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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.

Flaherty's spreadsheet predictions a major fail.
Flaherty's spreadsheet predictions a major fail.

Flaherty's Math Just Doesn't Add Up

If you still believe there might be something to Councilor David Flaherty's doom and gloom projections for Westfield, you might want to consider how wrong he got it last year when he projected that this year's school budget would be $5 million short. Thinking that our schools were in such dire straits, he asked the City Council to consider crafting a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote to raise money for the schools. 

At a June 21, 2012 council meeting, Flaherty justified his call for the override vote by claiming that "the math doesn't work" for the coming 2014 school budget. He also questioned how it would be possible to find $5 million for the schools next year and wondered aloud why school officials couldn't "add two more columns to their spreadsheet" to figure that out. You can see and hear all of it for yourself.
As we now know, nothing of the sort happened. It would appear Flaherty's mystical belief in the power of spreadsheets to predict the future just might be a tad unfounded. And if Flaherty can be so far off on a one year projection for one part of the city's budget, is it likely his five year projection for the entire city will be accurate? 

Dispelling Flaherty's Myths About Westfield's Pensions

Yesterday, Councilor Flaherty had his disinformation campaign on MassLive rolling in high gear with several posts linking to press accounts of public pension funds in other cities and states that are in trouble and hurting city finances. Flaherty's posts were designed to scare Westfield's citizens into thinking that Westfield could be next.

But it's important to note that none of the press accounts he cited were in Massachusetts. Why? Because in 1996, state legislators had the foresight to set up the Pension Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC). PERAC's job is to oversee and regulate the 105 public pension systems in the state, including Westfield's. On top of PERAC, there have been many Massachusetts laws and regulations passed regarding pension funds going back decades.

Oracle Flaherty Flops on Pension Fund Return Figures

On June 19th, Westfield's self-appointed financial seer, David Flaherty, said the mayor's estimate of 8% returns for Westfield's pension fund were too optimistic, despite the fact that the annualized return for the last 28 years is 8.59%. Apparently, Councilor Flaherty's ability to see into the future is more insightful than a 28 year track record.

And now the latest numbers are in for 2012. The fund was up a whopping 15.04%, almost double what Flaherty said was "unrealistic."

Anybody who blindly believes everything Flaherty puts in his little videos should start thinking twice.

Councilor Flaherty Claims That Lawsuits from City Workers Would Have Been Spurious. Really?

Update, 8:38pm: Flaherty has responded with an embarrasingly incoherent attempt at employment contract law. 

In a letter to the editor appearing in today's Westfield News, Councilor David Flaherty characterized as "spurious" any legal challenges that the city workers could have initiated against the city as a result of his budget cuts. We have one simple question for Councilor Flaherty, what legal minds did he consult with to arrive at this conclusion?

Apology to David Flaherty

I want to offer an apology to David Flaherty for referring to him dismissively as a "bean counter" on the MassLive forums recently. While I try to keep personal insults out of my argumentation, this may have crossed the line. In our blog, we have also described Councilor Flaherty as having "bean counter leadership." This also could have been phrased in a slightly better way. What we wanted to convey is that, in our view, Councilor Flaherty is incapable of inspiring people to contribute to the community and is focused far too narrowly on the budget, offering no larger vision for what Westfield can become through the investment of our tax dollars.
Today, a letter to editor appeared in the Westfield News entitled "Councilor Flaherty's Budget Recklessness Exposed." The letter did not insult Councilor Flaherty but it did strongly challenge his budget cuts that would have exposed the city to lawsuits from city workers—lawsuits the city would have likely lost. What's worse, he did so without even consulting with the other city councilors. There's no question about the recklessness of his decision. Read more about that here.
City Councilor Agma Maria Sweeney
City Councilor Agma Maria Sweeney

Agma Sweeney Expresses Support for School Budget, Westfield's Schools

In a "Letter to the Editor," City Councilor Agma Sweeney explained that her recent "no" vote was not so much a vote against the Mayor Knapik's budget as it was a vote to have the City Council perform a line-by-line review of his budget. She emphasized her desire to see Westfield's schools funded "at the highest possible levels" and that she would have voted "no" against any proposed cuts.
Save Westfield Schools thanks Ms. Sweeney for clarifying her position and for her support of Westfield's schools. We encourage other city councilor's to follow suit.

Did Flaherty Purposefully Keep Other City Councilors in the Dark?

Update, June 25, 8:36 am On the MassLive forum, Councilor Flaherty made the ridiculous claim that "We don't bring [the possibility of a lawsuit] up every time we take a vote, because frankly every vote can drive a lawsuit." He went on to say, "We can't let the threat of lawsuits change our votes. We have a legal team and courts for a reason." So even though Flaherty says he knew a lawsuit was possible, he didn't consult with *anyone* over whether the city would have even prevailed in the cases. In other words, it was quite probable that Flaherty would have cost the city untold thousands of dollars in litigation with nothing to show for it. It's yet another display of his inability to make decisions in the best interest of our community.

We were debating with Councilor Flaherty on MassLive today (yes, you can call us gluttons for punishment but at least you can't say we aren't dedicated to the cause) and Councilor Flaherty seemed to hint that he knew all along that finance committee's proposed budget cuts would have gotten the city sued.

Funny thing is, this never came up during the finance committee's discussions because he never brought it up. Did Councilor Flaherty purposefully not disclose his knowledge that his cuts would have gotten the city sued because he thought it might torpedo his proposed cuts and further his goal to attack the city worker's compensation?

So which is it, was Councilor Flaherty clueless about the potential for lawsuits or did he know something and hide it from the other councilors? Either way, he proves that he has no business representing this city on important matters.

City Councilor David Flaherty's recent statements on the MassLive website cast doubt about his credibility.
City Councilor David Flaherty's recent statements on the MassLive website cast doubt about his credibility.

Councilor David Flaherty's Ever Widening Credibility Gap

Update: 5:30 pm: Councilor made some comments regarding what he knew about the potential for lawsuits with city unions that could prove to be very revealing. Read more here.

Councilor David Flaherty and the other Finance Committee members almost got the city sued. They failed to consider that a number of their recommended budget cuts would have likely violated the city's contractual obligations to some of the city's unions. If the cuts had passed, and they nearly did, it would have opened the city up to unfair labor practices and lawsuits by some of the various unions in the city that represent about 85% of its workforce.

Apparently, the committee didn't even bother to take the basic step of consulting with the mayor, the law department, or any of the city's department heads to consider the impacts of their cuts. How was such a bush league mistake made? We can only wonder. Thankfully, the mayor was able to make a very strong case for his original budget at the June 19th city council meeting and put the kibosh on the ill-advised cuts.
Oracle Flaherty has brought us great wisdom from his Olympian spreadsheet
Oracle Flaherty has brought us great wisdom from his Olympian spreadsheet

Oracle Flaherty Speaks

Correction, 6/22, 9:26 am: We changed Moody's rating from AA+ to A1. There is no AA+ rating from Moody's. We have an A+ rating from the S&P. Both ratings are considered to be "Upper medium grade" ratings, one step below "High grade." In other words, these bond rating agencies consider Westfield to be very safe long-term investments.

Update, 5:11pm: As you might have guessed, Councilor Flaherty has refused our challenge on the MassLive forum, telling us to "do your own howework." Does this sound like someone you can trust or believe? If the situation was really so dire as he says it is, wouldn't he do everything he could to prove conclusively how right his calculations are? Maybe he really doesn't care. But most likely, he's just full of a lot of hot gas.

We are blessed, once again, to have Oracle Flaherty speak to us from his favorite shrine, the Westfield MassLive forum. Because Oracle Flaherty is easily angered and quick to remove us from his shrine if we raise his ire, we are linking to his declarations here along with our offerings to him.

And in all seriousness, we would let this go and not respond to him because there comes a point where this kind of back and forth transforms itself into a silly game of one-upmanship, as entertaining as that can be. The reason why we're responding is that real damage can be done by him. Flaherty does appear to have some followers on the City Council and if he accrues enough of them, he will be in a position to inflict harm on the city and its personnel with unnecessary budget cuts. As you'll see in our response to him, we're asking Flaherty to put all his calculations and assumptions into a spreadsheet that can be verified by a neutral expert. Until and unless he can do these two things, he should be ignored. This is a serious request we are asking him to fulfill.

The only thing we have to fear is...the pie chart?
The only thing we have to fear is...the pie chart?

More Inspiring, Less Compounding Needed from Westfield's City Council

Update, June 20, 1:24pm: Councilor Flaherty responded to this essay on the Masslive Forum. Since he is prone to having the moderator remove posts he doesn't appear to like, we have reposted them below, at the end of this essay.
Update, June 20, 1:50pm: True to form, Flaherty had our response removed from the ML forum. He even had a link to our response removed.

At last night's City Council meeting, Councilor Flaherty quietly boasted about how adept he was at compounding interest. He encouraged citizens to join him in breaking out their spreadsheet programs to look at the numbers to see just how doomed, DOOMED, we all are unless we scrimp and save and cut and slash budgets in Westfield for God knows how long. 

Even if you believe Westfield is on the fast track to financial meltdown (it isn't), you have to admit Flaherty is representative of the uninspiring, bean counter leadership we seem to be plagued with these days. It's pathetic and a little sad.
Deficit crows ate crow tonight at the City Council meeting.
Deficit crows ate crow tonight at the City Council meeting.

(Most) of Westfield City Councilors Come to Their Senses, Vote to Accept Mayor's Budget

Fireworks flew between Mayor Daniel Knapik and Chief Deficit Crow, David Flaherty, as they exchanged heated words at tonight's City Council meeting. Knapik had the clear advantage with the crowd of about 150 clapping enthusiastically as he defended his budget against the attacks of Councilor Flaherty, prompting Finance Committee Chair, Richard Onefrey, to gavel the crowd quiet on several occasions. Flaherty, on the other hand, elicited quiet groans of displeasure from the audience. And at one point, an audience member shouted "Vote him out!" which drew applause as Flaherty floundered with allegations that the mayor's numbers were wrong and inaccurate.

City Officials Specify What Cuts Would Do to Westfield

The mayor and fourteen other city officials released letters to the public this morning which outline the negative impact the Finance Committee's proposed budget cuts would have on the city's operations and the inadvisability of such cuts.

The cuts would go much deeper than just Westfield's schools. Chief of Police, John Camerota, said the cuts would result in the loss of five full time positions. Fire Chief, Mary Regan, said the cuts would result  in the layoff of two firefighthers and that it's possible that a substation would have to be closed and a loss of equipment. The Barnes Muncipal Airport manager, Brian Barnes, said that the cuts would risk not meeting FAA requirements for a certificated airport and jeopardizes safety of the planes.

See all the letters from city officials.

Mayor Knapik Goes on Offensive Against Finance Committee Cuts on WHYN

Mayork Knapik defended his budget and lampooned the Finance Committee for "leading from behind" for not recommending cuts to their own budget and salaries. Knapik said that he felt "really comfortable" with the financial health of the city and said that "our financial metrics are doing quite well in a lot of areas." The mayor explained that across the board cuts would not the way to pay down the debt saying "That's not the way municipal finance works."  The proper way to do that, he said, is to deposit money into the reserve account and that $1 million would be deposited into the reserve account tonight.

The mayor also described the harmful impact the cuts would have on public safety and particularly the city's school system which we highlighted last night.

To hear the full interview with the mayor click the "Play" button on the audio player. If you do not see the audio player in the grey box above click here to download the file and listen.

How the Finance Committee's Proposed Budget Will Hurt Our Schools

In a recent news story, TV-3 has featured what exactly the cuts will do to Westfield's schools and children. The cuts that will be made are as follows:

Reduction in high school sports schedule (league games) $50,000
Technology licenses (renewals of software programs) $85,000
20% cut in all school supplies $110,347
Student afterschool programs & teacher stipends $50,000
Late buses $139,653
Hardware budget $50,000
Math materials (textbooks and consumables) $200,000
Total cuts $685,000


Fear not the deficit crows! They are easily scared away.
Fear not the deficit crows! They are easily scared away.

Don't Feed the Deficit Crows!

***CORRECTION*** The Wednesday, June 19th meeting will be held at 6:30pm at South Middle School, not 7pm as originally posted.
We've all heard and seen a lot from the deficit crows. They travel together in huge flocks constantly cawing and squawking about big government budgets and big debt. You can't miss them as they seem to be everywhere.
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