Just over 700 voters came out to the Special School District Meeting Tuesday, June 25, and four of those decided the Derry paraprofessionals’ new contract. The vote was 356 yes, 352 no to approve the contract. The contract is the second paraprofessionals’ contract to go before the voters this year. The first was defeated in the March School District voting.
The total was 708 voters out of Derry’s 20,194 registered number. The agreement between the Derry Cooperative School District and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) was for an increase of $57,759 for 2013-14, $51,423 for 2014-15 and $52,107 for 2015-16. No additional tax dollars would be required, as the money for the increase was in the 2013-14 budget.
The agreement works out to 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 is approximately $26,000 less than the contract rejected in March.
At the polls On June 25 in the early afternoon, registered voters trickled into the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School gym, the sole polling place for this election. Ballot clerks sipped on iced drinks as they checked off the voters, who were in and out of the booths and the building in less than five minutes.
“It is very slow,” longtime ballot clerk Caryl Carle said. “It’s a difficult time to have an election, with school just out.” Carle theorized that the slowness had a lot to do with the fact that it wasn’t a “candidate” election, and no personalities were involved. Also, she said, the vote will not change the bottom line of the school budget because the money has already been appropriated.
School District Moderator Roger Konstant saw the voting glass as half full. “It’s a pretty decent turnout,” he said. “We’ve had about 300 so far, and it’s 1 p.m.”
Konstant didn’t think the turnout was low for a special meeting, but he noted that there had been few special meetings since he became moderator.
What could not be disputed was the ease of having only one item on the warrant. “People tell me, ‘This is too easy,” he said.
But they weren’t telling him anything else. “They’re playing their cards pretty close to the vest. I haven’t heard people say anything about the way they voted, which is the way it should be,” the Pinkerton Academy Social Studies teacher said.
Was there enough information for people to make an informed vote? Konstant thought so. “The information was out there,” he said. “But people are so busy that it gets lost.” In another part of the room, Renee Routhier and Judy Strakalaitis were available to register voters. Routhier, head of the Supervisors of the Checklist, said she had one new registration and one change. “The town’s special elections usually have a better turnout,” she observed.
“People aren’t sure what they’re voting for,” Strakalaitis said.
Pauline Beland, a paraprofessional at Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, knew what she was voting for: herself and her colleagues. “I am voting for the paras,” she said. “I think the new contract is great. It’s not much of a change from the previous one – I hope it goes through.”
But Kenneth McCarron, who came to the polls with his grandson Casey McCoole, had a different take. “Earlier in the year, the school district submitted a budget and they said they’d get along fine. Then the teachers at the district meeting put $800,000 back in,” he said, explaining that was why he voted “no.”
Superintendent Laura Nelson said the vote was “pretty close.” She had no idea how the vote was going to go, she said.
She was happy to see the assistants get a contract, and happy to see the “good turnout” of voters.
“People were interested,” Nelson said. She said the district had done an extensive public relations campaign for the special meeting, with information in places such as the Fire Department’s electronic sign. “We worked diligently to promote it,” she said of the meeting.
The assistants’ new contract will go into effect when they return to the classroom in August, Nelson said.