Gilford School Superintendent Kirk Beitler works on Monday, a little over a week before Voting Day, Tuesday, March 14, at the Gilford Community Center. Beitler said Article 3 on the warrant, calling for $296,819 to fund the first year of the collective bargaining agreement between the Gilford School District and the Gilford Education Association, the teachers' union, builds in savings for the taxpayer over the three years of the agreement. Critics say that school district officials are misleading voters by not acknowledging cumulative costs of the proposed agreement. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
Collective bargaining agreement carries hefty $1.6 million price tag, critic says
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Budget Committee member Kevin Leandro accuses the Gilford School District of "creative accounting," saying the proposed collective bargaining agreement with teachers will cost a staggering $1.6 million over three years.
Gilford Superintendent Kirk Beitler said Article 3 on the school district warrant — approval of the three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Gilford Education Association, the teachers' union — seeks $296,819 in 2017-2018; and anticipates costs of $268,198 in 2018-2019; and $245,392 in 2019-2020, for a combined cost of $810,409.
Is this a case of "creative accounting" or a budgetary disconnect?
Leandro said the individual year's costs from raises and benefits repeat throughout the contract, building up to the $1,672,245 figure. So the first year's increase of $268,198 stays alive in the budget for the full term, for a cumulative cost shock.
"That doesn't go away," he said. "That has to be raised each of the three years. It compounds. Each year they get a raise and a step raise. Their raise from last year doesn't go away."
Beitler agreed in concept with the way raises work. "The first year is not going to go away. You get a raise the first year, that stays with you. This stays with the teachers," he said.
So from a teacher's standpoint, the first year of increased pay is a reliable baseline for the future.
"Nobody is going backward," Beitler said.
But Gilford School District — like other local government bodies — budgets year to year. So when Leandro points to a second-year cost from the contract of $565,000, that's not something that computes with the school district warrant.
"They get an increase each year. We're not doubling their increase," Beitler said, responding to the $565,000 estimate.
That's how the school district calculates the cost of the contract — one year at a time.
Under the current contract, a teacher with a bachelor's degree and two years of experience makes $40,327, and the next year that teacher will make $42,077, Beitler explained. But for budgeting purposes, the original raise would not be factored back in during a fresh year of budgeting.
"They've already got that raise. So you have a new baseline salary, and they get an increase in their salary the following year," Beitler said.
Through this view of the budget, the taxpayer share of the contract obligation actually decreases, Beitler said. "Over each year, the amount raised through taxes goes down," he said.
Based on the warrant's request, the contract costs do decline from one year to the next, and teacher health care contributions increase. Over the three years, teachers will be contributing more to their health care by a share of 5 percent, 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
But that's taken on a year-to-year basis. Health insurance is rising by a guaranteed maximum of 14.4 percent, and the cost of that is $365,288 next year alone, a number built into the operating budget, Beitler said.
Leandro accused Beitler of misleading the public about the taxpayer share of the contract obligation, based on the three-year accumulation of cost and the huge jump in the cost of health insurance.
"The way they put it in the warrant, they're being very deceptive," he said.
"Without any other changes, in three years the budget is going to be $2 million more than it is now," Leandro said.
Gilford teachers are near the top in the region in many categories of pay. Based on 2016-2017 figures, entry-level teachers with a bachelor's degree were paid $38,640, second only to Inter-Lakes at $38,928. Master's degree-level teachers with 15 years of experience ranked lower, fifth out of 12 districts, with a wage of $62,606 compared with $77,919 in the highest-paying district, Plymouth.
"Our teachers are not the highest-paid teachers in the Lakes Region, but we need to be competitive with other surrounding districts," said Beitler.
A teacher pay comparison is featured on the district website at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-k9X-Io-e5bX0tPZlZZS3NjYnM/view.
Leandro said he has nothing against the teachers being well paid, but he wants voters to understand the cumulative cost of the contract, not just the year-to-year leaps.
"By almost $1 million, this would be the largest contract that we've ever had in Gilford since the inception of the SAU in 1998," he said.
On Voting Day, Tuesday, March 14, polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Gilford Community Center.
How it adds up:
Year 1: $296,819
Year 2: $296,819 + $268,198 = $565,017
Year 3: $296,819 + $268,198 + $245,392 = $810,409
Total of three years: $1,672,245