Educators’ Contract Prominent in Pre-Town Meeting Finance Deliberations

February 20, 2024

The ongoing contract negotiations between bargaining units of the Bedford Education Association and the School Committee are a prominent part of financial decision-making that will culminate with a budget presented to Annual Town Meeting for approval.

And although all sides appear to agree on the goal of higher pay for teachers and paraprofessionals, the union is presenting its case publicly and visibly.

Contracts with teachers and teaching and educational assistants expire on June 30. Negotiations are continuing with Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang and the School Committee’s attorney across the table from leaders of the BEA and a representative of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Some five dozen teachers and paraprofessionals attended last Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting in Town Hall, dressed in special shirts, filling the seats and standing along the walls for some three hours. Two members of the School Committee spent some of that time seated on the floor.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to reconvene on Tuesday, Feb. 27 to agree on a budget number for the warrant, which will need to be delivered to the printer a few days after that. Financial fine-tuning could continue right up to Town Meeting, which begins on March 25. The overall school budget is approved by the Finance Committee and printed on the warrant. The schools control how the amount is allocated. 

The School Committee’s proposed fiscal 2025 “maintenance-of-effort” budget, which as the name indicates continues current personnel and programming, increases by 4.7 percent over the current year. The committee says 82 percent of the budget is salaries.  

And no one on the School or Finance committees is even casting a furtive eye on that part of the budget. Indeed, there are frequent commendations and compliments directed to the educators.

One committee member, Mark Bailey, said if teachers aren’t paid fairly, the result could be a “slippery slope” leading to the town’s losing “everything that’s valuable.” 

Finance Committee member Philip Prince said, “We know we have to increase the salaries. But it’s also important not to conflate the salaries with the whole budget. Are there other things we could potentially do to cut back?” 

George Lee said, “I fully support teachers’ salaries. But beyond compensation, can you look for savings?”

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