We understand from an article in last week’s Hampton Union that the SEA teachers union is lobbying the SAU21 school boards to petition the courts for special town meetings intended to provide the union with a second chance for approval of their proposed union contract. Rational Taxpayers of Hampton (RTOH) is opposed to a “second bite of the apple” on this issue. Voters rejected this contract at the March 8th. Ballot. However, the union argues that voters were “confused.” Why local voters approve or disapprove specific warrant articles is a purely speculative proposition, there is no exit polling or other reliable source of data.
RTOH was not confused when we recommended that Hampton residents vote NO on the SAU21 teachers CBA on the Winnacunnet ballot. We did recommend a YES vote on the teachers CBA on the Hampton school District (SAU90) CBA. We were pleased when 76% of Hampton residents voted YES on the SAU90 CBA and 52% of Hampton residents voted NO on the SAU21 CBA on the Winnacunnet ballot. Hampton voters accounted for a majority of the NO votes in the district wide tally of the CBA article on the Winnacunnet ballot. Because RTOH did recommend a NO vote on the SAU21 CBA on the Winnacunnet ballot, we would like to provide the rationale behind our NO recommendation.
Based on existing contracts, the starting salary for teachers with a Bachelor’s degree in the SAU21 School District, which includes Winnacunnet High School, is $40,958 and is identical to the starting salary of a teacher in the Hampton SAU90 School District. Existing contracts for both districts include a pay plan with annual step increases of 3.75%, teacher’s max out after 10 years in SAU90 and 11 years in SAU21. Teachers with a Bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years’ experience in SAU21 are currently making $2,000 more than a teacher with equivalent experience in SAU90. In addition to the 3.75% annual step increases in the pay plan, the CBA approved on the SAU90 March ballot included annual across the board increases in all pay plan steps of ½ of 1%. The SAU21 proposed CBA included 2.25% across the board increases in the pay plan steps for the first year of the contract and 2% in the second year. Thus, SAU90 teachers in their first 10 years of employment will be receiving annual increases of 4.25% under the CBA voters approved while teachers in SAU21 would have been receiving 5.75% increases, had the SAU21 CBA been approved. Both contracts include provisions for additional pay for teachers with a Masters degree that range from $4,600 of additional pay per year for a starting teacher to over $11,000 for teachers with 13 or more years’ experience. An SAU21 teacher with a Masters degree and 13 years or more experience currently makes $2,400 more than an SAU90 teacher with the same experience.
What concerns RTOH even more than the short-term impact of these pay plans, with their across the board increases, is the potential compounding effect over the long-term, should similar proposals be approved in the future. The implications of the difference between the SAU21 2% across the board increases versus the SAU90 ½ of 1% when coupled with 3.75% annual step increases, compounded over a teachers first 13 years of employment are enormous. An SAU90 teacher starting today with a Bachelor’s degree at $40,958 would be making $60,800 13 years down the road, while an SAU21 teacher would be at $76,500. If both received Masters degrees at some point during their employment, 13 years down the road the SAU90 teacher’s salary would rise to $72,991 while the SAU21 teacher would be $91,844. In all probability the SEA union, which represents both groups of teachers, wouldn’t let it get to that point by pointing out that SAU90 is not competitive with other districts, in particular SAU21, arguing for higher increases in SAU90. By comparison, a social security recipient receiving $40,958 in 2016 and receiving 1% annual increases (there aren’t very many at that level and there was no social security increase last year) would be getting $46,600 13 years down the road. We reluctantly supported the SAU90 CBA warrant article, despite its 3.75% annual step increases, because of its small ½ of 1% across the board increases and the understanding that negotiating a less lucrative pay plan was not going to happen in the current environment.
Unions that operate statewide in New Hampshire represent most school district employees, as well as most municipal employees. These employees play a major role and are generally successful in electing School board members and Selectmen sensitive to their interests. A strategy of negotiating high levels of wage and benefit increases in municipalities and school districts with governing bodies very friendly to their interests and then pointing to a lack of competitive wages when negotiating in other municipalities has been a major driver of large property tax increases in the state over the last 20 years.
Going forward we are worried about future proposals coming out of the SAU90 school board, including the Hampton Academy renovation, given the background of the current SAU90 school board members. The SAU90 board includes two retired teachers, a teacher currently employed by SAU21 residing in Hampton who is the also the spouse of one of the retired teachers on the SAU90 school board and a board member whose spouse currently is employed by SAU90.