Kristine Jussaume & Heidi Hider, Westford Education Association President and Vice President
The Westford Education Association will be handing out pamphlets to educate the public about our concerns with the lack of funding for the Westford Public Schools outside the Westford Town Meeting that is scheduled for Saturday, March 25 at 10 AM.
The Westford Education Association (WEA) is the only union in the town of Westford with below-average salaries and while the town has voiced its commitment to bringing our salaries to average, the Westford schools do not have a budget that will make that possible. The WEA typically negotiates three-year contracts with the town, but this has not been possible in recent years. During Covid, the WEA recognized that financial uncertainties could make reaching a three-year deal difficult. As a result, the Westford Education Association has accepted the following one-year contracts with minimal cost-of-living adjustments:
2022-2023 2% COLA
2021-2022 2% COLA
The WEA is committed to negotiating three-year contracts for all of its units. Unfortunately, we are at a standstill. Unit E (teacher assistants) has been working without a contract since the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. We entered mediation with the district in October and the negotiation team brought a tentative agreement to the membership earlier this month. This contract was voted down by an overwhelming number, mainly due to the low salary, which would top out at $27,767. While the town argues that this salary puts Westford teacher assistants at “average salaries”, the WEA does not feel this represents a fair living wage. Management’s salary proposals were far below the $40,000 the WEA had hoped to receive for the teacher assistants.
WEA’s Unit A/C, which consists of professionals including teachers, counselors, specialist teachers, and nurses has been negotiating since the fall in an attempt to secure a three-year contract that includes compensation increases that will bring our salaries up to average. To our dismay, we were again offered a one-year deal with a COLA of less than 2.5%.
Westford residents may also recall that employees of the Westford Public Schools were brought up to slightly below-average salaries in 2017 through the proposition 2 ½ override. The WEA was extremely grateful for this increase; however, since 2016, the percentage of the town’s budget allocated to the schools has decreased steadily. Additionally, the town’s inability to keep teacher salaries in line with other towns has remained a major problem. In reality, the Westford Public School System has told the
WEA for years that they cannot provide a meaningful salary adjustment to make our pay comparable to other towns. Approximately ten years ago, the WEA accepted two years of a contract with a COLA of ZERO.
The per pupil expenditure in the Westford Public Schools is significantly lower than other school districts to which Westford is “comparable” as identified by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). In 2021, the per pupil expenditure in Westford was $16,256; in the same year, the per pupil expenditures for students in Wellesley and Needham, two districts that DESE considers Westford comparable districts, were $24,183 and $21,146 respectively.
The Westford Public Schools are at a critical point right now. In addition to problems with teacher salaries, students have been affected by reductions in learning opportunities. For example, elementary classrooms no longer have digital learning specialists, teacher assistants were removed from non-inclusion classrooms in grades K-5, students in grades K-5 no longer visit the Living Lab at Day School, Pre-First is no longer available, curriculum coordinator positions have been condensed, teacher supply budgets have drastically been reduced to $300 for a year’s worth of classroom supplies, and 5th graders no longer attend a week-long environmental program at East Boston Camps.
The Westford Education Association submitted language and salary proposals for a three-year contract, but it is likely that we will begin the 2023-2024 school year without a contract. The WEA is hopeful that Westford residents will speak up for its students and staff to encourage the town to allocate proper funding to its schools. Our students and staff deserve better.
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