The Derry School District’s renegotiated contract for paraprofessionals will go before voters on June 25, after withstanding a challenge to eliminate funding in the May 28 deliberative session. While a public hearing May 14 brought little comment from residents, the deliberative session drew a number of people who asked that the amount in the contract be reduced to zero. They cited the high tax burden in Derry.
The proposed contract would bring the “paras” or educational assistants a 10 cent per hour raise in 2013-14, a 15-cent per hour raise in 2014-15 and a 15-cent per hour raise in 2015-16. It would require $57,759 the first year, $51,423 the second year and $52,107 in the final year. It is approximately $26,000 less than the contract voters rejected in March.
School District Moderator Roger Konstant laid out the details to the approximately 30 people who gathered in the West Running Brook Middle School gym. Konstant said the proposed contract would not add to the current tax burden, as the funds for the para raises would be taken from the already-approved budget. Resident Maureen Rose said, “The voters already said no. I want to know why we’re back talking about this.” Rose said she had been cut back one day a week at her job, and that “People are not getting raises.”
Rose also asked for an explanation of the ballot, saying that the school district words things in a confusing way. And she challenged the ballot itself, noting that it had no date on it. Konstant said the ballot issue was not pertinent to the deliberative session, and would be addressed at another time.
School District Attorney Michael Elwell said the legislative body was not voting on the actual article that night, but on whether to send the article to the ballot for the June 25 special meeting. “We are moving the wording of the article to the ballot,” he said.
Rose asked if there was a way to “make it level,” keeping the para funding at the same level it is now. Elwell responded, “If the warrant article is rejected next month, or passed with modifications, it will have the effect of the status quo being maintained. If an amendment passes, the board, union or both could decide to reopen the negotiations.”
Town Councilor Tom Cardon, speaking as a private citizen, said, “We did vote on this two months ago.” While reopening negotiations is legal, he said, people were upset with the school budget increases. “The town voted to level-fund, and I think the School Board should look at that,” Cardon said.
But Board Chairman Brenda Willis reminded residents that they also voted in the affirmative to allow a special meeting if the contract were renegotiated to both parties’ satisfaction.
Willis said the paras were “hard-working people who have taken a decrease from their original contract.” Resident Janet Fairbanks asked if the legislative body could make an amendment that the contract not be renegotiated if the article failed. But Elwell said, “By law you can’t prevent them from renegotiating.” Maureen Rose also asked for a clause that would prevent renegotiating, to which Elwell repeated that it was against the law to add wording to a warrant article.
“You cannot prevent the parties from renegotiating,” he said.
Willis added, “That is the way collective bargaining works.”
Resident Lynn Perkins pointed out that the funding for this contract would come from the $800,000 that was voted back in to the budget in the February deliberative session. “This is the $800,000 that broke the public’s trust,” he said, referring to the fact that the School Board had approved a smaller budget.
Perkins proposed an amendment that would reduce the funding amount to zero, and received several verbal seconds.
Resident Elizabeth Ives spoke for the contract. “People have misunderstood the bottom line,” she said. “We have already voted on the budget. This article does not raise the bottom line.”
The majority of the School Board did not vote for the supplemental $800,000 she pointed out, and the warrant article was clear enough. “‘Shall the district approve’ — that’s pretty straightforward,” she said. And, Ives said, “Since this does not change the bottom line one iota, can we get on with this vote and get a yes or no so the people can vote on it in June?” Perkins made an amendment, seconded by several people, that the dollar figure in the warrant article be reduced to zero.
The amendment failed in a hand vote, with a majority of the voters voting against it. Voters approved moving the original question, and in another hand vote, a majority approved passing the original wording on to voters in the June 25 special meeting. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and all four Derry districts will vote at the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School.