To Westford Families,
I wish to thank the voters who supported the override question seeking greater pay equity for our teachers. The classroom teacher is the most important contributor to the academic development of students. Your approval of the override for teacher salaries is an investment that will help us to attract and retain the highest quality staff now and in the future. The positive, supportive, encouraging townwide culture has been instrumental in allowing us to bring ongoing improvements to the school system, and for that I am extremely grateful.
An override of Proposition 2 ½ for any reason is difficult, and a number of voters were not in favor of the ballot question. The democratic process was exercised and the position of every voter is to be respected. During the weeks leading to the town election there were a number of good questions about the collective bargaining process, the need for an override and, if approved, how the override funds would be used. I will address each of these questions.
A few voters expressed the feeling that the school administration and School Committee were abdicating their negotiation responsibilities and transferring this responsibility to the voters. The School Committee could not enter into a collective bargaining agreement with our teachers that would obligate the town to an expense that could not be funded via current revenue levels. Through a series of discussions with the Town Manager and the Board of Selectmen, it was determined that an override of Proposition 2 ½ was the only viable and reliable means to fund any teacher salary adjustment. The result of the ballot question would provide direction to the negotiations strategy of the School Committee.
On several occasions residents asked if funds that are returned by the school system to the town at the end of the fiscal year could be used to fund the teacher pay adjustment instead of an override. Each year, the school system generally returns unexpended funds in the amount of $250,000 to $300,000 to the town. This amount represents less than .5% of our school department budget. The level of end of year funds depends very much on our special education tuition account and staff turnover level in a particular year. The funds that are returned to the town from all town departments, including the school system, are used to leverage the programs and services in all town departments the following fiscal year. This has been instrumental in allowing departments to maintain stability in programs
and services from year to year. I must also point out that the level of funds available for turn back to the town has been variable from year to year. My point here is that contractual obligations cannot be funded with uncertain, variable sources of funds. Fixed obligations must be funded with a reliable revenue source on an annual basis.
At the annual Town Meeting a resident asked how taxpayers could be assured that the $1.6 million raised via an override would actually be used to fund teacher salaries. Quite simply, if the override funds were not used to fund the teacher salary gaps, the administration and School Committee would have to make $1.6 million in cuts to programs, services and staff to fund this contractual obligation.
I have worked in our school system for 31 years, and in that time we have had an outstanding reputation for fiscal prudence and integrity. The return on your dollars invested in the school system has been substantial. Our school system's excellent reputation is widely recognized and your recent support of the ballot question will help us continue to provide one of the finest school systems in America.
Everett V. Olsen, Jr.
Superintendent of Schools