MANCHESTER — School board members met at City Hall Monday night to view a presentation on contract proposals presented to the city teachers union.
The meeting included a PowerPoint presentation detailing contract negotiations between the school district’s Negotiations Committee, chaired by at large school board member Rich Girard, and negotiators for the Manchester Education Association (MEA).
Negotiations Committee members include school board members Sarah Ambrogi, Katie Desrochers, Jimmy Lehoux and Ross Terrio.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the MEA expired June 30, 2018.
Monday’s session did not include comments from the MEA. Union President Sue Hannan issued a preemptive statement ahead of the special meeting, saying the district has officially declared impasse and can now make its proposals public.
“That is all their presentation should be, but we know it won’t be as cut and dry as that,” wrote Hannan in an email to a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter. “MEA is not the group being unreasonable. It is the BOSC.”
Mayor Joyce Craig kicked off Monday’s special session with a statement saying the meeting was being held to “educate the public” and not to create “more division.”
“A lot of work has gone into negotiations, and I appreciate all of the efforts on both sides,” said Craig. “While tonight we’re sharing an update from the school board’s negotiations committee, the purpose of this meeting is to educate the public, and to move the process forward, not to create more division.”
“Our educators and district staff aim to create a positive learning environment in our schools, and we value their enormous contributions to our community,” added Craig. “For the good of our city, we all must work diligently to find common ground. We must remain committed to finding a solution that is fair and equitable for our teachers, students and taxpayers. We all agree that our educators deserve a fair and sustainable contract. I appreciate this board’s work, and especially the time and effort put in by the negotiations committee. I look forward to a productive and forward-thinking discussion this evening.”
Committee members said the district is unable to fund salary steps in FY’19, and future steps would likely exceed the city’s tax cap.
According to the negotiations committee, the MEA requested reinstatement of two “lost” steps, and Longevity Step Pay.
According to information included in the negotiation committee’s presentation, the district’s initial salary proposal to the union included:
Expansion from 15 to 24 salary steps.
An increase to steps 2-19 by 3 percent of previous step amount.
An increase to steps 20-24 by 1.5 percent of previous step amount.
“We also had to find a way to address the board’s concerns about mounting severance liabilities and absenteeism,” said committee members in their presentation.
According to data presented by the district’s negotiations committee, approximately 25 percent of all MEA member absences were on a Friday, 25 percent higher than other days.
Five hundred and thirty-eight teachers met the federal definition of chronically absent by missing 10 or more days of school, and 350 teachers took 12 or more non-consecutive days off.
According to the committee, 66 teachers took 12 or more consecutive days, totaling 3,727 days used.
“All of this factored heavily in our proposals,” committee members said.
In the 2017-18 school year:
On average, 82 subs were needed every day.
Percentage of teachers considered chronically absent by school type:
High school: 48.5 percent
Middle school: 51.5
Elementary school: 40.8
District total: 45
According to the committee, in 2017-18 Manchester teachers took 547 unpaid days because there were insufficient accruals to meet their needs; 9,985 sick days and 1,740 personal days for a total of 12,272 days out of the classroom.
“This does not count another 2,009 days taken for a variety of reasons such as bereavement and professional development, among others that would not be affected by our proposal,” said Negotiations Committee member Lehoux.
The district pitched a Paid Time Off Proposal, in which the board proposed providing every teacher with 11 days of Paid Time Off (PTO). Days would be provided at the beginning of each school year instead of accrued on a monthly basis, prorated for mid-year hires and departures.
Every teacher would receive $100 per day for each unused day they have at the end of each year.
For example, the Incentive Pool would total $500,000. Five thousand unused PTO days at $100 per day, means a teacher with 11 unused PTO days receives $1,100 (11 days at $100 per day).
A teacher with five unused PTO days would receive $500.
Incentive payments could be made as an employer contribution either to the teacher’s:
403(b) retirement account,
Health Savings Account or
Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA).
Committee members say the benefits of the proposed PTO include a projected reduction in absenteeism of 10 to 20 percent or 1,200 to 2,400 fewer absences.
Suggestions made for moving forward included bringing in a third party to study the merits of the proposals.
“I think putting this out in the public, and giving people time to digest it, will be helpful,” said Craig.
“It was the earnest hope of our team that we would reach agreement with our Teachers,” report members of the district negotiations committee. “We value their contributions at every level. We are deeply disappointed that we have been unable to reach agreement despite the extensive efforts of our entire district team. We know we can’t give our teachers all they deserve but we hope that they will see and respect the enormous effort we’ve made to better provide for them and want them to know we have done this gladly as we appreciate all they do. We look forward to starting the negotiations again when the opportunity presents itself and we are hopeful that progress can be made.”