Local teachers ask Sununu for education funding in budget

Monitor staff
Published: 7/24/2019 5:57:57 PM

Kim Tucker knows the financial juggle of the school budget process as well as anyone. Tucker, a kindergarten teacher in Weare, has spent 16 of her 22 years serving on the teachers’ negotiating team.

Budgets pass and fail. Items come and go. But this year, five major items – the teacher contract, the paraprofessional contract, the operating budget, a proposed resource officer and a proposed full-day kindergarten program – competed for funding, Tucker said.

Only the first three passed; the last two fell by the wayside amid another proposed increase in local property taxes as the state continues to downshift costs. The financial struggles come as the role of teachers in schools has shifted with new challenges on the homefront, Tucker said.

“It’s not the school of 20 years ago, because now I’m dealing with having to support families in their home situations while trying to get them to get their child to school, get their child to bed before they get to school so that they’re not tired,” she said.

To Tucker, they’re part of a litany of stresses that could be addressed by stronger state funding.

“It’s these outside things that could be made easier by some money with resources to support – to get the resources that we need in the classroom,” Tucker said.

Tucker was one of four teachers who gathered at the NEA building in Concord Wednesday, part of a panel put on by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes to attempt to put pressure on Gov. Chris Sununu to reverse last month’s veto of the budget. That budget, Democrats have stressed, included $178 million in increased funding to schools and towns.

Sununu vetoed the budget after what he said was an irresponsible reliance of one-time surplus for long-term funding, and the roll-back of scheduled reductions to the state’s business taxes.

Some mayors and business leaders have applauded the veto, cheering on further cuts. For the teachers Wednesday, though, more money is needed now.

“I have $1.99 million in reasons for wanting the budget to pass in Pembroke,” said Karrie Thompson, a Pembroke Academy teacher, referring to the amount estimated by the Legislative Budget Assistant would go to that school.

Pembroke, she said, is the lowest-paid district in the Capital region of the state for teachers and paraprofessionals, making contract negotiations hard and attracting workers difficult.

The low funding affects life for teachers in the classrooms too, Thompson said. For example, she needed books for her classroom and there wasn’t enough money for it. So she set up a fundraising drive, and turned to her personal life.

“I raised $2,500 from my friends to buy books for my classroom,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to go begging for the books for my classroom.”

Thompson drew a direct correlation between the funding shortfall and the governor’s veto pen.

“Let’s be clear, this veto, it’s a slap in the face for the kids in New Hampshire ... it’s looking at them and saying ‘you know you kids we really don’t care about you as much as you think,’ ” she said. “And I think that just – I think it’s horrible.”

The governor’s office has pushed back on the characterization. A spokesman for Sununu said the governor is in favor of education funding, as long as the business tax rate of 7.7% doesn’t climb to 7.9%.

Sununu had told town officials last week that he would support restoring stabilization grants – which have dropped by 4% a year since 2016 – as well as increasing revenue sharing to send state money to towns. Both of those would help schools and ease property tax burdens, spokesman Ben Vihstadt said.

“Governor Sununu’s objection to the budget is not over education funding – he supports those programs,” Vihstadt said in a statement. “His objection is to raising taxes over 12% and the $100 million structural deficit.”

That structural deficit – the notion that nearly $100 million of long-term spending is paid through one-time revenue surpluses that might not be available down the line – has been rejected as false by Democrats, who say the next Legislature will be left with a net surplus.

On Wednesday, Feltes also rebuffed the idea of setting the business profits tax permanently at 7.7%.

Meanwhile, negotiations on the budget are continuing – sluggishly. Senate and House leaders have arranged for three public hearings throughout August in Concord to discuss the budget impasse. But three weeks in, little progress has been made on any major obstacles, and few meetings between the major parties have taken place.

Despite a temporary funding resolution that will tide the state government over until Sept. 30, public schools have a shorter deadline: Sept. 1. That’s the next possible date in which school districts could receive an increase in per-pupil funds from the Department of Education through the budget.

The next potential release date: Nov. 1.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, 369-3307, or  on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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