December 20, 2006
Hollis-Brookline Middle School
Jim Murphy, Chairperson
Tom Enright, arrived at 8:45 p.m.
Richard Pike, Superintendent of Schools
Tim Kelley, Principal, Hollis-Brookline High School
Pat Goyette, Principal, Hollis-Brookline Middle School
Robert Kelly, Director of Special Education
Mellinee Capasso, Business Administrator
Betsy A. Packard, Recording Secretary
Others present included the following members of the Coop Budget Committee:
Forrest Milkowski, Chair., Mort Goulder, Greg D’Arbonne, Doug Davidson, as well as members of the Public.
Chairperson Jim Murphy called the meeting to order at 7:27 p.m.
Steve Simons moved that the Board seal the non-public minutes of December 20, 2006. Dan Peterson seconded.
Mr. Peterson felt that there was no need to seal the minutes.
Motion failed. 1 – 4 – 0. (Scales, Simons, Peterson and Murphy against.)
Steve Simons moved that the Board accept the minutes of November 15, 2006 as written. Dan Peterson seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 5 – 0 – 0.
Supt. Pike reported that they had received an anonymous donation. Mr. Kelley read from a press release due to go out the next day, which stated that the Cooperative School District was in receipt of a second very generous grant to support both high school and middle school programs. The grants, which over the past several years have totaled over $30,000, were made possible by a Brookline family and matching funds from Fidelity Mutual. The family is a strong supporter of the Coop School District, and particularly of the Technology / Performing Arts programs. The grants will allow purchase of technology equipment. The press release went on to say that the Coop School District wished to express their appreciation for the generous effort that will provide them with this wonderful opportunity.
Mr. Kelley stated that a donation of approximately $15,000 was made last year. Supt. Pike reported that a check in the amount of $8,525.00 was for the High School. Ms. Goyette was not sure of the exact amount for the Middle School, and left to look up the exact amount.
Supt. Pike informed the Board that he had a letter of retirement from Deirdre Adams, school nurse for the past twenty-seven years, effective June 30, 2007.
Steve Simons moved that the Board accept the letter of retirement from Deirdre Adams with great regret and acknowledgement of her great contribution to the School District. Webb Scales seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 5 – 0 – 0.
Supt. Pike informed the Board that he had received a letter requesting maternity leave from Gina Bergskaug, with the leave starting March 16, 2007 and hopefully returning on May 14, 2007.
Dan Peterson moved that the Board accept Gina Bergskaug’s request for maternity leave to start on March 16, 2007, and hopefully returning on May 14, 2007. Steve Simons seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 5 – 0 – 0.
3. OPEN FORUM
Chair. Murphy stated that it is customary to get public input during the Open Forum portion of the meeting. He pointed out that there will be a statement read during the Staff Negotiations portion of the meeting, and then the Board will also be covering Apportionment and the Budget. He then asked if there was any public input for something other than the three items mentioned above.
There was no other public input.
4. STATEMENT FROM THE HOLLIS EDUCATION SUPPORT STAFF ASSOCIATION (HESSA)
Chair. Murphy recognized Jean Cairney from Brookline, who, on behalf of HESSA, gave a statement. Ms. Cairney first recognized all the hours the Board members put in and how hard they work, but wondered why HESSA and the Board could not reach an agreement on a contract for the Support Staff for 2006-2007.
Ms. Cairney stated that it was HESSA’s position that the failure to come to an agreement was based on the antiquated language of the Reduction in Force Policy (RIF). Ms. Cairney stated that it was the contention of the Board that the RIF policy was not what was holding up the agreement. Ms. Cairney stated that this was not the case and cited the following:
· On February 1, 2006 at 4:50 p.m. HESSA negotiators met with School Board representatives in a final attempt to come to an agreement for 2006-2007, which included:
o 1-year contract
o Keep the current health benefits
o 2.75% increase in pay with steps
o Continue discussion of RIF
o $875 freeze on medical cap
· At approximately 7:00 p.m., the HESSA president was notified that there would be “no deal.” The RIF language presented by the Board had to be accepted to make the deal.
Ms. Cairney pointed out that it was RIF that broke the deal. Ms. Cairney went on to say that as negotiations continued and in order to come to an agreement for 2007-2008, HESSA recently conceded to the Coop Board and accepted the change in the current RIF Policy. This was a major concession on HESSA’s part, as they found the current RIF Policy more than adequate to serve the needs of both sides for the past 18 years.
HESSA then felt that an agreement would be met, as the issue of RIF holding up the contract had been agreed to. Ms. Cairney stated that, now, the Board was using the medical plan as the hold up. HESSA wants the same medical cap as the professional staff. HESSA questions why the support staff is not treated equally as the professional staff. First it was RIF, now it is the medical plan.
Ms. Cairney stated that HESSA was being told that there was not enough money for the support staff, and that they were only being offered their step increases rather than the step increase along with the usual cost of living increase, which has been the practice of many years past. The support staff is being asked to pay more for their medical plan than the professional staff and asked to take a lead in establishing that only step increases be awarded, with no word yet on what the top step might be percentage-wise. Ms. Cairney stated that HESSA was asking why, when every other bargaining unit within the district has received step and percentage increases, the support staff is being singled out?
Ms. Cairney stated that the School Board representatives that are negotiating the contract had repeatedly told them that it is the Budget Committee that controls the expenditures of the School District. Ms. Cairney stated that HESSA has found out that this is not true. It is the Budget Committee that allots a certain amount of money to the School District, and it is the School Board that decides how to spend the money.
Ms. Cairney stated that HESSA had also been told at many bargaining sessions that HESSA’s medical cap could not match that of the professional staff because the Budget Committee wouldn’t go for it. Yet, in the Budget Committee minutes of July 12, 2005 it states:
“Ray Vallee points out that the Budget Committee voted unanimously for the support staff benefit package to be the same as the professional staff benefit package, yet this is not the case. He questions why this didn’t occur. They can not treat them as different classes of people.”
Ms. Cairney pointed out that current paraprofessional educators, in particular, have saved the District hundreds of thousand of dollars each year by providing direct one-on-one services to the most physically and educationally challenged students in the community. Without these paraprofessional services, these students would have to be placed out-of-district with a huge expense to the taxpayers. In addition, the District receives thousands of dollars in Medicaid funding reimbursement for wages for para-educators that work with these challenged students. Although the amount of money might be minimal, it is still given back to the District because of the paraprofessional educators.
Ms. Cairney stated that HESSA had recently requested what the tax impact would be if the Coop support staff were to received a 5% increase, matching medical cap to that of the teachers, and retirement benefits for those who qualify under the New Hampshire Retirement system guidelines. She added that while HESSA was waiting for this information, and although it was difficult to forecast tax impact, not knowing what grant money they may or may not receive, HESSA calculated that in order to receive the above request, using the current Apportionment formula of 75/25, the increase would cost the tax payer the following increase:
Hollis: Average house of $450,000 Cost: Approximately $0.17/per day
Brookline: Average house of $375,000 Cost: Approximately $0.12/per day
Ms. Cairney then asked if this was too much to recognize and compensate the support staff that works so hard for the District. She questioned if this was really not affordable.
Chair. Murphy stated that the Board would like to make a statement in response to HESSA’s statement. Chair. Murphy read the statement, which pointed out that the Board had been in energetically engaged in good-faith negotiations with the Hollis Brookline Coop Support Staff Association for the past year. To date, they have not been able to reach a mutually acceptable master agreement. He pointed out that the cost of educating students is rising faster than the community can afford, and that the Board was committed to taking this challenge seriously. Citizens in both towns have been abundantly clear on this point. It is a difficult problem requiring serious consideration, in all aspects of the schools, particularly when addressing the largest cost drivers in the budget – wages and benefits. The Board has made responsible good-faith offers to HESSA, which they have summarily rejected. He stated that it was important to understand the wage structure currently in place in order to have appreciation for the position that the Board is in. Employees receive annual wage increases each year, automatically, up until their sixth year of employment. These step raises are built into the contract and range from 3.9% to 9.4%. On top of that, the employee receives a salary adjustment raise as based on negotiation report.
The Board has made a responsible offer of a cost of living raise or the step raise, whichever is larger, but not both. However, the union negotiators have insisted upon a 5% salary adjustment, which is double the current cost of living inflation rate. When combined with the step raises, this would result in raises as high as 14.4% for some employees. The budget impact to the taxpayer, including FICA and other legal obligations, would be higher. Healthcare costs have risen dramatically, and continue to do so. The District can no longer afford to absorb double digit increases in premium rates while still offering and paying up to 90% of the healthcare cost for employees and 75% of the cost for a family member plan. This costs the District $10,000 annually per employee.
Chair. Murphy pointed out that these were generous and attractive packages, and were comparable to those of surrounding districts. Nashua only pays 50% of their employees’ health plans. In an effort to reduce the premium health costs they share with the employees, the Board had attempted to move the employees to an equivalent health plan with a slightly higher co-pay schedule, reducing the premiums that both the District and employees share. For the second year in a row, the union leadership has rejected the District’s attempts to move forward on this win-win proposal. The Board is committed to providing the District’s valued employees a fair, competitive wage and benefits package that attracts and retains motivated and skilled employees. The Board is not without concerns. Last year, the Board placed before the Association a multi-year salary adjustment, of over 8.5% over three years, plus significant increases in healthcare caps. Providing a reduced healthcare cost plan, this would have provided the support staff employees with an attractive raise, more take-home pay this year, and the security of a multi-year contract. The union leadership rejected this offer without even placing it before the membership.
Chair. Murphy stated that the District could not continue with the practices of the past, adding that they must restructure the wage and benefits in a manner that is sustainable and supportable by the community they serve. He stated that they welcome fresh innovative ideas on the part of the Association regarding wage and benefit structure that meets these important requirements.
Chair. Murphy then asked if there were any other members of the Board that wished to add to the statement he just presented.
Mr. Peterson stated that he was disappointed that HESSA had decided to take what is normally private negotiation, and make it public, even though it is their right to do so. He added that he had been taking calls and they were all negative. He stated that he had even gotten a call from a parent of a Special Education needs student, and the parent was upset and appalled that HESSA was using Special Education as a negotiation tool. In particular, a reference was made to a printout of an appeal to the public that had been distributed to various locations. Mr. Peterson stated that the use of Special Education students as a political ploy in these negotiations was unacceptable and unfortunate.
Chair. Murphy stated that a reference had been made in HESSA’s statement regarding February 1st of last year. He explained that February 1st is the magic date, and that by law, bargaining needs to be ratified by that date in order to go through the proper process. Chair. Murphy stated that he was involved with the negotiations last year and an offer was tendered to the Board at 4:50 p.m. on February 1st. Chair. Murphy explained that in order for the Board to take action and ratify the agreement, the Board legally must post notice 24 hours prior to the meeting. Therefore, they Board could not take any action on HESSA’s offer.
Chair. Murphy informed the public that the Board and HESSA are scheduled for mediation on January 23, 2007.
Chair. Murphy recognized Stacey Plummer, math teacher at the High School, who spoke in support of the support staff. She informed the Board that she had a written statement from Frank Tkaczyk, who could not be there that night, and asked to read it. Mr. Tkaczyk’s statement praised the support staff, and stated that both groups, professional and support staff, are essential to the school. He asked that the community realize that the school is only as good as all of its parts. He asked everyone to recognize and value the support staff, and not be fooled into thinking that they could be replaced.
Mr. Flanagan then addressed the Board. He stated that he had negotiated about ½ dozen contracts over the years. He pointed out that as the insurance increases take place, employees were absorbing it in their salaries. He felt it might behoove the District to look into other insurance companies, including self-insurance. Chair. Murphy responded that insurance discussion was going to be part of the Board’s meeting, as it was not just health insurance that was rising, but other insurances, as well.
Mr. Flanagan stated that he would gladly volunteer to be on a committee to look into insurance costs and how they may be reduced.
Lorrie Bendl, a para, asked what document, which had been distributed, that Mr. Peterson was referring to. Mr. Peterson responded that it was the document that had been handed out at the Hollis Market, as well as other places. Ms. Bendl stated that the document was meant to help identify who the support staff was, and only referenced Special Education to describe their jobs. She added that the document was not meant to exploit the Special Education students that they work with and love. Mr. Peterson stated that the parent who was offended felt that it would be helpful if there was an apology. Ms. Bendl stated that she apologized if the document offended anyone, and added that it was not their intent to do so.
Ms. Cairney pointed out that HESSA represents the janitorial staff, secretarial staff, kitchen staff, as well as paras.
David Olszewski, President of the Hollis Education Association, reminded people of the common bond to educate students. He then appealed to the best senses of both parties for the need to come to an agreement. He added that he supported HESSA and felt that the negative ramifications of not working out a contract definitely outweigh the benefits.
Chair. Murphy stated that he wanted to clarify the roles of the Budget Committee and the School Board. He explained that, generally, the Budget Committee authorizes the overall top level expenditures, while the School Board allocates those funds within a category. He added that the number the School Board is given from the Budget Committee, and the number the School Board would like it to be, educationally, can be quite away apart. This year it is 12%, or over $1 million apart. He stated that in order to get to the number they need to be at, they are removing things, anything that is superfluous or optional. They are currently in the process of looking at the reduction of personnel, programs and materials. He stated that he would be frank, explaining that they would be talking about the significant increases in wage/benefits, and for every dollar-for-dollar increase, they will have to remove more programs, personnel and materials, in order to meet the Budget Committee’s goal.
Chair. Murphy stated that they were not in a process of trying to be penny-wise and pound foolish, but rather trying to hold together the School District as much as possible. The School District is under fire. If they are not frugal, reasonable, and balanced, it is highly likely that there won’t be a school district for the staff to work in, in future years. Chair. Murphy stated that the Board already had to make some heart-wrenching decisions, adding that it was not pleasant.
Chair. Murphy thanked everyone for their comments.
Chair. Murphy stated that he was looking forward to the January 23rd mediation session, and asked that everyone involved take a step back and take a deep breath, and then see what can be done that is mutually beneficial to both parties.
5. CORRESPONDENCE - Continued
Chair. Murphy stated that in regards to the monetary donation made to the District, the total amount is $15,450.
Betty Hall moved that the Board accept the anonymous donation of $15, 450. Dan Peterson seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 5 – 0 – 0.
Mr. Simons stated that although the donation was anonymous, he asked that someone send a thank you to the donor. Mr. Kelley responded that he would.
Mr. Flanagan stated that he wanted to make some clarifications regarding presentations made on Apportionment.
1) Dan’s model:
Mr. Peterson had talked about the average home in Hollis paying $2800, while the average home in Brookline paying $2400. An average home in Hollis is $355,000, while an average home in Brookline is $255,000. Even though it is a $100,000 delta, it is only a $400 difference in what they pay. Mr. Flanagan stated that Mr. Peterson’s graph did not compare apples to apples, adding that a $350,000 home was going to pay more taxes than a $250,000 no matter what town you are in.
2) Mr. Flanagan stated that it had been pointed out on several occasions that students were being the cost drivers. He stated that he had to respectfully disagree, as there were also other cost drivers, such as location of school (being located in Hollis is more expensive, as the cost of land is more expensive that that in Brookline), guidance, Special Education, sports, are all costs that are not driven by the total number of students.
3) Bonds – It had been stated that if it was 100% ADM, a bond would never pass. The Apportionment Committee calculated a $1.5 million bond and found that the cost to Hollis would be $7,000.
4) Mr. Flanagan stated that many people came to the podium and stated that it should be 100% ADM or dissolve the Coop. He wanted to remind the public that dissolution of the Coop is not done that easily. One town would have to withdraw. He didn’t believe that Brookline was ready to withdraw.
Mr. Flanagan encouraged the Board to call on the Apportionment Committee if the Board needed any information.
Mr. Peterson responded in saying that it was not a true statement that a $350,000 evaluation home will always pay more than a $250,000 evaluation home. The fact is that evaluation is irrelevant unless taken within the context of the whole. Re-evaluating within a town will drastically change the evaluation of a home.
Mr. Peterson explained that there are two factors that drive the costs of the School District:
1) The number of students
2) What we offer the students: Nice facilities, extra curricular activities, and all kinds of additional programs.
Mr. Peterson pointed out that we don’t make a distinction between Hollis and Brookline students as to what they can take part in.
Mr. Peterson stated that in regards to “bonds,” the Apportionment Committee never did a thorough study of what it would cost under new apportionment numbers. Some numbers were thrown up, but not thoroughly studied and not scientific, therefore he was not sure that they were correct.
Chair. Murphy stated that he wanted to review some facts about apportionment. He explained that by law, apportionment may be reviewed after the 5th anniversary of its inception, or any time it is changed. It does not expire, does not need to be renewed, and if no action is taken, it remains available for renewal in any given point in time. If there is a change in the formula, then it remains in affect for the next 5 years.
Supt. Pike stated that he sat in on the Apportionment Committee meetings, and looked at a lot of data concerning 100/100, 75/25, 50/50. He pointed out that there are other issues being addressed and affecting the District, such as:
1) Negotiations still unsettled.
2) Budget issues in all three districts.
3) Study Committee looking at the dissolution of the Coop.
4) State Aid – what action the State is going to take.
Supt. Pike suggested that no action be taken on the issue of Apportionment until some of the other issues have been resolved.
Mr. Scales felt that the voters would not let the Board get away without doing anything in regards to Apportionment. He stated that he would like to see the Board present something to the voters. He pointed out that the big issue was agreeing on what was “fair.” He stated that there were a number of “cool” ways to slice up the data. However, the District faces two issues:
1) Cost of educating students
2) Cost of providing facilities
Mr. Scales stated that the Apportionment Committee came up with a formula for sharing capital costs and for sharing operating costs. Most are in agreement that 100% for operational costs. It is the capital costs that are difficult, as where the buildings are located doesn’t move. Mr. Webb proposed that a shareholder-type deal be set, that is, Hollis is the larger shareholder (4 Board members), while Brookline is the smaller shareholder (3 Board members), therefore, capital costs would be split 4/7 Hollis and 3/7 Brookline. Thus, whenever a bond issue comes up, taxpayers will know that Hollis will be paying 4/7 and Brookline 3/7. This takes the guesswork out of it.
Webb Scales moved that the Board use an apportionment formula of 100% ADM operational costs, and 4-3 capital costs per membership of the Board. Steve Simons seconded.
Mort Goulder felt that if the District didn’t go 100% ADM, they will have a lot of angry Hollis people.
Ms. Hall stated that she was not in support of doing anything at this time. She felt that it was not the right time to change the formula. She pointed out that the State was in the middle of making changes to State Aid, and she felt the Board should wait until that exercise had been completed. She felt that the Board should wait until after this session of legislature, when they have to come to a conclusion. The legislature’s deadline is June 30th. She felt that the Board should go on a year-to-year basis.
Chair. Murphy stated that the State legislature has until June 30th to come up with a plan, then the courts will do it for them.
Chair. Murphy stated that he was now speaking personally. He applauded the effort Mr. Scales put into the new formula. However, Chair. Murphy wanted to know what the State legislature’s plan was. He felt it was important to look at the Study Committee’s report on the future of the Coop. He stated he would rather look at the apportionment formula in a year, when they might know how education is going to be funded. Therefore, Chair. Murphy did not support the motion on the floor. He felt he could make a more informed decision in a year from now.
Mr. Peterson stated that he had spent time thinking about apportionment since the last meeting. He felt that the reason apportionment has failed to reach consensus is because people are caught up in tax impact. Mr. Peterson stated that “apportionment” is the allocating of costs of a school district. In this case, one cost for Hollis and one cost for Brookline. There is no tax impact with that. Tax impact only occurs after State Aid has been applied. No matter what formula they come up with, it is fixed for 5 years, therefore, it will be wrong because State Aid is changing and the formula is not dynamic. Mr. Peterson felt that the Board could take one of two approaches: 1) Figure out an equitable formula in regards to “apportionment,” and rely on the State to figure out how to equitably apply State Aid, or 2) in regards to the State Aid, apply RSA 195:14A that states if a District so chooses, they can share their State Aid. This may be done from the District Meeting floor. At this point in time, Mr. Peterson felt that “apportionment was apportionment” and let the State worry about tax impact. Thus, he opposed the motion on the floor.
Forrest Milkowski, Chair. of the Coop Budget Committee, felt that if one town sends more students, then they should pay more. He stated that tax impact shouldn’t be included, but should be considered. He added that there is value in location of facilities. He pointed out that Hollis residents enjoy the use of the facilities more than the Brookline residents, and that having the facilities in the town adds value to the community. Mr. Milkowski felt that the Board should take a 5-year option, that is, spread the increase of getting to 100% ADM over a period of 5 years. He felt that increasing to 100% ADM all in one year was not fair to the Brookline residents.
Mr. Peterson stated that he had gotten a call from Mr. Scales and they talked about Mr. Scales' proposal. Mr. Peterson informed the Board that he ran the numbers, and Mr. Scales’ proposal has a bigger tax impact than the 100% ADM formula. Mr. Scales' formula transfers more costs from Hollis to Brookline.
Ms. Hall felt that if the Board did what she suggested, that is, leave it alone, it would put them on a 5-year plan. She felt it was essential for the Board to address the budget issue, adding that people need to know that the Board is dedicated to getting the budget under control.
Mr. Simons stated that he was very confused, adding that there was no one-way to do it. He felt he needed to ask questions. He asked Supt. Pike if the Board would be able to set rates for the future? Chair. Murphy responded that the apportionment formula can be put into effect with phases.
Mr. Enright joined the meeting and Chair. Murphy briefed Mr. Enright on the motion.
Motion failed. 1 – 4 – 1 (Hall, Simons, Peterson, Murphy against, Enright abstained).
Dan Peterson moved that the Board move forward a formula of 100% ADM phased-in in equal steps over a 3-year period. Tom Enright seconded.
Ms. Hall pointed out the uncertainty of the impact that State Aid funding will have on the formula, therefore, she felt that the Board should do nothing at this point in time, and should wait a year when they might know more.
Mr. Peterson pointed out that there are two shared interests between Hollis and Brookline. 1) Shared interest to provide equitable allocation of costs, and 2) they have a shared interest to make sure that the tax impact, after State Aid is applied, is equitable as well. This is very difficult. Mr. Peterson stated that he was opposed to the Board doing nothing, because the data says, especially in this year, the equity of State Aid is out of whack. This year a shift of 100% ADM would shift $400,000 of the cost over to Brookline, yet they will be receiving $600,000 in State Aid that would cover the additional cost. Mr. Peterson stated that he wanted to go back and look at RSA 195:14A. He felt that invoking this RSA would help make the apportionment formula dynamic.
Chair. Murphy stated that he was going to call for a roll call vote:
Tom Enright: Yes – Mr. Enright stated that 1) he was not concerned that the State Aid will take a shift in a different direction, and 2) that the Board should put the issue to bed so discussion on the future of the Coop won’t need to include apportionment.
Steve Simons: Yes – Mr. Simons also wanted to put the issue to bed. He felt if the Board put it off, they wouldn’t get staff done until next year. He added that he was not happy going to 100% ADM, but felt it was the only way apportionment would get passed.
Betty Hall: No – Ms. Hall felt it was important to get costs under control, and also wanted to wait to see what happens with State Aid.
Dan Peterson: Yes – Mr. Peterson felt that 1) the Board needed to move forward and 2) there are shared interests – a) equitable allocation of operational costs, which can be agreed on, and b) equity in tax impact, which won’t be able to agree on.
Webb Scales: No – Mr. Scales stated that he heard Mr. Peterson outline apportionment of operational costs and apportionment of tax impact. He felt that they will never succeed in devising a fair apportionment formula. He felt that they needed to leave the tax impact to the State, because the Board will never be able to come up with a fair formula regarding tax impact. Mr. Scales stated that he had concerns with going to 100% ADM, and felt that it was not going in the right direction.
Jim Murphy: No – Chair. Murphy stated that he was not opposed to 100% ADM in principle. He stated that he would like to put the issue behind them. However, he didn't believe that a change should be made at this time, but felt the Board should wait to see how education funding is changed by the
courts later this summer.
Motion did not pass. 3 – 3 – 0.
Ms. Hall moved that no further action be taken on the apportionment issue that night.
There was no second, so the motion was defeated.
Chair. Murphy stated that when the Board last met for a Budget Workshop, they still had $280,000 left to reduce the budget by. Supt. Pike reported that they had met the target that had been established, and added that the cuts made were felt to have the least impact on the quality of education in the schools. He then asked that the Administrators speak to the cuts made.
Ms. Capasso distributed her report and informed the Board that Page 1 was the Budget Summary as it now stands. She added that the top line is the total budget, which does not include teacher salaries, which is a separate warrant article.
Chair. Murphy asked if they had reached the budget that meets the Budget Committee’s guidelines. Mr. Milkowski responded that they had met the guidelines. However, he added that there will be minor changes to the number that was put on the table. He stated that there might be a 0.1% increase. He added that the Budget Committee will meet the next night to vote on whether the goal should stay at 4.8% or increase to 4.9%. Ms. Capasso pointed out that each additional percent represents $121,900.
Doug Davidson felt it was premature to make a statement that that was the number that the Budget Committee agreed to. That number will be voted on tomorrow. Mr. Davidson added that they should be clear in terms, in that there were no cuts in general terms. Chair. Murphy reminded Mr. Douglas that the question at hand was whether the Administration met the goal of the Budget Committee. Mr. Davidson responded that that would be decided the next night.
Ms. Capasso explained that Page 2 showed detail of the budget changes. Details to these numbers (adjustments) are supported by the next three pages, with Special Education being page 1 and the Administrators adjustments on page 2 and 3. The last document as line item detail of adjustments.
Mr. Simons asked where the budget was currently at. Ms. Capasso responded that the budget was currently at an increase of $868,000, which is 5.1% increase, and includes Special Education, Debt Service and Transfers that are outside the Budget Committee’s figure. When those costs are deducted from the budget, then the budget is at Budget Committee’s goal.
Special Education Adjustments
Mr. Kelly distributed his Special Education Adjustments Report. He explained that Page 1 showed accounts and the reductions. He stated that at the workshop there was a reduction of $269,516, and the Board asked that he show them where the reductions came from.
Chair. Murphy asked if anything had changed since the workshop. Mr. Kelly responded that $15,000 came out of tuition at the Middle School.
Mr. Peterson questioned if the 560-04 account increases addressed out-of-district placements changes. Mr. Kelly responded that it did, and recommended to the Board an increase at this time of up to $144,000.
Mr. Enright asked why they wanted to take the 504 Coordinator out of Special Education and put it into Guidance. Mr. Kelley responded that 504 is not Special Education. This was a position they brought in last year, and it is serviced within the Guidance Department. Mr. Enright asked if there were any 504 costs in the Special Education account. Mr. Kelley responded that there wasn’t.
Mr. Kelley stated that there was $135,000 contingency account in the 06-07 budget that they knew they were going to use. In order to make the account changes clearer, he and Ms. Capasso have been working together on identifying where those changes would be, and those are in the new account lines.
Mr. Milkowski asked if there was a contingency line item in the 07-08 budget. Chair. Murphy responded that there wasn’t. Mr. Peterson added that they had taken the amount of money in the contingency fund and put it in the proper line items. Mr. Kelly added that if they looked at Tuition and Transportation cost, that would explain where the contingency money went.
Mr. Scales asked why they were showing the contingency as removed. Ms. Capasso responded that it had been carried through. Chair. Murphy added that the contingency line item was new and that they took it back out. Mr. Scales asked if the Tuition and Transportation costs that had contingency last year were accounted for in the line items this year. Ms. Capasso responded that it was.
Mr. Milkowski questioned that the $10,000 for the Curriculum Director’s share, won’t happen unless it is voted on at the District meeting. Chair. Murphy responded that it was a done deal, and was done at the SAU level. He added that they used some unreserved funds.
High School Adjustments
Mr. Kelley stated that Round 1 of the budget cuts totaled $233,000, with the biggest cuts being taken from the $100,000 for the technology proposal, which is now being phased in over two years, so a cut of $50,000. Also, air conditioning of the computer center was cut out entirely. Round 2 of budget cuts totaled $47,523, which are listed in the Business Administrator’s report. On the back page are more cuts, such as student desks, science lab tables, and significant cuts in maintenance, including most of the proposal for the replacement of carpets. Mr. Kelley then stated that the following are painful cuts that will impact the culture of the High School: rest of the technology proposal to $0, that is, no new computers; cutting out the entire JV athletic programs; cutting the funding for the school newspaper; and the funding for US FIRST. Cutting JV athletics was a painful cut, but it was felt by the school that the reason they have such a good school is because they have quality teachers and reasonable class sizes.
Mr. Kelley stated that they have gone over this before, but they feel strongly that they need 2.5 teachers. It is felt that the student/teacher ratio will go up next year with the increase of students. Mr. Kelley stated that there was $55,000 teacher’s salary in last year’s budget that was not claimed because they scheduled so efficiently. Of the $55,000, only half was used.
Mr. Kelley stated that they picked up 29 students who moved into the District last year, which blew away reasonable class sizes. They want to address those numbers and the new students coming in next year, and that is the reason why they cut extra curricular and cultural cuts vs. academics.
Mr. Peterson asked how many extra students they were expecting next year. Mr. Kelley responded that subtracting the seniors and adding the freshmen, he believed it was an increase of 34 students. Mr. Peterson questioned 2.5 new teachers for 34 students. Mr. Kelley asked that the Board keep in mind that the school offers a wonderful program for the students. The students are required to take 4.5 credits in English. He pointed out that they have 1008 English students this year, and there will be 1070 next year because of the extra writing class.
Mr. Peterson stated that the projection of 35 students is a one-year blip, so wondered if they can expect the 2.5 teachers to go away the following year. Mr. Kelley responded that they could have another 29 students move into town. He stated that they are finding that a lot of people are moving into town with children that are high school age.
Chair. Murphy questioned that the High School was trying to absorb 29 unexpected students from last year, and will add another 35 students next year. Mr. Kelley responded that they expect to have a student body of 930 students next year.
Mr. Milkowski stated that in the past, some local volunteers had done forecasting of student numbers. The last numbers they have were in 2004. He stated that the Budget Committee needed that data. Supt. Pike stated that they were taking care of that, and were in the process of having NESA process that information. He added that he had put a call into them that day and left a message. They are suppose to get back to him on Thursday or Friday.
Mr. Davidson pointed out that one primary driver was student population, but questioned 35 new students and a request for 2.5 teachers. Mr. Kelley responded that class sizes are already over what they want. He added that they are trying to run a business and keep the quality of education at the same level.
Chair. Murphy pointed out that they needed to look at what level teacher they hire for new hires. He stated that they budget for Masters Step 5, but the District tends to hire higher than that, like Masters 30. He suggested that they might need to look at new teachers right out of school. Mr. Kelley responded that they hire the best, they have the best, and he would like to keep it that way.
Supt. Pike stated that “rigor and relevance” makes for a quality education. He added that if they cut back on requirements, they will have a lower quality of education.
Mr. Peterson complimented Mr. Kelley on the job he does at the High School and for the job he had done with the budget. He then pointed out 1) that the request for 2.5 teachers should be re-evaluated. He stated that the increase of 35 students is an anomaly, that it’s just passing through, 2) that Mr. Kelley would like to take the Athletic Director’s position to full-time, and the Assistant Director to full-time. However, if there is no JV sports, then there needs to be an adjustment with the positions. Mr. Kelley responded that class sizes currently are higher than they should be. English, Social Studies, and Science are very high. In regards to the AD, there still will be varsity sports. The schedule that was given to the AD this year was too much, and thus, Mr. Kelley stated he would work to change that.
Mr. Scales asked how many teachers would be needed at the High School if there were no new students coming in. Mr. Kelley responded that they would need 1.5 teachers to address the current situation. It is proven that smaller classes are better.
Middle School Adjustments
Ms. Goyette stated that the Middle School budget had been incredibly lean over the past 3 years. Each department made additional adjustments to the budget and came in lower than last year, accept for math. She stated that they had worked long and hard on the budget. She added that she and Tim had discussed what the goals are and both agree it is small class sizes and maintain curriculum.
Ms. Goyette stated that in Round 1, the cuts had a small impact on the students. Round 2 cuts removes all after school activities for a total of $70,000. This is a big impact on the school culture. She stated that she had been asked if she could keep some of the after school activities. She responded that she couldn’t. She stated that she would not choose one activity over another because each activity is just as important to that group as another activity is to another group.
Ms. Goyette stated that 218 eighth graders had participated in the “My Voice Survey”, and of the 281, only 20 declared that they had not participated in some kind of after school activity.
Ms. Goyette stated that the other adjustment in the Second Round was a reduction in the 5-year plan for computers. It had originally been $23,000 and is now down to $12,500.
The decrease in transportation pertains to sports.
Mort Goulder stated that the Middle School has less students than last year, so why doesn’t the increase for inflation (3.4%) take care of her problems. Ms. Goyette responded that the portion of the budget that she controls is down less than 1%. Chair. Murphy responded that what drives most of the budget are negotiated salaries, healthcare benefits, insurances on the school, and all are higher than the increase for inflation. He pointed out that negotiated salaries by themselves are more than 3.4%.
Mr. Davidson stated that the changes are not cuts, but rather adjustments. He added that the adjustments don’t include debt service, salary increases, and Special Education. He stated that it has not been determined by the Budget Committee whether those items will or will not be included in the Budget Committee’s figure. Chair. Murphy responded that not buying something new is an adjustment, eliminating JV sports is a cut.
Mr. Simons stated that to get a different set of ground rules from the Budget Committee on December 21st is totally and absolutely unreasonable, and for the Budget Committee to come in and tell them this on the 20th was outrageous.
Mr. Kelley stated that his budget was at 3.1% increase without Special Education. There is a 3.5% growth, therefore, they are cuts.
Ms. Capasso reported that she had looked at the last three years to see what their maintenance costs were running. She stated that they had decreased the water maintenance account by $13,000, which had been carried forward from this year’s budget. She added that in 2006 there had been significant water repairs to the High School water filtration system. This year they have budgeted $13,500, and have now reduced it back to $5,000, which will cover testing costs. Ms. Capasso stated that they have cut back on the replacement of carpet from $30,000 to $19,500. This will be a phased in approach.
Mr. Enright questioned the District-wide 2600 account (operation of plant), specifically liability insurance going up 51%, or $18,000. He pointed out that workman’s comp has gone up 83% or $17,000, with a total increase of $35,000 for the two insurances. Mr. Enright asked how quickly Ms. Capasso could get bidding on these insurances. He added that he was upset with the numbers. Ms. Capasso responded that she will look into it. She stated that Primex was the current carrier, and noted that LGC is out there, and anxious to quote us.
Mr. Enright then asked about the Middle School 2600 account (operation of plant) specifically, maintenance overtime. He stated that he would like to see something done in regards to this issue. Ms. Capasso responded that the overtime relates to weekend use of the building. She stated that they had tried to hire a custodian to work his/her regular hours from Tues. to Sat., but couldn’t get anyone to do it. Mr. Enright stated that he sees a lot of high school students that are very responsible and could use a job. Perhaps they could look into that. Chair. Murphy stated that the District is not powerless, in that, if they can’t pay for the overtime janitorial services, or find someone to work those hours as their regular hours, then they simply don’t open up the school for use on the weekends.
Mr. Enright questioned the High School 2600 account (operation of plant), specifically, the general maintenance account (2600-439) being up 68%, or $17,000, and the utility service lighting account (2600-622) being up 19% for an increase of $27,000. Mr. Kelley responded that in regards to the general maintenance account, $7,000 was for an air filter for the furnace and $10,000 was to get started on replacing carpets.
Mr. Enright asked why it cost three times as much to run the High School as it does the Middle School? Mr. Kelley responded that they don’t have a way to power down the lights at the High School. He added that they are looking into this. He stated that last year they proposed $173,000, budgeted $143,000, and actually spent $173,000. That is why they are proposing/budgeting $170,000 for next year.
Mr. D’Arbonne asked if the Town of Hollis paid for janitorial services when they use the School District’s facilities? Ms. Capasso responded that they didn’t. Mr. D’Arbonne felt that they should. Mr. D’Arbonne suggested that they go to the students, get them involved by questioning their opinion as to how the High School can save money on energy.
Chair. Murphy stated that it always baffled him why they don’t see a decrease in the utility bill during the months of July and August.
Mr. Kelley stated that there is a group of students who belong to the “Green Group,” and have looked at some ways of conserving. He added that the initiative of John Gray to replace the lights in the gym will give them better lighting and less energy costs.
Chair. Murphy suggested that they take a look at how PSNH bills the District. He stated that he knew that there are some scenarios where if the customer spikes through the ceiling of the negotiated usage, then the customer ends up paying the higher cost for the whole day. He pointed out that the District may be busting through their ceiling and therefore paying a premium rate. He suggested that this be looked into.
Mr. Peterson felt that the Internet communications was too high at $7,000 each for the High School and the Middle School. He felt they needed to find a more efficient internet/phone access provider. He added that the District was spending an outrageous amount of money on phone, electricity, Internet access, and insurances. He felt the numbers were unacceptable. He added that he couldn’t swallow cutting JV sports when these things were so high.
Mr. Enright stated that he appreciated the work they have done in reducing the budget. He added that he didn’t agree with the last pieces that the Administrators came up with. He stated he would like to work on the District-wide account and some other accounts before eliminating programs.
Mr. D’Arbonne wanted the Board to know that what they had heard from Mr. Davidson was not Mr. D’Arbonne’s opinion. He didn’t feel they should mention what the Budget Committee may or may not do. He added that if there are any dramatic changes to the number, then there had better be a dramatic reason for it.
Mr. D’Arbonne stated that he did not like the high numbers for Special Education. He felt it was sucking up a lot of the budget. He felt they needed to sharpen the pencil in regards to Special Education.
Mr. D’Arbonne agreed with Mr. Enright in the fact that they need to look harder in other accounts. He felt that the community needed to get involved. He pointed out that parents help with sports, theater and music, and are willing to pay a little extra. He felt that Special Education parents should do the same.
Lisa Keehan stated that she was a parent of a Special Needs child. She stated that when she hears that someone wants to cut the Special Education budget, it sickens her. Parents of Special Needs children put in extra time with their child all the time. She felt that Special Education parents have to fight for their students all the time. Chair. Murphy pointed out that the District is required to do what they are legally obligated to do, but need to do it effectively.
Mr. Kelly stated that 1) the reductions that he had summarized that night, were not cuts, but in the initial forecast in October, he puts in money for any scenario he thinks may happen. Then, as the school year goes along, he can make a better assessment of the issues and reduce the Special Education budget. Mr. Kelly stated that there will never be a cut of known need, as it is illegal.
Chair. Murphy asked if the Board should hold another budget workshop. It was decided that they should.
Coop Regular Business Meeting: January 17, 2007 at 6:00 p.m. at the Middle School.
Coop Budget Workshop: January 24, 2007 at 6:00 p.m. Location to be determined.
Mr. Enright stated that he did not support the 2.5 teachers. He felt that if there were others who did support it, they should speak up.
Chair. Murphy stated that he did support 2.5 teachers, but not at “the best” level. He felt they should look at lower scaled teachers, such as teachers just out of college.
Mr. Enright asked Chair. Murphy if he supported the movement of the AD to full-time. He added that there were three components to the addition of 2.5 teachers:
1) Reduce class size
2) Cover the increase of new students
3) Movement of the Athletic Director to full-time
Mr. Kelley asked for guidance as to how many classes an Athletic Director, in a school the size of the High School, teach? Mr. Enright stated that he didn’t know.
Supt. Pike pointed out that the Board wants to be fiscally responsible. The Budget Committee wants to be fiscally responsible. When the cuts are made, Supt. Pike asked that the Board and Budget Committee defer to the professional educators in terms of the recommendations as to what they feel are the best cuts/adjustments for the quality for the school. Chair. Murphy responded that there was a line between deference and application. He pointed out that the Board ultimately has the responsibility as a reflection of the community they serve. They need the ability to apply some reflection of the community’s priorities. He hoped that they would not see that as the Board members thinking they are better administrators.
Mr. Scales wondered if they added 2.5 teachers, what rooms would they use? Mr. Kelley responded that they would go to 100% capacity. If they can’t find the room at the High School, then they will move ½ of the Freshman class down to the Middle School. Mr. Scales asked if they should tie the new teachers to the expansion, that is, if they need portables, should they tie the new teachers to them?
Mr. Kelly pointed out that at the workshop, Mr. Milkowski had asked several questions. He stated that in his handout there was a page on Anticipated Revenues for FY 06-07:
Cat Aid $9,622
Medicaid $45,506 based on last year
Mr. Kelly felt these figures could be used to go forward. He thought that Cat Aid might go up. He added that other data that had been asked for was an explanation of the increases in the Special Education budget:
New personnel: $49,000
Tuition and Transportation: $199,000
Mr. Kelly stated that there also was a history of the Special Education budget since 2003-04, which they had asked for, and that there was a history and projection data on para-professional staff, since 2003-04, out-of-district placements since 2002-03, and the total number of IDEA students in the Coop since 2002-03.
Ms. Hall stated that she supported Mr. Enright’s discussion of the 2.5 new teachers. She added that the Administrators tell the Board what they ought to do, but the final decision is the Board’s.
Chair. Murphy asked if a couple of Board members would volunteer to sit with Supt. Pike and Mr. Kelley to go over the 2.5 new positions.
Mr. Enright stated that he would not agree to the structural move (AD to full-time) when co-curricular is being dropped. He felt that they should live with it the way it is for one year.
Mr. Kelley stated that they needed additional staff. He added that he was hired to provide the best education for the students. He stated that he, along with his staff, feel that the best education comes from small class sizes, which they were currently going away from, therefore, he felt strongly about the 2.5 positions.
Chair. Murphy asked how the gap could be closed from 2.5 to what? Mr. Enright felt that it could be 1.0,1.5 or even 2.0, but not 2.5.
Mr. Peterson stated that the Administration was doing exactly what they had been hired to do, to fight diligently for what they believe is right. He stated that Mr. Enright was right in the fact that the Board is trying to balance these issues. He added that he looked at it simply in that the have 34 more students, and need 1.5 additional teachers, and thus they probably won’t end up with ideal class sizes. He stated that what he hears from the public is that they are willing to fund 1.5. Mr. Kelley responded that as long as the direction given is not towards ideal class sizes, then ok.
Chair. Murphy stated that the District has the very best schools and they were going to keep it. They have good faculty and class sizes. People expect it to be maintained. He added that he didn’t like the AD going to full-time. He felt that they had more students currently in the building than what they had budgeted for last year, therefore, they are already tighter than what they wanted to be.
Copies of the reports are available.
7. PRINCIPALS’ REPORTS
Mr. Kelley reported that they had three more seniors (for a total of 7) who scored 800 (perfect score) on their SATs. He added that some of the schools that student will be going to (early decision) are: U. Penn; U. Michigan; Trinity; U Mass; WPI; U Conn; Boston College; Penn State; Hampshire College; Smith; UVM. He stated that they can’t cut 2 more people.
Mr. Kelley distributed the paperwork for the field trip request to Italy and Greece. A letter has gone out to the parents, but they still need to send out the “expectations” letter. He pointed out that this trip has been done in the past, just not during his tenure. He added that he was confident with the people leading this trip.
Steve Simons moved that the Board approve the field trip application to Italy and Greece. Tom Enright seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 6 – 0 – 0.
Mr. Kelley passed out copies of the School Profile, which is sent to colleges along with a student’s transcripts, and which the Guidance Director put together.
8. HEALTHCARE BUY-BACK SIDEBAR
Chair. Murphy stated the Board had copies of the potential sidebar agreement to the professional staff agreement that would allow a staff member to deselect the insurance for part of the year, and receive a partial buy-back.
Mr. Enright asked if the first paragraph was the actual language of the contract and the second paragraph was intended to be the sidebar. Chair. Murphy responded that it was.
Ms. Capasso stated that open enrollment is July 1. Existing staff members will mark off whether they want the insurance or not, and therefore, receive the buy-back. She added that an individual can go off the insurance plan at any time, but they can’t go back on.
Mr. Simons asked what the insurance company does if the District takes someone off, that is, if they take someone off on the 10th of the month, when does the insurance company take them off. Ms. Capasso responded that if the District notifies the insurance company by the 15th, then that individual will be off the plan the following month. Mr. Simons stated that the District needed to make sure that the language of the sidebar coincided with what the insurance company does. Mr. Enright pointed out that the sidebar states that the pro-rated “compensation will be the portion of the fiscal year (the number of months) that the Staff Member was not enrolled in the District’s health insurance.” Ms. Capasso agreed with the language as written, and felt it should not be specific to the 15th, so if they changed carriers and there was a different notification date, this language would cover it.
Mr. Enright asked if there were two open enrollment dates per year – July 1 and January 1. Ms. Capasso responded that open enrollment was only July 1, unless there was a “life-changing event.”
Chair. Murphy stated that the first paragraph was incorrect in the stated amount of compensation. The correct amounts are:
Mr. Enright recommended the following change in the second paragraph:
“. . . then he/she shall receive under Section 12.2 of the contract pro-rated compensation.”
Tom Enright moved that the Board approve the sidebar agreement in Section 12.2 as amended. Webb Scales seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 6 – 0 – 0.
9. HOLLIS BROOKLINE HIGH SCHOOL SPACE
Chair. Murphy stated that they had asked the Administration to look into the cost of portables as back-up.
Mr. Kelley stated that last year the focus of the need for space was on the cafeteria. Next year they will need classroom space. Because they need this space quickly, they are looking into by-passing the cafeteria and going right to portables. Mr. Kelley recommended that they lease 2 portables (4 classrooms).
Ms. Capasso reported the following costs:
1-year lease $31,596 per portable
5-year lease $17,652 per portable
Ms. Capasso stated that a 3-year lease for two portables would cost the District $41,640 per year. There would also be additional set-up costs of approximately $60,000 - $70,000. Each portable has two classrooms with a shared bathroom in the middle.
Mr. Simons stated that they needed the space, as they don’t have enough room. He felt they should put the bond on the warrant for the addition/renovations, as well as a warrant for the portables, in case the bond doesn’t pass. He added that the cafeteria lines are good, but it is an issue of seating in the cafeteria.
Mr. Scales asked if the bond passed would the High School be able to get by without the portables. Mr. Simons stated that if the classroom/cafeteria bond passed, they would get two classrooms upstairs and would also get one classroom back (already taken one classroom back).
Jim Murphy moved that the Board reconsider their decision to go forward with a bond for the classrooms/cafeteria. Betty Hall seconded. Motion carried. 4 – 2 – 0. (Scales, Simons against).
Mr. Scales felt that they should go to the voters with a bond and let them decide.
Mr. Peterson felt that if they can’t agree on apportionment, then the bond will have zero chance. Mr. Scales stated that he had looked at all the numbers regarding apportionment, and no matter which formula is used, the impact is not that much when it is spread out among the tax base. He didn’t feel that apportionment would breakup the Coop. He added that they need the facilities.
Mr. Simons stated that it is the Board’s responsibility to provide facilities and a good education to the students. Just because they may feel it is not a good time to present a bond, is not a good reason.
Steve Simons moved that the Board put a bond of $1.48 million for classrooms/cafeteria on the table. Webb Scales seconded. Motion was defeated. 2 – 4 – 0. (Hall, Simons, Peterson, Murphy against.)
Mr. Enright asked that Supt. Pike put together a warrant article on technology for the Board to review. He pointed out that they had pulled $100,000 out of technology. He added that he would like to see what this would entail.
Ms. Hall left at 11:20 p.m.
Steve Simons moved that the Board adjourn. Dan Peterson seconded. Motion carried unanimously. 5 – 0 – 0.
The Board adjourned at 11:27 p.m.
Appended to December 20, 2006 COOP School Board Meeting Minutes
HOLLIS BROOKLINE EDUCATION SUPPORT STAFF
ADDRESS TO THE COOPERATIVE SCHOOL BOARD
HESSA would like to officially recognize the countless hours that the School Board puts in every week and how hard they work to ensure the highest standards of quality in education are met. You have shown a commitment to excellence in education and through that commitment and with the team-work of all administrators, faculty and support staff, we have a school system we can all be very proud of.
Over the past several months it has been discussed and questioned as to why the School Board and HESSA could not reach agreement on a contract for support staff for 2006-2007. It has been HESSA’s position that this failure has been solely based on coming to agreement on the antiquated language of the Reduction in Force policy or RIF. This no-cost item has endured countless hours of discussion. It has been contended by the Board that the RIF policy was not what held up an agreement.
This is truly not the case. Therefore and For The Record: On February 1, 2006 at 4:50 pm HESSA negotiators met with School Board representatives in a final attempt to come to an agreement for 2006-07. In that discussion HESSA proposed: a 1 yr contract, keep the current medical plan, accept a 2.75% increase in pay (with steps), to continue to discuss the RIF language as a sidebar and most importantly HESSA offered to freeze their own medical cap at $875 in order to come to agreement. Later that evening around 7:00 pm the HESSA president was telephoned at home and told there was no deal, the RIF language proposed by the Board had to be accepted to make the deal.
This, in itself, concludes that a contract was in reach. And that, in fact, it was the RIF policy that broke the deal!
As negotiations continued and in order to move forward in securing a contract for 2007 – 2008, HESSA recently conceded to the COOP Board and accepted a change in the current RIF policy. This was a major concession on HESSA’s part as we strongly feel the current RIF policy is more than adequate to serve the needs of both sides, as it has for 18 years. With this one issue holding up the contract, HESSA was optimistic that a settlement would be reached.
However, HESSA was once again thrown a blockade. With the RIF policy tentatively agreed to, the COOP Board is now using the medical plan as a bargaining point. Again, HESSA had agreed to the change in medical plans, accepting the same plan which the Board and teachers’ association negotiated. HESSA’s only contingency on accepting the new medical plan was that we have the same medical caps as that of our teaching staff. HESSA questions why the COOP Board refuses to treat us equally in offering the same medical cap as the teachers, in the face that support staff earn considerably less?
So first, it was the RIF language, then it’s the medical plan. Now HESSA is being told there simply is not enough money available for our support staff. We are being offered only our step increase rather than steps and the usual minimal cost-of living increase as has been the practice of many years past. We are again being asked to pay more for our medical plans than the teachers pay. And we are now being asked to take the lead in establishing that only step increases be awarded with no word yet on what the top step might receive percentage-wise. We are being asked of this, the poorest of the poor in this affluent educational system when every other bargaining unit within our districts has received step and percentage increases! We ask the Board, WHY? Why are the COOP support staff being singled out?
The School Board representatives negotiating with HESSA have told us repeatedly that it is the Budget Committee who controls the expenditures for the school district. We discovered that to be untrue. The Budget Committee allots a certain amount of money to the school district and it is the School Board who decides how to spend the money. We have also been told at many bargaining sessions that our medical caps could not match that of the teachers because the Budget Committee would never go for that. Yet, as the Budget Committee minutes of July 12, 2005 reflect, that is also untrue.
In discussing professional and support staff contracts at the July 12, 2005 Budget Committee meeting the following statement is recorded in those minutes. I quote: “Ray Valle points out that the Budget Committee voted UNANIMOUSLY for the support staff benefit package to be the same as the professional staff benefit package, yet this is not the case. He questions why this did not occur…they cannot treat them as different classes of people.” Unquote. Now HESSA questions why this did not occur, since it had UNANIMOUS Budget Committee approval.
Para-educators, in particular, have saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars each year by providing direct one-on-one services to the most physically and educationally challenged students in our communities. Without the services of these para-educators, these students would be sent out of district at a huge expense to our taxpayers.
In addition to this, this district receives thousands of dollars of Medicaid money reimbursement toward wages for para-educators who work with these challenged students. Although the Board maintains this reimbursement is minimal, it is still money given back to the district made from the labor and efforts of our para-educators. Where does this money go once it is received? Does it go back into the budget to support staff?
And finally, HESSA recently requested what the tax impact would be if the cooperative support staff were to receive a 5% increase, matching medical caps to that of the teachers and retirement benefits for those who qualify under the New Hampshire Retirement System's guidelines. While we await this information and whereas it is difficult to forecast the tax impact without knowing what education grant money we may or may not be receiving, HESSA has calculated that in order to receive the above requests using just 75/25 percent valuation (no student attendance factors), the increases would cost a Hollis taxpayer (on a home assessed at $450,000) approximately 17 cents a day and a Brookline taxpayer (on a home assessed at $375,000) 12 cents a day above their current tax rate. Is this too much to recognize and compensate the support staff who work so hard for this district?! Is this not affordable?!