Pembroke voters defeat new contract for district teachers
Pembroke's annual school district meeting on Saturday proved to be a showdown between austerity and education spending, with a teacher's contract and the operating budget serving as the battleground for those advocating deep cuts and those arguing for education spending as an essential investment.
The first item to draw significant debate was a collective bargaining agreement between the school board and the district's teachers union. The contract would have provided a total salary and benefit increase of $448,675 in 2013-2014 and a $496,227 increase in 2014-2015.
Supporters said Pembroke teaching salaries were below state averages, and argued that the district could find it increasingly difficult to remain competitive and attract highly qualified and talented teachers at the current rates. Detractors characterized the increase as unaffordable, saying Pembroke's median income was also below state averages.
The article went to a ballot vote, where it failed 75-90. The Education Association of Pembroke and the school board will now have to meet again to negotiate a new contract proposal to bring before voters.
The operating budget also produced significant debate, as mandatory increases pushed the district's request up by over half a million dollars.
The state's downshifting of all retirement costs to the municipalities alone pushed an additional $385,000 onto the district. Other nondiscretionary increases include approximately $70,000 in insurance costs, $100,000 in federal insurance contributions, $95,000 in previously approved contract increases, $24,000 in SAU expenses, and a $109,000 increase in electricity costs, due a PSNH accounting error which left them undercharging for some time.
In total, nondiscretionary increases came to about $783,000. The proposed operating budget was only set to increase by $699,000 from last year, however, due to cuts made within the district.
"The school budget is eating a lot of those increased expenses," said school board chairman Thomas Serafin.
A significant portion of these cuts was the elimination of 10 positions- nine support staff and one teacher - within the district.
Several residents who spoke against the contracts, however, argued that the district should do even more to absorb the new costs and make the budget more "affordable." One of these residents, Dan Boyer, presented an amendment to cut an additional $393,209 out of the budget, figured at about half of the total increase from 2012-2013. The school board balked at this proposal.
"Any further cut would be absolutely devastating to the district," said Serafin. "We don't have a whole lot left to cut outside of teachers."
The amendment failed overwhelmingly, and the budget committee's proposed budget subsequently passed.
As of now, the anticipated local school tax rate will be $16.96 per $1,000, a 4 percent increase over last year, or 3.2 percent when the drop in the state school tax rate is accounted for.
Also passed at the meeting was a $100,950 withdrawal from the School Building Capital Reserve Fund, deposits of $25,000 into the Instructional Materials Expendable Trust fund and $75,000 into the Capital Reserve Building Fund with the monies coming from unreserved surpluses, the renaming of the Equipment Expendable Trust Fund to allow for labor and installation costs to be covered under it, and a warrant allowing the school board to accept gifts and donations on behalf of the district.