AllenN's blog

Let them Protest

There are many countries in the world where peaceful protest is simply not allowed. One risks jail or even death for standing up--or standing out.

These yahoos who are "occupying" Wall Street are certainly off their rockers, but let's not confuse their message with their right to create a stir and be heard.

Let's "Pay Forward" for all our Success

Senate Candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Harvard Univ.) has a new video being played where she talks about entrepreneurs really not making it on their own. (http://www.newser.com/story/129229/elizabeth-warrens-class-warfare-rant-...)

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody," she said.

"You built a factory out there, good for you...you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for."

The Politics of Mine

Humans are remarkable creatures. We have come so far from the caves and savannahs, yet we are still driven in large part by self-interest.

We call this "human nature" and we all seem to accept it, even if it represents some of our not-so-admirable basic emotions: greed, selfishness, and self-comfort. "Don't take away what is mine."

A couple of years ago, President Obama made an argument that has stuck with me to this day. When discussing his health-care proposal, he said that people would support it when they found out what it did for them.

Elizabeth Warren and the unions

I don't know much about Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard professor who has announced her run for U.S. Senate against Scott Brown, but all I need to know was revealed in a recent article in the Boston Globe. It reported Warren, addressing the Labor Council, as saying "expanding the right to unionize will be one of her top three priorities." (http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/09/06/warre...)

Grow Up / Wake Up

There are two things going on in today's national economy. The first, we are fast approaching the government's debt ceiling. The second, we are sitting on an economic time bomb in the form of trillions of dollars in debts and promises. The first is not really a big problem unless we default, which we should not do. And the second is a much larger problem, by a factor of 100 or 1,000.

We need to Grow Up to solve the first problem and we need to Wake Up to solve the second.

GROW UP

Acton Teacher's Union Refuses to Comment on New Contract

Marc Lewis, President of the Acton Education Association (AEA), Acton's teacher's union, has not answered a series of questions we asked about the new contract approved last March. We calculated that the new contract was going to cost Acton taxpayers an additional $32 million over 10 years, versus a "net zero" contract. (See http://www.actonforum.com/story/school-committee-gives-extra-32-million-...).

Lewis was listed as the contact person on the joint press release issued by the AEA and the School Committee announcing the contract (see attachments, JT-SC-AEA-PR-03-13-11).

School Committee Plans for Override by Negotiating “Maximum Contract”

The Acton Public School Committee, during its negotiations with the teacher’s union (Acton Education Association), discussed the definite need for an override after the contract’s term expires.

Several documents obtained from a document request by the author indicate a very matter-of-fact opinion that an override will be needed in the near future. “It is not if we will need an Override, but when,” says one document (SC Scan-8).

FinCom to take No Action on School Contract Give-Away

The School Committee approved new contracts with teachers and other school workers that are not "net zero" contracts, according to documents provided to the public and reported recently on Acton Forum. Budget line increases just for teachers will average over 5% per year for the next 10 years, using a 2% cost-of-living assumption for future years (less than the 3.2% average COLA in past years.) According to our analysis, this will result in $32 million in additional costs over the next 10 years.

Oops! Acton's Finance Committee Loses $2.2 - $3.5 Million

During the budget presentation at the recent Annual Town Meeting, the Acton Finance Committee reported great news. Despite plans to use about $2 million per year in reserves over the next three years, Acton would still have an excellent reserve balance at the end of FY14 of $6 million, or 7% of its operating budgets. The Dept. of Revenue recommends a reserve level of 5%.

Acton Town Meeting is Broken

Cities elect City Councilors and Mayors. Towns have Town Managers, Selectmen, and Town Meetings. In a town, Town Meeting acts as the legislative body. This is an important role which has been lost in Acton.

Maybe Acton is too large, or maybe its Selectmen and School Committee members have simply found a way to marginalize Town Meeting. But for whatever reason, Acton's system is broken and Town Meeting is not performing the function it is supposed to perform.

Fake Fight

Today's Boston Globe (4/21/11) reported something interesting.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo has been quoted as being in favor of allowing cities and towns to unilaterally move their health insurance coverage to the state's GIC program, which often offers lower rates because it is a larger system and seemingly well managed.

The unions oppose this, because the GIC may cost their members more or offer them fewer choices.

Why Won't Teachers Compromise?

The School Committee and the teachers union just agreed to give teachers generous 3-4% annual increases in compensation for three years. This will amount to around $6 million in additional spending over the contract, which is a lot of money for the town of Acton in fiscal crisis.

Other town employees have agreed to "net zero" contracts, saving the taxpayers some money and helping during this economic crisis that many are feeling personally.

The $125 Million Question

Acton has a $125 million unfunded liability for future health insurance and retirement benefits for town and school employees. This is the "present value" of these future obligations.

At last Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting (3/22/11), I was surprised to learn about these unfunded liabilities, their magnitude, and what it would cost in present-day dollars to fund them. The answers are disturbing, to say the least.

Can we ignore this conflict of interest?

It is gratifying when individuals agree to give up their free time to serve on all of the volunteer boards in town. We need these volunteers to make our local system of government work.

But while we appreciate their service, we also must insist that there are no conflicts of interest, or potential conflicts of interest.

In Acton, this is a fairly blurry line. In my view, we've done a very poor job of vetting people from conflicts of interest.

The Six Million Dollar Question

Acton's school payroll (salary and benefits) is approximately $30 million per year.

The Acton School Committee has recently voted to approve a contract extension to the Acton teachers. Overall compensation will be rising 3-4% per year for the next three years, according to the handouts provided by the School Committee. This is the "net increase" in salary and benefits, including the COLA raise, the step and lane raises, and the reduction in health insurance costs paid by the schools.

Teachers Win in Contract Negotiations

Acton's public school teachers have received a healthy raise in this year's teacher's union contract negotiations, which were approved by the School Committee in an unusual Friday night meeting (3/11/11) at around 9:30 pm. The new agreement covers the current fiscal year and two years into the future.

The agreement continues the steps, lanes, and supermax bonuses which represent an approximate 3% annual increase in compensation for the group.

In addition, the teachers will be getting a $750 annual Cost of Living raise in Fiscal Year 12 and a $1,000 raise in FY13.

School Committee: Do what is best for our children

The School Committee (SC) makes difficult decisions every meeting, but the one decision it doesn't need to make is whether it should balance what is good for the kids with what is good for taxpayers. They should always be on the side of the kids. That's their primary job.

Congratulations, Democrats!

Democrats in Massachusetts should feel pretty good about the statewide elections last Tuesday. They won a clean sweep of all the major offices, even as the national mood has shifted away from President Obama.

Congratulations, Democrats!

Most fiscally conservative voters chose to vote for Republicans or Independents, but the Democratic "machine" was simply too powerful, and the anti-incumbency feeling did not permeate very far here.

So now what? I would like to suggest that we give the Democrats what they want. Let me explain.

Boston Globe endorses Charles Manson for Governor

(BOSTON, MA) - Today's Boston Globe endorsed Charles Manson (D-Calif.) for governor of Massachusetts, calling him "not perfect, but better than the alternative."

"We were under a lot of pressure to endorse a Charlie, and this was the best we could do," they said in a prepared statement.

"Charlie Baker is a nice enough guy, but he just doesn't have the judicial experience that Mr. Manson has, and that could be necessary sometime over the next four years," the Globe editorial board said.

Atkins and Hayes for State Rep; Thompson for State Senator

There are two major criteria for picking who to vote for in an election. First, you can look at the candidates and decide who best reflects your opinions. But no one is going to exactly match what you think, and politicians are known to vote differently than promised on occasion, so that isn't a foolproof voting strategy.

The second is to make a judgment on elected officials if running for re-election.

Where's Ledoux?

Every three years, the School Committee makes its most important decision, which is to negotiate and approve new contracts with the school unions. There are three unions; one represents the custodial staff, one for office support staff, and one for teachers. Collectively, these agreements commit the town to about $75 million dollars in spending over three years.

Often, at Town Meeting, speakers lament that we get locked into these contracts and have over-committed our financial resources. So it is very important that when the contracts come up for renewal, we tread very carefully.

Middle Ground

I am a Scott Brown supporter, not just because he is a Republican, but because he is a moderate. And he is proving that nearly every week as he decides which Obama initiatives to support and which not to support.

But notice how his critics personally attack him when he disagrees with them, but praise him when he supports their position. Is it fair to commend him today and vilify him tomorrow? Isn't he the same person?

Looking into the Crystal Ball....

Town Manager Steve Ledoux has publicly stated that the union contracts he negotiates with the municipal unions will be "zero cost increase" contracts. This means that the increased cost to the town for all employee expenses will be zero over the next three years.

This doesn't mean that the employees will not get raises. The raises will be modest, but they will be balanced off with changes in the health insurance plans, so that the expensive plans will be phased out and lower-cost plans (HMOs) will be used by all.

The other shoe is dropping

When my favorite socialist, Barack Obama, was running for election, he claimed that he could cover his expensive social programs and unfunded mandates without raising taxes on the middle class. Remember that?

At first, he said that individuals making over $200,000 a year, or couples making over $250,000, would not see a tax increase under his administration. I never believed that assertion no matter how insistent he was in repeating it. Did you? Do you really think money grows on trees and the "wealthy" can pay for everything?

Acton School Committee Open Meeting Law Violations: THE COVERUP MAY BE WORSE THAN THE OFFENSE

When Charlie Kadlec and I filed the Open Meeting Law complaint against the School Committees in Acton, it took over nine months for the Middlesex DA to rule that eight meetings of the School Committee and/or its subcommittee had violated the Open Meeting Law. This issue was explored by the local paper as well as on Acton Forum SEE ARTICLE.