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Henniker voters approve budget, contracts for teachers, staff

  • Henniker School Board member Zach Lawson, center, is lit by the projector describing the changes to the health plan provided to teachers after leading a discussion at the school district meeting on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at Henniker Community School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Henniker School Board member Zach Lawson, center, is lit by the projector describing the changes to the health plan provided to teachers after leading a discussion at the school district meeting on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at Henniker Community School.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Alana Sevigny, 10, a fifth grader at the Henniker Community School, recites the Pledge of Alleigance before the start of the Henniker School District meeting on Wednesday evening, March 12,  2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Alana Sevigny, 10, a fifth grader at the Henniker Community School, recites the Pledge of Alleigance before the start of the Henniker School District meeting on Wednesday evening, March 12, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Henniker School Board member Zach Lawson, center, is lit by the projector describing the changes to the health plan provided to teachers after leading a discussion at the school district meeting on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at Henniker Community School. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Alana Sevigny, 10, a fifth grader at the Henniker Community School, recites the Pledge of Alleigance before the start of the Henniker School District meeting on Wednesday evening, March 12,  2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

For the first time in at least three years, Henniker School District voters approved a multiyear contract with their teachers, including an innovative approach to health insurance that could save thousands in future years, according to one board member.

The first year of the contract means spending about $81,000 for increases to salaries and benefits. The voters also approved a budget of just more than $7 million for the next school year, and a two-year contract with district support staff.

Altogether, the warrant articles passed at last night’s meeting will add 30 cents to the school portion of Henniker’s tax rate, which is currently $17.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 1.7 percent increase.

The contract the district reached with teachers goes beyond just a number, though, said board member Zachary Lawson.

The changes to salaries are “modest, responsible and competitive,” but the changes to benefits, especially health insurance, are “very progressive,” he said.

The contract moves teachers onto a high-deductible plan – $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families – which saves the district and teachers thousands of dollars in premium costs this year alone, he said.

For next year, the district will fund the entire deductible through a health savings account. In the second and third years of the contract, the district will replace any money teachers spent from the account, and give people who didn’t use any of their deductible a small boost, too.

Replenishing the health savings accounts should cost significantly less than the premium increases the district was seeing year after year on a traditional insurance plan, Lawson said.

“It’s progressive in that we’re making the high-deductible plan behave, for them, like the plans they are already under,” Lawson said.

“We’re really exploring the notion of self-insurance by doing this,” he said. “It’s not really an explicit partnership with teachers, but it’s one where net utilization information can be shared, and as a team now, we can look at the plan and work on it together, and say, if everyone works together, we can spend less on premiums and on the funding of the deductible.”

Voters also approved moving up to $30,000 of surplus to an account for building maintenance, and up to $20,000 of surplus to an account for technology.

The goal of that account, board member James McElroy said, is to replace computers that were bought seven years ago.

Holding a small, white laptop up to the crowd, McElroy noted all of the keys that have gone missing and the navigation pad that lost its sensitivity to touch.

“Seven years of use, seven years of little fingers banging on keys – replacing this technology is a very real need,” he said.

Moving surplus money into the savings account this year should put the district on the path to replacing all of the computers within five years without hitting the budget hard all at once, he said.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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