Derry Educational Assistants’ Contract Withstands Recount

A revised contract for the educational assistants in the Derry Cooperative School District gained one vote in a recount Monday night, while the residents who requested the recount said they were not upset about the new total.

Two Derry Town Councilors, acting as private citizens, requested the recount of the successful June 25 vote to authorize the School District to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the educational assistants’ union.

Tom Cardon and Mark Osborne presented the petition to the School District last week.
The petition reads, “Now comes the below signers, all of whom respectfully request a recount of the votes cast during the Special School Election” (regarding the proposed cooperative agreement between the Derry School Board and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), on Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

The petition had 12 signers, two more than the required 10 registered voters. Councilor Albert Dimmock signed along with former Councilors Janet Fairbanks and Kevin Coyle. The vote in the election was 356-352 to approve the contract. This is the second paraprofessionals’ contract to go before the voters this year. The first was defeated in the March School District voting.

The 708 voters at the June election are out of Derry’s 20,194 registered voters. School District Moderator Roger Konstant swore in School Board members Neal Ochs, Ken Linehan, Dan McKenna, Jennifer Lague and chairman Brenda Willis, along with former member Kevin Gordon, as ballot counters. Others present included Superintendent Laura Nelson, Town Clerk Denise Neale, School District Clerk Cecile Cormier, State Representative Mary Till, D-Derry, board member Wendy Smith, and several of the petition signers.

Konstant told the petitioners they could have one observer for each team of counters, but the petitioners declined and sat in the back of the room. The ballot counters divided into teams of two. They began counting shortly after 6 p.m. and finished at 6:55 p.m., with Willis and McKenna high-fiving each other.
There was one contested ballot, Konstant told the observers, where the voter crossed off the “X” for approval and put a “no” instead. “The majority ruled that this is a ‘no,'” Konstant said.

But the contract did pass, this time by three votes instead of four. “Democracy worked,” Konstant said.
Neither Cardon nor Osborne was disappointed. “That was my expectation,” Cardon said after the announcement. “If it were different, that would mean we hadn’t done it right the first time.”
Osborne said he was “thrilled and relieved.” The recount, he said, showed that votes were being accurately counted.

The quest for the recount wasn’t grandstanding by either himself or Cardon, Osborne said. Rather, he said, “We recognize human frailty and the potential for error.” The agreement between the School District and AFSCME features 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 approved by voters in March.

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.
In a phone interview, Cardon said, “Mark and I got together and we wanted to make sure that all the voters who voted against it had a chance for their votes to count. So we asked for a recount.”
Four votes is “narrow enough” for a recount to be reasonable, Cardon said.

Cardon, who teaches in a Massachusetts vocational high school, said he is not being vindictive toward the educational aides. For him it’s more a matter of “sending a message to the School District” about overspending. He added, “I voted for the contract the first time around (in March).”

“I just wanted to see a recount,” Cardon said. “My expectation was, I don’t think it will change much.”
Osborne said in a phone interview, “When Tom and I were running for Council, we both agreed that if we lost by four or five votes, we would request a recount. The citizens of Derry should be allowed the same opportunity.”

The recount accomplished two things, Osborne said. “One, it double-checks the accuracy of the vote; and two, it lets the folks at the school district know the town is paying attention.” Since the February deliberative session, when a motion from the floor added $800,000 back into the district budget, the district has “lost ground with public trust,” Osborne said.

The contract was voted down once, Osborne said, and he didn’t see any “earth-shattering difference” in the revised contract. And while the funds for the raises are already in the budget and the contract would not further increase taxes, Osborne said, “That doesn’t mean we have to spend it all.” Like Cardon, Osborne said he has nothing against the paraprofessionals. “This petition,” he said, “is in no way reflective on them.”

Rather, he said, it’s a show of support for the town and the beleaguered Derry taxpayer.
“The school is well advocated-for,” Osborne said. “But who looks out for the town?”