November 20, 2018BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School Board and the Newfound Teachers Union have ratified a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement that would help keep wages competitive with surrounding school districts. The agreement, covering the 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22 school years, will go before the voters in March.
Meanwhile, the school board is reviewing changes in the proposed budget for 2019-20 to bring spending in line with the district's tax cap. The original budget proposal came in $922,173 too high.
Superintendent Stacy Buckley said that, in reviewing ways to reduce the spending, the administrative team gave priority to safety concerns and ways to improve instruction and promote student success. They looked at areas where they could make do with some, rather than all; align with the strategic plan and capital improvement program; and give priority to things that would be much more expensive if postponed for a year.
Recommendations included eliminating the late bus for Project Promise, the grant-funded after-school program. Buckley said she is unsure that the grant will be renewed next year.
There had been a plan to transfer money into a capital reserve account to reduce the impact of capital expenditures, but that was removed in the new proposal, she said.
Administrators considered eliminating foreign language instruction in the middle school, but in the end kept the program intact while eliminating a part-time position for "overflow" students interested in taking French.
Positions that have remained unfilled so far have been eliminated, including a part-time physical education instructor and an elementary school teacher. Middle school athletics would be restructured to provide for an assistant athletic director.
Plans to upgrade the entire science curriculum have been changed to phase in the instruction at the elementary level, with the possibility of funding science for grades four and five at the end of this year, if there is unexpended money available.
With a special education student having moved out of the district, that budget could be reduced by $41,000, Buckley said, and with out-of-district students reduced to five, the coordinator's position has been eliminated.
Several new projects and initiatives are eliminated in the new proposal, including repairs to the roof at Danbury Elementary School; reconfiguration of the office and new carpeting, along with a monitor for the theater at Newfound Regional High School; standing desks at Newfound Memorial Middle School, along with shade replacement and installation of a speed bump; outdoor speakers at each of the schools; theater lights at Bristol Elementary School; replacement of faculty laptops at Bristol and Danbury elementary schools; and a reduction in supplies purchases.
The cost of some supplies and other necessities may be shifted to parents. The new administrative proposal would eliminate the purchase of athletic uniforms at the high school; the payment of dues for field trips, except for those that are part of academic programs; and field trip transportation.
Buckley said they may be able to purchase some Chromebooks this year so there won't be as many to buy next year; and the plan would cut in half the number of laptops for art. An interactive projector was eliminated from the spending plan.
Instruction for students who have English as a second language would be reduced to one day a week; and out-of-school tuition to a charter school was reduced by $15,000.
Work on the Danbury basketball court will become part of the playground project, and $9,500 in safety rails for the high school bleachers will be unnecessary if the school simply requires that all four sets of bleachers be pulled out for events, Buckley said.
She said paying a contractor to plow parking lots may be required at all of the schools if Bristol pulls out of its plowing agreement, so the budget was increased by $16,000; but she said they may be able to transfer $79,000 from capital reserve funds to cover some of the capital improvement items.
"Making these reductions is not reducing what we're doing now in education," Buckley told the school board.
The collective bargaining agreement would provide wage increases of 1.25 percent, 1 percent, and 1 percent, respectively, over the three years covered in the new agreement that would become effective on July 1, 2019.
The cost items in the agreement that voters will be asked to approve amount to a $228,414 increase in 2019-20, $227,765 in 2020-21, and $220,980 in 2021-22.
"Teachers are moving because of the economy," Buckley said during the School Board's Nov. 13 meeting. She said that compensation for Newfound teachers is "more toward the bottom" in the Lakes Region.
According to the state's most recent data, for the 2016-17 school year, of the districts that Newfound directly competes with for teachers — Laconia, Winnisquam, Franklin, Shaker Regional, Pemi-Baker, Plymouth, Hill, Kearsarge and Inter-Lakes — only Franklin has a lower starting salary. Newfound is in the mid-to-low range for experienced teachers, Buckley said.
The new agreement would increase longevity stipends from $100 to $125, but it clarified the language around longevity to say that teachers leaving the district and then returning would be starting over in terms of accumulating longevity. The agreement also clarifies the policy for teachers who do not work full-time.
Currently, teachers are responsible for attending six professional development days, but the new contract provides for up to nine early release days when teachers will stay an additional hour beyond their normal day for additional professional development.
The first-year cost figure in the agreement includes $10,000 to adjust co-curricular stipend. Buckley said current stipends are uneven, and a committee would be formed to suggest ways to make the stipends both competitive and fair.
Teacher contracts currently are done on paper, but the new agreement allows the district to move to electronic contracts.
Teacher benefits would remain unchanged, Buckley said.