Board nixes teachers’ contract

MILFORD – Despite a strong budget committee push to “zero out” a warrant article that would give teachers $545,000 worth of increases this year, residents at the school Deliberative Session Monday night voted to put the article on the Sept. 9 ballot.

The unusual meeting was part of a court-approved special school district meeting to vote on recommendations from a neutral fact-finder hired to help settle a contract dispute between the Milford Teachers Association and the Milford School Board.

The final stage of the “meeting” will be a ballot vote on the warrant article during the September primary election.

The $545,000 would cover increases in teachers’ salaries and in wage-
driven benefits for 2014-15. Salaries, however, are no longer an issue.

Since last August, negotiations on a three-year contract had resolved all but one issue: the School Board’s wish for a third tier for health insurance that would require new teachers, those that have not been hired yet, to accept a 5 percent higher share of their premiums.

The factfinder recommended that the board drop that proposal and that the teachers’ association drop its proposal for a 2.25 percent cost of living adjustment in the contract’s third year. The teachers had agreed to accept the nonbinding recommendations.

Monday night, Ron Carvell, chairman of the School Advisory Budget Committee, said the committee voted 7-0 to reject the contract, and budget committee member Rich Wood said the warrant article should go before a regular school district meeting instead.

Others argued that teachers should have a contract and Milford voters should be allowed to vote on it Sept. 9.

Suzanne Schedin, president of the Milford Teachers’ Association, said that during negotiations the School Board took the third tier request off the table and later brought it back, which she implied was not fair.

The School Board contends that the wage increases it is offering over three years – 1.5 percent in year 1 and 2 percent each in years 2 and 3 – is generous, and the creation of a Group 3 for health insurance is “an extremely modest proposal.”

Board Chairman Paul Dargie called the teachers’ current contract very beneficial to teachers and said they are well-paid relative to other districts in New Hampshire.

The average salary is $62,246, a number Dargie said should be taken “with a grain of salt … but pay in Milford is pretty good.”

Dargie said the impact of the proposed third health insurance tier on new teachers in the current school year would be $463 for a single plan, $926 for a two-person plan and $1,251 for a family.

The warrant article needs only a simple majority to pass, and if it does the increased taxes would be added to property owners’ December tax bill, he said, and the tax impact would be 31 cents. That would be added to last year’s school tax rate of $19.42 per thousand of assessed valuation.

Passage of the warrant article would also give the School Board authority to sign a contract with teachers, said Dargie, but it would not require it to.

District Attorney William Drescher said there might be “significant litigation” if “this small group” referring to the approximately 30 residents at the meeting, rejected the warrant article by amending the dollar amounts to zero.

For the contract’s second year, the cost would be $577,736 and for the third year, 2016-17, the cost would be $559,421.

Wood said the aggregate cost of all school district labor contracts over the three years would amount to more than $3 million, and district business administrator Katie Chambers agreed with that number.

“We have great people here,” he said, “but we have to ask what is affordable.”

Steve Takacs noted that the school board and the budget committee are opposed to the warrant article, so “no way is it going to pass.”

The board and the committee each voted unanimously not to support it.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.