Greater Concord trend: School staff seeing wage increases
Voters across the region this month approved multiyear contracts with school staff that increase salaries, but require employees to take on more of the cost of health insurance.
Growing optimism in the economy will likely lead to similar compromises in other districts in the coming years, said Neil Niman, associate professor of economics at the University of New Hampshire.
While salaries increased at a low rate through the recession, real incomes stayed flat compared with inflation, he said.
“We’ve been here for five years now, so it’s sort of understandable that municipal employees and teachers are saying it’s time to catch up,” he said.
“For the employer, that makes it a good time to get employees to give something back on health benefits. . . . For many employers, the increases in health costs have outstripped what they’ve saved by not giving raises,” he said. “The benefits of getting a handle on those increases is worth a percent or two in increased salaries.”
Nationally, public school districts pay on average 87 percent of employee health benefit costs for a single person and 66 percent for families, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“This slow but general improvement in the economy gives folks a bit more optimism about the future, but they are still trying to lessen the impact on taxpayers a bit,” said Ben Tafoya, assistant professor of political science and director of the New England College Polling Center.
“In the end, I think the telling statistic is the unemployment rate. As that’s ticking down, people will feel more generous. At this point, these are modest amounts of increases, and they’re tied to other changes in the benefits.”
In Weare, voters approved a two-year contract with salary increases worth $120,000. All but $7,000 of that increase was offset by savings from having the teachers pay more for the cost of health insurance.
“It was a win-win situation for the taxpayers, the board, the teachers, for everyone,” said Bethany Chapman, president of the Weare Education Association. “It was a true compromise and no one side felt they were left out.”
Superintendent Lorraine Tacconi-Moore agreed.
“We’re trying to take a more proactive role in keeping things affordable. That’s why you see a high-deductible plan offered and agreed to,” she said.
In the three contracts the Concord School District negotiated this past year – with bus drivers, principals and custodians – only one health plan is available.
The district pays 100 percent of the premium, but because the plan has a deductible ($2,000 for an individual and $4,000 for a family plan), the full cost of the premium is much lower than the portion of the premium the district paid for other plans.
And staff can save money on their deductible, too. If the policy holder completes an annual health risk assessment, the insurance company will give them money for half of the deductible.
Henniker and John Stark teachers have a similar plan this year. The districts committed to paying the entire deductible and the majority of the premium, just to move staff onto a plan with a deductible and lower the premium costs. In Henniker, employees pay 15 percent of the premium; in John Stark, they pay 10 percent for a single plan and 15 percent for a two person or family plan.
For several years, salaries in those districts had held almost flat, Weare, Henniker and John Stark Superintendent Lorraine Tacconi-Moore said.
“In Henniker, our teachers either went without a raise or took a very small raise for two years in a row. . . . We want to compensate them fairly,” she said.
The Concord School District will be negotiating with five collective bargaining groups this coming fall, and “we don’t want to tip our (cards) at this point,” said Larry Prince, director of human resources. “But yes, I’m sure there will be a discussion about health insurance.”
(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)
This story has been updated to correctly reflect the portion of health insurance premiums paid by teachers in the Henniker and John Stark school districts, which were incorrect in an earlier edition.