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Support Westfield Schools

Support Westfield Schools is building a coalition of residents, parents, students, organizations, teachers, professionals, and business and civic leaders working together to improve the quality of the public school system in Westfield, Massachusetts. 

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Teachers demonstrated outside of Abner Gibbs school on Wednesday, calling for higher cost of living adjustments.
Teachers demonstrated outside of Abner Gibbs school on Wednesday, calling for higher cost of living adjustments.

Inflation-Adjusted Teacher Salaries in Westfield Show Loss of Earning Power Since 2004

Note: The following post was written by Steve Dondley, at-large candidate for Westfield City Council.

By my analysis, a typical teacher working in Westfield today is earning significantly less than a Westfield teacher did in 2004. After factoring for inflation, a veteran Westfield teacher makes 4.6% less and newer Westfield teachers earn 7.4% less than they did nine years ago. These results were determined by doing a side-by-side comparison of the teacher contract from 2004 with the teacher contract currently in effect in 2013.
For example, in 2004, a brand new teacher in Westfield with a Bachelor's degree could expect to earn $31,375/year. In 2013 dollars, that is the equivalent of $38,905. But a new teacher in Westfield today earns only $36,028, 7.4% less than what a new teacher earned in 2004.

Support Westfield's Teachers

Note: The following essay was written by Steve Dondley, at-large candidate for Westfield City Council.

Imagine you are a brand new teacher here in Western Massachusetts with a recently acquired Bachelor's degree looking for a job. In the process of earning your required degrees and certifications, you've accumulated a mountain of debt plus the prospect of paying $12,000 for a Master's degree so you can keep your job. And though you are ready and eager to teach, just like everyone else, you have practical obligations that need to be paid for like mortgage/rent, food, clothing, transportation, child care, and dozens of other kinds of expenditures needed just to make ends meet.

Are Teacher Unions Good for Our Kids?

Now there's an incendiary question for you, right? It's all too easy to get our political dander up and vociferously express our opinion as to why we think unions are good or bad for kids. Asking this question is a great way to ruin a Thanksgiving Day dinner but is generally not likely to help us build consensus.

Michael Pritchard entertained and enlightened Westfield's teachers and support staff.
Michael Pritchard entertained and enlightened Westfield's teachers and support staff.

A New Year, A New Start

In honor of the new school year and fresh starts, I've decided a name for "Save Westfield Schools" was in order. From this day forward, this blog shall be officially known as "Support Westfield Schools."  Why? I've decided to broaden the scope of SWS. I don't want it to focus on just budget crises, I want to it to focus more on how parents, teachers, students, support staff and citizens can all pull together to make our schools great. There was lots of great stories this blog was missing and so now it's time to correct that.

The Rebirth of Save Westfield Schools (We Are So Over Councilor Flaherty)

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.

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