Complication arises in funding for city teacher contract

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — As the City Council prepares to consider a newly negotiated teachers' contract Monday, a complication has arisen with a potential funding mechanism.
The five-year contract, approved by teachers and the school board, calls for significant pay raises. School officials want the City Council to override a restrictive property tax cap to provide required funding.
However, that's a controversial suggestion and a non-starter for some councilors.
A potential solution had emerged recently in the form of a bill moving through the state Legislature that would fund full-day kindergarten.
Since Laconia already pays for kindergarten, the idea was that this state money could free up as much as $400,000 that could then be used to fund the contract without the need for a tax cap override.
The complication is that the school district's cost in providing kindergarten is defrayed by as much as $200,000 in federal Title 1 funds for low-income school districts, and that money can't be applied to the contract, Laconia School District Superintendent Dr. Brendan Minnihan said Wednesday.
School district officials are waiting to see if the full-day kindergarten legislation, Senate Bill 191, wins final passage. It has won initial votes in the House and Senate and is supported by the governor.
If it becomes law, district leaders would need to see if they would be permitted to use the money to help defray contract costs, or whether it would need to be spent strictly on kindergarten.
"That's the hard part of all of this," Minnihan said. "There are so many pieces in the air. A lot of things are in flux."
City Manager Scott Myers said city officials are interested in knowing what level of funding the state will provide, how the money can be used and the exact details of the school district's budget, which is still to be provided to the City Council.
The tax cap, approved by voters in November 2005, limits increases in property tax collections for the city, school and county budgets based on a formula tied to changes in the Federal National Consumer Price Index (urban) and new building permits less demolitions.
Under the tentative contract, teachers at all experience steps are to get a $700 salary increase in the first year of the contract. Teachers at the top step are to receive an additional $1,000, resulting in a total increase of $1,700 for teachers in this category in the first year.
In the second year, all steps are to be given a $1,200 increase. Teachers in the top step would receive an additional $1,300.
The council will meet in City Hall at 6 p.m. Monday.