The cost of learning

06Feb20

If there is one group of individuals about whom a discouraging word must never be uttered, it’s public school teachers.

Wakefield teachers have been without a contract since last summer, which you’ve probably heard as their supporters have been using social media and other means to spread the word.

Given the public sympathy extended to teachers, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the town was trying to strong-arm the teachers’ union. The fact is that the terms of their old contract remain in effect and they will receive a very nice retroactive paycheck once the contract is settled. We’re not exactly talking Norma Rae here.

It’s hard to know exactly what the sticking points are, because contract negotiations aren’t public. But it’s safe to say that the parties sitting across the table from each other — the teachers union on one side and management (the administration and the School Committee) on the other, want the same thing: the best possible salary and working conditions for the teachers.

According to the Wakefield Education Association (the teachers’ union), “the big salary question” revolves around the fact that teachers haven’t received a pay raise since their old contract expired last year. So, we know that the teachers want a pay raise and we know that they want smaller class sizes. In other words, they want more money for less work.

Welcome to the club.

There are a bunch of other demands, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “instituting meetings between the WEA and the School Committee” isn’t what’s causing the impasse.

So, if both sides want the same thing, what’s the problem?

Well, it could be the fact that somebody has to pay. Other town employee unions settled for a 1.5 percent salary increase twice a year. It would be hard to justify giving more to the teachers, if that is what they are asking for. Plus, smaller class sizes mean more teachers that would need to be paid.

After the School Department was given a one-time budget increase of 11.5 percent in FY 2016, it was asked to hold the line on budget increases at 4 percent for the next three years. (Other town departments are expected to do that as a matter of course.) The School Department only managed to stay within that limit for one year. A main reason cited for why they couldn’t stay within the limit was that a mere 4 percent increase would be almost entirely eaten up by negotiated salary increases for their employees.

So, even if the School Administration and the School Committee wanted to give the teachers the world, they would still have to go to the Finance Committee and ultimately to the taxpayers at Town Meeting and try to present their budget with a straight face.

The taxpayers have been pretty good to the School Department of late, and school officials know it. Voters agreed to build a new Galvin Middle School, which has added about $200 to the average homeowner’s tax bill every year.

It now looks like a new high school is coming. High schools are a lot more expensive than middle schools, so figure another $300 to $400 on the average annual tax bill, on top of the $200 you’re already paying for the Galvin.

Town Meeting also recently funded a $6 million renovation to the Walton School and this coming May, Town Meeting will be asked to pay for a new roof for the Greenwood School.

Also this May, taxpayers attending Town Meeting will be once again asked to come up with funds to upgrade the deficient Public Safety Building. Voters rejected it a couple of years ago when the cost was $8 million. You can bet the price tag hasn’t gone down.

Are our police officers less deserving than our teachers?

Meanwhile, the DPW facility on North Avenue is falling apart and hasn’t had a major upgrade since the horse and buggy days. Are the people who work there less deserving than teachers?

It’s not quite as simple as, “Give the teachers what they deserve.”

There are other deserving people out there too, not the least of whom are the ones paying the bills.

[This column originally appeared in the February 6, 2020 Wakefield Daily Item.]



One Response to “The cost of learning”

  1. 1 Marie Feudo

    In response to “So, we know that the teachers want a pay raise and we know that they want smaller class sizes. In other words, they want more money for less work.”

    Smaller class size does not mean less work for Teachers. It means giving EACH STUDENT more of what they each need to become independent and capable contributors to our society in the future.
    In response to
    “It now looks like a new high school is coming .”
    Is the high school being built for WAKEFIELD’S STUDENTS or for the teachers?

    The rationale in the above article ,”The Cost of Learning” and the supporting comments are
    very demeaning and insulting to teachers everywhere. I’m shocked to see this kind of thinking in this day and age. What does one suppose the cost of downsizing education is going to be in future generations?

    How much of a taxpayer’s money is spent on sports events or used to pay legislatures or used ……. you get the point!


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