The issues presented at the School District Deliberative are a reflection of what is happening in the District. The overcrowding of Golden Brook, Center School and the Middle School has been at the forefront of School Board and Administration discussions for several years. They are recommending Warrant Articles 2 and 3 to begin to solve Windham's capacity problems.
The Board also recommended an Operating Budget that has been available since November. During Deliberative, an amendment was proposed and approved that added over half a million dollars to the Budget. My understanding is that the intent of the amendment is to fund step pay increases that teachers hired within the last twelve years believed they would get under the former evergreen law.
The evergreen law required that employers continue to honor contracts for public employees even after those contracts expired, effectively assuring teachers and other public employees they would receive step increases based on years of experience, instead of having wages frozen until a new contract is approved.
The evergreen law went into effect in 2008 and was repealed in 2011. Only contracts that contain specific evergreen language negotiated by unions and employers are subject to evergreen provisions. For all other contracts, whether they were signed while the evergreen law was in place or after it was repealed, public employees will not see automatic salary step increases once the contracts expire.
Windham School District is entering its second year without a teacher contract. There was no evergreen clause in its expired contract. Therefore, the District is not required to honor step increases that teachers may have anticipated while the law was in place. Teachers hired within the last twelve years – including all new teachers hired at the High School – have not and will not receive anticipated step increases until a new contract is negotiated and only then if the contract contains language to reinstate these steps.
The majority of Windham residents present at the Deliberative decided to circumvent the lack of a contract and approved a budget increase of over $560,000, allowing the School District to award back step pay should an agreement be reached before 2013. Such an agreement and expenditure will need to be approved by the town through a Special Meeting.
I only recently became aware that we were entering our second year without a teacher contract. The reason I decided to support the amendment is that I believe voters have the right to approve or reject a contract. Waiting another year will increase our risk of losing good teachers in whom we have already invested District resources. The voters of Windham have sent a message to the School Board and to the teachers that we trust every effort will be made to reach an agreement. We can show ourfinal vote of confidence by voting YES on Warrant Article 6 on Tuesday, March 12, 2012.