ConVal union meets with local realtors regarding employee increases 

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, February 26, 2018 5:55PM

A group that represents all teachers and staff at ConVal met with a small group of realtors Thursday night to discuss a warrant article pertaining to employee wages and benefits. 

The warrant article, which will appear on the ballot as Article 3, governs changes to the contract for ConVal’s teachers, special services professionals, and paraprofessionals. A “yes” vote would accept a third party fact finder’s report, which would give ConVal employees a raise among other things, and a “no” vote would strike down the report, leaving employees without a raise for the upcoming budget cycle.

The union wants taxpayers to vote “yes”, and the school board wants people to vote “no” on the article.

It will be up to taxpayers decide whether the measure is approved or not. 

The school board has estimated that accepting the fact finder’s report will come with a $1,685,912 price tag. It says the lump sum is too burdensome on its taxpayers.

But members of the union argue the impact of voting “yes” on Article 3 is more palatable if it’s broken down. They say the average annual tax impact would be about $166.32 for a house assessed at $200,000. That’s about $13.86 per month or .46 cents per day.

“Most of us spend $14 a week on coffee,” a flyer handed out during Thursday’s meeting at the high schools reads.

Patrick Cogan, ConVal Education Association co-president, wore a red shirt during Thursday’s meeting that reads “invest in your community.” The phrase has become one of the union’s mantras since negotiations reached an impasse with the school board.

Greg Leonard, CVEA co-chair, said the group is focused on “attaining and attracting quality teachers.”

“We think about this, more than anything else, as an investment in the community,” Leonard said. “And it wasn’t first and foremost about money it was about making sure that we could be competitive and to help strengthen the communities that we live in.”

Leonard said the “numbers speak for themselves.”

“We did lose a significant amount of staff members to other school districts who were paying anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 more,” he said during the meeting with realtors.

Cogan said that exit interviews have indicated pay is the main reason employees are fleeing the district. Cogan said during the meeting that the district is becoming known as a feeder program, where young teachers come to start their career and later leave for higher-paid positions. School board Chair Myron Steere has said in the past that employees leave for a myriad of reasons and that the district is also able to attract new hires to the area as well.

Negotiations between the union and certain members of the school board began in February of 2017. During the year-long process, Lori Groleau, CVEA co-chair, said the two parties met 12 times for a two-hour limit. By the eleventh meeting, a mediator was involved. The process culminated in a third party fact finder who reviewed arguments on both sides and made conclusions based on the information presented. The process cost about $12,000, which was split evenly between the district and the union. Cogan said on Thursday that the union has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding how much the district has spent on a year's worth of attorney fees, but said it has not received the information yet.  

Groleau said at the heart of the issue are “serious concerns” about a hiring matrix the district uses because employees are being hired at a higher rate than people who are already working there with the same experience and education level.

“We consider it unethical,” Groleau said.

She said they also are concerned over a merit-pay pay system that offers bonuses to staff who score well during a review process. Groleau said the merit-based system causes “a lot of dissension in the building.”

The school board has said the union was unwilling to budge on items aimed at improving student education across the district. The board wanted to extend the number of work days for its new hires from 187 to 205 in order to get them up to speed with long-time educators. The employees would be compensated for their time, but Groleau said it would have only bumped new hires up to an average pay scale in addition to work a few extra weeks.

There were a number of other items the two parties were never able to reach an agreement on either.

Four realtors met with members of the CVEA on Thursday evening. The group spoke overwhelmingly in favor of voting “yes” on Article 3.

Amy Cabana, a realtor with the Bean Group, said questions about the health of a school district is common when showing a house. She said a robust school system is key to selling houses.

“People aren’t looking at the big picture, you know? They’re looking at my $172 right here, they’re not looking at five or 10 years down the road when people don’t want to move here when we have communities full of empty homes because no one wants to buy here,” Cabana said. “It’s so short-sighted that we quibble over what is in effect pennies to the taxpayer.”

The union is spreading the word about the importance of getting to the polls on March 13. They have drafted mailers explaining their position, printed lawn signs, are planning a phone bank session, and are blasting out social media posts to spread the word about the importance of getting out to vote.

The school board stated their disapproval of the item during a deliberative session earlier this month. Its opinion will also appear on the ballot.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.