By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — Perhaps tonight will be the night the Gilford Budget Committee approves next's year's school spending, including $1.6 million in teacher raises over three years, but last Thursday there was no progress. Three key warrant articles, including the proposed 2017-18 operating budget, were tabled.
The committee will reconvening in a special meeting tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall to discuss and decide whether to put its stamp of approval on the operating budget, the money portions of the proposed three-year teachers contract, and a petitioned warrant article the mandates the Budget Committee and not the school administration create the default budget.
Ironically, after reviewing the default budget at the Jan. 5 committee meeting, members, including Chairman Norman Silber, who was its biggest critic, seemed satisfied with the final budget, which included the removal of the one-time only expenditures.
The administration said it also removed the $110,000 for the 2017-18 default budget that occurred in the 2015-16 budget that was not removed from this year's default budget. This money was spent on the Imagination Play Station.
The school district is operating on a default budget for this year, as voters rejected last year's proposed budget. A 3 percent raise was not included in it; however, School Board members moved some money around and gave the raises anyway.
While that raise is removed from the proposed default budget, it is included in the proposed budget, plus an additional 1.75 percent across-the-board raise for 2017-18.
Silber said Monday that he is not necessarily opposed to some raises for the lower-paid staff, depending on their income now, but would not support any raises for administrators. At best, he said he could support the same raise for administrators as those who receive Social Security, which is 0.5 percent, or about $5 a month.
Unlike Silber, Budget Committee Vice Chairman Kevin Leandro said he supports the raises for all of the non-union employees but not for the administrators.
The committee also declined to vote on whether to recommend the raises proposed in the negotiated three-year contract with the Gilford Education Association. Silber said not only is it one of the largest raises he seen in a number of years, it doesn't include a big enough increase in the amount each teacher pays for his or her health insurance.
Superintendent Kirk Beitler said he supports the contract because Gilford did get its employees to pay for 10 percent of their coverage in the third year of the contract, and that compared to salaries of other teachers in the competition area, Gilford salaries for teachers are slightly lower than the rest of the area.
Beitler added that it is important the school district keeps its seasoned teachers, and noted that some teachers in the math and science disciplines are hard to get because they can earn much more in industry.
"We got them to 10 percent, but it cost us in salaries," Beitler said.
Leandro said the teachers union had a very weak hand, in that they can't strike, and the negotiating team of Karen Thurston and Sue Allen could have done a better job with a contract more favorable to the taxpayers.
Some committee member expressed displeasure that Allen is on the negotiating team and her daughter is on the payroll.
The general contention of the Budget Committee is that the new contract, which adds $300,000 in the first year and will eventually cost the school district's taxpayers $1.6 million over three years, coupled with the proposed budget, which is up 1 percent but includes the first bond payment for the Elementary School renovations, means the district is closing in on a $600,000 increase that they believe is unsustainable in the near or long-term future.
"You blew your budget before you even bought a pencil," Leandro said, reminding the administrators and the room full of teachers that last year's budget was voted down because of a similar increase.
The School Board also tabled a discussion on whether the Budget Committee should prepare the default budget. Silber said Monday that, as a petitioned warrant article, the School Board can give its recommendation but the Budget Committee may not.
"We are only concerned with the money articles," he said.
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