Voters shoot down new teachers’ contract

WILTON – The teachers at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative Middle/High School still do not have a contract. After about two hours of discussion on Wednesday, voters rejected the plan, 104-60.

Voters also rejected a proposed one-year contract last spring.

Although many of the speakers defended the school and staff, and no one said the teachers did not deserve a raise, in the end the problem appeared to be the amount of the raise proposed and the recent receiving of tax bills by voters from both towns.

And, after being questioned, School Board Chairwoman Gretchen Dunn said yes, the district is facing a deficit of about $250,000 in special education, the result of two new, unanticipated and therefore unbudgeted, students.

Speaking in opposition to the contract, Budget Committee Chairman David Roemer of Lyndeborough pointed out the “step system,” which guarantees a teacher in the system a yearly raise of about 4 percent, through 17 steps and then a yearly payment after that. The contract would provide an additional 3 percent to 5 percent above that step, he said.

“It is not our wish that they don’t get a raise, and we do support the teachers, but we don’t support the amount of the raise,” Roemer said.

Wilton Selectman Stuart Draper noted that “other town employees are getting about a 3 percent raise. This isn’t fair to them.”

The proposed contract was for three years, raised the starting salary to begin closing a salary gap with surrounding school districts, provided more money for staff professional development and eliminated some problems with the payments to teachers who had been in the system more than 17 years, said to be one-third of the staff.

It was agreed that the first four steps on the scale were “not competitive with surrounding towns,” but that the higher levels were.

Wilton resident Neil Faiman defended the proposal saying, “At the last meeting (in March), we said we wanted changes and the board has apparently done their best, and I’ll trust their judgment.”

Several speakers praised the teaching staff, saying the contract was needed in order to retain them, and that a school, no matter how nice it looks, is only as good as the teachers.

Lyndeborough Selectman Dwight Sowerby addressed the expected deficit.

“It is $250,000 this year, and that will be an additional $500,000 cost for next year,” Sowerby said.

Although several speakers noted that the increases in taxes this year would amount to “about $50 to $75 on the typical house,” next year’s increases would have been higher.

Several people from both towns said their bills for this year had gone up about $600.