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Teachers' contract does not receive budget committee recommendation

Personal day provisions, bad economy cited

August 10, 2010
ALTON — The Prospect Mountain High School teachers' contract failed to garner the budget committee's recommendation at Monday evening's public hearing.

The revised contract fell short by a vote of five in opposition to three in favor.

Prospect Mountain High School Budget Committee members Bruce Grey, Bill Haynes, Virgil MacDonald, Barbara Howard and Paul Landry voted against the recommendation. Chairman Steve Miller, along with members Jeff St. Cyr and Eunice Landry, endorsed the contract.

The teachers' contract was defeated earlier this year by a public vote. The teachers then revised the contract to include a 50 percent reduction to teacher salary raises. The overall increase for teacher pay 'steps' was reduced from $38,000 to $19,000.

However, issues with the evergreen status of the contract, along with the language surrounding vacation and personal days, were the main reasons given by the opposition for their 'no' votes.

But the contract's ultimate undoing was not the document itself, but rather the poor economy and concerns over burgeoning government spending.

"To me, [the teachers] are lucky to have jobs," said MacDonald. "We could bring this contract back into perspective [during this recession]. It's an opportunity for us."

"The assumption made on the original step and track system was that there would always be good times," argued alternate Barbara Howard. "But now we need to be a little more black and white. In Alton we have one million dollars in unpaid taxes…and we're not seeing a lot of relief coming our way."

Those members in favor of the contract cited the recent successes of the school as reason to recommend the revised agreement.

"I'm voting in favor of this contract," said Miller. "It's only a several thousand dollar increase on a multimillion dollar budget."

But the most impassioned remarks in favor of the contract came during public input.

Teacher Russ Troendle described the extra work that the teachers perform.

"Over 90 percent of the teachers here do extra-curricular work," he said. "We really do have a wonderful faculty here."

Teacher Matt Long defended the contract and the economic situation of the teachers.

"Half of the teachers are not getting raises in this contract," he said. "We're in the bottom one third in pay scale in the state…and over one half of the teachers hold masters degrees."

But reservations about personal days and looming economic uncertainty overcame any momentum the teachers could muster in the public session.

"Hopkinton didn't give the teachers any raises and that town could probably buy Alton," said Grey. "The only school that I know of that gave raises this year was Manchester, and they're regretting it now."

But the opposition on the committee did not prevent Miller from voicing his support for the contract's recommendation.

"In a bad economy, you're not going to lose all your teachers," he said. "But the best teachers go anywhere they want."

Haynes responded to Miller's point by saying that dedicated teachers would not leave the school because of "a few dollars."

Haynes also questioned the personal day buy-back plan in the contract. He said that if teachers "had integrity" they wouldn't need an incentive to not take emergency and personal days. He believed teachers should be trusted to take their emergency days only in light of a true emergency.

Resident Peter Keen asked the committee a question during public input regarding the amount of "unfunded debt" that resulted from buying back teachers' unused personal days.

SAU 301 business administrator Chuck Stuart said there was a number that is given to the school's auditors with the information Keen requested, but he could not produce the figure at the meeting.

St. Cyr added the buy-back money was a line item presented in the budget.

Resident Shirley Bishop complained about a contract provision that gave full-time teachers more money than substitute teachers when subbing classes.

She considered the practice to be "double-dipping."

Resident Stanley Moulton voiced support for the contract in the public session, saying, "Education is our first line of national defense."

He went on to say that most people who applied to work in the military in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks failed the entry examination. He believed that better education would remedy the problem.

Other business

The committee elected Paul Landry as the 2010-2011 Prospect Mountain High School Budget Committee chairman. They also elected Haynes as the vice chairman.

The budget committee's calendar was tabled until further notice.

Landry took issue with Howard's voting status on the budget committee because he felt she was not familiar enough with the issues surrounding the teachers' contract.

Howard, who was elected as an alternate three weeks ago, said she knew the material well and had attended the work session on Aug. 2.

Landry withdrew his complaint and made sure to acknowledge that his initial objection was "nothing personal."

Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or wsager@salmonpress.com

Martin Lord Osman
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