Saturday, February 14, 2009

Post-Identity politics & Paul Santaniello

Chairman Paul Santaniello sat down recently with me to discuss the economy and its challenges to our state and our town. Click HERE to watch the interview.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reality Check

Below are some recent news headlines that paint a pretty dreary near term local economic future....

click here to read full story

click here to read full story online

Recent cutbacks in state aid by Governor Patrick (see previous LongmeadowBuzz blog postings) to Massachusetts cities and towns are strongly related to the worldwide recession and appear to be getting worse. In October, Gov. Patrick reduced FY09 spending by over 1 billion dollars and just recently announced additional large cutbacks in aid to cities and towns for both FY09 and FY10. My guess is that we haven't seen the whole story and more cuts should be anticipated.

Because of this trend in the global economy I believe that at least in the short term (next 1-2 years) the finances of Longmeadow will be stretched to the limit. Many of us have already reacted in our personal finances by significantly reducing spending and building contingency plans (increased savings, etc...) for financial survival.

This week's vote by the School Committee on the FY10 school budget ($31.2 million) and reported in this week's Longmeadow News highlighted the need for 11 staff layoffs in order to meet the FY10 budget guidelines set by the Select Board and the Town Manager.

I attended the recent public forum held by the School Committee at Longmeadow HS on the upcoming School Dept FY10 budget and was very impressed by the large amount of effort that was involved. The proposed budget included some difficult staffing reduction decisions in order to meet the budget guidelines. (The proposed FY10 budget is ~ $83,000 lower than FY09 budget.)

My concern is that the proposed budget did not include any allowance for "cost of living adjustments" (COLA) that might be involved with the upcoming teacher contract negotiations (the current contract expires at the end of this school year). In response to a question that I asked, Superintendent Hart indicated that she "hoped" that some agreeement could be reached before the Town Meeting in April to allow the budget process to be finalized.

(note: The last teacher's contract negotiation in Longmeadow extended more than one year past the prior contract expiration date and resulted in the need for a $2.1 million Proposition 2½ override .)

To put some economic prospective on this concern, professional salaries (I'm assuming mostly teachers) in the FY10 budget are $18.6 million dollars. (It should be noted that this number does not include health care and other related school dept employee benefits which according to the FY09 budget report was 3.8 million dollars) .

If a 2.5% COLA was negotiated it would add approximately $465,000 to the proposed FY10 budget. With current budget process, the likely way to achieve this savings would be through a reduction of teachers and/or other staff positions since salaries are ~75% of the total school budget. Obviously this approach would not be in the best interests of our schools or community.

While I do not know all of the specifics of the teacher salary structure, I do know that many teachers in our school system will receive "step increases" even if a 0% COLA was implemented.

If you have been following the budget process for the past couple of years, you will have become aware of the large impact of teacher and other town employees salaries on the budget of our town.

I believe that additional town employee contract negotiations are also underway which will put additional pressure on our FY10 budget.

Given the current economic conditions that surround us, I would like to propose a one year contract and freeze on salaries (that is, a 0% COLA for FY10) for both town and school employees so that we do not lose key people that are important to maintaining the quality of life in our town. Contracts for FY11 and FY12 can be negotiated once the economy stabilizes and future town revenues are more visible.

As a community we need to react in a prudent manner or else the future of our town may become very distressed caused by drastic cuts in town and school services dramatically affecting our quality of life.

The LongmeadowBuzz blog invites both pro and con agruments to this proposal for posting. Comments are moderated but are more likely to appear if you add your name and address. Consider the posting of such comments on the LongmeadowBuzz blog as a Internet "letter to the editor".