Gilford School Board refuses to support operating budget that cuts raises

GILFORD — School Board members voted 4-to-1 not to support the proposed budget for the 2016-17 school year that will eliminate half of the raises recommended for the non-union staff.

The meeting was held after Tuesday night's Budget Committee's public hearing for their version of the budget, which is the one which will appear on the ballot in March. The total budget recommended by the Budget Committee was reduced by $115,508 largely by reducing the amount of raises for non-union staff from the 3 percent requested by the School Board to 1.5 percent.

The vote represents the board's unwillingness to support the cuts to support staff raises made by the budget committee but is not an endorsement of the default budget that has no raises.

"What I was hearing loudly, over and over, was concern for the support staff," said member Sue Allen.

"Personally, I think the purpose of a public hearing is to listen," she continued, referring to the continued back-and-forth between members of the public and some members of the Budget Committee during the hearing.

Member Chris McDonough was the lone dissenting vote for supporting the Budget Committee budget and said he feared not recommending it could lead voters to think they support the default budget.

Member Jack Landeau said his concern is the "arbitrary" cut because Social Security didn't go up. He said he does not support the cuts but sided with the majority and voted not to support budget. He said that if the board votes not to support, it is their "responsibility" to get the word to people as to why the board voted the way it did.

"Our job," said member Rae Mello Andrews, "is to make sure the people understand clearly where the school board stands and that's that they don't support the cuts made to the support staff raises by the committee."

She encouraged members to use social media sites to explain their position.

Chairman Karen Thurston, who is the school board representative to the budget committee, wanted people to know that the ongoing differences between the two boards and the administration was not personal.

"It's not us against them," she said. "We're going to talk about numbers."

Day off with pay - City loses in grievance of firefighter called to court for another town’s issue

LACONIA — City Manager Scott Meyers told the City Council this week that he was "disappointed" by the decision of an arbitrator requiring the city to pay the wages of a Laconia firefighter who spent a day in court on an issue arising from his employment with the Henniker Fire Department and having nothing to do with his employment by the city.

Firefighter Brennan Lorden was subpoenaed to appear in court on Oct. 8, 2014, a day he was scheduled to work. He requested leave, but was told by the Deputy Chief he would have to use vacation or personal time. He used personal time, but raised the issue with the union, the Laconia Professional Fire Fighters Association, which filed a grievance on his behalf. The grievance rested on a provision of the collective bargaining agreement that stipulates "no employee who may be summoned or subpoenaed shall be caused to suffer any loss of wages."

City officials found no record of an employee either requesting or receiving payment for time spent in court on a matter unrelated to their employment with the city and denied the grievance.

In her report, Diane Zaar Cochran, the arbitrator, noted that the union conceded "there is a thread of logic" in the city's position that leave for court appearances should be confined to matters arising from a person's employment with the city. But, Molan insisted that the agreement "says what it says." He also argued that although the court appearance was not related to Lorden's employment with the city, he had no choice, but was required to appear.

The city, represented by Mark Broth of Manchester, contended that it is difficult to believe that no union members have ever been subpoenaed about an issue unrelated to their employment with the city, yet there is no record of such a request in the 60 years the provision in question has been part of the collective bargaining agreement. He suggested the arbitrator find that "individuals knew better than to make such a request."

The arbitrator ruled that the provision is "absolute and unbending, plainly requiring that an employee 'shall not suffer' a wage loss if summoned or subpoenaed into court. She added that it makes no distinction between summonses and subpoenas arising from or unrelated to employment with the city. She remarked that the city's argument is "the more logical" and confessed "I was at one point tempted to deny the Union's grievance on the grounds that it could lead to absurd, nonsensical results." While upholding the grievance and restoring Lorden's personal day, the arbitrator invited the parties to "fine tune" the contract at the bargaining table.

Myers said that if a firefighter were called to court on an issue related to his employment with the city on a day he was not scheduled to work, the city would not be obliged to compensate him, since he would suffer no loss of wages. Clarifying the language of the collective bargaining agreement, he said, would be in the best interests of both the city and the union.

As of Dec. 31, the city spent $3,391.26 pursuing the case.

Gilford Budget Committee no longer in unanimous support of bond

GILFORD — The Budget Committee reopened its discussion to reconsider the 10-0 vote to support bonding $2.24 million to provide mechanical, electric, plumbing and HVAC repairs to the elementary school. Though the bond continues to have the support of the committee, it is no longer unanimous.

The motion was made after the public hearing Wednesday by member Norman Silber, who said he learned new information from School Board member Chris McDonough about his reasoning behind supporting gradual improvements over a one-time bond. McDonough also suggested waiting until a major bond is paid off in 2021 or 2022.

Silber said that, in light of this new information, he was no longer comfortable supporting the bond and wanted to fully explore McDonough's suggestions.

"The School Board and the SAU have run amok," Silber said yesterday. "The only way to impose is through the pocketbook." He made similar comments during Wednesday's committee discussion.

Other members, including School Board representative Karen Thurston, said the school district "has a responsibility to take care of the school." She said the reason behind the bond was to minimize the disturbances of a renovation project in the school by not spreading repairs over five years.

Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Leandro had said during the public hearing that if the school district had been planning for this for five years, they could have been saving money in a capital fund. However, he said he would still support the bond because it contains a maximum expenditure of $2.24 million.

Superintendent Kent Hemingway advocated for approving the bond for this year because the school district would have to wait a year to restart any process. "We will continue to find a way to get this work done."

Silber said he heard one speaker during the public hearing say that now is the time to because the economy has recovered.

"Does anyone here think the economy is good? This is the worst economic recovery in history," Silber said while some members of the board nodded their heads in agreement.

Members Bob Henderson and Richard "Rags" Grenier said they were not in favor of changing their votes and will continue to support the bond.

He noted the committee all agreed last week to support it and "the economy is the same [today] as it was last Thursday."

Charlotte Landeau said members were "flip-flopping" and were "no better than the [national] politicians who were running for office."

The vote to not recommend the bond failed by a 2-to-8 margin with Horvath and Silber voting in the affirmative.