January 22, 2010

24 Percent School Tax Hike
School Board asks unions to renegotiate contracts due to school tax rate increase

GOFFSTOWN - Facing pressure from taxpayers who are looking at a 24 percent school tax increase, the Goffstown School Board has sent a letter to teacher and support staff unions asking them to renegotiate their contracts.

The Goffstown School Board voted to ask its unions to voluntarily limit their contractual pay raises at the board’s Jan. 11 meeting.

“There are a host of things that could be potentially renegotiated,” said School Board Chairman Keith Allard.

The request came in response to a Jan. 6 public budget hearing at which residents voiced frustration over a proposed 24 percent increase in the school tax rate. This is an increase over last year of $2.83 per $1,000 assessed property value, or $707 on a $250,000 home.

School Board member Phillip Kendall said at the Jan. 6 public hearing that the increase is deceptive, since the school district gave the town $2 million in unexpected stimulus revenues and $1.3 million in budget savings last year – a move that actually lowered the tax rate.

After the March 2009 vote, a school tax rate of $14.31 per $1,000 assessed property value was set. When the school district gave $3.3 million back to taxpayers on July 1, that lowered the school tax rate to $11.91 per $1,000 assessed property value.

Allard said the the increase in the tax rate is due to an 18 percent increase in health insurance costs, and contractual obligations, such as teacher and support staff contracts.

Some residents at the hearing had suggested renegotiating the school district’s union contracts, which stipulate yearly pay increases.

Allard said he supported making a request for renegotiations, but stressed that the district must uphold its end of the contracts if the unions make no concessions.

“I believe we have a legal obligation to fulfill them,” Allard said. “If we want to send a letter asking if they’re willing to consider renegotiation, I have no problem with that.”

Following Allard’s lead, the board voted 5-2 to ask the unions to reconsider their contracted pay raises as they see fit.

Under the board’s current contract with the Goffstown Education Association teacher’s union, the salary of a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree will increase by 2.3 percent for the 2010-11 school year. For a 10th-year teacher with a master’s degree, salaries will increase from $47,647 to $49,456 – a 3.8 percent raise.

Goffstown Education Association President Virginia Sinclair said she had not yet been informed of the School Board’s request, and declined to comment.

Asking teachers unions to voluntarily forego pay increases has happened in other districts throughout the state, said to Theodore Comstock, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association.

“I think with conditions changing as drastically as they have the last two or three years that it’s reasonable to sit down and see if the budget impact can’t be lessened, given the economy,” Comstock said. “I think it’s just a recognition of doing the best a board can do for the taxpayers.”

Phil Pratt, who helped negotiate Goffstown’s contracts through the National Education Association of New Hampshire, said he has no problem with the request – as long as the school district is willing to give up something in exchange.

“I have no problem with the school district asking for them, as long as there’s an understanding that it would take place in a negotiating process,” Pratt said.

Pratt said he knows of two other towns – Bedford and Milford – that have asked unions to take smaller pay increases. Pratt doesn’t know of any teachers unions that have accepted concessions.

One Goffstown School Board member who voted against the request said that teachers have already suffered enough during the recession, and could not afford to make concessions.

“In families where people are teachers, they also may have people who are out of work, that have been laid off from their jobs,” said Virginia McKinnon. “They also have to pay oil prices, and they also have to do the rest that everybody else does.”

The School Board’s standing contract with the Goffstown Education Association is set to expire in August 2012. The board’s contract with the Goffstown Educational Support Staff union will run out in June 2011.

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