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FinCom, schools want to forgo OPEB to subsidize irresponsibility

March 28, 2014

Last evening, the Walpole Finance Committee voted to recommend that Spring Town Meeting postpone putting $300,000 toward paying down our town’s massive unfunded OPEB liability, in order to instead use this money to help cover the school department’s projected $450,000 budget shortfall next fiscal year.

Walpole’s OPEB liability, which is short for “Other Post-Employment Benefits,” is currently estimated at $84 million and rising. It funds benefits for town retirees.

The liability is Walpole’s equivalent to the national debt.

Needless to say, this is outrageous and very short-sighted.

Here are just three good reasons why the school district should be required to live within its means, rather than avoiding OPEB payments:

  • The latest 2013 town payroll (downloadable Excel file here) shows that the district’s salaries are unsustainable. There are hundreds of teachers making more than $80,000 per year, many of whom are younger. Some aren’t even teaching academic subjects, and are teaching such things as physical education (gym teachers shouldn’t need a lot of education, so they shouldn’t be in the top tier of salaries.)
  • The 2012 override included a $600,000 “sustainability” fund designed exactly for shortfalls of this sort.
  • The school district went on a spending spree in the fall, hiring five new employees in the middle of the fiscal year, including two guidance counselors and a newly-created Transition Coordinator (not classroom teachers, thus does not have an impact on class sizes). This was at a cost of $237,000.

Meanwhile, Walpole’s MCAS scores remain largely unacceptable for the amount of money that we pay. Although our town’s scores are higher than the state average, almost 40 percent of fourth grade students in Walpole scored either “needs improvement” or “failing” on the ELA MCAS exam last year. Meanwhile, 42 percent of eighth graders scored either “needs improvement” or “failing” on the science/technology MCAS exam.

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