MSD, MEA agree to disagree for now

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Handwriting on the wall inside the Manchester School District offices. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Negotiators for the Manchester Education Association and the Manchester School District met Thursday to discuss educator salary proposals for a new contract. No agreement was reached on a deal.

According to documents prepared for the meeting and made available to Ink Link by the school district negotiating committee, the union made a one-year salary proposal on July 31, which the committee then considered and wrote an analysis of prior to Thursday’s meeting. Both sides agree the overall cost under the proposal is about $3 million, about $500,000 more than the city said it was prepared to spend on negotiations this year under its tax cap budget.

But the parties are not negotiating on the same terms. The MEA plan is a salary-only deal for FY 2020 only. The committee provided the MEA with what it termed a “counter-proposal” of a 3 percent compensation increase – but did so going out to FY 2023, and also making changes to health insurance. “Otherwise, the district has insufficient funds to support it in the current fiscal year,” stated a committee letter to the MEA in advance of the meeting.

The MEA proposal did not include health insurance but was designed to be a simple one-year agreement on compensation, said Sue Hannan, the president of the MEA, in an interview after the meeting. “We had done that basically because…we have a little bit of time to wait to see what the state does, because the budget for the state has been vetoed.” The MEA, she said, is hopeful that any settlement between the state legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu might result in making more state money available to local school districts.

“I think it has been the goal of both the board and the MEA to have a multi-year contract, even more than three, like a 5-year contract,” Hannan said. But because of the politics over the state budget, “we thought one year would be a great stopgap to do” to get salaries for this year in place, while continuing to hammer out a longer and more comprehensive plan.

MEA President Sue Hannan

Indeed, the union is interested in a new health insurance deal, as the present one expires next year, she said. The MSD committee proposed to include a “Site of Service” proposal for health insurance, and although the union would like to allow time for additional bids, “We were willing to do that, but our conversations today did not get that far,” Hannan said.

Another point of contention, she added, is how many teachers are on what “step” or salary level. The MEA tracks this according to what Hannan calls a “scattergram,” and it matters that those numbers be accurate as it affects the bottom line of what money is needed to cover the agreement’s costs.

But even the number of teachers is in flux due to the district scrambling to replace teachers who have left this year. “Over the course of this summer, we have lost over 100 teachers,” Hannan explained. “About 40 of them due to retirement, and the rest of them have left the district. And so they [MSD] have done a lot of hiring this summer,” she said. New hires will be included under any new agreement, she said, but they may be paid at a lower salary step than the teachers they are replacing, thereby changing the costs.

So until both sides agree to a basic framework on a deal, filling in the numbers is fraught with uncertainty. Negotiators are scheduled to meet again in early September, she said.


About Jeff Epstein 6 Articles
Jeff has reported news over the years for many different newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, and radio and television. He resides in Manchester.