HAMPTON — Voters approved a four-year contract extension for SAU 21 teachers at Town Meeting Tuesday, as well each of the warrant articles that appeared on the Winnacunnet High School ballot.
The teacher's contract was two votes away from being rejected, as Seabrook voters passed the warrant article on their ballot with a vote of 536 to 534. The contract appeared on school district ballots in all of the SAU's towns, which are North Hampton, Seabrook, South Hampton, Hampton Falls, and needed approval in each district to pass. It also needed to gain approval on the Winnacunnet School District ballot.
John Croteau, president of the Seacoast Education Association which represents SAU 21 teachers, said the vote in Seabrook was concerning when he and other proponents of the article were tracking vote tallies at the polls in each of the SAU 21 towns. He believes Seabrook's results on other warrant articles indicated voters were concerned about spending overall and not necessarily trying to shoot down the teacher contract.
"That was a 'phew,'" said Croteau of the vote Wednesday. "The entire Seabrook ballot had a rough go at it, so it wasn't like they were targeting the schools."
The contracts bring a 2.75 percent pay increase each year of the contract extension. School officials have said consistent pay increases are important in retaining teachers who could seek better pay in other school districts. Croteau said the contract extension is a good step forward but that teachers in SAU 21 are still behind other districts due to contracts that failed three times in the last nine years.
"It doesn't put us at the top. It doesn't leave us at the bottom," said Croteau. "We were slipping behind. This does a good job of keeping us competitive with other districts."
Voters passed a total of seven articles on the Winnacunnet ballot Tuesday, including Winnacunnet High School's $27,208,859 operating budget. Articles in that school district required votes in the four Winnacunnet towns - Hampton, Hampton Falls, North Hampton and Seabrook - to cumulatively total a majority.
The WHS operating budget is a 3.66 percent increase from last year, only .58 percent of which is not due to contractual obligations or state and federal mandates, according to SAU 21 Business Administrator Matt Ferreira.
Increases included $251,069 more in SAU services, part of which includes costs for a new SAU-wide student services director position. Employee benefits also rose by $393,926 due to health insurance and an increased employee contribution to the state retirement system.
Other Winnacunnet articles that passed were for $244,151 for continued HVAC improvements at WHS, $192,200 to replace the high school's auditorium roof, $115,000 to resurface the WHS track and tennis courts and surplus money to go towards expendable trust funds to pay for unexpected special education and insurance costs. Voters approved $75,000 to go into the Health Care Expendable Trust Fund and $50,000 to go into the Special Education Expendable Trust.