When we first started this blog 3.5 years ago, we were in the throes of a very bad recession. Things were grim. State funds were drying up. Massive cuts were imminent. The goal of this blog was to pull citizens together to do everything we could to make sure our school budget didn't get slashed and burned.
In June of 2010, things came to a head when the city council decided it wanted more influence over the school budget and the teacher's contract by cutting $864,000 from the budget. Leading the charge was Councilor David Flaherty. Thankfully, we beat back his attack on our schools. But that wasn't the last we heard from Flaherty. In 2012, Councilor Flaherty proposed a profoundly insincere approach to fund Westfield's schools that not even Superintendent Scallion supported. And just a few months ago another manufactured budget crisis from Council Flaherty put us on the precipice of making unnecessary budget cuts to our schools. Thankfully, the more reasoned councilors prevailed in the battle.
We often joked that the name of our blog should be changed to "Save Westfield Schools From David Flaherty."
Flaherty's technique is not new. First, he gains attention for himself by cloaking himself as a Very Serious Person—to borrow a phrase from noted economist Paul Krugman—claiming to be a hard-nosed fiscal conservative that knows how to clean up financial mismanagement left by other bungling politicians. Then he tosses out very large numbers like $300 million and scary sounding phrases like "unfunded pension liabilities" in an attempt to frighten residents and other city councilors. According to Councilor Flaherty, Westfield is on the fast track to bankruptcy. His then tries to force others to swallow his concoction of fiscal austerity measures to shrink government spending to a level he thinks is more reasonable. Much like the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz, his hope is that people will tremble before him and do whatever he asks.
We think we've done a decent job of revealing the man behind the curtain. We spent a fair amount of time researching his claims and debating him ad nauseum. We've come to the solid conclusion his arguments have little merit and there's nothing to be particularly alarmed about. His wild notions have gotten more than enough attention from us—much more attention than they actually deserve. And at this point, he has no credible allies and few people take him seriously.
So we're moving on and we are not longer going to allow Flaherty to divert our attention to all the great and positive stories going on in our schools. There are also many challenges our schools face and we're going to see what we can do to pull people together to tackle those challenges together.