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Superintendent Urges Westford Residents to Support Schools at Town Meeting

Everett Olsen used school email list to encourage voters to attend meeting; warned about motions to cut the school budget last year.

Westford Public Schools. Credit: Patch
Westford Public Schools. Credit: Patch

Westford’s school superintendent is urging residents to come out to Town Meeting on Saturday to support two articles dealing with school funding issues – the department’s budget for next year and the school window replacement project.

Everett Olsen, the Superintendent of Schools for Westford, sent the email at just before 2 p.m. on March 20, and encouraged voters to attend and vote to support the school system, especially in light of an effort last year to cut the school’s budget.

“Last year a voter at town meeting proposed a motion to reduce our 2013-2014 school system budget by over $500,000,” he wrote. “The motion to reduce our budget last year was based on the perception of a voter that we are spending too much money to educate students in Westford. Fortunately this motion was defeated, but only by 38 votes! If the motion had not been defeated it would have meant significant staff and program reductions.”

Olsen also worried that "a similar motion (or a greater reduction amount) could be proposed again this year."

Olsen offered information about per-pupil spending and stated that the students were accomplishing a lot. The system is requesting a 4 percent, $2.2 million budget increase for fiscal 2015.

Town Meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 22, at the Abbot School gymnasium. 

The full text of the email is below:

Good afternoon,

If you are a registered voter I am encouraging you to attend the Annual Town Meeting this Saturday. Voters will be deciding on the funding level for our school department budget next year, as well as the appropriation of funds for new windows at the Day and Robinson Schools. Westford has an open town meeting and any registered voter is allowed to participate. Last year a voter at town meeting proposed a motion to reduce our 2013-2014 school system budget by over $500,000. The motion to reduce our budget last year was based on the perception of a voter that we are spending too much money to educate students in Westford. Fortunately this motion was defeated, but only by 38 votes! If the motion had not been defeated it would have meant significant staff and program reductions. Please keep in mind that a similar motion (or a greater reduction amount) could be proposed again this year. It is very important for me to inform you that the latest Department of Education data shows that out of over 300 school systems in Massachusetts, only 40 school systems spend less per pupil to educate students than Westford!

There are two Articles of great significance to our school system: Article 11 (Day and Robinson Window Replacement) and Article 16 (Annual Operating Budget). I am encouraging you to attend for the discussion and vote of these two Articles. Some residents watch the broadcast of town meeting from home and come to the meeting around the time that a particular Article of interest is discussed and voted on.

Listed below is some factual information for your review. I am proud that our student achievement is ranked among the highest in the state given the fact that our cost to educate each student in Westford is among the lowest in the state. 

Regards,

Everett Olsen

Superintendent of Schools

 

Westford Public Schools Information:

Cost Per Pupil to Educate Students in Westford (FY 2013):    $11,789   State Average:   $14,000

Boston Magazine (2013) ranked Westford Public Schools as the 8th best school system out of 147 school systems in Greater Boston! The FY 2013 Per Pupil Expenditures of Boston Magazine's Top 10 School Systems are listed below: (Please note that these Per Pupil Expenditure figures are from the Massachusetts Department of Education)

     Dover             $19,323

     Sherborn          $19,317

     Lexington         $16726 (FY 2012)

     Carlisle          $17,280

     Boxborough        $18,057

     Concord           $16,274

     Lincoln           $19,271

     Westford          $11,789

     Wayland           $16,269

     Wellesley         $17,231

Enrollments: Although our Kindergarten-Grade 2 enrollments are declining, our 2014 -2015 school year K-12 enrollment will once again be in excess of 5,000 students

Achievement: Our student achievement levels are among the highest in the state.  Please review our MCAS Data (spring 2013 test), along with a list of student and staff accomplishments at http://www.westfordk12.us/pages/super/accomplishments

FY 2015 New Budget Requests: For the 2014-2015 school year we have requested $228,500 for additional staff. Of this amount, $191,000 is staffing  for Special Education and English Language Learners (students whose primary language is not English); The remaining $37,500 is for increased grade 9-12 enrollment and program needs at Westford Academy.

Window Projects (Article 11): Our request is to replace the original windows at the Robinson and Day Schools. These are single glazed windows in deteriorating condition. The Massachusetts School Building Authority will provide 45.95% reimbursement to Westford for the costs of these projects.

 

Everett V. Olsen, Jr.

Superintendent

Westford Public Schools

23 Depot Street

Westford, MA 01886

978-692-5560 x2103

East/West March 24, 2014 at 01:35 PM
Incorrect again Wayne. Re-read the section 3 you mention. Specifically this part: "Beyond this limited non-advocacy activity directed at informing the public (including the fact of their own position for or against a ballot question), elected officials and appointed policy-makers may not use public resources for election-related political purposes (except only to the limited extent allowed to elected officials as explained in Section 4 below). Thus, neither an individual appointed policy-maker nor a board comprised of such employees may use their individual titles or their board name in a political advertisement in favor of or against a ballot question. No public employee may use public resources to send out a mass mailing, place an advertisement in a newspaper, or distribute to voters, directly or through others, such as school children, a flyer concerning the substance of a ballot question." If Superintendent Olson used town computers and on during his work hours to send out that message to an email list of parents, he has broken the law.
East/West March 24, 2014 at 01:41 PM
It is important to note that Mr. Olson is allowed to take a position and to announce it to the world while stating he is the Superintendent and thus use the sway of his office. But, he cannot use town resources and on town work time to advocate for a election issue other then just giving basic information ("non-advocacy activity").
Sam March 24, 2014 at 01:53 PM
EW: Not sure if you are correct, but lets say you are. If you expect these town officials to do anything about this you are sorely mistaken.
Wayne Bruce March 24, 2014 at 01:56 PM
East/West: I see where you're confused. Please re-read Olsen's actual statement (not the headline nor the synopsis in the first two grafs) and then look at the example in the statute given just above the section you quote. It specifically refers to the type of announcement the superintendent broadcast, which offers facts about last year's vote, some facts about this year's upcoming meeting, and then encourages residents to vote on the funding measure. Please note that it doesn't directly advocate a position but merely encourages residents to discuss and vote, an action well within the law. It's highly probable that the announcement was vetted through the Town Attorney (at the very least) but if you still have a beef with it, I would suggest you contact the state attorney general's office.
Westford Insider March 24, 2014 at 04:21 PM
In a town where last year the BOS tried a stunt backed by Bob Jefferies to infringe upon 2nd Amendment rights when they knew the courts would toss any such by law burning through thousands in legal fees and police time, in a town where the BOS paid the former fire chief thousands of dollars above his required severance and refused to explain to the taxpayers who footed the bill why, in a town that denied teachers previously negotiated step raises....I am going out on a limb and saying even if the law was broken ain't nothing coming of it no how

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