By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — At the deliberative session of School District Meeting this Saturday, voters will see an increase of more than $183,000 from the default budget to Gilmanton School District's proposed operating budget in school year 2017-2018; but teachers say a change in health insurance plans helped blunt the rapidly rising cost of coverage.
The School Board recommended a $10,657,918 operating budget. The Budget Committee recommended a $10,653,418 operating budget, $4,500 less than what the school board put forward.
Last year, in March 2016 voting, voters approved a 2016-2017 operating budget of $10,507,458 by a vote of 583-417.
The meeting for Gilmanton School District is Saturday, Feb. 11, at 10 a.m., at the Gilmanton School.
There is a $187,673 increase between the default budget and the proposed operating budget, based on the school district's proposal; and a $183,173 increase between the default budget and the proposed operating budget based on the amended operating budget from the Budget Committee. For warrant articles, the school board recommended $96,113 for capital improvements, and the Budget Committee recommended $89,288.
"Within the budget, we're very close to the Budget Committee," said Christine Hayes, business administrator for Gilmanton School District.
The Budget Committee — on "Super Saturday," Jan. 14 — took about $2,000 out of the superintendent's budget, for an appropriation of $144,679, following discussion about needs of the part-time superintendent and related staff.
Also, the Budget Committee voted against recommending funding the special education expendable trust fund because the fund, with a balance of $193,175, was on target toward its $200,000 goal, Hayes said.
"The other thing they did not support was the teachers contract," Hayes said.
The School Board forwarded a proposal to pay teachers an increase of $41,311 in 2017-2018 and to schedule future increases. The Budget Committee did not support the contract. The Budget Committee's vote was 5-3 to not recommend the initial contract in January.
Budget Committee members discussed at length the district's health insurance and the teacher contribution compared with the district contribution. When Budget Committee member Brian Forst asked what the teachers were contributing, Hayes told the committee that the teachers contribute 15 percent and the district contributes 85 percent, according to records of the Jan. 14 meeting. If the contract does not pass, then the district will be contributing an additional $58,000 next year with the current contract in place, committee members learned.
The collective bargaining agreement reached between the Gilmanton School Board and the Gilmanton Education Association calls for increases in salaries and benefits of $41,311 in 2017-2018; $129,327 in 2018-2019; and $133,211 in 2019-2020.
"It does not become a legal obligation until the voters approve it," Hayes said. "The Budget Committee has chosen not to support it, but it still has to go before the voters."
If voters reject the contract, another warrant article, if approved, would allow a special meeting to address the cost items in the contract, she said.
Nancy Tothill, chief negotiator for the Gilmanton teachers' union, the Gilmanton Education Association, said the collective bargaining agreement confronted the issue of health insurance costs.
"The major portion of this contract is a major shift in health insurance plans to a consumer-driven plan, where the consumer bears the brunt of the cost of the insurance plan in the form of deductibles," Tothill said.
In a press release, the GEA explained, "During the last round of negotiations teachers agreed to a change in health care providers, a consolidation of plan options and a uniform cost sharing throughout all plans. As costs continued to rise, the GEA put forth a proposal in this new contract to switch to a high deductible plan of $2,000 for single coverage and $4,000 for a two-person or family plan. This deductible will be paid for by the enrolled teacher. The GEA's decision to change plans was directed by the trends for the future, where health insurance plans are favoring high deductible plans. Because the teachers will pay these deductibles, the premiums are much lower than traditional plans."
With this new consumer-driven plan, 97 percent of the cost is borne by the district, but the dollar amount is the same because the cost of the plan is so much less, Tothill said.
"Premiums are less because the consumers are bearing the brunt through the deductibles," she said.
Without the new contract, the current health insurance plan is scheduled to increase by 9 percent, Tothill said. Teachers and the school board tried to rein in the cost of health insurance through negotiations.
"I think there was good will on both sides here," Tothill said.
Under the agreement, teachers will pay 92 percent of the plan in the third year, almost three times as much as in years one and two, she said.
"This three-year contract allows the District to gradually bring salaries in line with other districts in our region," the GEA reported. "The salary schedule increase in year one is 2 percent. This increase is offset by the insurance cost savings from the change to the high deductible plan. The increase in year 3 is offset by the increase in the teacher health insurance contribution rate."
Teachers asked the public to support the contact at Saturday's deliberative session and in March 14 voting.
"The continued rise in health insurance costs has been a concern for all. This contract addresses this concern while showing support for the teachers at this award-winning National Blue Ribbon School," the GEA reported.
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