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Westford Teacher Update, Just Not on Contracts

Monday night brought a new member to the School Committee, but no update on teacher negotiations.


While the School Committee's membership has changed after last week's election, they announced that there is little change when it comes to ongoing teacher contract negotiations.

Following a lengthy executive session, the Committee announced that the teachers’ negotiating team has requested additional sessions and they have agreed to continue to meet with them.

School Committee member Judith Culver recused herself due to her daughter’s teaching position in town.

However, there are other changes coming for Westford teachers.

Culver reported on the two-day conference she attended for the state’s Race to the Top plan where a new teacher evaluation model was rolled out.

 “It’s an exciting new way at looking at teacher evaluations," Assistant Superintendent Christine Francis. "It will be challenging to implement but will help teachers feel more involved in the evaluation process.” 

Fausto May 09, 2012 at 10:09 AM
The only thing that changes as negotiations drag and drag and drug is a further and further erosion of the spirit of collaboration and goodwill between teachers and leadership. I wouldnt trust these two sides to come to an agreement that water is wet or the sky is blue at this point.
Mack Atom May 09, 2012 at 02:47 PM
A positive approach to this problem would be more helpful.
Local May 21, 2012 at 06:29 PM
It would. But this post illustrates well the problem. The "new, exciting evaluations" are in addition to all the other endless assessments teachers already have to do that hardly anyone knows about. It's also a sizable amount of work, I've seen what it is. It's just more and more expectations piled on teachers, with no adjustment of something else to compensate for it. It's not a sustainable system. I'm dying for the offers to be made public as I think many will see the offers put on the table by both sides and then look at the SC and ask "Why wasn't this acceptable?" ie Westford teachers have to work 185 days a year, many other districts are 182 or 183. But Westford wants 4 professional development days. Want to skip their steps, drop 2 of those development days, now they have 2 P.D. days like many schools and save @ $200k in the process. But then we wouldn't be elite. U can't have it both ways And did Judith Culver's daughter just start teaching in Westford? If not, why is she on the SC, or didn't recuse herself a long time ago?
Dan C May 21, 2012 at 07:13 PM
The poo poo is REALLY going to hit the fan I am afraid if this festers over the summer and bleeds into the 2012-2013 school year. Many were 'patient' for most of this year taking a 'wait and see' approach but the koolaid has been poisoned and its going to start having a profound impact next year. Everything is going to be contencious from here on out as both sides can play the 'not obligated' card the town has played by withholding steps.
Local May 22, 2012 at 08:38 AM
Who is being patient? And what do you mean by the Koolaid being poisoned? I don't see the WEA and teachers playing the "not obligated" card, they did work to rule for 3 weeks and stopped just to be reasonable once the SC accused them of unlawful work stoppage. Which is ridiculous on it's face, on the one hand the SC is saying no contract in place we don't have to do anything, yet when the teachers follow the contract to the letter (the one the SC says is't valid) they say it's not legal? But they are going along with it, with in court I think will help them. If only people would just look at the budgets and see what money is going where. Look at the contracts of the town admin and the ridiculous perks that come along with it. $5k contributions towards retirement, $5k yearly raises, reimbursements for clothing, gas etc. 4-5 weeks of vacation per year, 14 sick days, 12 paid holidays 5 personal days (your now approaching the same number of days a teacher works) Bonuses same insurance and pension. Admin is way overcompensated compared to the rest of the area and everyone has an assistant, some of the assistants have assistants. The town pays $1.3 million for trash pick up that most other towns gave up long ago, yet we want to pick the teachers pockets. Do the comparisons to the towns managing to be successful. You'll find the costs that are off aren't the teacher's. In fact they saving you money. Everything about the way Westford is handling this is wrong. Sigh.
Dan C May 22, 2012 at 09:12 AM
Well if Teachers do get 15 sick days per year as a condition of employment perhaps there will be more teachers inclined to stay home when they are sick rather than come to work when they are sick next year and come much closer to maxing out those 15 sick days. Hope the town is budgeting for an increase in subs because I am willing to wager on the fact many many teachers come to school sick vs the opposite (stay home and not sick) If joe public is going to say 'Wow 15 sick days' (which rarely any teacher comes close to using) perhaps the result is teachers who feel sick dont hesitate to stay home and legitamately use those 2 weeks per year of sick days...
Babar May 22, 2012 at 09:21 AM
I think many teachers were very patient back in the fall and that wont be the case next fall. The supportive giving climate in westford is what's now poisoned....
Local May 22, 2012 at 05:29 PM
I wasn't talking about teachers, I was talking about admin, the super, Jodi ross etc. A lot of people get mad about the 15 sick days (15 is correct) Do a quick google search you'll find endless headlines about the robbery. Let's check it out. I can't find any numbers on how many Westford teachers average or anywhere somewhere close enough to be relevant. Massachusetts is forever battling Connecticut for #1 in the u.s.a. You can't take a low ranking school or an average because the teachers are probably using their sick days differently. I'll base what I'm about to say on the 4 local teachers I know They use about 2 sick days a year. The reason is it's a pain to take a sick day. They have to come up with a lesson plan for the the sub, plan the days activities, make the copies of paperwork. The curriculum is so packed losing a day is a an issue. And when they get back the kids are crazy & requires a couple days to get the back in line. It's a bigger pain to use a sick day then to just go in and work, provided you just have a cold and nothing serious. The buy back pisses people off too. The buyback saves you money. As an average Westford teachers make $350 a day. A sub gets paid $75 a day with no benefits. The teacher's buyback is $35 per day up to 150 days. So a used sick day costs the town $425 buying back that day costs $385 and they cap the number at 150 days.
Local May 22, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Sick day buy back saves the town money with many civil jobs. "I don't have that in the private sector" Thats because many private sector jobs, especially in large companies, if your sick you don't need to be replaced. Your work will be carried by everyone else. You can't do that with a teacher,cop, firefighter, you need someone there. The latter two sick day buyback saves more $ than teachers as replacing the sick person involves a fully paid cop/firefighter at overtime rate. Some people have a problem with the number 15 a year. But many aspects of the contract like bereavement leave, family illness, Paternity leave, all count as sick days. Not saying it's a bad arrangement, but it's misunderstood. I personally disagree accumulating 150 days, that seems excessive. Where the town loses is Admin positions that buyback when a sick day doesn't require a replacement. i.e. A substitute superintendent isn't brought in. There sick day costs the same as a regular day. In these cases buyback costs are additional, fire,police,teachers not. This is where the tax payer loses, but it's put on teachers, cops, and fireman. The private sector would do it too if there was a financial incentive. What happens when you don't give the employee an incentive NOT to use sick days or let them carry them over? Many people use them all. Is the sick day buy back a big perk? In the case akin to ones I mentioned yes... for the taxpayers. Your saving 75% and up of what it costs you to use a sick day
Franklin May 22, 2012 at 08:02 PM
If I had a choice between using a sick day and I got 15 a year or possibly getting $35 for that day years and years from now (assuming I wasnt feeling well and 'sick') I would think most people would use the day as $35 doesnt even buy a fancy dinner these days. Unfortunately I think this is just one more area where the frustration caused by the town not honoring the steps is going to come back to haunt us more financially in the long run should there be a dramatic uptick in teachers using those sick days next year. Super Olsen did say at the meeting last night the litigation is costs the town 'substantial' funds and I dont think its a stretch to say this ends up costing us double easy in the long run as simply paying those steps. As a taxpayer I dont even want to think about full back pay and punative damages which I have started to hear is a possibility should the town loose. I am waiting to hear what we are going to do when/if we loose and have to pay steps with full back pay, all litigation costs (not to mention fines or danages awarded) are we going to fire 50% of town workers and go back to the 1 room schoolhouse model if Westford Academy circa 1792?
Local May 22, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I see what u mean @ sick days. Uniquely teachers have to plan to be sick. Lay out lesson plans for the sub, the schedule, what to do/not do, Mike gets on this bus today, Jim gets picked up today, Alex will take home his sister's work, they have gym at 11. Walk them there Do a head count when u leave & arrive on both trips, these kids have these food allergies, Tim will ask to use the bathroom & just roam the hallways, Paul gets no recess today, don't let so & so sit next to each other, Sara is diabetic, where stuff is located, who is on a behavior chart, what to monitor w/them, it's endless. Cops, firemen, private sector, sickbays are covered by people who do that job. Substitutes are usually not teachers. You're lucky if you get an young teacher waiting for a permanent job, or a retired teacher. It's usually just a warm body who can fill in last minute. Subs only requirement is to pass a Cori check. Its so much work to use a sick day that unless drastically ill, teacher's just go in. Thats part of why they don't use the sick days, not just $. @ backpay for steps, steps were budgeted this year, just not paid, it's sitting in escrow supposedly (then why haven't we just paid them?) But legal fees, penalties, fines & steps for next year are a huge problem. I think your right, the end cost may be more than just paying steps. With teacher moral, the cost compounds daily. Bringing it back may be impossible & other towns are just laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.
Franklin May 22, 2012 at 10:10 PM
I heard the MTA President Toner is coming to Westford to speak and advise the Westford teachers on recommended actions to implement next year. Buckle your seatbelts the flight is going to experience some turbulance! Hope Bill Olsen and Angela Harkness know what they are doing because we are starting to wonder
Local May 22, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Hopefully he understands that because they are in the middle of legal proceedings, now is not the time to play hardball. This is the appropriate time for the unions to encourage the labor force to continue to do their best to deal with it and be patient. They should they have been a lot firmer with instances that occurred before in my opinion. Like for a time the daily required curriculum minutes added up to more minutes than even existed in the school day, that's when the union should have been firm and said you have to fix this asap, instead they were very lenient with the SC. I've yet to see the S.C. not play hardball with the union, but the union from what I've observed (which of course is only a fraction of it) is pretty fluffy in response. That is why I say people who are decrying the WEA and it's "tactics" haven't really seen their tactics, or seen how most other unions would handle a similar matter. If you think the WEA is strong arming anything or anyone you've never seen a "real" union. That's why I think some unions are harmful, and a few are good and necessary. Teachers unions IMO fall into the latter category but you can be diplomatic, fair and kind w/out being a pushover. But I give them credit for this whole situation I think they made the right call every time. Now you want the courts to see how the teachers have been fulfilling the contract as if it were still in place & being cooperative. Now is when you kill them with kindness
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) May 22, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Hi Local, Just wanted to let you know that Culver has been recusing herself in regards to votes relating to teachers' negotiations. Minutes are available to corroborate that on the Westford Public Schools website.
Local May 24, 2012 at 06:20 AM
Andrew said "Hi Local, Just wanted to let you know that Culver has been recusing herself in regards to votes relating to teachers' negotiations. Minutes are available to corroborate that on the Westford Public Schools website." It's a conflict of interest no matter IMO. It's also doing the town a disservice by losing a viable vote. None of it may be Culver's fault, maybe her daughter is new I don't know. She might be completely objective about everything. Even if in other matters she is helping teachers (whom I support so I should want that advantage) it just shouldn't be as it opens the door to accusations of favoritism and the like. I don't know her or her daughter. More than likely S.C. Culver is a nice lady. I don't' have any reason to believe any impropriety has gone on, but in my humble opinion you don't want to give people something like that to point to. They should aim to be blameless in that regard. I feel strongly that shouldn't exist. ANy little thing that happens could cause an uproar....
Local May 24, 2012 at 06:51 AM
The only benefit I can see is if Culver is a trained educator, but it still can't be, just my opinion and no disrespect to the mother or daughter. The school committee in general should be made up of people with experience in education. That blows my mind that we don't' require that of the people in charge of purchasing curriculum, allocating funds everything they do. Often they are quick to purchase the latest & greatest curriculum at huge costs & it's garbage. Many times teachers have to work around the curriculum. I've helped my cousin correct math homework/tests a few times & each time they are filled with questions that I would answer wrong, and so do the kids at no fault of their own. The wording is so poor and there is often no discernible flow. When seeing how many questions I would get wrong I asked my cousin if this was just worded to make sense to a 1st grader & not an adult? She said no, & that they often have to teach outside the curriculum so the kids learn the concepts. Then they translate the tests so they make sense. 2 examples I can remember: There are 12 apples in a basket, & four children. If you hand out all of the apples what is the average amount of apples each child would have. 3? Right! Next: How many apples would 3 children have? I thought 4, it was 9. It's not verbatim but it sounded like they wanted the average for 3 kids. They wanted to know after averaging, if 3 kids combine their apples how many would they have....
Local May 24, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Next: They found another basket of 12 apples,what is the average amount of apples they would have? Ok, are you talking about the 3 kids w/9 apples which would be 21/3 =7 or the 4 kids w/12 which would be 24/4=6. "They" should reference the last group used, 3 kids, but they jumped back to 4 kids, Another: 2 brothers buy their mother a vase & two flowers for Mother's day. The vase cost $1, the flowers cost $.25 each. How much does the gift cost the brothers? Are you asking how much it costs them each or the total cost? The preceding was about averages so I assumed $.75. The answer was $1.50. Next, if 5 brothers bought the same gift for their mother how much does the gift cost the brothers. The question was the same, so it still should be $1.50. The answer was $.30! Whole packets like this that a PHD would have to guess the answers to because the questions are so poor. So many wrong answers that IMO were correct. A teacher who knows childhood development would not spend circa $10k on curriculum that's a liability, not an asset. W/no experience in education or brain development S.C.'s often get "sold." They don't know how to teach (usually) & never had the job. It makes for poor mediation between Town & Teacher. That's why a Teacher's union is imperative. An ideal ambassador to a foreign country would have lived there, speaks the language & knows both cultures. The existing arrangement is not helpful to the town, the teachers, or the kids.
Franklin May 24, 2012 at 08:55 AM
I think being popmpus, thinking the teachers like him (including his former teachers who choke now hearing his name) "Now I get to call Rob -'Bobby' that sort of thing, and having ESQ on ones mailbox should be the requisites for SC. Or perhaps attending Back to family values tea party rallies. An interesting thread would be proposed requirements to serve on School Committee. Anyone else?
Dan C May 24, 2012 at 09:14 AM
I agree with Local If the WEA had any strength WORK TO RULE would have lasted till the ratification of a contract instead of 4 days of 'we will show you' how much we do and quickly retreat back to the business as usual approach. All that did was show how soft this union is. Enter a 2nd year with no contract? Time to stand up and WORK TO RULE indefinitely or lay down, roll over, and take it
Local May 24, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Franklin, Just don't get too excited and shut the thread down, people are finally talking. But I'm as disappointed as you are about the whole thing, & baffled why it's happening. Dan C. I would not start work to rule at this point. Let the courts see the teachers are being reasonable. It makes there case better if/when the S.C. tries to bring up the "illegal work stoppage" (I don't' see that going anywhere anyway) In my last union i was friends with the president & we would banter about strategy just for mental stimulation. I learned a lot. Often times my "bright ideas" were terrible & he would explain why. One thing I learned is similar to Westford. The Co. wanted concessions on the contract to avoid layoffs because of their perilous financial state (stock was at a 20 year high) I asked why the union doesn't push for the people close to retirement to retire so others don't get laid off. He said that they were there first and who am I to decide their financial situation. I don't know what their life is like or what financial responsibilities they have. Also, retiring nor concessions would stop layoffs. The labor force can't collectively save them enough money to sustain it. Sustain he stressed is the key word. There might be a very temporary savings, but it won't sustain anything so you are conceding for nothing. It's just a card they play to get you to agree to the concessions....
Franklin May 24, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Well I hope teachers realize the next offer from the town isnt likely the best they can truely do as how many CONSESSIONS (not hiring mroe positions, no town trash pickup) do we see the town make as teachers are going to be asked to stall an obligated step for years? Some teachers will take anything 'better' because they are sick of this which means this 'tactic' would then have been a sucess for the town and a card that will be played again next time around. And why not? Teaches are asked to take less money than they are OWED so the town can HIRE MORE AND MORE NEW TEACHERS its time for the teachers to say "HECK NO"!!!! We will not subsidize spending and spending and speding so the town can pride itself on its W TOWN status and offerings on the pockets of its teachers, Nuff Said
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) May 24, 2012 at 09:23 PM
I can provide a Patch answers on requirements for running for office in Westford. That's fine. Listen to Local, though. Please talk to issues and not people.
Local May 24, 2012 at 09:40 PM
We were sufficiently spooked and ratified the contract with the concessions. Sure enough, a few months later, mass layoffs, myself included. I've seen that same thing happen over and over again. WHat's interesting is that the concessions agreed to caused the stock price to fall. By agreeing to the concessions we very well may have perpetuated precisely what we were trying to avoid. The teachers' can't' pay for the overstaffing, it's not sustainable. Every town and business has been hiring and laying off for years as the economy fluctuates, it's just a fact of life. Anyone who puts a single lost job on teachers should be ashamed of themselves. It's unfair even if you don't think about the numbers. But guilt makes for a great negotiating tactic. The town isn't feeling guilty about anything, they are playing to win. If you don't match that intensity you get suckered into making mistakes. They will make themselves into the benevolent ones and the teachers as the ruthless ones, when it's the exact opposite. You have to learn to see through the smoke cloud the Co/town will create. The union did a good job with it, and the teachers took a stand, I'm so glad they did. It would sadden me to see them get played as I've examined everything I can pretty thoroughly and Westford gets more than enough from its' teachers. The town has a lot of gall asking for more from them considering so many other factors.
Franklin May 24, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I know Olsen and harness are not above blaming teachers for everything and take zero accountability for this mess themselves, I have read an email were Olsen played the save jobs card as he wrote a budget which included new staff, that is my ask patch question, why the town can claim saving current jobs while increasing staff at the same time
Andrew Sylvia (Editor) May 24, 2012 at 10:55 PM
Okay, I'm closing comments here.


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