School Committee seeks increase in stipend

Westfield School Committee Vice-Chair Timothy O’Connor. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – School Committee members, who each receive $5,000 compensation annually for their efforts, have not had an increase in stipend pay since 2002. Currently, they are seeking an increase to two-thirds of what the City Council receives, which is currently $13,500 per year, with step increases for the Council planned to reach $15,000 by 2026.

School Committee Vice Chair Timothy O’Connor brought the request to the Legislative & Ordinance Committee on March 2. “This is a tough ask,” O’Connor said. “That’s been the case for the last 18-plus years, and that’s why we haven’t been before the City Council asking for an increase.” He said the School Committee voted in October, 2019 to seek an increase, then voted for it again in March, 2020. This is the first time i twill come before the Council.

O’Connor then detailed some of the work done by the School Committee in the past year. “Our decision making – we had to make a lot of to go or not to go (decisions) for students. That decision making has never been more tested, and it’s still going on, with a couple of difficult votes between now and the end of the school year,” he said.

O’Connor said in the past year, the committee met 59 times for School Committee meetings, including special and executive meetings. He said due to limitations on subcommittees, they generally met as meetings of the whole. “I can maybe think of one or two instances that the full School Committee was not at every subcommittee meeting,” he said.

Adding on to that list, O’Connor said there were 57 additional meetings that not all members attended, including negotiations, school building committee, public safety, and interviews. He said he was just trying to give L&O a little bit of a summary, an account of what they do.

“We get to do some good stuff like graduatations, awards, science fairs, and we do it a lot for that. It’s the spirit of the School Committee – it’s always done like that, and why we haven’t sat here for 18 years. We all have a passion for education,” he said.

O’Connor said over the past four years, the School Committee has reviewed 382 policies to make sure they’re getting them right and they read well. “That’s a little bit of a long way of saying, we’ve not only had a busy year, but we have had busy years,” he said, listing redistricting, which required significant time in meetings, moving students from Juniper Park and Russell School, and now planning for a new building.

“These are tough decisions. We answer to a lot of parents, and a lot of students this year. The School Committee is a hard working group, and I respectfully request an increase,” O’Connor said..

“I certainly will commend you on the great job you and your counterparts have done. You have had twice the amount of meetings. You definitely need a raise,” said At-large Councilor James R. Adams.

L&O Chair William Onyski had opened the discussion also commenting on the committee’s diligent work, especially over the last year.

There was some discussion on how to write the increases, whether as a percentage of the Council pay, or in dollar amount increases to 2026.

“I think we want to get up to two-thirds (of the Council stipend), but I don’t want to use fractions, I want to put in dollar amounts. In reality, the amount of work the School Committee does is not a percentage of the work done by the City Council,” Onyski said.

Onyski then proposed writing into the ordinance dollar amounts at the following rates: $8,100 for 2021; $8,650 as of Jan. 1, 2022 when the next City Council increase takes effect; $9,425 as of Jan. 1, 2024, and $10,050 as of Jan. 1, 2026, which would bring the School Committee’s stipend to two-thirds of the City Council’s by 2026, the last scheduled increase for the City Council as voted in 2017.

Onyski said after 2026, the School Committee would have to come in again to request further increases. The motion, which was unanimously recommended by L&O, will now go to the City Council March 4

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