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Selectmen Split on Operating Budget Recommendation to Voters

Town Meeting voters will now have a final recommended figure for the Fiscal Year 2014 operating budget

 

The Westford Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to recommend to Town Meeting a figure $450,000 above the original recommendation from Town Manager Jodi Ross.

Initial revisions began after the School Committee recommended figure nearly $1 million higher than the original amount after recommending several new positions they say are vital to the town’s educational standards as well as unexpected special education mandates brought forth by the state.

Board of Selectmen chairman Kelly Ross voted along side Selectman Jim Sullivan to recommend that specific figure after the multi-week debate between the Selectmen, School Committee and Finance Committee.

Ross in particular noted his concerns on hiring new staff members after hearing Town Manger Jodi Ross repeatedly say that up to 30 staff members could be fired in Fiscal Year ’15 without revenue enhancements, saying this was unfair to current staff members who had taken painful cuts during contract negotiations and that possible employees would not want to come to a town where they could potentially be fired the next year.

“I think everybody here agrees that we’d love to give the school department everything they’re asking,” said Ross. “But there’s only so much money.”

Selectmen Andrea Peraner-Sweet and Bob Jefferies, both up for reelection in April, voted not to recommend the figure, instead preferring the recommendation from the Finance Committee to add an additional $105,000 from capital reserves on top of the extra $450,000.

Peraner-Sweet indicated her belief that the $105,000 was inconsequential to preventing the looming deficit crisis then.

Jefferies also added that the $105,000 was insignificant given the amount of negotiation in the process and the grand scope of the nearly $100 million budget, noting that a  1 percent decrease in projections on health insurance could make up those funds in question.

Initially Selectman Val Wormell voted with Ross and Sullivan, but after the Finance Committee, which was still technically having their own meeting simultaneously during the Board of Selectmen meeting, moved across the hallway to reconsider their $450,000+$150,000 recommendation from last week by a 7-1 margin and recommend the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation of $450,000, Wormell asked for a reconsideration of the Board of Selectmen’s recommendation.

While Wormell objected to the $450,000 figure, she objected to the figure being as high as it was given the possibility of the FY ’15 layoffs, particularly among new proposed hirings in the Police Department and Planning Department.

Following the reconsideration and extensive renewed debate among all the members, the initial 3-2 vote was made again on the same lines.

During the Finance Committee meeting taking place across the hall from the Selectman’s meeting, Finance Committee chairman Mike Princi told the Committee that this was the first split recommendation from the Selectmen on the operating budget he had seen since he joined the Committee in 2005.

School Committee Angela Harkness again indicated to the board that despite the fact that the Selectmen did not recommend the full amount requested by the School Committee, her members were in agreement that the new positions were necessary to maintain the district’s level of excellence, and that cuts would be made elsewhere in order to hire the new staff members if the money could not be found through appropriation or other sources of revenue.

Voters will act upon the Fiscal Year ’14 operating budget and other measures at the Abbot School gym on March 23.

Alex Finnegan April 07, 2013 at 06:34 PM
For anyone interested in the SPED line being used I researched other school districts throroughly for the year 2011. Here is how Westford stacks up I can give you schools with roughly similar enrollment numbers for 2011-12 year. Bear in mind Olsen said it costs on average about $100k to teach special ed kids. Town | Enroll | Sped | Sped % | Tot Teach | Sped | Sped T % Franklin |6032| 1072 |17.77| 416.1| 81.7 | 19.63 Marshfield |4671| 831 | 17.79 | 323.5 | 50.5 |15.61 Natick |4825| 750 | 15.54 | 333.1 | 28.4 | 8.53 Fitchburg |4881| 1260 | 25.81 | 333.8 | 58.2 | 17.43 Somerville |4855| 1104 | 22.74 | 338 | 33 | 9.76 Chelmsford |5307| 857 |16.14 | 340.3 | 42.5 | 12.48 Needham |5358| 803 | 14.98 | 344.7 | 21.2 | 6.12 Marlborough |4573| 1013 | 22.15 | 348.7 | 45.9 | 13.16 Shrewsbury |5938| 972 | 16.37 | 351.9 | 48.7 | 13.84 Wellesley |4892| 832 | 17 | 357.4 | 48.6 | 13.6 Woburn |4809| 894 |18.59 | 364.3 | 37.1 | 10.18 Attkeboro |5855| 1137 | 19.42 | 365.8 | 67.1 | 18.34 Medford |4849| 999 | 20.6 | 382.9 | 68.3 | 17.84
Alex Finnegan April 07, 2013 at 06:34 PM
own | Enroll | Sped | Sped % | Tot Teachers | Sped Teachers | Sped T % Braintree |5467| 1165 | 21.31%| 384.8 | 70.7 | 18.37% Billerica |5792| 1284 | 22.17%| 397 | 59.4 | 14.96% Westford |5291| 609 | 11.5%| 357 | 22.4 | 6.27% 2010 Westford |5273| 581 | 11%| 360.5 | 33.9 | 9.4% 2009 Westford |5308| 588 | 11.08%| 354.9 | 36 | 10.14% 2008 Westford |5284| 580 | 10.97%| 361.9 | 37.6 | 10.39% It seems that Westford saves SUBSTANTIAL money every year compared to schools with similar enrollment numbers because of the low number of SPED kids. Where has that money been going all these years? I'ts not to the teachers. I'm so sick of the town crying "poverty" when by your own calculations you far less per child to give an above average education, save millions in sped education because your enrollment is so low and pay your teachers below the state average. All you people who are anti teacher, thats fine. But don't you want to know the asnwer to what I just asked you? Where is all that money? I just gave you the numbers, so vs other school districts you save between $25-$60 million? Where is it? This town feeds it's citizens fodder not fit for a pig but people eat it without questioning it.
Alex Finnegan April 07, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Nothing new should be bought, until you can pay your town people as you told them you would. That includes not "back door" docking them via insurance. Should I just repost the towns article on how they saved the town money on health insurance by getting them an equal plan, but just as I said, (because I've done this before, but then again why listen to me) the next year the insurance went up, copays went up. The town advertised that they saved the town money with an equal plan while they could, knowing full well that was the teaser rate to get them to switch, the next year, it went up, now they want to cut the insurance plan and increase costs again. Your taxes burden (rate x avg value) is higher than all but one of those towns Your teachers are paid lower than most of those towns You spend less per child than many of these towns, few spend less than you. But they do not rank in the top 5% of school systems. You have literally hundreds of fewer sped kids than those other towns. Sometimes they have double the number withh similar overall enrollment. The sped kids you have statistically shouldn't be that expensive to teach because you have one of the lowest sped teacher ratios. You just saved a bundle by withholding steps for all town workers. Your insurance coverage and split is already amongst the worst in MA, you want to make insurance even worse. This is not longer teacher vs towns men, fireman vs, private sector. I've got the numbers...
Alex Finnegan April 07, 2013 at 06:35 PM
I've done the research, Westford has a serious problem on it's hands. You are stacked against the competition in every way favorable to you at the expense of town employees, yet you pay some of the highest taxes. IT IS NOT GOING TO THE TEACHERS NOR THEIR INSURANCE, NOR THE SPED KIDS! Where is it going. The last round of sacrifices the town employees were more than fair, I can't believe the Town has the gall to try to get more. And they masterfully get you to look at teachers as the problem. I gave you the numbers folks, you are smart enough to add and subtract, what is it going to take for people to wake up and start asking what the real problem is? Continuing to squeeze your employees is not an option, and none of the unions should stand for it. None. You fold this time around you are just going to be pushed around forever. You've been reasonable, it's time for the the town Govt to show some responsibility and reason. R
Townie April 07, 2013 at 07:36 PM
All union protest tomorrow on the common against the Westford beat down of its employees, the reputation is spreading Westford is no longer the place to move and raise family, BOS so out of touch they try for unconstitutional gun grab, SC routinely walks on backs of its educators ENOUGH! The lines are drawn,

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