An unsustainable course

Full Op-Ed posted on Telegram & Gazette

By Steve Eide

The teachers union in Worcester is the largest public employee union in the city, as it is in most other municipalities. The EAW represents about 1,900 teachers, close to half of all municipal employees. The union and school committee are currently negotiating over two main issues: teacher salaries and health insurance. Together, these two line items constitute close to 60 percent of the school department’s budget.

Teacher salaries and health insurance are not only important in terms of their total cost. They also contribute significantly to the continuing uncertainty of the school department’s finances, which are already on shaky ground for several other reasons. First, in FY11, the current fiscal year, the WPS relied on $10.2 million in one-time, federal stimulus revenues to balance its budget. Second, the state has a $2 billion structural deficit of its own which it will likely have to address in FY12 through cuts in local aid and/or Chapter 70 (funding for public schools). Third, even leaving aside the possibility of further local aid cuts, Worcester’s other municipal departments face a combined structural deficit of at least $4 million going into FY12. Fourth, there is the continuing recession, which will mean limited revenue growth, if any.

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