Vote down teachers contract

Until the Conway School Board and administration demonstrate that increasing teachers' salaries is their No. 1 priority, we suggest taxpayers turn down the proposed three-year teachers contract at the polls today.

Aughton, Capozzoli and Mosca for school board

It's the start of baseball season, so we'll use a sports metaphor and say for the three seats on the Conway School Board, voters are fortunate to have candidates that are quality starters and others who show potential, but for this season, it's better if they stay on the bench.

The Sun heartily endorses Bill Aughton, Michelle Capozzoli and Joe Mosca.

These three bring vastly different life experiences and perspectives, all of which will be valuable on a school board that historically acts more as cheerleader-and-follower than reformer-and-doer.

Aughton has five years' experience on the budget committee, but even that pales in comparison to the value he will bring from 50 years of teaching and managing educational programs.

Capozzoli is the academic of our chosen slate. But as an incumbent school board member — unlike many in education who are more interested in perpetuating the bureaucracy than improving it — she's proved to be an independent and progressive thinker.

As much as anyone, Mosca, as current chairman of the budget committee, has a handle on the nearly impossible-to-decipher school budget. He's a no-nonsense person, and from our observation would balance the needs of the school system with the ability of taxpayers to pay for them.

Candidates Courtney Smith, Jessica Whitelaw and Francine Young are either new to the area or have not served on local, elected boards. They appear very capable, as does fellow candidate and budget committee member Bill Masters, and we look forward to them running for seats in the future.

This year, however, we've got a strong starting line-up, and we encourage voters to support them Tuesday at the polls.

School board, not taxpayers, responsible for low teachers pay

When considering the three-year teachers contract and the school budget, ask yourself these questions:

Should the average Conway homeowner be expected to pay an additional $200 in property taxes to cover the increased spending proposed by the school board?

With Conway ranked 143rd in pay for starting teachers out of 159 N.H. school districts, who's responsible for letting the town slip to the same level as such small, poor, rural communities as Milan, Errol and Stewartstown?

The answer to the first question should be a resounding no.

At a recent budget meeting, a mother of school-aged children, Cheri Anderson Sullivan, said starting teachers in Hanover make $10,000 more than teachers at Kennett High. True enough, but what she didn't say is Conway taxpayers already put more of their income toward property taxes than Hanover taxpayers.

According to some key measures, Hanover — whose high school is ranked in the top 10 in the state by U.S. News & World Report — is at least twice as wealthy as Conway: The average price of a home in Hanover is $412,000; in Conway, it's $185,000. Average household income in Hanover is $94,000; in Conway, it's $46,000.

The tax rates are about the same, with the average Conway household paying about $3,250 in taxes, compared to $5,775 in Hanover.

Seems pretty equitable, given that Hanover's average income is twice that of Conway; though, as a percentage of income, Conway pays a little more, 7 percent to Hanover's 6 percent.

But more important are the households' discretionary dollars. Houses may be more expensive in Hanover, but essentials like food, fuel and electricity are actually cheaper. After taking into account taxes and the basics, a household in Hanover, with its much higher income, has more discretionary dollars left over than a typical Conway household.

That means an extra thousand or two in the bank, or not, will have a bigger effect on a household in Conway, with its average $46,000 income, than in Hanover, with its $94,000.

The point is that Conway households already are paying more than Hanover both in terms of dollars as a percentage of income and how tax increases impact their financial lives.

In a letter to the editor supporting the teachers contract, all the local Conway school principals cited research showing that "teachers matter more to student achievement more than any other aspect of schooling."

We couldn't agree more, and setting salaries to attract the best teachers should be the guiding principle governing the school board.

Conway and Laconia have similar service-based economies, meaning average households incomes are comparable. And school systems also are about the same. Both have about 1,850 students, the budgets of both are about $36 million, and so are teacher-to-student ratios.

Starting pay for Conway teachers is $31,900. In Laconia, it's $36,000. Average teacher pay in Conway is $42,000. In Laconia, it's $50,000.

The question for the Conway School Board is: How is it that Laconia, with the same budget serving the same number of students, can afford to spend so much more on teachers than Conway?

For that matter, how is it that a property-poor city, like Berlin — which also has about the same student-teacher ratio as Conway — also offers starting salaries of $36,000?

School board members say that once the three-year teachers contract is approved, they will turn their attention to controlling the budget. We don't believe it. The Sun has covered the school board for 25 years, and we can't think of a single example of any consequence where a school board or administration made saving money, even if only to reallocate it, a priority.

Here is food for thought: Millions could be saved by the district's simply getting competing quotes for health insurance — which, almost incomprehensibly, has never been done. In fact, one well-informed school board member said he didn't even realize schools could do that.

And of course, proposals to close an elementary school and create a sixth-through-eighth-grade middle school have been repeatedly considered, then summarily dismissed.

Paying teachers bottom-of-the-barrel salaries did not occur overnight. It was caused by generations of school boards and administrations failing to make teacher salaries a priority and not having the fiscal discipline, or desire, to set spending priorities.

Taxpayers in good faith give schools plenty of money, certainly enough to substantially raise teachers' pay if the budget were managed better.

Unless the school board makes higher salaries for teachers a top priority and is willing to find money within the existing budget to pay for them, we encourage voters not to give in to the constant drumbeat for more spending.

How to save a million (or two) on health insurance

There is legitimate discussion about spending on projects like renovating town buildings and giving teachers raises, and then there is just plain waste. What the school spends on health insurance falls into the latter category.