Westford School Committee member
Westford has great schools. We see it in our students’ successes. Westford is repeatedly ranked at the top of “Best Schools” lists both in the state and nationally. Our strong school system is a reason many people choose to live in Westford.
The town has built this incredible system through the support of our community and because we recruit and employ top-notch teachers. But to keep the foundation of our schools — our great teachers — we need to offer competitive pay.
Westford teachers are paid 6 percent less than their peers in comparable communities. We run a lean school system, spending $1,800 less per student than the Massachusetts state average. And yet, in spite of these conservative spending habits, Westford schools consistently produce academic performance in the top 10 percent of Massachusetts schools.
Rather than recognizing and paying our teachers for this excellent performance, we are asking them to work for less than what they can earn in comparable communities. The law of supply and demand applies in Westford as it does everywhere. A large and persistent pay gap will inevitably affect our ability to attract and retain the best teachers.
The best time to address solve this pay gap is now, before we face a crisis.
We cannot resolve this problem within the routine budgeting process. The gap is simply too large. In order to protect our investment, we need to pass a $1.6 million Proposition 1½ override to bring our teachers to average pay levels. This strategy would impact the average tax bill $60 in the first year, $120 in the second year, and then $180 in all future years.
We can’t afford to continue to punt it forward or wait for the crisis to emerge. Waiting for a crisis before we fix this problem is like saying the right time to fix your roof is after it has collapsed.
The importance of a stable, excellent group of teachers in student success is clear. Now our voters need to show that we value our strong schools by voting yes for equitable pay for our teachers at Town Meeting March 25 and again at our town election May 2.
Former Westford selectwoman
Set aside your arguments for deserved salary adjustments for Westford educators. I could make the same argument for public works employees every time I hear a snowplow pass my house at 4 a.m. Instead, consider if a Proposition 2½ override is the appropriate funding source.
An override is a permanent increase to the tax base, over and above the 2.5 percent annual allowance. Overrides were not intended to fund existing operating expenses but for new services. Westford School Committee’s request for a $1.6 million override for teacher salary adjustments is an operational expense. We should vote to reject it at the ballot box.
Justification for an override is offered through a political marketing campaign, good for one year only. Thereafter, the additional tax goes into the town’s general fund and may be used for any operational purpose. The tax increase now being requested is permanent, but its use for salary is not guaranteed.
The town manager has been outstanding in anticipating and providing for future operating expenses. Make employee compensation a priority and the town manager is more than capable of planning for reasonable increases over time.
What is most troubling is how unusual it is for a board to request an override for one subset of town employees. It immediately struck me as the same lack of statesmanship exhibited by our representatives in Washington, where everyone appears to be out for themselves. In the past, Westford’s boards and staff have collaboratively budgeted in the best interest of taxpayers. Although budget hearings were heated, consensus always was achieved, each participant recognizing the value of others.
A spirit of cooperation that took decades to build is in jeopardy with the request for teacher salary adjustment. It is wrong now to regress and single out one department as more deserving than another.
The intent of Proposition 2½ was to incentivize municipal governments to live within their means, balancing expenses with revenue. It is reasonable to expect employee compensation may need modification from time to time. Such adjustments are by definition an ordinary expense in any municipal operating budget. Funding salary adjustments with a tax override is inappropriate and a misuse of the legislation.
Last week’s Argument: Should congressional Democrats try to work with President Trump?
Yes: 32.26% (10 votes)
No: 67.74% (21 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.