Re: HB 348
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Municipal and County Government Committee members,
I am unable to testify on Zoom today but I wish to submit testimony to the entire committee and have this entered into the record of the proceedings.
HB348 arose from a need those of us at the School District Governance Association saw in our experience with collective bargaining at school districts. I would like to share with you my personal experience as just one example.
I was elected to my school district’s budget committee in 2012. After the school district budget approved the proposed budget for the next academic year and voted to put it to public hearing, the district announced they had reached a new teacher’s contract. This came as a surprise to me because in all the time we spent discussing the future budget not one person mentioned that there was a new teacher’s contract under negotiation. The benefit to the administration in keeping this unmentioned is obvious. Had some fiscally conservative members of the budget committee known there was a new contract coming forward, they may have made efforts to keep the budget increase smaller. I certainly would have because a budget increase in addition to a teacher’s contract increase can have significant impact on taxpayers.
The Right to Know law permits collective bargaining to take place in complete secrecy. School board and negotiating meetings are deemed “non-meetings” and so require no public notice, no posting and no minutes. This allows new and/or uninformed budget committee members who don’t know the expiration of the teacher’s contract to be taken by surprise, which is exactly what happened to me. Furthermore, the contract is kept completely secret until is has been ratified by both the school board and the union. This means that budget committees cannot know the terms in the agreement in order to budget with the knowledge of the increases. This is why it is important to require 30 day public posting of the contract before the public body ratifies it. Posting it 30 days before voting on it will also give the public an opportunity to study it before the budget goes to public hearing.
Three years later when I was then on the school board and the next teachers’ contract was before us, the board as a whole was asked, as was its habit, to ratify the contract without having seen it or being given an opportunity to read it. The board was expected to ratify based on what the board negotiating team told us were the material changes. I was the only person on my board who refused to vote without reading the contract. It was a good thing I did because I found a material difference between what the board had been told and what the contract actual read which required the contract to be corrected, saving our district money.
Although 30 days posting may not necessarily bring the contract into the budgeting cycle, it will more likely allow the contract to be known in time for the public hearing of the budget with time for changes then.
President, School District Governance Association of NH
Submitted for Jan. 28, 2021 hearing at 11:30 am.