Teacher Pay Up for Vote In Newport

Residents to Decide on Contracts, Proposed $17.5M School Budget

Voting by Australian ballot on the Newport School District warrant is Tuesday, March 11, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Newport Opera House on Main Street.

Newport — Among the 15 articles on this year’s school district warrant are a $17.5 million budget and four articles that would provide pay increases for teachers and support staff.

The warrant also includes two articles that would give the School Board the ability to remove money from reserve funds without voter approval.

School Board Chairman Leo Paquin said the two-year teachers’ contract in article 5 would bring teacher pay to levels more competitive with other districts. It also rewards teachers with a two-year pact, similar to what other district unions have.

“We have been doing one-year contracts,” Paquin said. “Some of these teachers have been here a long time so we need to show them we support them. It is also better for the students (to have a two-year deal).”

The average teacher salary in Newport in the 2012-13 school year was $44,741, compared to a statewide average of $54,314, according to the state Department of Education’s latest salary report.

The first year of the contract is for raises totaling $95,113 and would add 23 cents per $1,000 of valuation to the tax rate. The second year covers a total of $166,108.

Article 3 for $60,420 provides a half-step increase. Paquin said it his understanding that the “concept” of providing a full step was discussed last year but not funded. The $65,000 warrant article approved by voters last year was for a half-step increase for teachers but there is no mention of an additional half- step in the article.

Article 4 for $98,000 covers salaries and benefits for teachers as required under the new agreement with the Newport Teachers Association. At the Feb. 4 deliberative session, school officials explained that a former superintendent hired new staff at a higher pay scale than teachers in the district with the same education and experience and that was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement in effect at the time. It is projected that articles 3 and 4 would add a combined 37 cents to the tax rate.

If either the teachers or the support staff contracts fail, the School Board is asking voters under articles 6 and 8 to allow a second vote through a special meeting to reconsider only the contracts.

The $16.2 million operating portion of the budget represents an increase of $143,700, or less than 1 percent from this year.

If the budget and other articles with appropriations raised through tax dollars are approved, the estimated tax rate impact would be $1.09 per $1,000 of assessed valuation and add $218 in school taxes on a property assessed at $200,000. The current overall school tax rate is $15.37.

Paquin said the budget is “fiscally conservative” but remains “education focused.” He attributed the increase to a few more staff members taking the district’s health insurance and the rest to small items that increase every year. According to the SAU, costs for special programs, student support services, student transportation and instructional staff services are increasing while expenses for regular programs, operation and maintenance and vocational programs are falling.

The amount to be raised by taxes for all requested appropriations for next year is increasing about half a million dollars to $5.3 million. Part of that is because individual article requests are going from $94,000 to $315,000, but also because of less non-tax revenue.

“We are looking at the assumption (that non-tax) revenue will drop,” said SAU 43 Business Manager Chuck Stuart.

He blamed the decrease on lower enrollment, which is occurring across the state, but not at a pace fast enough in Newport that teaching positions can be cut. The default budget of $17.5 million would add 41 cents to the tax rate.

Article 12 would take $150,000 from the school facilities renovation reserve fund and combine it with a $50,000 Homeland Security grant for installation of telecommunications and security enhancements in the district’s three schools. Though there are security measures in place now, Paquin said, the upgrades are needed.

“We really need to get the doors secured properly and we need to get cameras to improve student safety,” Paquin said.

Articles 14 and 15 ask voters to allow the School Board to remove money from the transportation reserve fund and schools facilities reserve fund without seeking voter approval at the annual school meeting. Stuart said both funds are very specific as to how the money can be used and the state Department of Revenue Administration provides the appropriate oversight. If the board is given authority to withdraw the money, there would be a public hearing before any decision is made, Stuart said.

“We are asking that the School Board act as agent of the funds so we don’t have to wait for the annual meeting. It would expedite the process.”

Because voters already approved the amounts for the reserve funds, and because the use of the money is clearly defined, going back to voters and asking for authority to spend it is “redundant,” Stuart said.

Article 10 would use $10,000 from any budget surplus at the end of this year for the Field Purchase reserve fund; article 11 takes $60,0000 from the transportation reserve fund for the first year of a five-year lease for new school buses; and article 13 takes $130,000 for the school facilities reserve fund to help pay for repairs to the high school football field and track.

Paquin is not running for re-election and no one filed to appear on the ballot, leaving the likely scenario that a write-in candidate will be elected.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.