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Introducing the SWS City Councilor Scorecard

Don't Negotiate With Our Children's Education at Stake, Find a Better Way!

Thanks to everyone who has shared the responses of the City Councilors with Save Westfield Schools (SWS). It has been very helpful in clarifying what many of our Councilors were thinking when they voted to cut the school budget on June 30th. In the interests of educating the public, we will soon share many of the emails that have been forwarded on to us with the rest of the community on this website. In summary, the City Councilors' responses reinforce the idea that their vote was intended to force teachers "back to the table" to negotiate with the City. In newspaper reports, Councilor Flaherty explicitly expressed his desire to "play hard ball" with the teachers.
More recently, on July 21, in a phone conversation SWS had with Councilor Keefe–who led the City Council's charge and introduced the motion to cut the school department's budget–said withholding the funds "was the only option we had available to us." What Mr. Keefe means here is that he felt the City Council had no other way to get the teachers back to the bargaining table, except to hopefully embarrass or scare them back out of fear of being perceived as greedy and insolent by the public. This, in a nutshell, was the City Council's negotiating strategy. Regardless of whether or not the tactic worked at bringing the teachers back to the negotiating table faster (Keefe told us he thought it did), it was a very bad and reprehensible decision to hold the school's funding hostage. Here' why:
First, although we strongly disagree with Mr. Keefe's assessment, let's assume for a moment that withholding funds was, in fact, the only option available to the City Council. If that's the case, our next question has to be: does having only one option justify the use of it, even if that option can lead to disastrous consequences? In this case the answer is clearly "no." By exercising the option to cut school funding, the City Council has opened the school system up to massive cuts that would have enormous negative ramifications on the lives of our children. In negotiating with the teachers, the City Council essentially bet the house. Now, this gambit may have been worth it if there was a lot to gain. For example, if the City Council could possibly avoid twice as many layoffs by exercising this option it might be argued that the City Council was justified in their decision to cut the budget. But the reality is, there was only very little to gain, if anything. There was, however, very much to lose because, by law, the city was obligated to pay the money to the teachers whether they returned to the table or not.
For this reason alone, the City Council's decision to cut funding to our schools was deeply, deeply flawed.
Another problem is that the City Council should have no business getting so involved with teacher negotiations, particularly when they had no direct involvement in the negotiating process. It's the School Department and School Committee that have that duty and responsibility because it is they that are most intimately involved with the business of running our schools. As other school committee members have pointed out, the City Council needs to have more faith in the school's leadership to oversee the negotiation process. None of the City Councilors were at the bargaining table when the teachers determined that a mediator was required. Furthermore, when one side feels an agreement is unlikely, that side has every right to ask a mediator to come in to help the two sides find common ground. When the teachers determined that it was unlikely they could reach an agreement, that is exactly what they did. There is nothing unusual or sneaky or underhanded about that. That is not "walking out," as some councilors like to couch it, that is simply asking for outside assistance to help overcome a stalemate.
All the City Council's heavy handed tactics succeeded in doing was to demonstrate their petulance and set the stage for future rancor and more labor-management problems down the road. Negotiations work best when both sides work hard to find common ground, not smite the other side into submission.
Finally, and most importantly, despite the opinion of Mr. Keefe, there is at least one other option available to the City Council for negotiating with the teachers. It's not something that will solve the long-term school budget problems overnight. It is not a heavy-handed negotiating tactic and it does not involve demonizing the other side or making wild guesses as to their motivations. And it most certainly does not entail a threat to the well-being of our children.
Instead, the option is to have both sides–the City Council and the school teachers–try to overcome their differences by coming together and developing a long-term strategy and solution together. That can only happen by practicing the lost art of placing yourself into the shoes of the other side and understanding their problems, their concerns, and motivations. It will also come from having faith that if we all work together, we can accomplish more than if we work against each other. Once we do these things, many other options and opportunities will avail themselves.  SWS will be happy to do whatever we can to facilitate these meetings and help find solutions. We think that citizen involvement can do a lot to change our situation and help us weather these very rough times.
For now, there is still the immediate issue of the City Council's highly irresponsible negotiating tactic to contend with. The teachers are going back to the table today (July 22) and, from what the Mayor and the teachers are saying, they are likely to come away with an agreement. The City Councilors, however, are still hanging onto their threat to slash the budget and hold our kids hostage. It's likely that the City Councilors will use a new agreement with the teachers as an opportunity to save face, especially in light of the recent public attention, and restore the budget money and claim victory for getting the teachers to come around to their way of seeing things. Any way the money gets back into the budget is fine with SWS, as long as it happens.

City Councilor Score Card Questions

However, we would be remiss if we did not take issue against the City Council's deplorable and dangerous negotiating tactic of slashing the school budget. SWS must take a strong stand against this tactic in order to try to prevent a repeat of this crisis. Therefore, we are asking all City Councilor's to answer two simple questions below with a simple "yes" or "no:" 

Will you immediately cease using the threat of a school department budget cut as a negotiating tactic in order to extract concessions from the teachers and do you promise never to exercise this option again? 

Will you work with the citizens of Westfield, and all concerned parties, toward finding a better long-term solution and mechanism for resolving future differences with the teachers?

We here at SWS understand most politician's probably don't appreciate getting pigeon-holed into a single position. However, we here at SWS think clarity and forthrightness from elected officials is extremely important and necessary if we are to have honest debate. In that light, we have set forth the following ground rules as follows:
1) All that is required is that you answer with a simple "yes" or "no".
2) Your answers to the two questions will be placed on a scorecard that will appear on http://savewestfieldschools.org
3) If you do not respond, we will put "Did not bother to respond" on the scorecard. SWS will do its best to rally the citizens of Westfield to encourage you to respond until you do.
4) If you do respond, but qualify your answer in some way, however small, we will put "Evasive" on the scorecard. Again, SWS will do its best to get either a "yes" or "no" response from you eventually.
5) You will have until 11:59:59pm on Sunday, July 25th to respond to these two questions. If you do not respond, we will exercise option 3 above.
6) You will have the ability to change your answer at any time after the deadline.

 SWS thanks the community for the opportunity to be heard on this issue. We encourage all who are interested to join us and work together to solve the problems our schools face.