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School Matters

I found a copy of the Longmeadow Annual Town Meeting Warrant & Finance Committee Report in my Reminder this week. Being a responsible Longmeadow resident for thirty years, I diligently read it to keep myself informed about matters of interest to me. I was especially interested to see what was to be said about the School Department's shortfall in funding. In Section 5B, I read about the fact that the teachers in our town have been working without a contract since August 31, 2006.

I am surprised that the town could go so long without negotiating a contract with their teachers and appalled that they could present a budget without nailing these costs down beforehand by having a formalized and approved contract in place before proposing a budget to the town.

The author of this section goes on to say that an override would likely be necessary to pay for the "extraordinary" event of having to come up with retroactive pay due to the fact that a contract was not negotiated in a timely fashion.

Whose fault is that? Why wasn't the contract negotiated in time so the increased funding needed to satisfy a contract could be forecast? This "extraordinary" event seems to me to be the result of an "extraordinary" failing on the part of the School Committee to see that a contract was in place before this was allowed to get to this point.

A contract was not negotiated in good faith with the LEA. School Committee representatives have failed to put forth good faith efforts to accomplish the negotiation of the contract.

I was further stunned by a seemingly editorial comment in Section 7, Conclusion.

The author, supposedly expressing the collective opinion of the Finance Committee, puts the blame on the LEA. They say, "If the LEA recognizes its last labor contract for the fiscally crushing windfall it was, and works with the School Committee to draft a new contract more in keeping with the Town's fiscal abilities." everything will be fine. I have to take issue with this irresponsible and inaccurate editorial statement that has no place in a Finance committee's report. First, the contract referenced by the author was negotiated in good faith in 2003 after the teachers worked for almost a year with no contract. This contract was to cover the 2002 to 2006 time period but was not finalized until 2003. There seems to be a pattern of being slow to negotiate these contracts. I highly object to the characterization of this contract as being a "fiscally crushing windfall." According to the "Merriam-Webster Dictionary," a windfall is defined as "an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage".

This was a negotiated contract. It was neither unexpected nor unearned. It should not be represented as unexpected. The School Committee should be well aware of the expiration date of any contract they have. It is an insult to the teachers represented by the LEA to say it was unearned. Our teachers give their utmost to provide our children quality education. Given the history of delays in approving recent contracts, it more assuredly was not "sudden" and it certainly was not an "advantage". That contract simply strived to more closely align teachers' salaries in Longmeadow with those in neighboring towns.

It was not an extraordinarily generous contract given the comparable contracts I have seen in cities and towns in the Springfield area.

Apparently the School Committee agreed with it at the time it approved the contract. What bearing does that have on the contract now in negotiation? That contract is now five years old and people subject to that contract have retired and others have been hired. The Finance Committee has no business bringing up reservations about a past contract at this point in time.

Why was the teachers' contract singled out by this comment to be the culprit to be blamed for the town's fiscal woes? Didn't the police get a raise this year? Didn't the firemen get a raise this year? How about the DPW, the clerical staff, and other town employees? Why this expression of a negative attitude toward the very people responsible for providing high quality education for our Town's children? These are highly educated individuals who give above and beyond in time and resources to accomplish the kind of education for which this town has come to be recognized.

The Finance Committee owes an apology to the teachers of this town for this irresponsible and inflammatory statement. This kind of inaccurate editorial opinion has no place in an official publication. Members of this committee should be polled to see if they all share this warped opinion, or if it was just the author's idea to push a personal agenda.

This report needs to be revised to remove such irresponsible and inaccurate statements.

Terry Rushbrook