AFT-NH Legislative Bulletin, 2018-12

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March 16, 2018 - Bow, NH

What a crazy week!  The snowstorm on Tuesday really tossed a monkey-wrench into our established schedule for town meetings and voting, illustrating like last year the need for greater flexibility in adjusting voting/meeting dates when there is seriously inclement weather.  One might also make a valid case that having had this problem two years in a row offers pretty good reason why NH should consider advance voting or opening up the use of absentee ballots.  But so long as our current Secretary of State, Bill Gardiner, remains in office, no such changes will be forthcoming. 

Contract Success for AFT-NH Locals!  Despite the weather, this was a good week for AFT-NH and many of our locals, since this is the moment when new contracts go before voters for ratification.  In Hudson, both School Secretaries and PSRPs (para-educators, food service) won new four-year contracts that are fair to both employees and to taxpayers.  In Campton, our local representing para-educators also won a new four-year contract, while in the Oyster River School District , the Oyster River Paraeducators and Support Staff received approval of a three-year contract along with the Ellis School Support Staff in Fremont achieving a three-year contract.  At a rescheduled town meeting, the Hillsborough Town Employees also received voter support with a new three-year contract. And also a hearty AFT-NH congratulations to the teachers of the Nashua Teachers’ Union on the unanimous approval of their contract! The process of negotiating contracts is long and arduous, but in the end, it is possible to come away with agreements that both employees and the taxpayers can accept.  We thank all the voters in these towns and districts that voted to ratify these contracts.  Be assured we will continue working hard to educate and care for your children, providing quality public service, upholding the high standards of the American Federation of Teachers AND the high standards of public education and public service here in New Hampshire. 

SB 193   New Hampshire is blessed to have a public education system that ranks as one of the highest in the nation by multiple measures of assessment and accomplishment.  Odd then that some in the legislature continue to strive to dismantle what works.  The long saga of SB 193, the so-called voucher bill, continues to unwind, with no immediate end in sight.  SB 193 would take public funds intended for public education and instead give the money to those who choose private schools or home-schooling.  The result would be higher taxes, as local districts could well lose at least $100 million in revenue over the next dozen years.  Of course, there is another option when public funds disappear down the rabbit-hole of private schools—we can just cut public school programming, whether it be curricular, extra-curricular or even athletics.  These are the sacrifices we will be asked to make to subsidize those who freely choose to place their students in private and religious schools or to home-school.  Their mantra, of course, is choice, but that already exists.  Public schools utilized numerous approaches to education, and there are also public charter schools (though I am not a thorough fan of that option, given that such schools can be staffed by many uncertified and inexperienced teachers).  Still, choice exists, and if parents opt to go the route of home-schooling or private/religious schools, why should they be subsidized and given what is essentially a tax refund on their school property tax obligations?

More SB 193 and House Finance   Apparently these issues and others continue to bedevil the proponents of SB 193, which still sits in the House Finance Committee.  Just in the past week, three different amendments rewriting the entire bill have been brought forward, meaning there are now potentially four different versions of this legislation to consider.  Who is eligible?  What will the State pay to districts?  What about special education needs?  Is this even constitutional?  These questions and more are causing all sorts of problems for proponents of this legislation, as they attempt to evade the reality of higher taxes at either the State level or local district level (heard of downshifting?).  Votes were scheduled for Wednesday, March 14 in the Finance Committee but hearings were cut short with the announcement that any votes would now be postponed until April 4.  As a Senate bill that has already crossed over to the House, there is certainly time for more work, but it is also becoming clearer that this is simply bad legislation, as proponents work to funnel subsidies to a few, while raising taxes for the many, and in the process, weakening public education in NH, one of the strongest education systems in the United States.  As always, stay tuned.

House Action from March 15th   House session on Thursday, March 15 was relatively quiet, at least in terms of bills of concern to AFT-NH.   By a very narrow and nearly party-line vote, the House rejected HB 1405, which would have extended FMLA to part-time school employees. Given that such leave is unpaid, there would be no cost to districts, but the majority deemed this unwise and defeated the proposal.

Another party-line vote defeated requiring background checks and non-discrimination on the part of private schools receiving public funds. Keep this one in mind when SB 193 finally comes forward!  By a similar vote, the House passed HB 1686, providing tax credits against the interest and dividends tax for individuals donating to the Education Scholarship fund benefiting students attending private or religious schools. By this neat trick, the State will add more support to private schools, while benefiting wealthier citizens who tend to fall under this tax AND who can also claim the contribution against their Federal income taxes. Money for the few, but not a penny more for public schools!

Finally, a revision to the retirement system to better align reductions in pensions to the age at which one is eligible for full Social Security (moving the reduction from 65 to 67) was tabled by the House. Essentially killing HB 1757, the House chose to continue reducing payments to retirees at age 64 even if it is two years short of full Social Security. Please be sure to view the update on all retirement system bills at NHRSC Legislative Recap.  On a happier yet somber note, HB 1415, providing a death benefit for school employees killed in the line of duty has come out of the Finance Committee with a unanimous recommendation for passage.  As debate escalates regarding school violence and school safety, this may be NH's sole legislative act on these troubling issues. It is a start.

In Solidarity,

Douglas Ley

AFT-NH, President

603 831 3661 (cell)

603 223 0747 

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