6-4 Gilford BudCom vote endoreses new collective bargaining agreement with teachers

GILFORD — The Budget Committee voted last night to recommend an overall school budget of $24.6 million for coming fiscal year, as well as recommending passage of a new three-year contract with the teachers' union.
The committee gave its endorsement to a total school department appropriation of $24,610,710. The sum is $51,500 less than what the School Board was seeking. The $51,500 had been earmarked for new carpeting in the High School library and the school's computer lab, as well as a new stage curtain for the school auditorium.
The Budget Committee voted to recommend passage of the teachers' collective bargaining agreement by a split vote of 6-4 with two members abstaining.
Under proposed three-year agreement with the Gilford Education Association, those covered by the contract would see their pay increase an average of 3 percent a year. Those at the top end of the pay scale would receive pay increases averaging about 1.5 percent, Assistant Superintendent of Business Scott Isabelle told the committee.
The cost items of the contract would be $110,000 in the coming fiscal year, Isabelle explained. The cost impact would be $257,911 in the second year of the contract, and $260,333 in the third year.
Isabelle said that the first-year's cost impact would be offset by a $156,000 saving in the cost of health insurance. He said that those covered under the proposed contract would pay much more for the prescription medications, as well as higher co-pays for medical care. Isabelle said that under the new contract the district would pay for an HMO-type health insurance policy only. Other options would be available to teachers, he said, but the individual teacher would have to pay the entire cost of the difference.
Budget Committee Chairman Phyllis Corrigan said she had "no qualms" with the contract, but others criticized the pay increases.
Member David Horvath objected to giving teachers raises at a time when the economy is "anemic" and when most people are not getting any raises at all and are having to deal with increases in the cost of gasoline and other items, as well as higher taxes.
"At some place we're got to say slow down some," he said.
But School Board Chairman Sue Allen reminded the committee that teachers have had their pay frozen in recent years.
The committee voted not to recommend a warrant article that would have allowed the School District to retain a small portion of any year's budget which would be used to cover any unanticipated expenses or else be rolled over into the next year's budget if the amount did not need to be used.
Seven committee members voted not to recommend the measure while five voted in favor of endorsing it.
Superintendent Kent Hemingway said that the fund would help to dampen increases in the school tax rate that can now occur due to unexpected expenses.
But committee Vice Chairman Kevin Leandro said holding the money in reserve was akin to "holding taxpayer money hostage."
"If the money is not spent for what it was intended then it should be returned to the taxpayers," he said.