For months, when he was still superintendent, Randall Collins at the importance of all six district unions accepting a wage freeze. In his final act before retiring, he , which assumed that all unions would accept that freeze.
At the regular board of education meeting Thursday, with Superintendent Jerome Belair now at the helm, the discussion began to change. Rather than focus on what life would be like with a wage freeze, Belair focused on what it would be like without one and what the district would do.
Teachers and programs would have to go, Belair said. But to avoid massive layoffs, there could be other options.
For example, students could begin to pay to play sports, pay half of the cost of advanced placement tests, and pay for their caps and gowns, just to name a few, Belair said.
“These are $5,000 and $10,000 cuts, but they can add up,” he said. “I try to get to that magic number of $50,000 or $55,000, because that is about one staff position.”
The key to the successful budget would be input from principals and the board of education, Belair said. And with that, he left the floor open, allowing board of education members their first real chance to discuss the budget in public.
John Taglianetti was the first to talk. He was quick to quash any talks of pay to play or paying for AP exams, an argument several other board of education members would support.
“Of course we need to talk about everything,” Taglianetti said. “But I am completely against pay to participate.”
Jody Nazarchyk, Chairman Donald Blevins and Kevin Brunelle all echoed Taglianetti’s point.
“(All the savings Belair discussed) are in the form of shifting the costs to parents,” Blevins said. “I’m not saying that everything isn’t possible, but pay to participate would probably be at the bottom of the list.”
Tom Egan was one of the few board members who showed interest in supporting pay to participate.
"We shouldn't take anything off the table," Egan said. "We have to have an open mind."
In Weston, each participant would pay $70 per sport, up to $400 per family, Belair said. The district would pay for students who couldn’t pay for themselves, Belair said.
Next came the actual budget, which is 2.99 percent higher than last year’s total. That number needs to come down, member Sheri Cote said.
“I would like to see (our budget) get lower,” she said. “We have people who don’t have jobs.”
Cote’s suggestion was rejected immediately by every other member of the board. If the allocation is any lower, the town’s education system would greatly suffer, Brunelle said.
“We all have taken a hit this last couple of years, but I don’t want my children to pay for that,” he said. “I don’t want to sacrifice programs just to look alittle bit better to the public.”
While the budget was a 2.99 percent increase over last year, or $1.2 million, many costs have gone up far more than that, Belair said. Health insurance alone has gone up $1.5 million; if the unions reject wage freezes, that would increase the budget $1.1 million; oil and electricity have all risen, and other revenues have gone down, he said.
“It was tough enough to get to 2.99 (percent),” he said. “I don’t know if I’d be comfortable going below that.”
Update on the Wage Freeze
Despite the conversations about what would happen without a wage freeze, the main goal is to get a wage freeze from all unions, Belair said.
The teachers union, which is set to receive a 4.3 percent average raise in salary, is the most important, Belair said. If the teachers reject the wage freeze, it would cost the town another $900,000.
Belair met with the unions Friday, and the union will meet the week of Feb. 28, teachers union President Martha Shoemaker said. The decision will be given to Belair in early March, Shoemaker said.
“The view of the union is to work together with the town,” union Vice President Linda Brialey said.
Shoemaker and Brialey did not comment on which way the union was leaning. According to many sources, however, it appears the teachers will likely not accept the wage freeze.
Common ground could be found, though. If the teachers do not accept the complete wage freeze, they could make some concessions, saving some jobs, according to a variety of sources.
The administrators union , saving the town $35,222.
“I firmly believe, in these times, it was the right thing to do,” said Pat Fedor, Great Neck Elementary School principal and president of the administrators union.
The district needs to know what the unions plan to do by early March, Belair said. The board of education is presenting its budget on March 18 to the board of finance, and by then a clear budget needs to be established, he said.
“We cannot present a budget on a false assumption,” Belair said.