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Mount Abe reins in staff salaries

BRISTOL — The Mount Abraham Union School Board on Tuesday night rejected the non-union support staff’s requests for across-the-board pay raises, instead striking a compromise that will largely spare the jobs of employees earning the smallest salaries while cutting raises entirely for more expensive senior staff.
Roughly 15 employees at the high school work in positions that make them ineligible to join the support staff union. Those employees will all see a hike in what they pay for their health insurance — from 4 percent of the total cost (the school pays the rest) to 10 percent. Senior employees will see no pay increases, mid-level employees will see a 2 percent pay raise, and the lowest tier will receive the 4 percent raise that support staff employees initially requested.
“We’ve got some great people who are making some good money, but we can’t afford that,” board chair Lanny Smith said.
The board approved the policy on Tuesday night. Though the board dialed back its initial recommendation to freeze pay levels for the entire group, Smith said the support staff is understandably disappointed with the board’s decision.
“Why would anyone want to give up what they’ve got?” he said. “But times are what they are, and we have to look at things realistically.”
Tuesday night’s decision followed a discussion at the board’s April 22 meeting when non-union support staff argued that cutting raises for their positions is unfair: Union staff members are guaranteed a 4-percent raise under a contract that will run an additional two years.
The Mount Abe board expressed distaste for breaking the parity between union and non-union contracts, but also pointed out that the non-union support staff is simply the first group of employees whose contracts are up for negotiation. Smith said that the board will try to cut salary increases for other employees when possible, and at this point the board isn’t offering any money in the ongoing negotiations with the high schools’ teachers.
Voters in the five towns that feed into Mount Abe approved a $13.2 million spending plan on Town Meeting Day that reflected a 1.72 percent decrease from 2009-2010 school year total spending, and matches the current school year’s educational spending dollar-for-dollar. Declining student enrollment means the level-funded budget still includes a roughly 6 percent increase in per-pupil spending.
The budget passed by voters included a line item calling for an increase in the support staff salaries, but Smith spoke with urgency about the need to begin controlling growth in the school budget immediately.
Smith said that reining in raises is going to be increasingly important, particularly if the Legislature asks schools to make 2-percent cuts in total spending next year — a recommendation Smith thinks is coming down the pike.
“Mount Abe has been very responsible with our budget, and because of that we’re going to be punished next year,” he said.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].

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