EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 7, 2014

Letter: Town, school interests cannot be separate

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

The article in the May 3 edition of The Eagle-Tribune regarding the teachers’ union vote to reject the town’s proposal to save nearly $1 million by switching to Tufts Health Plan incensed me and should every town taxpayer.

All across the nation cities and towns are struggling with unsustainable increases in operating costs primarily related to benefits and pension obligations for municipal workers. Historically these increases have been paid for by annually increasing property taxes on town residents. This is what makes it unsustainable. In the current economic times taxpayers are struggling to meet their financial obligations. Costs for daily living -- groceries, utilities, gas, education -- are all rising faster than personal incomes. Senior citizens on fixed incomes are finding it harder and harder to live in the towns they raised their children in.

Andover is no exception. The town’s operating costs are increasing at an unsustainable rate. In addition to our daily operating costs, the town has unfunded pension obligations well in excess of $200 million. Every town resident should be concerned about this and every town employee should be as well because if the town is not in good financial health, town employees will lose jobs.

I find the comments by Kerry Costello quite disconcerting. To say it is the “town against the schools” shows a lack of knowledge and common sense. The schools are not an independent entity separate from the town but rather an integral part of the town. Teachers and teachers’ unions don’t own the schools, the town does. Ms. Costello wants to blame the Board of Selectman and the Finance Committee, of which I am a member, for the teachers’ union vote but that is nonsense. It is inexplicable for Ms. Costello to think the Board of Selectman and the Finance Committee made the decision to reduce instructional assistants -- that is far from accurate. The School Committee and the superintendent made that decision. It is important to point out the fact that over the past two years, while total school enrollment has been flat to down, the schools added 118 full-time equivalent employees, more than 50 of which were added subsequent to the Town Meeting vote to approve the annual budgets.

It is unconscionable for town employees in an apparent state of vindictiveness to put their own interests ahead of the town’s. Andover is one town, not a town and a school system.

Every town employee should appreciate the fact that if it were not for the town, they would not have their current job. A financially healthy town will provide jobs and incomes for generations. Our united goal as town residents should be to preserve the town for the next generation. Those that came before us did that for us.

We owe it forward.

Greg Serrao