Preserve Westford Schools: Vote Yes on Prop 2 1/2

Andrew Friel, Co-Editor-in-Chief

While the taxing and long month of March rolls on for students and faculty alike, the town of Westford and its residents face an important decision. The issue is one that has been long-debated in the town; teacher salaries.

Proposition 2 1/2 will be voted on this Saturday in town meeting to determine if it deserves a place on the town ballot in May. Known as article 13 at town meeting, Prop 2 1/2 proposes a $1.6 million override with the intent of increasing pay for Westford teachers across the board. This is in response to the fact that Westford teachers are paid six percent less than surrounding schools, while practicing some of the most conservative spending habits as a school system, spending around $1800 per student.

It is in this reporter’s view that voting age students and WA alumni must attend town meeting this weekend and vote Yes to put Proposition 2 1/2 on the town ballot in May. They owe it to the teachers who gave them one of the best public educations in the state and in the upper echelon of the nation.

Those who know me know that I am a staunch economic conservative, believing that high taxes should be avoided at almost any cost. However, it is in this case that the idea of paying more taxes must be forgotten, as voters must remember the statement they are making with the vote they cast during Saturday’s town meeting.

Even if voting age seniors and recent alumni disagree with the idea of town taxes rising in order to fund higher teacher salaries, these citizens especially must vote, as it is essentially a judgement of the quality of teachers in the Westford school district. Many of the teachers they will be affecting with their vote are teachers that they likely had when they attended any of the schools in the district.

Those who share this opinion in favor of the budget override, such as School Committee member Tom Clay, say that this is a common sense decision, that the quality of our school system (ranked highly in many publications nationwide) deems the teachers of the district worthy of a salary increase. In an op/ed in the Boston Globe, Clay admitted the taxes in Westford would rise, but he maintains that this would be a gradual increase in payments over multiple years, totaling no more then $200 dollars per household. Clay fears that without this budget override, Westford’s pay would no longer be competitive.

I share this fear with committee member Clay. I see the majority of our teachers in Westford as prime examples of teachers who care about each student’s success and happiness throughout their years in the system. As the final two years of my life in the Westford school system come and go, I have always felt that almost every teacher I have had in a classroom has shared this work ethic and genuine care, and I believe that this is what makes Westford schools special.

If we are to reject once again the increase of the salaries of these amazing educators, we may lose the school system as we know it. Teachers will begin to walk out the door if they feel that they are not being paid the amount they deserve based on the results that the system pumps out annually. Personally, I would be deeply saddened if I returned to Westford after I graduated and found that our school system is no longer in its former glory. While we are not perfect, we are one of the best systems in the area, but without our teachers, this system would not receive the accolades it does today.

Former Westford Selectwoman Valerie Wormell, a member of the opposition, argued in her own Globe op/ed that the override function in the town government is meant to fund new projects, not to fund those operations that already exist such as the school system. She also says that the increase is too sudden and should be handled by the town manager rather than through a mass budget override. Wormell also argues that, in the past, there has always been a general consensus among members of town government as it pertains to budget issues. She feels that approving this proposition will end the traditional agreement seen in the budget and will make town government less effective.

While many of Wormell’s concerns are warranted, I do not believe that these issues should stop us from saving the fate of Westford schools. The budget override function was developed in order to make major changes in town budgets by way of the voters, when a situation arises that would require such an action. The town is facing one of these times, and it is henceforth justified in attempting to activate the budget override function. One of the town institutions is in need of a budget increase, and in order to save the institution, a budget override is needed.

On the topic of consensus on the town budget, this is an unhealthy worry, as it pertains to democracy and government systems in general. The goal of government at any level and of any size is to work on the will of the people, not to agree on everything and move through issues quickly. For Wormell to be worried about this to the point where she will deny quality educators a higher salary is absurd, and is telling of the type of government she envisions as ideal; an echo chamber to her own agenda.

In preparation for a landmark Westford Town meeting on March 25 at Abbot, where the issue will be handled in a public forum for the first time, Westford residents have a chance to change the course of the school district for years to come. With a Yes vote on Saturday, the citizens of Westford will take an important step to preserving the Westford school district as we know it today. This includes attracting more quality teachers to apply here, as well as preserving veteran teachers who have spent decades in the system. 

Therefore, without this proposition going on the town ballot and subsequently passing in May, the weakening of Westford schools may begin as promptly as next year.