AFT-NH President Douglas Ley Testimony In Support of HB 1415 Death Benefit for School Employees Killed at Work

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Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you to the Committee for providing me this opportunity to testify in favor of HB 1415, establishing a death benefit for a school employee killed in the line of duty.

My name is Douglas Ley, and I am one of the members from Cheshire County, District 9, representing the towns of Dublin, Harrisville, Jaffrey, and Roxbury.  I am also president of American Federation of Teachers-NH, and I have filed all the requisite paperwork with the Legislative Ethics office and intend to participate in the discussion of HB1415.   

As we know, NH Statutes currently authorize a death benefit of $100,000 for families of police officers and firefighters killed in the performance of their duties.  That is a good thing, and I am proud to have helped pass that legislation.  Today, we consider establishing a similar death benefit for the families of school employees killed in the line of duty, and on behalf of AFT-NH I am here to voice our support for this proposed statutory addition.

Dr. Donna Decker is my colleague at Franklin Pierce University and an expert on school shootings, a subject on which she has written and spoken.  I asked her the other day just how many such incidents have occurred since the infamous shootings at Columbine High School back in 1999.  According to her research, there have been 202 school shootings in the US since Columbine, or an average of 11 shootings per year over the past 18 years at all levels of education.  Not all are mass shootings, and not all involve fatalities, but even so, the numbers are staggering—164 students killed, 44 educators & school employees, and at least 3 security/police personnel.  Besides Columbine, the most infamous such shooting occurred in Newtown CT, my former hometown (I graduated Newtown High School in 1976)—20 students and six school personnel were cold-heartedly murdered.  Thankfully, NH has thus far escaped this phenomenon and I hope that will always be the case, but it is best to be prepared for the worst. 

As a negotiator, I have helped negotiate a dozen school personnel contracts.  In reviewing them, I find that all include small life insurance policies for the personnel, ranging from $7500 to $30,000, paid for by the Districts.  In a few cases, there are also provisions for death benefits in the form of small cash buyouts of unused sick days.  None of these benefits, however, come close to the $100,000 benefit proposed here and none of these current benefits would even remotely compensate for the anguish and loss suffered by a family when a school employee is killed in the line of duty. 

In my work as a negotiator, I often work with school secretaries.  These are the personnel on the front-line of school security, authorizing or denying entry to individuals seeking to enter schools. Their work is often highly-demanding, pulling them in multiple directions at the same time, but the one area about which they always express deep concern is their ability to maintain school security.  Like the secretaries, para-professionals, food-service workers, and teachers all tell me over and over that their greatest concern is the safety and security of the children for whom they take responsibility.  They wish there was no need for school safety provisions, but they know the world in which they live and work, and they welcome the trainings and drills on how to handle life-or-death school emergencies. 

As we know, NH Statutes currently authorize a death benefit of $100,000 for families of police officers and firefighters killed in the performance of their duties.  That is a good thing, and I am proud to have helped pass that legislation.  Today, we consider establishing a similar death benefit for the families of school employees killed in the line of duty, and on behalf of AFT-NH I am here to voice our support for this proposed statutory addition.Allow me to close with the following thought.  We entrust our children to teachers, para-educators, and all the professionals who work in our public schools.  Those school personnel take that charge very seriously, and are ready for whatever emergencies arise. I hope there is never a school shooting incident in NH, but if there is, I am quite certain that school personnel will do all they can to preserve the lives and protect the safety of the children in their charge.  Because of the trust and the heavy burden we place upon these secretaries, teachers, para-educators, and all others, providing a $100,000 death benefit to their families in the event of death in the line of duty is right.  It can never make up for a family’s loss, but it can provide some aid and assistance and is tangible evidence of the public’s recognition and regard for the heavy responsibilities we place on those in our public schools.  Let us do the right thing, and pass HB1415 to the House floor with a recommendation of OTP.