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Pittsfield to consider new teachers contract



Monitor staff
Saturday, August 19, 2017

After defeating a three-year teachers contract in March, Pittsfield voters will return to the polls in September to weigh in on a one-year deal.

In an effort to help address heavy turnover in one of the state’s worst-paying districts, the Pittsfield school board had pitched continuity bonuses for teachers based on how long they stayed in the district. But facing a $2.50 increase on the tax rate with the operating budgeting alone, voters narrowly said no, 91-85.

The deal before voters now will only continue the raise contained in the previous contract, allowing teachers to receive a bump in their salary based on annual steps. It doesn’t include any across-the-board raises, and it doesn’t include the bonuses the board had hoped for.

Pittsfield is in the bottom 10 in the state for average teacher pay in districts with more than 10 teachers. With an average salary last year of $41,459, Pittsfield loses a lot of teachers to Pembroke Academy, Chichester, Barnstead, even Deerfield.

The cost of passing the contract is estimated at $66,485, for a projected tax impact of 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The contract would only cover the 2017-18 school year.

If voters don’t approve the deal, teachers won’t move forward in their steps next year. With increases in retirement contributions and health insurance premiums, district officials say that would mean a cut in take-home pay.

Some have argued that Pittsfield teachers don’t pay enough into their health care costs compared to teachers in other districts. Bea Douglas, a school board member who led negotiations for the district, said teachers “are willing to address this concern” in the next round of negotiations.

But Douglas, who teaches in Chichester, also emphasized that the district’s teachers already make much less compared to their peers.

The district’s faculty are “a group of the most dedicated teachers,” she said, who “certainly aren’t here for the money.”

New Hampshire funds its schools by relying mostly on local property taxes. That means property-poor towns like Pittsfield tend to need much higher tax rates to raise enough money to fund services. The state has also cut back dramatically on poverty-related aid and employee retirement costs.

“We’re all in a tough spot here. And until the way that we pay for education in New Hampshire changes, negotiations are going to be difficult,” Douglas said.

The school board unanimously recommended the contract. The town’s budget committee voted 7-2 to support it.

Pittsfield wasn’t the only capital-area town to vote down a contract this year. Voters defeated a contract for teachers at John Stark Regional High School in March, and then again in June, leaving teachers without a contract when they return to school this fall.

Still, defeated contracts are the anomaly. The New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said only 5 of 103 contracts were voted down this year. Likewise, 94 percent of contracts were approved in 2016, and 97 percent passed in 2015.

The Pittsfield district’s voters in March also voted to switch to an SB2 form of voting. That means the district will hold two meetings to consider items – including this contract – a deliberative session, and a voting session.

Deliberative sessions allow for voters to discuss and amend warrant articles, and voting sessions allow for a straight up-or-down vote by paper ballot.

The district’s special deliberative session regarding the contract was held last Thursday. Voting will take place Sept. 19 at the Pittsfield town hall. Unlike budgets, contracts can’t be amended during deliberative sessions, so Thursday’s meeting was simply informational.

 

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)