The Windham Taxpayers Coalition is a grass roots organization of Windham taxpayers that collectively volunteer hundreds of hours of their time in order to help Windham Voters make more informed decisions via our annual Voters Guide, which was delivered to Windham residents on Saturday, March 5th. We’re pleased to provide you with this information in a factual document that will assist you in casting a more informed vote that is based on your individual values.
The Windham Taxpayers Coalition
On Tuesday, March 8, 2016, please exercise your Right to vote at Windham High School between the hours of 7am and 8pm. There are several important decisions that will impact the town and district for years to come, including a construction project that is estimated to exceed $57M. Due to years of neglect, the buildings and crowding issues in the district have not been properly planned for or addressed. This year, the Windham School District has Warrant Article #2 on the ballot that will solve the district’s problems at a cost that is more than what we paid for the Windham High School: the WHS bond plus interest, minus state aid totaled over $55M. This time around, the bond plus interest is over $57M — and the state will not provide any building aid. It’s a difficult decision, and therefore, the WTC strongly requests that you do your own research and cast a vote that represents what you feel is best for you, your family and your community.
Please review this 2-page flier that shows the cost impacts to Windham Taxpayers and a list of pros/cons for approving the Warrant Article. Then please go to the polls on March 8th and vote!
The following letter was sent to the Windham School Board on Sept. 2, 2015.
To the Windham School Board:
In my letter last week I outlined the potential huge costs associated with the looming Obamacare Cadillac tax which will take effect in 2018. The school board has a responsibility to the taxpayers to mitigate the affects of that tax while at the same time offer contract terms which are acceptable to the Windham Education Association (WEA.)
Employers in the private sector are adjusting their healthcare and other benefits to avoid the Obamacare Cadillac tax. Latest statistics show that less than 3% of private employers anticipate having to pay the tax. Governments, including state, local and local school districts will be hit disproportionately due to their “Rolls Royce Bentley” health plans. The Windham School District pays 94% of the WEA health insurance premium costs, while the average private sector employers pay 72%. The district is clearly out of balance with current realities.
I believe it is time for the WSB and the WEA to rethink the way teachers are compensated. It makes no sense for the district to continue to offer the current “Bentley” health and dental plan and pay for ever increasing health insurance premiums, especially when those premium dollars would be subject to the 40% Obamacare tax.
Young professionals in general do not tap into their health insurance benefits; usually only utilizing an annual check up, dental cleanings and an occasional prescription. The starting salary for our teachers is about $37,000, and the current cost of a WEA single person health plan with other health benefits (dental, FSA, etc.) exceeds the Obamacare threshold of $10,200 (for single person coverage).
Many districts are encouraging teachers to choose a lower cost health plan by paying a higher percentage of low cost plans (as high as 85%-90%) and a lower percentage for the higher cost plans (typically 70-75%). Some other districts are paying teachers a higher stipend for not taking the health insurance plan.
My proposal would be to do both. Scale back the district’s current “Bentley” health insurance plan with a “simple sedan;” and pay higher stipends for not taking the WSD health plan. The money saved in health premiums and avoidance of the Obamacare tax could be shared between WEA employees and the district. Taxpayers could enjoy a more stable and predictable tax rate.
A young single teacher may willingly give up the Bentley health plan in order to get a higher initial salary enabling them to pay other expenses like car loans, student loans and housing. The teachers under age 27, may also choose to tap into their parents’ health plan in order to receive the stipend for not taking the health insurance. More teachers with significant others may chose their partner’s health plan and raise their take home pay by qualifying for the no health insurance stipend.
For the district, the combination of fewer employees on the health insurance plan and a lower overall cost health plan could help stabilize the tax rate and move more of the taxpayers’ dollars into the classroom where it belongs.
The following letter was sent to the Windham School Board on August 26, 2015.
To the Windham School Board,
In my letter last week, I mentioned the cost of Windham School District (WSD) health and dental insurance exceeds $25,000 for a family plan. I then estimated the district’s potential unfunded future liability to be ~$75,000,000 for WEA union retirees, based on a current union membership of ~200 WEA employees. After receivomg the actial numbers, my estimate need to be recalculated upwards.
The amount the WSD pays towards family medical and dental insurance is $23,321, after adjusting for the WEA employee contribution of 6%. The number of WEA employees also needs to be adjusted from ~200 to 235 employees. After recalculating, the WSD’s potential unfunded future liability is ~$82,000,000. Please keep in mind this amount does not include the 40% Obamacare Cadillac Tax, which will be applied to all healthcare related payments for current and retired employees beginning in 2018.
The 40% Cadillac tax will be applied to the aggregate paid (employer and employee contributions) towards any health care premiums, Flexible Savings Arrangements (currently up to $2,550), and deductible related reimbursements (i.e. RX reimbursements, health and wellness programs, etc.) that exceed a certain threshold amount. Those thresholds are currently set at $10,200 for a single plan, and $27,500 for a two-person or family plan. The actual threshold numbers for 2018 will be determined later – so they could go up or down.
SchoolCare (which provides Cigna Insurance) indicated in a recent article that everyone of its 53 NH School District clients would be subjected to the Cadillac tax. The small Pembroke school district estimated their Cadillac tax would be between $200,000 and $400,000. The Manchester school district estimates their tax will cost ~$3 million.
Using my 26 years of experience in the insurance benefits industry as a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), Registered Health Underwriter (RHU), and Registered Employee Benefits Consultant (REBC), it appears the Windham School District has already exceeded the Obamacare Cadillac tax limit for some of the current health plans and benefits offered. The potential cost of the Obamacare Cadillac tax to the WSD could be immense, putting another huge burden on the taxpayers while at the same time providing absolutely no additional benefit to the district’s employees.
Please keep the above in mind as you negotiate a contract with our teachers on the town’s behalf.
The following letter was sent to the Windham School Board on August 19, 2015.
To the Windham School Board,
In negotiating teacher contracts it is important to review each component and determine if wording can put significant long term obligations and strains on the district and its taxpayers. When you begin to negotiate with the WEA, I urge you to pay special attention to the benefits section. It contains many costly, unfunded options that obligates the Windham School District. Most concerning is Article XVI, B; a clause that requires the district to pay for health and dental insurance at an amount equal to the cost paid during the year of retirement. Those payments would continue until the teacher reaches medicare eligibility.
In addition, the contract does not provide for the cost of coverage to be reduced in the event the type of coverage changes after retirement (e.g. full family to couple or single). This means, if a current teacher retires and has full family coverage at the time of their retirement, the family premium amount is allocated to their account each year. This leaves open the potential for a retired teacher whose household decreases to choose a more expensive health plan, or have a higher percentage of his/her health premiums paid in future years.
To put this into perspective, the current cost of full family medical and dental insurance for the Windham School district exceeds $25,000 per year. Under Article XVI, B; if a teacher retires at age 50 (the first year of eligibility), the district would be obligated to an additional $375,000 for their continued health and dental insurance premiums (until they reach the current medicare age of 65). For our approximately 200 teachers, if all retired at age 50 with a full family insurance plan, the taxpayers would be obligated for up to ~$75,000,000 in payments beyond retirement. This amount could increase if the medicare age increases or Medicare eligibility requirements change.
One small change in the latest contract lowered the teacher retirement age from age 55 to age 50 – and increased our liabilities by nearly $25,000,000. This is unacceptable, especially since this benefit should never have been offered in the first place..
Providing paid health and dental insurance payments after retirement saddles Windham taxpayers with a huge, unconscionable liability, and provides absolutely no benefit to the education of our children in the schools. It is your obligation to negotiate a fair and equitable contract with our teachers. One that benefits all parties involved – without bankrupting the town.
The following letter was sent to the Windham School Board on August 12, 2015.
To the Windham School Board:
The school district’s contract with the teacher’s union will be expiring at the end of the 2015-16 school year. As a member of the school board you have a statutory and fiduciary duty to negotiate a contract that is in the best interests of the taxpayers while at the same time do your best to provide a fair compensation package to the employees.
I worked over 25 years in the insurance and benefits area and hold the REBC, RHU, CLU (Registered Employee Benefits Consultant, Registered Health Underwriter, and Chartered Life Underwriter) designations. In the last two decades, the richness and types of benefits in the private sector has changed dramatically. When I first started my career, employer paid pension plans, employee profit sharing plans and indemnity health plans with low deductibles that were 100% employer paid were the norm. Through the years pensions have been replaced with 401(k) Plans; profit sharing plans changed to stock options; and indemnity health plans were replaced with HMO’s and PPO’s. Employees are now expected to pay 30-50% of their health insurance premiums, and deductibles exceeding $6,000 for singles and $10,000 for families are becoming the norm.
The current teacher contract should be reviewed carefully to determine if certain benefits that may have been common in the past need to be updated to meet current circumstances. Windham took a small first step in its last contract, abandoning the practice of paying for 100% of its health insurance premiums. This year the district will pay 94%, and employees will pay 6% of health insurance premiums. In comparison, our town currently pays 75% and employees pay 25% of their health insurance premiums. There should more steps taken for school district employees to take on more of their fair share of the health insurance costs.
The contract should also be compared with the contracts of several other districts to determine if there are components or language that need to be adjusted. For example:
• Windham has a sick pay bank in which employees contribute 1 sick day to the bank each year, and can apply to use sick days in the case of a longer illness. In Windham participation is mandatory, while in other districts participation is voluntary. Several other districts have contract language that will provide full pay without charging sick days for any employee injured while at work. Windham’s contract does not appear to address this issue. It only seems reasonable someone should not have to use their sick days while recovering from a work related injury.
• The district reimburses teachers for higher education courses. Unlike other districts, the contract does not have a minimum passing grade requirement. There is in fact no contract language that states a teacher even has to pass the course. On the town side, our Firefighters are required to achieve a C grade before they are reimbursed.
• In the private sector automatic raises and raises of 3%, are a thing of the past. Several other school districts have reexamined its practice of automatic 3% step increases. At least one district instituted half steps (1 ½% raises), other districts no longer guarantee automatic yearly step increases.
The Windham taxpayers have experienced huge school tax increases the past decade. At some point there will be a tipping point in which taxpayers will find that the burden of high taxes outweighs the benefits of staying in Windham for its quality of life. In looking at real estate trends, I see that all sectors of Windham’s housing market have recovered from the last crash, except two bedroom homes. Assuming that a majority of those in two bedroom homes do not have children, I fear we are either very near or already at that tipping point. Once we reach that point, a tax death spiral will be created when childless residents sell their homes and are replaced with families with children, making the crowding and school tax situation worse. Higher taxes than other towns will ultimately result in lower home values. The School Board members who are negotiating this contract should recognize the precarious situation we are in. We simply cannot afford for the contract offer to the teachers union to be more than the taxpayers can bear.
The following letter was submitted by Eileen Mashimo, Candidate for the Windham School Board.
I became concerned while reviewing Windham School Board’s January 6, 2015 meeting packet on the proposed contract with Cenergistic (formerly Energy Education Inc “EEI”). The presentation touted “too good to be true” benefits, without ever providing any details on HOW the benefits would be achieved. A quick internet search also raised questions about this company’s business practices.
In May 2008 then “Energy Education Inc.” gave a presentation to the Fitchburg, MA School board. A newspaper article described a very enthusiastic reference from Londonderry, NH building operations manager Chuck Zappala. Later that year the MA Inspector General received a complaint from Fitchburg about EEI’s marketing practices and contract. The IG’s investigation led the office to release an 18 page special advisory to all MA school districts concerning EEI’s business practices.
Cenergistic,(ie.: EEI), hires numerous current and former Superintendents and other educational professionals around the country as “Marketing Consultants.” There have been many instances where educational professionals’ employment with Cenergistic was not disclosed to client school districts.
A Houston area school Superintendent retired after it was revealed she was being paid $500 for each meeting she arranged between EEI and other school districts. The Polk County, FL Asst. Superintendent was fired after he was found to have been paid by vendors,including “$70,000 in financial payments (from EEI) while doing business with Polk County.”
Londonderry’s Chuck Zappala, has been listed as a reference in Cenergistic (EEI) marketing materials for many years. In last week’s SB meeting, Business Administrator Adam Steel said the Londonderry reference told him “you should sign the contract as soon as you can… they are worth every penny.” (@20:50 of WSB 1/6/15 meeting).
Windham needs to ask Cenergistic who their local Marketing Consultants are, and if any of their references are compensated for their endorsements.
Londonderry signed on with then EEI in 2004. A 2005 Boston Globe article entitled “Prince of Darkness saves cash for district” chronicled the district energy manager Bob Lees making rounds in each of the school buildings to make sure “each window is shut and the lights and computers are turned off for the night…in the beginning, he (Lees) left notes for faculty members who left computers on or who forgot to shut their windows.”
There are many articles which tout the “Behavior Modification” used by Cenergistic including “denying teachers’ requests to have ‘less energy saving’ temperature settings in their classrooms,” keeping vestibule doors closed in winter, limiting the hours school buildings are open, and complete shut down of buildings in the summer.
Several districts have disputed the accuracy of the savings reports generated from the required EnergyCAP (previously owned by Enron) software program. One District disagreed with an EnergyCAP report boasting over $600,000 in savings. The district’s numbers showed they had paid Cenergistic almost $200,000 more than they had saved. Some school districts have terminated their contracts at a very steep price. Greece, NY paid EEI $310,800 for an early contract termination. Sacramento, CA School District paid a $700,000 settlement after being sued by EEI for $1.5 million. The disagreement began when Sacramento questioned the accuracy of the EnergyCAP savings reports. Other districts that disputed their energy savings found they could not afford to pay the steep early termination fees.
Did Energy Education Inc., have to change its name due to its bad reputation? Are the EnergyCAP software savings reports inaccurate? What happens if the district does not want to implement their suggestions? Are some of Cenergistic’s business practices unethical? Who do they have on their payroll? How steep are the termination fees? Is it the best use of Windham Taxpayer money to limit the use of our buildings, and employ a “Prince of Darkness” to write notes to remind people to turn off lights?
Windham Taxpayers have suffered tremendously this past decade as the school board, at the behest of the administration,has repeatedly made hasty decisions with no due diligence,ultimately costing the taxpayers millions. I would implore the school board to refrain from signing this contract. We simply cannot afford another “Portables” fiasco.
Eileen A. Mashimo