Manchester teachers say no to health care concessions

Budget follow-up with the awesome reporting help of Mark Hayward.

Manchester teachers say health care concessions off the table in budget fight

Thursday, March 3, 2011

MANCHESTER – Junking the plan of Mayor Ted Gatsas, the Manchester school board is backing a proposed budget that spends more than the mayor wants to, limits layoffs of paraprofessionals but ends with a $2.5 million question mark.

Meanwhile, a teachers’ union official said concessions on health care are off the table, and teachers are ready for layoffs if that turns out to be the case. Scott McGilvray, president of the Manchester Education Association, said teachers already agreed to four years of health-care concessions in 2009.

“We’re already ahead of everyone else (in givebacks), yet they come after teachers time and time again,” said McGilvray, whose union represents 1,200 teachers.

Early Tuesday morning, the school board voted on a budget proposal that eliminates the positions of 12 retiring teachers, shifts some school bureaucracies to City Hall, spends some $3 million in reserves and necessitates a 1 1/2 percent increase in property taxes.

But the board couldn’t agree on layoffs, leaving a $2.5 million gap in the budget. “It will be interesting to watch them do a presentation to the aldermen,” said Gatsas, who voted against the proposal.

“We have some components we haven’t come to grips with,” acknowledged school board veteran Chris Herbert of Ward 4, one of the supporters of the budget proposal. “There’s $2.5 million we have to take votes on.”

Two proposals have been floated to fill the $2.5 million gap, but the board has voted against both.

One would eliminate 17 positions that are currently open or are expected to be open by the end of the school year, for a savings of $687,000. The second calls for laying off 79 paraprofessionals for a savings of $2 million.

The board has agreed that it will cut personnel benefits and salaries to make up for the $2.5 million gap.

Meanwhile, Gatsas and Herbert can’t agree on the budget number. Gatsas said it is $155 million because it relies on reserve money. Herbert said the budget is $152 million. The budget also calls for $280,000 in technology improvements and $250,000 to improve elementary school teaching, he said.

Gatsas and board members Donna Soucy, Arthur Beaudry, Debra Gagnon Langton, and David Gelinas voted against the budget. Committee member Steve Dolman was not at the meeting.

Aldermen will eventually decide how much to fund the budget. The school board officially presents it to aldermen on March 15, a day after a public hearing that is mandated by the city charter.

Gatsas’ $152 million budget calls for laying off 200 paraprofessionals unless teachers and others agree to health care concessions. It would necessitate a slight tax increase, a little more than a quarter of 1 percent, he said.

Gatsas said it would also put 41 new teachers in the schools next year.

McGilvray said he hasn’t heard from any teachers who agree with Gatsas’ concessions, which call for them to shoulder 20 percent of their premiums and increased deductibles and co-pays.

Gatsas said teachers pay only 6 1/2 percent of premiums and $5 copays.

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