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March 11. 2013 11:22PM

Teachers' contracts at center of Deerfield voting

DEERFIELD - In the last three town elections, Deerfield has voted down two proposed teacher raises and three support staff raises. With two new contracts on today's ballot, town officials and the education union say that another failure to pass the contracts could bring staffing difficulties to the district.

The first contract is between the Deerfield School Board and the Deerfield Education Association, the district's teachers union. While the raises are not uniform, they constitute a 3-percent increase over the next three years, providing a total of $113,718 in salary and benefit increases for 2013-2014, $117,183 for 2014-2015, and a $120,767 increase for 2015-2016.

The contract also includes language allowing employees to use sick time to care for a parent, corrections to the order of appeal in the case of a grievance and procedural guidelines when a position is being reduced.

Another agreement between the school board and the Deerfield Para-educators Association will be on the ballot, a two-year contract providing a total of $38,634 in increases for 2013-2014, and $27,929 for 2014-2015.

The para-educators' contract also includes language allowing new members to contribute to the sick bank even if the bank is full, deleting excess days to accommodate this, with a cap set at 30, as well as language to allow negotiations to open "if needed due to (the) Affordable Heath Care Act."

The teachers' contract is estimated to have a tax impact of about 21 cents per $1,000, and the para-educators' contract is figured at about 7 cents per $1,000. For a home evaluated at $250,000, this would result in a $50 and $17.50 impact, respectively.

Both the Deerfield School Board and Budget Committee have recommended the agreements, though this has not proved to be a rubber stamp for the warrants in the past. The para-educators' contract has not passed in the last three elections. In that time, the teachers' contract only passed in 2011, the same year a 30-minute increase in the school day was also instituted.

The reason behind the nay votes, however, are unclear, as few voters have approached town and school officials with their concerns.

"It's somewhat frustrating because the majority of voters are voting down the contracts, but no one comes to our meetings or comes to the deliberative session and expresses anything negative about them," said Budget Committee Chair Donald Daley. "We rely on who's there . and it's hard to create something they would support if they don't hear from them."

The budget committee and school board are making a case that another failed contract vote could make it difficult for the district to attract and retain qualified teachers.

"We have many retiring teachers and we will need to be bringing in the brightest and best new teachers," said Daley. "We won't get those new teachers without accepting contracts."

The principal of the Deerfield Community School indicated that at least 16 employees, or over 25 percent of the district's staff, are seeking employment outside of the district. Compared to other New Hampshire districts, school wages in Deerfield are in the bottom 30 percent.

The Deerfield Education Association is also bringing its case to the voters, holding "positive picketing" rallies such as one at the Deerfield Community School before classes on the morning of March 11. The association is hoping that increased outreach will help their chances this year at the ballot, believing the failures of the previous contracts to be due in part to the failure of the union to connect with voters.

Deerfield's town election is today at the town hall on 10 Church Street. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

bclogston@newstote.com


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