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September 12. 2012 2:25AM

What cuts? City school spending is up

Manchester’s public school classrooms are overcrowded because of draconian budget cuts pushed through by Republican Mayor Ted Gatsas, right?

No.

Manchester’s public school budget was not cut this year. It was increased. Including general fund spending and money taken from the district’s expendable trusts, the district’s total spending is up by $1.6 million this year. (General funds allocated to pay and benefits are up by $2.8 million over last year.) If spending is up, then why did the city lay off more than 100 teachers?

The answer lies in the contracts. In 2007, the city agreed to a contract with the Manchester Education Association that guaranteed teachers a 2.5 percent raise every year. Facing a deficit in 2009, aldermen proposed that the MEA agree to only a 1.5 percent raise in that year and an increase in employee health insurance premium contributions from 5 percent to 7 percent. In exchange, the city would extend the contract for three years — and guarantee 2.5 percent raises each year.

It was a terrible deal for the city, but great for the union, which accepted it. Every year from 2010 through the current budget year, the city has had to pay 2.5 percent raises to all teachers, in addition to step increases. Add to that the skyrocketing cost of health insurance (city teachers have refused since 2010 to bring their premium contributions up to 20 percent, well below the average private-sector contribution of 32 percent, and to pay higher co-pays), and the school district’s personnel costs have risen far beyond the city’s ability to fund them.

The city has fewer students and fewer teachers than it did just four years ago, yet the annual increase in personnel expenses prevents the district from pocketing any savings.

Had the aldermen not agreed to such a generous contract in 2009, we probably would not be in this situation today. Had the MEA agreed in 2010, or even this spring, to accept higher contributions to health benefits, we would have funded dozens more teachers this year. There is plenty of blame to go around, but you cannot blame budget cuts — because there were not any.


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