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Budget, teachers' contract scrutinized at Inter-Lakes hearing

February 09, 2011
MEREDITH — Frustration over teacher salaries increases and transportation cuts marked the public hearing for the Inter-Lakes School District's proposed budget.

The School Board and administrators convened with the public on Monday to discuss the budget proposed for this year's school district meeting.

The collective bargaining agreement between the district and the Inter-Lakes Education Association will go before voters. Board Chair Richard Hanson said he and fellow board members Jack Carty and Howard Cunningham took part in negotiations, focusing more on problem solving and done in the context of the economic times.

The collective bargaining agreement for the one-year contract calls for a 1 percent base wage increase. This plus a step increase equals an increase of 2.72 percent for each member and a total proposed increase of $267,853 for the 2011-2012 school year.

Health benefits were not part of the negotiations for this contract but they will be discussed when the agreement comes up for renewal next year.

After being asked, Hanson said the 1 percent increase was agreed upon. A zero or lower increase could have been recommended but could have resulted in mediation and fact-finding that would have been costly.

A small group of residents blasted this agreement, saying most jobs in the private sector have had pay freezes or layoffs.

Meredith resident Charlie Stone questioned why teacher's salaries were going up while Social Security and other forms of income were not.

"Even if it's a modest increase, it really seems like it should be flat for a lot of years," said Mark Flanders of Meredith. "We didn't take a tougher look at this or a tougher stance on this. We have great teachers, but we can't ignore the economy around us."

Bob Flanders of Meredith, a former selectman, said the town has been diligent about keeping its budget down.

"For any increase at all, that's totally unrealistic with what's going on," Bob Flanders said.

Bob Flanders said this could put a significant burden on young families that have experienced pay freezes and unemployment and older people on fixed incomes. He said seniors should not have to decide between medicine and food to "ingratiate" teachers with something not realistic to the economy.

Bob Flanders said, while he does think teachers overall are good and most do an excellent job, "Why is it that the teachers union feels they are entitled to compensation levels that are at a much greater rate than the private sector?"

The proposed school district budget, not including warrant articles such as the collective bargaining agreement, is $20,161,545, a decrease of $2,494 or .01 percent. Hanson said this was done in recognition that enrollments are decreasing. The budget proposes the reduction of a first grade teacher at Inter-Lakes Elementary School, a paraeducator, and a primary multiage teacher at Sandwich Central School. McCormack said money was found for the position in Sandwich from federal Title 2A funds. Federal funds also helped pay for a half-time special education teacher at the high school.

Meredith resident Karen Sticht spoke of a previous motion by board member Dan Cunningham to cut an additional $50,000 from the budget on expenses not related to students, questioning line items where the amount appropriated last year was not entirely expended.

Mark Flanders said the school district budget has been increasing over the years at a drastic rate.

"I just don't know how we sustain this type of trend," he said. "There's always some good story behind it, but I'm having a hard time reconciling this."

Mark Flanders said this could result in a situation where the school in a community might be excellent, but families cannot afford to live there.

A few people, including two members of the Outing Club, addressed the proposed cuts in transportation funding for some of the club's trips. Senior Austin Hart said such trips have been memorable experiences for students and excellent opportunities to bond and make friends.

"To put the budget of transportation on the students themselves would further deter students from participating in these trips," Hart said.

Evan Mega said the club does not have a set number of events like a sports team, but flexibility of experiences is important. He said the biggest trip is a whitewater-rafting trip that fills slots quickly

Board member Rebecca Alosa said part of that decision was based on enrollment in the club plus a lack of fundraising efforts by the club. Dan Cunningham said there is enough money in the transportation budget to fulfill requests, a point conformed by ILHS Principal Patricia Kennelly.

Diane Mega of Meredith said many other organizations are also fundraising at the same time and there are clubs that do not fundraise yet are still receiving funds, asking why it was the Outing Club to have this cut. Board member Carol Baggaley said it was never intended for any club to be singled out.

Mary Williams of Meredith said the Outing Club is an organization that provides unique experiences and activities for students in an area where there is not much to do.

Williams also said the school system is different from the private sector. In a good economy, Williams said teachers usually see smaller increases than other jobs.

"I don't see that one percent as something we should not ratify their contract over," Williams said.

Williams said her family moved to Meredith for the schools and there are school districts with a lesser cost per student that are not good.

"I think it's a conservative, responsible budget and I think it speaks well for all of you that found common ground," Williams said.

Hanson said that although he disagreed with some views, he appreciated the commitment people gave to their respective views.

He also said the job of an educator cannot be compared to a private sector job.

"I think what we do as a school district is the most important thing a society can do, and that's educate its young," Hanson said.

A final decision on the proposed budget was made on Tuesday, after press time.

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