Friday, May 15, 2009

It’s all about the money!

The following are excerpts from an April 30 Longmeadow School Committee PR.

“The Longmeadow School Committee and the Longmeadow Teachers Union have been engaged in “Interest Based Bargaining” since January. As of April 29, a settlement had not been reached and both negotiating teams have agreed to jointly file for mediation with the Division of Labor Relations for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The School Committee is hopeful that with the assistance of a state mediator, the parties will reach resolution on a successor agreement before the August 31 expiration of the current agreement.”

“The School Committee recognizes that the current financial climate makes collective bargaining extremely difficult for both management and the union. The School Department budget, recently approved at Town Meeting, included more than $200,000 in step increases imbedded in the current collective bargaining agreement for the teachers, but did not include additional funds for a cost of living adjustment (COLA). The Committee recognizes that there is a potential $600,000 deficit for the FY2010 budget and that such a deficit will place an even greater strain on the District’s limited resources. In the next two weeks, the School Committee will be taking the difficult action of reducing its workforce for the 2009/2010 school year.”

In the May 14 issue of the Springfield Republican, there was an article about the upcoming SC/ teacher’s union mediation process. Marcia Haar, president of the Longmeadow Education Association, was quoted “These difficult economic times require a level of creativity in negotiations that a mediator should be able to facilitate.”
For anyone who has been reading my posts on LongmeadowBuzz, you will know that I believe we as a town need to be realistic as to what we can afford whether it comes to teacher (and other town employee) salaries, building a new high school or repairing our decaying town infrastructure (water/ sewer lines, DPW facility, etc.).

Longmeadow is certainly not isolated from the difficult economic times that the world is now experiencing. The town is receiving significantly less state aid than in previous years and our other revenue sources (auto excise taxes, interest on town deposits, etc.) are down sharply. At the same time some of our expenses, particularly those related to Special Education are escalating at a fast pace.

In the world around us, we are seeing skyrocketing unemployment/ job losses, business bankruptcies, crashing stock markets and collapse of some of our best know financial institutions. For even the most savvy people, financial survival is becoming more and more difficult with every passing day. No one knows for sure when this crisis will be over.

Now back to the subject at hand….Looking from the outside it would appear that one of the key obstacles in these SC/teacher union negotiations is likely related to cost of living adjustments (COLA) and other salary/ benefit considerations that need be factored into the new three year teachers contract.

In other words…. “it’s all about the money!”

From what I understand about the Longmeadow teacher’s contract there are at least three components that make up total teacher compensation. These components include step increases, education credit raises and a COLA.

According to my source the step salary schedule for the current contract ending August 31 provides for an average of ~2.8% for every year up to 15th year.

[It is interesting to note in the SC press release that $200,000 for step increases has been “allocated” in the FY2010 budget. However, at the April 27 Select Board meeting the Finance Committee chairman stated that the current teachers’ contract has ~ $350,000 for step increases. Does that mean that the FY2010 school dept budget as approved at Town Meeting does not include the full allocation of salary step increases and is $150,000 short? How about the allocation of funds for education credit raises in FY2010?]

The current contract provides for teacher advancement of their Masters Degree and education credit raises of ~ 1.5 - 2.7% for every 15 credit hours achieved. Obviously, this salary increase is not achieved every year.

For teachers who have been in the system longer than 15 years and who are approaching retirement there are longevity pay increments during the last three years of employment. The current increment is a $3000 increase for each of the last three years.

In today’s uncertain times, a “no cut” employment contract would appear to be a great job benefit. According to the current contract, notice of termination must be given to a teacher before June 15 otherwise employment is guaranteed until the end of the following school year. There are not many people employed in business today that have such an employment contract. Usually, it is 2 weeks notice or less.

Town Meeting passed the FY2010 budget without provisions for teacher or police/fire COLAs. Each 1% COLA that is agreed to will cost the town ~$300,000/year. Now that the teachers union and SC have initiated mediation, the police and fire unions will likely await the outcome and not be inclined to settle for anything less than what the teachers receive.

It is interesting to note that April Consumer Price Index (CPI)
data reported today showed prices were unchanged from March and 0.7% lower than one year ago- the largest 12 month drop since 1955. If this is the case, why is there a need for a “cost of living adjustment”?

As reported at Town Meeting, the town has $2.1 million in its Operational Stabilization Fund (aka “rainy day” fund) which will likely be used to meet any contract financial obligations and to balance the FY2010 budget. Let’s be careful that we do not use all of this money too quickly or else we may find that it is still raining for the next two years or more and we have no easy remedy.

Let me repeat what I said three weeks ago in previous Buzz

"I am hoping that the teachers and town employee unions will agree to a 0% COLA for at least one year. We need all of our town employees and teachers to help maintain the quality of life and education in our town. We also need to recognize the difficult financial circumstances that lie ahead and plan accordingly."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Preliminary Election Results

Preliminary Election – Official Figures from Town Clerk

Total Votes Cast – 2524
First Place – Santaniello 521 = 20.6% B,C,D = finished first
Second Place – Aseltine 490 = 19.4% A,E = finished first
Third Place – Tie – Grady – Johansen 359 = 14.2% each
Fourth Place – Stolar 284 = 11.3%
Fifth Place – Marchese 215 = 8.5%

Blanks/Write ins = 296 = 11.7%
Total voters – 1262 (11,932 eligible) 10.58% per cent turnout

Johansen – 2nd in A, 3rd in B, 5th in C, 5th in D, 3rd in E.
Grady – 4th in A, 4th in B, 3rd in C, 3rd in D, 3rd in E

Collected by John J. Fitzgerald