PMHS teachers' contract defeated in Barnstead
Alton Central School contract still on the table for Saturday's Deliberative Session
September 21, 2010
BARNSTEAD — The Prospect Mountain High School teachers' contract was defeated Saturday morning by a vote of 67 in opposition to 26 in favor during a special meeting at the Barnstead Elementary School.
The vote concludes several months of negotiations following the defeat of the first proposed teachers' contract in March.
The crowd in excess of 100 people listened to the Barnstead School Board's brief but poignant slideshow presentation about the changes made to the revised contract.
The public also had a chance to ask questions about the revised contract. Few did, however, and the contract was quickly put to a ballot vote.
Despite a roughly 50 percent cut to the "step and track" teacher pay scale and a cut in overall increase from $70,543.00 to $32,952.07, the new contract failed to satisfy the majority of Barnstead voters.
Looming over the decision was RSA 273-A:12, commonly known as the "Evergreen law." The recently passed law states that a contract's language in a collective bargaining agreement will remain in place until a new contract is negotiated.
According to Barnstead Budget Committee Chairman Paul Landry, this law takes control away from the taxpayers should they wish to renegotiate the contract at a future date.
Still, Landry praised the teachers' recent accomplishments at Prospect Mountain High School (PMHS), saying that his opposition to the contract did not stem from poor teacher performance, but rather from reservations about the Evergreen law and other problems with the contract itself.
On the other side of the debate, Superintendent of PMHS Paul Bartolomucci supported the contract as just reward for last year's school accreditation and recent improvements in standardized test scores.
Throughout the bargaining process, he said 43 percent of teachers would not get an increase in salary under the new agreement because they had already "maxed out" their pay scale.
But Bartolomucci and other supporters of the revised agreement were perhaps doomed from the outset by factors outside of their control, including the aforementioned Evergreen law and a widespread pessimism about the current economic downturn.
With the contract defeated, the PMHS teachers will revert back to the 2007-June 2010 contract by virtue of the "status quo" clause. The towns will vote again on a new teachers' contract in March 2011.
As part of the Joint Maintenance Agreement (JMA) that dictates Prospect Mountain High School policy, the PMHS teachers' contract will not pass even if Alton voters were to approve the agreement when they vote on it Nov. 2.
Still, Alton will hold its special deliberative session on Sept. 25 at Prospect Mountain High School to review the PMHS teachers' contract. At the same meeting will be a review of the revised Alton Central School (ACS) contract, which remains in the negotiation phase.
Many of the same questions that surrounded the PMHS teachers' contract also surround the ACS contract. The first proposed ACS teachers' contract failed earlier this year.
The contract has a larger proposed increase than the PMHS contract, with an overall proposed raise of $44,695.
Just over $26,000 of the proposed increase stems from a $550 one-time bonus for the "47.5" teachers. The contract also includes a $1,000 increase to the healthcare buy-back plan from $2,000 to $3,000, a $3,000 increase to the longevity retirement bonus from $9,000 to $12,000, and a $500 increase in the longevity stipend from $500 to $1,000.
President of the Alton Teachers' Association Scott Bickford has focused on the concessions made in the contract at various Alton meetings. According to Bickford, the new contract includes lesser health care benefits for incoming teachers and a roughly 50 percent reduction in the overall increase to the proposed contract from the one defeated in March of this year.
Selectmen's Representative to the Alton Budget Committee Pat Fuller and Alton Budget Committee Chairman Steve Miller have questioned whether the teachers have truly made sacrifices since the revised contract does not take away any benefits from currently employed ACS teachers.
Additionally, Miller said at a recent budget committee hearing that it was unclear whether the teachers' benefits extended to staff as well. Due to this ambiguity, and what he believes to be other questionable language and figures within the contract, Miller opposes the agreement.
However, Miller has been an outspoken supporter of the PMHS teachers' contract, largely because of Bartolomucci's positive remarks about the high school's recent successes.
One thing that may work in the ACS contract's favor is time. The vote will not be held until Nov. 2. With the focus on the upcoming midterm elections and the possibility of a sudden economic upswing, the contract may be in a better position then than it is now.
The Deliberative Session for the PMHS teachers' contract and the ACS teachers' contract will be on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 10 a.m. in the Prospect Mountain High School auditorium.
Weston Sager can be reached at 569-3126 or email@example.com