$10.46M operating budget proposed for Hollis School Districtl; with mixed feelings about collective bargaining agreements

HOLLIS – Collective bargaining agreements with the Hollis Education Association and the Hollis Education Support Staff Association proved to be the contentious items discussed at the Hollis Budget Committee meeting on Feb. 6 to review the school district warrants and budget.

The HEA contract is a two-year agreement that would cost taxpayers $175,081 in additional salaries and benefits for professional staff for fiscal 2015 and $186,915 the following year. The tax impact for funding this article for the first year is $0.15 per $1,000, or $59.34 for a $400,000 home.

The agreement does not include a cost of living allowance, but raises the base pay on the salary scale and adds a longevity bonus for teachers at the top of the scale. It also modifies health insurance options offered. This is the first attempt at a collective bargaining agreement for teachers since the one presented in 2010 was rejected by voters.

Agreement versus status quo

Committee members attempted to calculate future salaries under the new agreement and compared that figure with what salaries would be if nothing changed. They determined that at the end of two years, staff salaries will have increased about seven percent under the new plan, compared with less than four percent under the current schedule.

“I’m struggling with the reasonableness of it,” said committee member Chris Hyde. “It’s too rich for the town and I don’t think it is right to go down that path.”

Committee member Tom Jambard said he would support the agreement, but he thinks information should be available at Town Meeting explaining what the costs will be if it is not ratified.

Rosemary Mezzocchi, the school district representative on the Budget Committee, expressed concern that teachers will leave the district if the agreement is not passed.

“Compared to what’s happening in education in other towns, we are falling behind,” she said.

Committee member Frank Whittemore said he appreciated the time and effort put into the collective bargaining process and supported the agreement.

“Even though we don’t have COLA, there has to be some sort of reward for those people for higher cost of living,” he said.

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Gehan also voice his support of the agreement.

“I have concerns about the relative amount of increases compared to the private sector, but this is not the private sector,” he said. “I have heard from candidates who have taken positions elsewhere due to our compensation and have heard from voters that our school district is becoming an unappealing place to work.”

In the end, the committee voted 3-1-1 to support the HEA agreement, with Gehan, Jambard and Mezzocchi in favor, Hyde opposed, and Whittemore abstaining.

Support staff agreement

The HESSA contract was not as divisive but still did not garner unanimous support after discussion.

The two-year HESSA agreement would cost $42,866 in fiscal 2015 and $44,213 in fiscal 2016, with a tax impact of $0.04 per $1,000 of assessed value, or $14.53 for a $400,000 home.

Factors in this contract include moving employees up a step on the scale, increased dental insurance costs and part-time vacation for part-time employees.

“I think this is a more reasonable contract, more in line with economics,” Hyde said. “I still find myself not going to support it because of the Sanbornization.”

Sanbornization refers to the way ratifying a multi-year contract this year affects future voters, in effect making them responsible for decisions made in prior years. Hyde said he could not support the article for that reason because it disenfranchises future voters. He was the one opponent in a 4-1 vote to support the HESSA collective bargaining agreement.

No special meeting

The committee also disagreed on the merits of Article 5, which would call for a special meeting to address cost items if either or both the collective bargaining agreements are not ratified.

“I take a negative view of these as well,” Hyde said. “The turnout at special meetings is so low, I think it needs to wait for the coming year.”

The committee voted 1-4 to not support Article 5, with Mezzocchi as the lone supporter.

Operating budget

SAU 41 Business Administrator Eric Horton presented the Hollis School District operating budget of $10,464,965, which is $60,000 below the guidance target. Factors driving the budget include increased expenses for special education, benefits, equipment and salaries for assistant principals.

If all warrants pass, the Hollis school local and state portion of the tax rate combined will be $8.01 per $1,000, or $3,204 for a $400,000 home. That represents an increase of 6.5 percent over last year’s rate of $7.52 per $1,000.

Horton also presented the SAU operating budget of $1,348,588, with a tax impact of $.033 per $1,000, or $133.56 for a $400,000 home. Of that amount, $394,099 is the amount assigned to Hollis by the cooperative school district. Horton pointed out that the SAU budget has been flat for the past three years, and if the Article 8 does not pass, the adjusted budget will increase by more than $40,000.

Expendable trust fund articles

Two routine warrant articles seek to transfer money to expendable trust funds. The $8,000 proposed in Article 6 is for repairs at the SAU office on Lund Lane, including replacing flooring and the front porch and repairing the barn.

Article 7 would allocate $12,000 from the unreserved fund for maintenance at Hollis Primary School and Hollis Upper Elementary School. Future repair projects include replacing the roof over the kitchen and replacing playground surface material at HPS, and installing air conditioning for data closet and repairing roof flashing above the main office at HUES.

Up to the voters

Full copies of the warrants and the budget presentations can be found on the town website, www.hollisnh.org. Warrants will be discussed and voted on at Hollis School District annual meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4, at Hollis Brookline Middle School, with a snow date of March 5.