School board ratifies five contracts

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Mayor Joyce Craig on Nov. 27, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) ratified five contracts with collective bargaining units within the Manchester School District.

Manchester Superintendent Dr. Jenn Chmiel Gillis said that the approved contracts leveraged new adequacy funding to raise what had been what Gillis described as low starting salaries for new teachers compared to other districts. Additionally, she said this help retain experienced staff and attract new staff as well. Gillis also noted that agreeing to new agreements swiftly helped avoid doubt that could lead educators to retire early, as she said most retirement decisions occur in December.

“I would like to thank the Board of School Committee for its support tonight of the tentative contract agreements, and I ask the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for its support,” Gillis said in a statement. “The job market is extremely competitive, and these agreements will give us a leg up as we head into the hiring season early next year. This sends a clear message to our current staff that we value them and want them to stay, as well as to prospective staff that we are looking for the best. Thank you to all of those who worked so hard to settle these agreements.”

The agreement with the Manchester Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers will see a total of $7,001,425 in salary increases in Fiscal Year ’25 and $15,643,946 over the next three years. In return, the district would save $300,000 in FY ’25 in health insurance plan changes and the teachers would be expected to work an additional three work days per school year by the end of the contract. Educators would also be given an extra $10,000 if asked to teach an additional class whereas before they were given anywhere from $7,500 to $11,000.

Members of the Manchester Educational Support Personnel Association receive a raise of 6 percent per hour in FY ’25 and 3.5% in FY’ 26 in exchange for dropping several paid holidays.

The Association of Manchester Principals and the District’s Directors and Coordinators-Teamsters Local #633 also agreed to contracts that will see a 6 percent increase for Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA) in FY’ 25 and 4 percent in FY’ 26 and FY’ 26 in lieu of their lack of step increases.

“It is really a testament to good collaboration to get five contracts and bundling together says a lot, and I believe that the focus on retaining and attracting educators will be successful,” said Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig.

BOSC At-Large Member Jim O’Connell praised the agreements, noting that it was the second set of negotiations in a row without any gap between the beginning and end of the contracts, following a three-year gap without an MEA contract.

O’Connell added that he would support any effort to pay educators what they are worth and echoed Gillis’ comments that the quick negotiations will help retain teachers who might retire or leave the district.

“I would hope any teachers looking to push the button to exit and look elsewhere would think otherwise due to this,” he said.

An agreement with the Association of Federal, State and County Municipal Employees Local 3912, representing the district’s paraprofessional educators, was also approved, giving paraprofessionals raising the base salary from $15.45 per hour to $17 per hour and more for higher levels. Like the other contracts, this agreement was passed unanimously by a voice vote, but it garnered more discussion than the others.

Here, Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want said that money currently being used to attract non-district paraprofessionals to fill a shortage of paraprofessionals should instead be used to raise the newly raised base rates to stop outsourcing paraprofessionals and hire and retain new paraprofessionals working as district employees.

Want noted the need for this by mentioning that Wendy’s in Hooksett is offering $20 an hour for new employees. While she added that the Wendy’s position does not offer health insurance while the paraprofessional jobs do, it still showed how far the district must go.

Want and Ward 3 BOSC Member Karen Soule put forward a motion asking the district’s leadership to find additional money if possible to provide that higher salary in the near future.

This drew the concern of At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos saying he felt that it was inappropriate to informally renegotiate a contract that was just approved moments before.

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Manchester School District Outside Counsel Fred Upton on Nov. 27, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Manchester School District Outside Counsel Fred Upton, who provided details to the BOSC earlier in the meeting on the agreements, said that the agreed upon rate was a baseline and changes could be made by both sides through a memorandum of understanding, adding that the rate was made to take funding from higher adequacy rates given by Concord rather than through the district budget or a tax cap override.

Argeropoulos asked if any other collective bargaining unit in the district could request the same thing and Upton said it was possible.

Craig noted that the increased wages in the new contract and any additional funding for paraprofessionals should be seen through the lens of paraprofessional shortages across the country, including Manchester, that have had a negative impact on educational outcomes and that higher wages could address those shortfalls.

Argeropoulos said he would support efforts by Gillis to find the money, but could not support what he felt what was like micromanagement by the board regarding the request to find additional money beyond what was agreed upon by the contract.

Soule and Want’s motion was approved by a non-unanimous voice vote.

Tentative agreements must be ratified by union members and approved by the BOSC and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. With the ratifications on Monday night, the agreements now go to the Aldermen for an initial vote on Tuesday, Dec. 5.


 

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.