Selectwoman asks teachers to ‘give something up’

During a meeting in which selectmen were cutting town budgets left and right, Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf expressed frustration over the state of the school budget, which currently proposes a 3.63% increase over last year.

“Town employees have given up a lot in the past couple of years,” she said. “The school department has not stepped forward with their personnel.”

Phaneuf said town employees will forgo raises this year. In contrast, the school budget includes an additional $550K for contractually-obligated teacher salary increases. Those salary increases are one of the main drivers for the overall increase in the school budget.

Phaneuf also noted that as of this year town employees started picking up 25% of their health care costs — up from 20% two years ago. The shift was expected to save the town about $100K. Last year teachers declined to increase their contribution to health care costs from 20% to 25% to match that of town employees.

As it stands, the preliminary school budget would cut six teaching positions along with 3.5 staff and support positions. Parents have expressed concern over the impact teacher layoffs would have on class sizes.

“If classroom sizes go up, it’s because someone refused to give something up,” Phaneuf said. “They haven’t demonstrated to me that they’re willing to give something up.”

The school committee is expected to vote on their budget tomorrow night.

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About Time
14 years ago

At last!! Mrs. Phaneuf said it best, “what are they going to give up”? The last I knew the Teachers only paid 10% of their health care. The rest of the Town suffers because of the MONEY being dumped into these schools. I applaud Mrs. Phaneuf in standing up to them and their take take attitude. Why are the Selectmen talking about cutting Town Departments and the Schools are increasing their budget, what is wrong with this picture…we are going to kill our Essential Services!! The Selectmen better do something and stop talking about it!! Mr. Boland at least stood up too them last year and he has kids in the schools.

14 years ago
Reply to  About Time

I wish people (“About Time”) wouldn’t continue to be so small minded when it comes to our schools. How sad for you to think “the rest of the town suffers because of the money being dumped into these schools”. It is because of the schools that our town has such a stellar
reputation in the state. It is because of our schools that our children can aggressively compete with students from other towns and states (from both public and private schools) for admission to highly ranked colleges in this country. That is something to be
proud of.
It is devastating, of course, to slash town budgets and town essentials, no doubt about it.
Did you however, attend School Committee meeting last night? Did you see what is being
slashed there; major cuts to supplies and materials (37% cut in textbooks, 22% cut in
instructional materials). This is on top of cuts made in prior years, mind you. In addition,
do you know the reason for the 3.63% increase… it’s pretty straight forward my friend, if you bother to pay attention. Not only has SPED outplacement increased by more than $600,000, but reimbursement to the schools has been cut by more than $400,000. Those are services mandated by law that we must, and should, provide to our children. That is where the discrepency lies.
We are a fine community here in Southborough and our school system is a part of that
community… an essential and strong part. One that, along with town services and town
personnel, should not be neglected or short changed. We need to come together as a
community and not play the blame game or “they get more than me” game. Grow up!
Lets focus and work through this. Our town depends on it.

14 years ago
Reply to  Pat

That being said……………… I agree with some of Mrs. Phaneuf’s comments and the general
idea of everyone coming to the table with a show of good faith and being willing to sacrifice.
I have to also applaud School Committe member Jack Kessler for being the lone member who abstained from voting for school budget proposal. Although the school budget’s chief problem is not increasing spending but a revenue crisis, the basis for his reluctance to vote on the budget, I believe, is that he would like to see school administrators abstain from accepting pay raises since every other town department has done the same.

I know a large number of administrators work under a contracted salary and I am
well aware and empathetic to their position and their promises. But these are unprecidented
times and we are seeing budgets cuts and state cuts not seen in the past 25 years.
I know our teachers work endlessly and with great devotion and they sometimes need to
take on the role of counselor, parent, etc. I believe all teachers are underpaid and overworked.
I believe teachers hold our children’s futures in their hands and because of that should be
given the utmost respect and a paycheck to match. But I also think we all need to come to the table with a new attitude and a willingness to give something up. Contracts or not. It’s just the way it is.

I will, in the near future, probably be asked to vote on another override… to again increase
my property taxes so the schools can continue to educate the children of this town in
a way that they deserve to be educated. That’s why I chose Southborough as a place to live
and raise my children.

I will come to that table and, in good faith, vote yes on that override. I will do my part because
it is the right thing to do. I don’t like paying more and I don’t like my property taxes going up but …. I will do my part. I hope, perhaps, that others will take another look at what they
will bring to that table as well. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.


14 years ago
Reply to  Pat


Please spare me the over worked under paid gambit. Working 180+ days vs 252+ days with out professional days off . Drive by any of the schools and tell me how many cars are there after 3:30-4:00 PM. Then drive by the rail station and tell me how many cars are there at 6:00 PM. Teachers work hard no doubt. They have a tough job no doubt. But so don’t the private sector employees work hard (without the benefit of iron clad contracts).

14 years ago
Reply to  John

Did I not say that I want them to show some good faith here and step up and
make some sacrifices? How easy for you to pick out one comment to target, but then you got it wrong! I said yes, teachers, like the rest of us work hard and deserve adequate pay, BUT
they need to look at the current picture and the big picture and perhaps come to the table with
a new perspective and sacrifice when it comes to the budget.

I don’t think I said I want status quo here. I still will say
that teachers work hard……but I will also say that EVERYONE needs to come to the
table with cuts, contract or not, union or not. I agree that the private sector employees
work hard without the benefit of contracts…. I was one of them for many years and so
was my husband. Spare me the “blame game” is what I am saying. It’s the easy way
out. Let’s all pony up here…. the world has changed, contracts are being broken left and right. I am not a believer in breaking contracts or not paying people for their work. I don’t think in
general it’s the way to do business. But this is not a good way to run a school…. cutting
textbooks, cutting instructional materials, cutting technology….. cut the raises!!! And I
am not just talking teachers here….. school administrators should step up as well.
Property owners are going to be asked to step up, the children are stepping up by having to have bigger class sizes, less materials and outdated textbooks, Town personnel and town
departments are stepping up….. who’s left here…..hmmmmmmmmmm let me see.

14 years ago

Go Bonnie!! I totally agree. And I’m sure the teacher unions response will be the same old cries of how much more the teachers do outside of the school day. Well, believe me town employees go above and beyond as well. In tough times you have to make tough sacrifices. .

Marnie Hoolahan
14 years ago

Please help me understand Bonnie. My impression was that the teacher’s agreed to a 3-year contract in which in year three (this school budget in question) they would receive the bolus of the marginal salary increase (~3%). We have hit year three and I think it reasonable that they receive the increase.

It would only be fair to compare apples to apples. The fact that the town is “giving” up raises this year does not afford me insight into what was done in the past two years. If the teachers’ are expecting an increase this year and “gave up” increases in the previous 2 years, how can we fault them? The facts on this would be great; having a historical view into the last 2 years and this proposed 3rd year would be helpful.

My final question is around the SPED monies that will impact our budget by $620K, is there opportunity to push back on this with our state representative, Carolyn Dykema- has anyone raised this with the State to understand our options?

Al Hamilton
14 years ago

Well said Bonnie!

The fact is that while the K-8 School committee is telling us that its budget will increase by 3.6% next year that number does NOT include benefits which will increase by 7.8%. The total is about a 4.3% increase. Not counting benefits costs is looking at the sticker on a car but the fine print says that wheels are separate.

A little truth in budgeting would be in order.

2010 2011
Southborough Schools $16,180,879 $16,768,245 3.6%
910 Employee Benefits-School $2,922,244 $3,150,963 7.8%
Total $19,103,123 $19,919,208 4.3%

Sue Grinblatas
14 years ago

The teachers are currently under a 3 year contract. Year one was a 2% increase. Year two was a 3% increase. Year 3 is a 3.5% increase. In addition to the contractual raises, most teachers also get a raise through the “step/lane” process: as they get more seniority, they move to a different pay grade, and then get a raise on top of that. The step/lane is a significant part of increased teacher pay in the budget.

An aside: Remember when the economy was so good and people were getting huge raises and bonuses and the stock market was soaring? I don’t recall anyone fighting (or even mentioning) that we void the then existing teacher contracts and give them a bigger raise than they had contracted for because the economy was so good.

I think it’s for each of us MA citizens to contact our Reps. and Senators and Governor to demand that the state fund its mandates. On the other hand though, we are facing at the state level the same thing — cuts everywhere and the money just isn’t there.

Al Hamilton
14 years ago
Reply to  Sue Grinblatas


The reality is that our reps are not going to get the job done for us. We are viewed as a “rich town” and with cities like Lawrence in the financial toilet we will be left to fend for ourselves. The Speaker and Senate President are probably wondering how they can put their hands further in our pockets rather than providing us aid.

The money is not here either. Our non Property Tax sources of revenue look like they will be down about $2 million from last year. In order to fund the School increases there are only 2 choices that I see available.

1. A Prop 2.5 override on the order of 500k to 1 million.
2. Funding from a combination of transfers from stabilization and release of a significant part of the Telecom money being held in the Overlay Reserve Fund.

We have families in town who are in real economic distress and I think option 1 is very unpalatable. Option 2 requires the consent of the Board of Assessors.

Pick your poison

Marnie Hoolahan
14 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I understand the assumption that we are a “rich” town but should that preclude us from asking? Has the Town or the Advisory Committee reached out to our State Representatives to discuss the SPED program funding? If the Town or Advisory committee has reached out, what was the response? I have sent a note to Carolyn Dykema this morning asking what and how we may appeal or negotiate the funding discrepancy. I hope to have a response that we can sink our teeth into.

Are you able to comment on the salary increases that our town employees received for the past 2 years to be able to provide comparisons?

Sue- Thank you for the clarity of the salary increases. I had not realized that the increases were relatively similiar to this final year proposed 3.5% increase.

Al Hamilton
14 years ago

I will try to find out what the increases were I don’t have that info readily available.

Al Hamilton
14 years ago

I know that the Selectmen met with our representatives as reported on these pages. I don’t have a lot of hope that we will receive anything but concerned looks and grave nods. We are part of the larger metro west community that has to pay a tax just to get to work on the pike that no one else does that should give you some idea about our clout.

I actually do not think it is appropriate for Advisory to negotiate with our elected representatives. Advisory is a legislative sub committee (town meeting is our legislature). I believe that the responsibility for negotiating is the responsibility of the proper elected executive body. Just as it is the Governors or Presidents responsibility to represent the Commonwealth/Country outside of our borders.

That means that lobbying our representatives for increased aide is of course the right of any citizen and for SPED funding the primary executive is the K-8 School Committee. They only meet once a month.

We need to be clear about where the responsibility lies. The Board of Selectmen have no responsibility for nor authority over the Schools. The various School Committees are co equal and completely independent of the BOS.

14 years ago

I actually just talked with Senator Eldridge’s office and Representative Dykema’s office….both are very receptive to hearing from their constituents. They encourage residents of Southboro to contact them with their concerns. I spoke with two very friendly, knowledgeable staffers who explained the ‘process’ and listened to the details of the school budget. More of us should pick up the phone or write a letter (they did acknowledge they do get an awful lot of emails…and sometimes the more personal approach can help!) I asked why we didn’t get “stimulus’ monies other towns are being granted; and since our SPED outplacement is increasing by $638,000 for FY11, how can the reimbursement be cut $400,000 and how does Southboro compare to similar size school districts and the amount of reimbursement the school receives vs how many students receive services? I look forward to hearing back from them and I encourage more residents to call/write and voice their concerns. (Susan has a post on Jan 14 that listed all the contact info)

We all have heard SPED services are mandated services that the school needs to provide. Just so you know the numbers: The amount for FY11 is $1,834,458 ($1,563,178 for Outplacement services and $271,280 for transportation for those services). Now, there is an increase of $638,000 (outplacement) compared to last year and we were cut $400,000. Mention these numbers when you call the State House. The rest of the our school SPED programs cost almost another $3 million dollars for “in-house” services (special teachers, psychological services, health services, special technology etc). Please don’t feel I’m blaming SPED for the increase in the budget but those numbers cannot be ignored. I hope the teacher’s union is seriously considering an increase in their contribution for health care to be in line with other Town employees, that only seems fair. As far as their pay increase, Marnie is right….have we ever thrown money at them when times were good? I believe the next contract will be negotiated very stringently.

I want residents to look at everything that is included in our school budget (come and ask questions at School Committee tonight!) The attitude of ‘they have to give up something’ is only going to hurt the students and the investment we’ve already made into a solid educational system. I hope, as Al pointed out, that all avenues are looked at including using funds from Stabilization and as for the Overlay Reserve fund what is the timing of those ‘cases’??

I urge all parents of school aged children (and those who will eventually be in the system) check the meeting times of the Advisory Board Meetings, BOS meetings, School Committee meetings and any other ones that may be scheduled to talk about the Town budget…(I went to last Monday’s AB and I have to say I learned alot about the Fire department and Library)….show-up at those meetings and learn about the dire need the town is in….if you want to influence anything NOW is the time. While attendance at Town Meeting is ESSENTIAL, by that point the numbers have been decided.

Al Hamilton
14 years ago

The timing on the telecoms cases as reported by the Town assessor (who by the way is a real asset he had done a great job using technology to get productivity improvements) is as follows:

1. Through 2009 of the monies paid by the telecoms as property taxes has been reserved in case we had to pay it back.
2. The SJC has made sufficient rulings to lead us to believe that we will be entitled to a significant fraction of the money witheld. Towards that end since 2010 (This FY) the monies being paid are no longer being withheld they are going to the general fund just like everyone’s taxes.
3. The balance in the overlay reserve fund due to the telecoms suit is about $2.3 million.
4. There are ongoing negotiations with the telecoms companies about settling.

While I would personally prefer to return the $2.3 million to the taxpayers who had to overpay to cover the reserve I am not naive enough to think that position would prevail. If the suits are sufficiently resolved to permit the current part of the tax liability to go to the general fund then it seems to me that some portion of the $2.3 million might be prudently released to provide relief to hard pressed tax payers and avoid painful cuts this FY.

We have a big problem in that our business model is not sustainable and we need to address labor costs, occupancy patterns and effective use of technology to improve productivity but those are larger questions that will not get resolved in the next 60 days.

14 years ago

I agree with Bonnie. If the teachers would agree to pay 25% of their health care as all other town employees do, or give up anything, then they could maintain their illusory student teacher ratio. (this fictional ratio that only applys only for the instant students are in home room before they split up for gym, art, music or whatever when other teachers not included in the ratio take over)

interested parent
14 years ago

i’d be very willing to send an email to every relevant politician who depends on my vote… this might be a great place to publish those specific addresses… they need to hear from all of us about helping us fund their mandates.

i moved to this town because of the schools, i paid a premium for my home because of the schools and now pay pretty steep taxes because of the schools… That said, i am very concerned about any effort to weaken that system. My kids are getting a great education. Altho my property values have dropped from their record highs, Southboro is still one of the most desirable towns in the area and recent report on median home prices in the Metrowest paper seems to back me up. I’ve been out of work since november but strongly believe that we can not pinch pennies when in comes to the quality of our kids education.

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