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December 01. 2013 8:31PM

Exeter school paraprofessionals fight cut in hours

EXETER — The union representing paraprofessionals working in the Exeter Region Cooperative School District has lodged an unfair labor practice complaint against the district after their hours were reduced at the start of this school year.

The union, known as the Exeter Cooperative Paraprofessional Association, filed the complaint with the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board.

According to the complaint, most of the full-time paraprofessionals worked 35 hours a week from 2006 to the current school year. The union negotiated its current contract and others in the past "based upon its understanding that almost all of the full-time paraprofessionals would work 35 hours a week," the complaint said.

District voters approved an amount to cover the wages for a 35-hour work week, the complaint said.

Working 35 hours a week also makes paraprofessionals eligible for membership in the New Hampshire Retirement System.

The reduced hours disqualified them from the retirement system and has been a "devastating blow to the pensions of these employees," the union argues.

The complaint quotes minutes from a school board meeting in April during which Superintendent Michael Morgan reported that the district "appears to be in sound financial shape, showing an unreserved fund balance of $595,963.07."

But at a meeting in June, the complaint said, Morgan reported a $348,000 budget shortfall. To cover the shortfall, Morgan proposed cuts that included trimming the hours of the paraprofessionals by 2.5 hours a week.

With the reduced hours making paraprofessionals ineligible for membership in the state retirement system, the district no longer had to pay a share of pension contributions for 77 employees, the complaint said.

"The superintendent never asked the association to reopen the contract, nor did he seek to bargain over the impact of the proposed change. He simply proposed to the school board that it unilaterally change the bargained-for wages of the paraprofessionals," the complaint said.

The proposal was approved by a 4-3 vote of the board at the June meeting.

In July, Morgan told the board that the district would receive approximately $800,000 from the Local Government Center because of overpayments made by towns and school districts. The complaint said Morgan suggested using the money to restore cuts made in June, but the board voted to table the issue indefinitely.

According to the union, the school district is now considering spending money to hire 16 more paraprofessionals to address a need for additional support staff.

The union argues the reduction of hours was illegal and that some of the refund from LGC should be used to restore the cuts.

In a statement, Morgan defended the cuts and said the issue had been referred to the district's legal counsel.

"The district does believe that it has acted completely within the boundaries of the law and the collective bargaining agreement with the (paraprofessionals)," he wrote in an e-mail.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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