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Manchester teacher contract vote may be delayed

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 21. 2012 11:25PM

MANCHESTER - The tentative agreement between the school district and the Manchester Education Association is on shaky ground after a three-hour, closed-door School Board meeting Monday night.

Those interviewed after said little about what went on behind closed doors, but Mayor Ted Gatsas did say there was consensus to move the contract agreement forward and on to the MEA for a vote.

But moments later, MEA President Ben Dick said he was unsure whether the union would hold its scheduled vote on the tentative agreement today and Wednesday.

The Board of School Committee followed its non-public discussion about the tentative agreement shortly after 10 p.m. with a vote to ask the New Hampshire Retirement System to offer a legal opinion about a $13,000 retirement incentive offered to teachers in the proposed deal. Gatsas accused those in favor of seeking the opinion with preventing the union contract from moving forward, but Committee member Arthur Beaudry, who made the motion to seek the legal opinion, said it could prevent the district and retiring teachers from litigation, suspecting the incentive deal might violate state retirement system law.

Although the school board has been eager for weeks to see a deal come forward from the district's largest employee union, there was some concern among members about the details of the tentative agreement.

Before the meeting Committee member Sarah Ambrogi said she was 'cautiously optimistic' about the proposal.

'However, I have concerns because I want to be sure I understand how many teachers we will be able to bring back and the impact on next year's budget,' said Ambrogi. 'I would like to be assured that we would achieve significant savings and enough savings so that we would not be right where we are this year and need major layoffs.'

According to school district projections, there would need to be more than $7 million in concessions to put all laid-off teachers back to work.

The tentative agreement guarantees all 143 laid-off teachers would return to work as long as 50 senior teachers take a retirement incentive deal. The incentive is available to any teacher who has 10 years in the New Hampshire Retirement System and is at the top tier of the district's stepped pay scale. It includes the buyout and an opportunity to come back next school year as a permanent substitute, paid a $70 per day fee. These substitutes would work 160 days a year and would not get benefits. The district would try to place these retired teachers in their expertise area, whether it is elementary education or secondary science and math.

If the MEA cannot get at least 50 teachers to take the retirement incentive, it has the option of backing out of the tentative agreement.

Retiring teachers must notify the district of their intent by June 22, the last day of the teachers' 2011-2012 school year.

The deal also includes 1 percent pay raises in 2014 and 2015, as well as a $4,000 annual incentive - up from the current $1,500 incentive - for teachers who do not use the district's health insurance plan. Teachers would have to pay more toward their health insurance premiums, doctor's visits, prescription drugs and other health costs. It would also includes a 'fair share' clause that requires non-union employees pay an agency fee to the unions for being under the negotiated contracts.

School district projections for the next three years under this deal show there would be a 2.5 percent budget increase in 2013-2014 school year and a 3.2 percent increase the following school year.

While there would be still be cost increases under this tentative agreement, Gatsas said they would low enough to enable the school board to work the budget within the city's tax cap.

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