pay step increases after the contract expired. Westford Superintendent Everett "Bill" Olsen Jr. has said that step increases were budgeted for fiscal 2012. The School Committee is waiting to move forward until the Department of Labor Relations issues its ruling on the step increases." http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_19893079
Derek February 10, 2012 at 03:28 PM
MLUTHER, I mean no offense, but I can't figure out if your comments here and on the BOS Letter discussion are meant seriously, sarcastically, or tongue-in-cheek. Please help me to decipher your actual stand on the topic of teacher salaries/contract and town finances. Thanks!----Derek
Dave L February 10, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Maybe it's how you cut and paste these but some of the numbers do not seem accurate. Best to go directly to the contract. Here is the website again. http://westfordk12.us/pages/hrm/contract.pdf
Paul February 10, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Rich, The schools have not "always" been paid steps as new contracts were being negotiated. Lunenberg always did. That is a very big difference that the NLRB will be using as part of their decision. Again, why are we required to treat the teachers differently than police? Or the other unions that agreed to no steps in year 1? The union contract that just ended paid 3+% steps and healthy cola's during the worst economic crisis since the great depression. No one looked to renege on that agreement. Now your using the courts to force 3% raises following all that? Pretty incredible to me given the times we live in.
Vincent DiRico February 10, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Rich F, I won't coment on all the other "day late $ shrot" respones you sprayed around this morning. (speling erors insertted for your readding pleassure). Here: all I have to say is CONTRACT EXPIRED, save the little bits of respect and tolerance most citizens have left and live to fight another day.
Heather February 10, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Rich- Pension funds typically invest in Corporate and government bonds. Interest rates are at historic lows. A 30 year government bond now yields less than 3.25%. I can't remember the source, but i recently read that the FED did not expect to raise rates in the next couple years to combat falling home values and inflation risk. If you look at corporate earnings on their investments as a comparison, it is almost nothing. If your retirement account is invested in mutual funds you probably are seeing much better returns. All this said, i did not look to see what the teachers' retirement fund is investing in but in my past i did audit unions and their benefit funds and never saw funds invested in anything but government and AAA rated bonds. My analysis is also flawed in that i didn't compute the fv fairly in that i gave credit for contributing based on the highest salary of $60K for 20 years and $40K for 20 years. In reality (and after a quick google search), 40 years ago the average teacher salary was less than $10K and 30 years ago it was less than $20K. This means that the difference in the 11% contribution and the 6.2% contribution has a future value significantly less than $250K and tax payers are funding even more of the pension.
Patrick Henry February 10, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Are you insane or delusional from drinking the heavily treated town water. A 15% increase in real estate taxes means $900+/year for the average homeowner.
Patrick Henry February 10, 2012 at 07:35 PM
I checked the #s that MLuther provided and they are right on the money. The figures that you quote are those for the whole system. You must realize the MCAS go from 4,6,8 and 10 grades. So the actual number to be used for MCAS are basically 4 thru 10 grades. Note, the lower % of WA students that are Asian that will change in the coming years as the middle school students enter WA.
Patrick Henry February 10, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Wake up Joe!! As Bob Dylan sings "The Times They are a Changing." Your TM Ledoux will drop the bad news on you this spring. Hope that Acton either passes a $7 million Prop 2 1/2 override or your wife has enough seniority to keep her job. BTW Acton received well over $10 million in FSF for FY11 and FY12. The FSF funds are gone for FY13 and beyond, so say a little prayer for your wife's job.
Rich F February 10, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Heather wrote: "Rich- Pension funds typically invest in Corporate and government bonds" Heather - I'd be willing to guess that is only a portion of pension fund investments are in bonds. The company I work for contributes to four different multi-employer pension plans and I am a trustee on one of them. All 4 have diversified portfolios of investments. The plan I am a trustee on is currently invested in the following, followed by their weight in the fund: BNY MEllon US Equity 17.9%, Vanguard Small Cap Index 15%, Laudus Mondrian International Equity 11.7%, Richmond Capital Low Duration Fixed Income 33.5%, PIMCO High Yield 8.3%, PIMCO All Asset 13.6% . As you can see, 41.8% of our holdings are in fixed income (bonds). Without diversifying and taking on some amount of risk there is absolutely no way we could possibly meet our future obligations by investing in bonds only. I also don't know how the town of Westford invests it's pension assets.
Martin Luther February 10, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Mr Sylvia, I was under the impression the Westford Patch was an electronic medium that simulated a weekly town paper. Furthermore, I was under the impression that you are an employee of a business corporation that depends on fees from advertisers to pay your salary. Advertisers are very skittish about supporting media outlets that antagonize the views of the customers or potential customers. Please note Glenn Beck situation. Although Mr. Beck had a very popular show and presented detailed information on various topics, he obviously upset enough individuals that in turn put pressure on advertisers who in turn told Fox New either Beck goes or we will cancel our advertising. Therefore, I am appalled at your reply to MLuther's observation. I hope that you understand that you are a facilitator and not a dictator. Thank You
Martin Luther February 10, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Jons Angela Harkness may be many things but a liar she is not. The contract that you are basing your vitriol on is no longer in existence. Talk to some of your union member acquaintances in industry. Their answer will be "No Ticket. No Laundry" No contract means no pay and no benefits. if the Westford School Committee was playing hard ball, the committee would have cancelled your health insurance, any fringes including the one that allow teachers to send their children to Westford schools at no cost for which the Westford school system receives NO SCHOOL CHOICE funding. Plus reset your pay to B-1 interim until the WEA approved the contract. I believe that you and your WEA compatriots owe Ms Harkness an apology for your unprofessional behavior.
Heather February 10, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Therein lies the problem Rich. Pension can't keep up without some risk and generally they are risk adverse - at least for public/government employees. I do see in their statements that they get a 700M "pension fund appropriation" that i can only assume comes from the state budget. I can not get a handle on what their return on investment is... bear bones it looks like 1 or 2% plus unrealized gains from their PRIT fund. I'm curious what company you work for b/c pensions are not the norm these days - I dont expect an answer and i think we've gone way off topic here. My only point is complaining about retirement is not a legitimate complaint. Maybe the contribution is almost 5% more than the rest of us under ss but the payout under the pension far exceeds ss and i've tried to show the proof.
Rich F February 10, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Tony - How would the committee cancel the teacher's health insurance? Unless I'm mistaken, I don't see any mention of health insurance in the contract. If it's not in the contract then it doesn't matter if the contract is expired or not, right? http://educatorcontracts.doemass.org/view.aspx?recno=297
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) February 10, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Hi all, just deleted a few more comments with individuals calling others "a bad sardine" and a Spanish swear word. This level of discussion is great, but the terms of service do not allow name calling. If the user would like to repost their comments, minus the name calling, that would be great. And if I miss any here, let me know, I'll get to them as soon as I can.
Tony Martinez February 10, 2012 at 10:06 PM
I am glad good red blooded conservative Tea Party loving folks are in charge here in westford like Jodi Ross and Angela Harkness that are willing to go after liberals and unions. Teachers should be lucky they have a job in Westford and take whatever crumbs we are willing to throw them. We like to get a real value for our dollar here in westford and if we have to walk over the backs of the little guys who work for the town that so be it! Do these teachers think the town is going to offer them anything next year when they negotiate contract again even if this is settled? Its going to be the same HOLD on STEP in year one all over again so better get used to it. We dont care about all those 'extras' you supposedly provide so work to rule to your hearts content and see if we care. Dont write letters of recommendation as there are too many kids in those liberal colleges anyway
Tony Martinez February 10, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Also I think we should lay off the custodial staff and have teachers do the cleaning of their buildings between classes to save money...If we have to settle for 2nd rate teachers this is a small price to pay to clean house of those educated fancy book learning type educators the town has now
Julie C. February 10, 2012 at 10:14 PM
The kids at the Blanchard school already clean the cafeteria.
Tony Martinez February 10, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Great, I would like the students AND teachers cleaning toilets and sinks as well. It doesnt save us real money unless we can reduce janitorial staff. (Unless we have the Janitors teach in the schools as they probably come cheaper and are just as good when it comes to playing movies and puzzles. A real inclusion model if I ever saw it
AB February 11, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Rich: Off the top of my head regarding the friends close enough to discuss such matters, the two who travel the most have contracts expiring next quarter and may not still have a job after that (their gross is a bit higher but remember they have to take out their own taxes), 3 have been looking for 2+ years to no avail, 3 are on a pay freeze (no COLA, raises, bonuses, etc.) and are pumping out resumes just in case, only two have gotten raises in the past two years and they've been less than 2%. The latter two have been in the tech field for about 10 years so my guess is their salary is about $70k. So everyone is doing more with less. Everyone but Mitt Romney, that is.
Martin Luther February 11, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Rich F- If the benefits are not listed in the contract would that mean that you are not protected by the expired contract? If I were you, I would contact the MTA legal counsel to verify the status of your medical benefits.
Martin Luther February 11, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Bill- Automatic annual step increases regardless of performance??? What a sweet deal. Only one problem, no contract means no automatic step increases. What a novel idea.
Martin Luther February 11, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Charlotte Radcliffe , you stated "I didn’t get into the profession for the salary that doesn’t come close to those with the same education level in the private sector. " Teaching degrees are a dime a dozen. The private sector jobs, that pay over $100,000 after 10 years, require a Masters degree in a technical field and working 240 plus days a year with 50 to 60 hours/week with no overtime. Charlotte Radcliffe , you stated "I didn’t get into teaching to deal with the opinions of folks like yourself who quite clearly don’t have the faintest idea of what it takes to be a teacher but can shamefully develop opinions just the same." The US and Massachusetts constitutions permit individuals to voice their opinions. The NEA and MTA only cares about the pay and benefits that can be squeezed from taxpayers. Listen to the words of the NEA's chief counsel at his farewell speech. NEA General Counsel Bob Chanin Says Farewell http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-piPkgAUo0w
Martin Luther February 11, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Local, you stated " Are you talking about open enrollment? That is available to anyone, anywhere in the state. It is not a teacher's perk, you have it too. " Once again, you are wrong. Westford does not get reimbursed for the children of Westford teachers attending Westford schools. including the 10+ students that reside in New Hampshire. In addition to not getting paid for the teacher kids, these kids go to the head of the line for open enrollment slots. A sweetheart deal similar to the Quinn Bill for policemen and Westford's special Quinn Bill like benefit for firemen. It is time for teacher, policemen and firemen unions stop sucking the blood out of the taxpayers of Westford.
Martin Luther February 11, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Local, you stated "With two clicks of my mouse though here it is "The Comfort Score examined average salaries (both starting and overall) and compared that to the cost of living. We then ranked each state by this metric to find which states were friendliest to teacher's - from a salary perspective." Are you delusional. I checked the site and the numbers do not add up. If you believe their claims, I have a bridge to sell you.


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