Litchfield’s School Deliberative Poorly Attended

February 15, 2019

 

by Doug Robinson

With only six articles and one petition article, a mere 65 or so of Litchfield’s approximate 6,500 registered voters attended the Litchfield School District’s Deliberative meeting on Saturday.

Of the 65 residents in attendance, most were teachers, administrators, budget or school board members. Unfortunately, only a handful of residents showed up to discuss the proposed $22 million budget, going to the polls March 12.

The color of the day had to be red as the auditorium of Campbell High School was a sea of the color red. Teachers, promoting their cause, wore t-shirts saying “Keep Kids First.”

Should all the proposed articles pass during the March election, the Town of Litchfield would realize a tax increase on the school side from $15.15 to $16. Simply stated, “If all articles pass, the total impact is $0.85 or an estimated $297.85 increase on a house valued at $350,000” writes the Deliberative session handout.

Article 1

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to raise and appropriate as an operating budget, not including appropriations by special warrant articles and other appropriations voted separately, the amounts set forth on the budget posted with the warrant or as amended by the vote at the first session of the annual school district meeting, for the purposes set forth herein, totaling $22,865,429? Should this article be defeated, the default budget shall be $22,824,871, which is the same as last year, with certain adjustments required by previous action of the Litchfield School District or by law; or the School Board may hold one special meeting, in accordance with RSA 40:13 X and XVI, to take up the issue of a revised operating budget only.

Estimated Tax Impact: $0.35 (Operating Budget) Estimated Tax Impact: $0.34 (Default Budget)

Recommended by the School Board 5-0-0. Recommended by the Budget Committee Vote 6-2-0.”

During the meeting, the operational budget for the School Board was reduced to $22,849,638 because of a 3 percent bus contract savings recently realized. The new, revised, tax impact will be $0.35.

Within this budget, New Hampshire teacher retirement will increase $96,890, Special Services will decrease $168,000, Technology will decrease $38,700, and there will be a $174,000 reduction in salaries and benefits.

The projected student enrollments for the next three years are, 1,271, 1,254, and 1,241, or a reduction of 30 students for the three Litchfield schools.

Passed to the ballot.

Article 2

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to approve the cost items included in the collective bargaining agreement reached between the Litchfield School District and the Litchfield Education Association, which calls for the following increases in salaries and benefits at the current staffing level:

Year                  Estimated Increase

2019-2020         $394,429

2020-2021         $374,294

2012-2022         $346,391

And further to raise and appropriate the sum of $394,429 for fiscal year 2020, such sum representing the additional costs attributable to the increase in salaries and benefits required by the new agreement over those that would be paid at current staffing levels.

Estimated Tax Impact: $0.43

Recommended by the School Board 5-0-0. Not recommended by the Budget Committee because of a tied vote 4-4-0.

Teacher after teacher approached the microphone to express their displeasure with the Budget Committee’s 4-4-0 vote. They collectively said that as Litchfield moves to a “consumer-driven” health benefit plan, the 4-4-0 vote sends to the voters the “wrong message.” The proposed plan provides for an employer contribution (two plans offered to the teachers) of 82 percent ($8,155) for the “green” plan, and the proposed new yellow plan provides for an employer match of 89 percent ($8,154). Whereas the green plan does not have a deductible and a $30 co-pay, the yellow plan has a $1,000 deductible, and $0.00 co-pay. The cost to the green member is $1,790 and the cost to the yellow member is $1,008. The annual premium for the green plan is $9,945 and the premium for the yellow plan is $9,162. The union comments that, “better use of healthcare with a shift to consumer-driven plan.”

Teachers were also concerned that “if this contract does not pass, the teachers will not have a contract next year.” That means they will be covered by the current contract.

Budget Chairman Cynthia Couture said that the “town could not afford the added increase of the town paying the added costs to the teacher’s health insurance. That is why I voted against the article.”

The contract does provide an increase in salaries for teachers who have maxed out their pay for working in Litchfield for 15 years. The current wage program does not afford any additional wage/step increases for those who surpass 15 years. (Step raises reflect a raise for each year worked.) According to the School Board, this new contract offers the teachers a more attractable contract which will pay teachers more to stay in Litchfield longer. Years 15 to 20 will provide $1,500 in step wage increases and years 20-plus could offer teachers annual step raises up to $2,500, or more.

While these salary changes and health benefit changes were created to keep Litchfield “competitive” and attract and retain excellent teachers, the turnover numbers involving teachers leaving to find better paying jobs in other towns was not discussed, nor asked.

Passed to the ballot.

Article 3

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $28,490 to hire a part time Enrichment Tutor, including salary and benefits, at Litchfield Middle School to support high-achieving learners? If approved, this appropriation will be included in the operating budget in subsequent years.

Estimated Tax Impact: $ 0.03

Recommended by the School Board 5-0-0. Recommended by the Budget Committee Vote 7-1-0.”

Passed to the ballot.

Article 4

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of $28,490 to hire a part time Math Tutor, including salary and benefits, at Litchfield Middle School to support struggling and resistant learners? If approved, this appropriation will be included in the operating budget in subsequent years.

Estimated Tax Impact: $ 0.03

Recommended by the School Board 5-0-0. Recommended by the Budget Committee Vote 7-1-0.”

Passed to the ballot.

Article 5

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to raise and appropriate the sum of up to $100,000 to be added to the Building Maintenance Capital Reserve Fund established in 2004 with this sum to come from the June 30 unassigned fund balance available for transfer on July 1 of this year?

Estimated Tax Impact: $0

Recommended by the School Board   5-0-0. Recommended by the Budget Committee Vote 8-0-0.”

Passed to the ballot.

Article 6

“Shall the Litchfield School District vote to permanently name the Campbell High School auditorium after Philip K. Martin, in honor of his service to Campbell High School?

Not Recommended by the School Board Vote

The vote at the town election will be a majority vote for this article. This is an advisory article and does not bind the school board to naming the auditorium after Phillip K. Martin.” According to the School Board, this type of action must be voted on before the School Board can act upon the article.

Passed to the ballot.

Article 7 (Petitioned Article)

Shall the School Board present to next year’s annual meeting, an article adopting the provisions of RSA 32:5-b which could implement a tax cap whereby the Budget Committee shall not submit a recommended budget that increases the amount to be raised by local taxes, based on the prior fiscal year’s actual amount of local taxes raised, by more than a certain dollar amount or percentage?”

By majority vote, Article 7 was changed to: “Shall the School Board present study the impacts, an article adopting the provisions of RSA 32:5-b which could implement a tax cap whereby the Budget Committee shall not submit a recommended budget that increases the amount to be raised by local taxes, based on the prior fiscal year’s actual amount of local taxes raised, by more than a certain dollar amount or percentage?”

Due to the volatility of the discussion of this article, a voice vote was required and the “ayes” won the change of this wording by a vote of 34 to? (not counted by the Moderator – he just looked out at the audience and declared the win for “aye.”)

Not Recommended by the School Board Vote 0-4.”

Budget Committee Vice Chairman Keri Douglas stated that the wording in the petitioned article was the same wording as the BOS article in 2015. Asking “Why does the school not have a tax cap. This petition does not represent a lack of support of the teachers; every dollar raised for school is being spent wisely. If we do not need the funds, we should not be raising them.” She continued, “I am asking for a discussion, not asking for a vote.”

The School Board stated that their preceding budgets for the three previous years have been in the 2 percent range while the Budget Committee’s budget has increased upwards as much as 8 percent. The School Board also stated that when they are done with the budget the budget is then forwarded to the Budget Committee for their review and discussion. According to the School Board, their budget is “transparent.”

Passed to the ballot.