Published Date Written by Lloyd JonesBARTLETT — The Bartlett School Board will seek a special district meeting through the courts after approving a newly negotiated one-year contract with the Bartlett Education Association for the 2012-13 school year.
The board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to accept the contract which amounts to roughly a $29,000 increase to the budget. Highlights of the brokered deal include raising the starting teacher salary to $30,000; increasing to the retirement incentive from 2.5 percent to 3 percent of the final year's salary for each year of employment up to a maximum of 20 years; the district will provide retirees with the same health insurance plan at the rate of $4,500 per year until the retiree reaches Medicare eligibility; and the elimination of one step from the 12-step salary scale. Twenty six employees who have surpassed the maximum step will not receive salary increases in this new contract.
The board met before 23 citizens in the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School cafeteria with Nancy Kelemen and Dan Perley, who negotiated the agreement for the board, and Rob Clark in the majority while board chairman Vicki Harlow and Michael Murphy voted in the minority.
Harlow and Murphy both declined to comment on their votes as they did not want their comments to affect possible future negotiations.
The teachers' union voted to support the new contract by a wide majority, but it was not a unanimous vote earlier this month.
The school board later voted unanimously to move forward and ask the New Hampshire Superior Court to grant its request for a special school meeting. Members voted 5-0 because they thought that had they opposed seeking the meeting, they could have found themselves facing an unfair labor practice.
If the court approves such a request — according to the RSA's the court must deem the need for a meeting as an emergency situation — school superintendent Carl Nelson is targeting Sept. 12 for the meeting.
Nelson projects the cost for a special meeting to be in the neighborhood of $3,000, but that price tag does not include any legal advice the board has received to date.
Without a new contract, the parameters of the latest contract will remain in place.
Voters shot down a proposed two-year contract 198-121 at school meeting on March 6. Within days of the defeat, the Bartlett Education Association contacted the board wanting to resume negotiations to see if a new deal coupled be brokered.
The contract that was rejected would have given 23 of the 32 teachers at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School $2,700 pay raises each of the next two years (on the heels of already having received similar raises under the prior two-year contract) as well as provide 20 of them with $1,000 each year in longevity pay. Despite the contract failing, the teachers still received the $1,000 per year longevity pay, something they've been getting for a number of years, but is not included directly in the teacher salary.
Kelemen, the vice chairman of the Bartlett School Board, joined Perley in negotiations on the new contract. Perley has represented the board in each of the past two contract negotiations. He and colleague Murphy negotiated the most recent contract attempt that failed with Carol Penza, Vance Pickering and Kurt Erickson for the Bartlett Education Association.
The new contract is six pages in length and includes 12 negotiated items, some of which are minor word changes in the contract.
• The work day for employees during non-student attendance days was changed to "determined by the administration with feedback from staff" instead of previously being 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. with an hour for lunch unless otherwise adjusted within that timeframe by administration.
• "An" agenda shall be provided to all teachers for faculty meetings with administrators.
• Under personal business leave, teachers will be allowed three days at their own discretion with the following guidelines removed from the contract: "1) The situation must be suddenly precipitated, or must be of such nature that pre-planning could not have eliminated the need for the leave. 2) The situation must be one which is serious and unavoidable, and of major importance; not one of convenience; 3) The employee must complete a leave report and submit it to his/her immediate principal/supervisor, after the leave has been taken. The employee shall not be required to provide the specific reasons verbally or in writing for taking such a leave."
Personal leave requests immediately before or after a holiday (vacation breaks, long weekend, state and federal required school closing "and summer vacation (this was added)") shall be considered only under extenuating circumstances and shall require the approval of the superintendent on an individual basis.
• While a teacher continuing their education can receive reimbursement for up to a maximum of 12 credits in one year provided they are a degree program, a teacher who is not in one will only be reimbursed for six credits instead of eight in the prior contract.
• The board will reimburse teachers for any textbooks while pursuing professional development, but those books will now become the property of the district at the completion of the course.
• An employee who receives tuition reimbursement will remain an employee of the district for at least one year from the end of the classes. If the employee chooses to leave in that time period, instead the district "may require the prorated amount of tuition be reimbursed," the new language states. "The employee will owe the district the total tuition unless the employee were Reduction In Forced or dismissed. The district has the right to waive payment."
• Instead of a retirement incentive of 2.5 percent the number has been increased to 3 percent of the final year's salary for each year of employment up to a maximum of 20 years will be offered to any Bartlett School District employee at the conclusion of the school year during which the employee reaches 55 years of age or older.
• The following a completely new addition to the contract: "The district will provide retirees with the same health insurance plan at the rate of $4,500 per year with the retiree being responsible for the remaining cost of the plan chosen by the teacher until the retiree reaches Medicare eligibility."
• Under Reduction In Force: The performance history of teachers as recorded by the district's performance evaluation procedure "over no more than five previous years of evaluations, or the number of years of the least senior person," will be used in making decisions regarding which teacher will be laid off within a teaching classification. In instances when evaluations are "equivalent (not identical)" was removed and replaced by "identical for the total score," seniority shall be the deciding factor.
Removed from the contract was "Teachers with multiple certifications shall have the right to replace bargaining unit members with less seniority in a position for which he/she is certified to avoid a layoff."
Also, for the purposes of this article the teaching classifications were changed to K-6, Unified Arts, Special Education and 7-8.
• The starting teacher salary was upped to $30,000. Of the $29,000 increase to the budget, 7.6 teachers will receive salary increases with $24,300 in salaries allocated and roughly $5,000 going to cover FICA and retirement costs.
Nelson explained the path to a special meeting if granted would then mean following a traditional school meeting schedule with a budget hearing needing to take place prior to the annual meeting.
Getting the court to grant a special meeting is no certainty and the board would need to prove this is an emergency need.
The New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated RSA 197 under School Meetings, five sets of criteria for a special meeting are laid out. In 197:3 Raising Money at Special Meeting, " I. (a) No school district at any special meeting shall raise or appropriate money nor reduce or rescind any appropriation made at a previous meeting, unless the vote thereon is by ballot, nor unless the ballots cast at such meeting shall be equal in number to at least half of the number of voters of such district entitled to vote at the regular meeting next preceding such special meeting; and, if a checklist was used at the last preceding regular meeting, the same shall be used to ascertain the number of legal voters in said district; and such checklist, corrected according to law, may be used at such special meeting upon request of 10 legal voters of the district. In case an emergency arises requiring an immediate expenditure of money, the school board may petition the superior court for permission to hold a special district meeting, which, if granted, shall give said district meeting the same authority as an annual district meeting.
"(b) 'Emergency' for the purposes of this section shall mean a sudden or unexpected situation or occurrence, or combination of occurrences, of a serious and urgent nature, that demands prompt or immediate action, including an immediate expenditure of money. This definition, however, does not establish a requirement that an emergency involves a crisis in every set of circumstances.
"(c) To verify that an emergency exists, a petitioner shall present, and the court shall consider, a number of factors including: (1) The severity of the harm to be avoided. (2) The urgency of the petitioner's need. (3) Whether the claimed emergency was foreseeable or avoidable. (4) Whether the appropriation could have been made at the annual meeting. (5) Whether there are alternative remedies not requiring an appropriation."