Oak Bluffs eyes layoff alternative
Informal discussions were under way in Oak Bluffs this week over voluntary pay reductions, or other alternatives that may be offered by the police union, to avert planned job cuts in the town's work force, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
Because the initiative is coming from the police union members, town officials consider it a serious offer, though they say any formal agreement would have to be completed quickly to achieve savings necessary to close a looming budget deficit.
Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake said any such alternative to layoffs would involve "impact bargaining," a scenario that allows the union to reopen negotiations if there is a development that seriously affects the collective bargaining agreement. "We are obviously going to be faced with cuts, whether that's pay freezes or pay cuts, or something else," Chief Blake said. "We haven't officially met, the union and myself. They have the right to sit down and offer alternatives. It's an amount of money that needs to be cut. How I get to that figure is hard work to be done between me and the union." He said the town has not issued any layoff notices to police department personnel.
On August 25, the selectmen met in executive session. The session was closed to the public because it involved collective bargaining agreements, the officials said. Town administrator Michael Dutton recommended a series of cost-cutting measures that included layoffs of five town employees, and selectmen endorsed that plan. Initially, the affected town employees were to be notified by Monday, and the job cuts were to become public. But that timetable was moved forward by about a week, as town officials work out last minute details.
The town faces a $500,000 budget gap, after lowering revenue estimates for the spending plan that began just two months ago. Mr. Dutton has asked the school department to cut approximately $200,000 of that amount.
The school committee met last night, and agreed on cuts that will reach that goal, according to Oak Bluffs School principal Laury Binney. The committee modified and expanded the recommendations of the school advisory committee. The cuts include elimination of a non-teaching staff position, in addition to the two teaching assistant positions that were eliminated earlier this year. The school committee also plans to cut a long list of expenses that will affect the cafeteria, maintenance, and telephones. The money allotted for teacher supplies will be cut by 20 percent, and money intended for teacher development will be cut 80 percent. The school will also draw about $15,000 more from its school choice fund than it did last year. That fund includes reimbursements from other Island towns for non-Oak Bluffs children who choose to attend the Oak Bluffs School.
"The unfortunate thing is, with a lot of these cuts, you work so hard to get those into the budget, and once they're gone, it's so hard to get them back," Mr. Binney said. "It could take a decade to get that professional development line back up to where it should be. So we'll survive, but I think we'll all be tightening our belts, that's for sure."
The financial advisory committee meets this afternoon to consider the various plans to meet the $500,000 budget deficit.
Janet Hefler contributed reporting for this article.