Union raises to cost $500K
Operating budget to remain flat at $17.8M
Superintendent Ruthann Goguen and School Board Chair Jeff Salmonson discuss the proposed budget during the Mascenic Regional School District's budget Tuesday. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »
NEW IPSWICH — The proposed budget for the 2014-15 year came in flat this year at $17,863,771, but new contracts for both teachers and support staff, as well as capital reserve requests, will cost taxpayers an additional $640,000.
Collective bargaining agreements between the district and the Mascenic Education Association, which is the teacher’s union, and the Mascenic Educational Support Staff Association, which is the union for paraprofessionals and other staff, will have the largest potential impact on the tax rate, the School Board explained at the district’s budget hearing Tuesday. Last year, the Mascenic Education Association and the district could not reach an agreement, and there were no raises for teachers, said School Board member Tara Sousa.
Sousa was one of the School Board members responsible for negotiating this year’s bargaining agreement. Securing a teacher contract was a priority, said Sousa, after the district lost five teachers in the past year — in addition to another five the year before that — with those leaving citing low pay.
The district pays competitively in the latter part of a teacher’s career when compared to nearby schools, said Sousa, but starting salaries are too low and it takes too long for a teacher to really start earning a livable wage.
“Even though you get to that wage eventually, the compensation over the life of your career is less, and retirement is also less,” explained Sousa.
The average salary for teachers in New Hampshire is $54,314, while Mascenic’s average salary is $45,254, according to a document distributed at Tuesday’s meeting. Mascenic’s current model has teacher salaries growing slowly in the first 14 to 15 years of their career before experiencing a significant increase. Then, pay levels out until the teacher reaches the 25-year mark, when another increase occurs. While most teachers start at the same pay level — between $30,000 and $40,000 depending on their level of education — the progression of raises is designed to be smoother and increase faster under the new model in the proposed agreement.
Under the proposed two-year agreement with teachers, the district would have to raise an additional $323,394 in the 2014-15 school year, and an additional $337,960 in 2015-16 to cover wage increases and retirement costs. Teacher salaries would increase by a minimum of 3.5 percent this year under the agreement.
In a separate warrant article, the district is seeking another $231,717 to cover a one-year collective bargaining agreement with the Mascenic Educational Support Staff Association. Most of the expense is associated with changes in health care law, said Sousa. The district, which is considered a large employer under the Affordable Health Care Act, is required to provide health insurance for every employee who works over 30 hours. The increase in health care costs totals $184,491.
The agreement also covers an additional $47,226 in wage and retirement increases.
At the budget hearing Tuesday, New Ipswich resident Jason Somero questioned an agreement that offers blanket increases. “It’s not a real motivator,” he said. He would have preferred to see an option to have merit-based increases, he noted.
School Board member Jim Kingston said he too prefers a merit-based increase method, but realistically a merit-based system would not be approved by the teacher’s union.
New Ipswich resident Mark Krook asked why the board had only made a one-year agreement with the support staff, since in the past the board has made longer-term agreements a focus.
Sousa said that a two-year agreement had been discussed, but the union had preferred to put forward a one-year contract, to avoid competing with the teacher’s contract.
In another warrant article, the district will be seeking $35,000 to add to the School Repair and maintenance Capital Reserve Fund. The fund currently has $124,817, and the district is seeking to eventually have a reserve of $300,000. The fund would be available for large repair costs, such as new lower roof for Mascenic High School or replacing boilers at the schools, said Salmonson.
Another reserve fund the district is seeking to boost is the Special Education Capital Reserve by $50,000. The fund currently has $99,426 in it, and again the long-term goal is to have $300,000, said Salmonson. An unanticipated placement of a student in the special education program can be as expensive as an additional $100,000 per year, said Salmonson, and the fund would be available for those instances.
The proposed budget is $17,863,771, with a default budget of $17,970,049. This is a flat budget, despite new health care laws resulting in a $103,930 hike in costs for the district. Other expected increased are a $7,250 increase in workman’s compensation, a $8,888 rise in unemployment, and $17,000 in a cost-of-living wage raises for employees who are not covered by the district’s collective bargaining agreements.
To compensate for the increases the board made cuts in other areas, said School Board Chair Jeff Salmonson. Among the cuts were some staff reductions and, in one case, using grant funds to pay the salary of a district employee. The director of guidance position was cut, and the district’s current needs allowed for the reduction of two special education paraprofessionals. And the life skills teacher position, which is currently vacant, will not be filled.
One area the district is focusing additional funds this year is the math program, said Salmonson. A math teacher position will be added at Mascenic High School, and grant funds will be used to pay a part-time curriculum coach in the math department. In 2012-13, only 18 percent of high school juniors scored proficient and above in math, said Salmonson.
“Math is a real big focus for this FY15 budget,” said Salmonson. “We have a big job in pulling up that percentage.”
The Deliberative Session will be held Feb. 1 at Mascenic Regional High School at 9 a.m., with a Feb. 8 snow date. Voting will be held March 11 at the high school, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in New Ipswich, and at the Mascenic SAU 87 offices — which is housed in the former Greenville Elementary School — from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Greenville.