Michael Hatch, retiring school board member, reacts after receiving a plaque for his service, at Saturday's deliberative session in Gilmanton. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)
By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILMANTON — Nothing was amended on the warrant, but voters glimpsed a foretaste of what future school budget debates could look like at Saturday's deliberative session of School District Meeting, when teachers and Budget Committee members debated the cost of health insurance.
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.
Malcolm MacLeod, school board member and negotiating team member, said the school district could face a penalty if it stays on the existing insurance.
If nothing changes under the current Affordable Care Act, in 2020, the insurance company likely would pass on a 40 percent tax to the school district, for $240,000 in cost, he said.
Budget Committee members voiced concern about the rising cost of health insurance in general.
Budget Committee member Stephen Bedard said, "The issue was definitely health care, and it's my belief, my complete belief, that this entire Budget Committee, including the people who aren't here today, do support the teachers. Actually, we talked about giving them an additional raise, a cash raise, hourly rate raise, as opposed to having a different health care plan. It's the health care costs that are killing us."
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."
Teacher Erin Hollingsworth said, "Because we're changing plans to a higher-deductible plan, which is hugely different than what we've done in the past, the cost to the town is not any more than what it was in the past."
Hollingsworth said that the 85 percent share that the district now pays for teachers' health insurance will rise to 97 percent under the contract, but that the cost to the district will not increase because of the teachers' willingness to take on deductibles.
"I just want the public to know that they are in the forethought of this contract plan, and despite the Budget Committee not supporting it, I think it was not understood fully," she said.
Brian Forst, chairman of the Budget Committee, joined his peers to not recommend Article 12, the collective bargaining agreement with teachers, and he explained their sentiment. The Budget Committee's vote was 5-3 to not recommend the initial contract in January.
"We are seeing, every year, large increases both in the school and in the town in what we call human resource," Forst said.
"We're trying to get the school board and the town to understand that we need some concrete vision going forward on how we're going to try to control these costs," he said, and noted the concern raised "when we hear 97 percent of the cost being burdened by the taxpayer and 3 percent being burdened by the employee."
Forst added, "A $2,000 deductible, which is a huge change from what people have been used to in this profession, is a small number compared to what a lot of people are having to deal with in this day and age."
He concluded, "I understand it's a big change in policy. I get that you're going to a deductible plan, I get that there's cost savings in this. I understand all of that. If benefit costs increase, this is going to become a harder and harder discussion to have," Forst said.
Hollingsworth asked, "Would any contract have passed with you?"
The Budget Committee recommended a $10,653,418 operating budget, $4,500 less than what the school board put forward. This article, and others on the warrant outside of the teachers' contract, advanced with minimal discussion. The health care plan generated the bulk of the debate.
At the conclusion of the session, Adam Mini, vice chair, presented a plaque to Michael Hatch, a nine-year member of the Gilmanton School Board.
"He has been invaluable to me personally and the rest of the board members," Mini said.
Hatch received a going-away gift, as he is not seeking re-election and retiring from the board. His wife is school clerk Rachel Hatch.
"I got on the school board originally because I wanted to make a difference in my community," Michael Hatch said. "I wanted to give back. Between my wife and I, we have five children who have gone through the system. I wanted to do my part and help out."
Voting day is Tuesday, March 14, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Academy Building.
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