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Substitute teacher criticizes low pay in Nashua schools

Union Leader Correspondent

January 18. 2013 10:50PM

NASHUA - Isabel Hennessy began substitute teaching because of her love for education. But when she received her first paycheck, she was dismayed at what she considered a measly compensation - $62 a day.

"When you're making $62 a day you're just a babysitter for the school system, really," said Hennessy, who raised three kids in Nashua schools.

Hennessy was so upset by the pay subs get in Nashua that she decided to make a cause of it. She brought it to the school board at last week's meeting, claiming subs haven't gotten a raise in 35 years.

"I went into the Department Labor and 35 years ago the minimum wage was $2.65," she said. "As a parent and a taxpayer, I remember how you guys said that to get good (teachers) we need to pay them, because they are professionals. I do think that substitute teachers are professionals as well."

Hennessy said the board members should all try subbing for a day to see what it's like.

At the meeting, superintendent Mark Conrad said as the district is looking at future budgets, they are considering raises for substitutes.

"The concerns have already come into play administratively," Conrad said.

He said that could mean increasing the per diem pay a small amount next year "with the idea of getting it up over the next few years."

Hennessy is an accountant by trade, and her main work is as a Spanish interpreter for Social Security recipients - she substitutes because she loves the work, teaching Spanish and other subjects at the city's high schools.

She works Tuesday through Friday as a substitute teacher and sometimes fills in for teachers on a longer-term basis.

Nashua isn't alone in paying bare-bones wages to its subs, but it seems to be at the bottom of the list. Hudson and Manchester subs make $70 a day, compared to $65 in Amherst, which is one of the most affluent districts in the state.

According to the district's human resources director Dana O'Gara, Nashua has around 500 substitute teachers and employs them 12,000 times a year, either for half or full days.

O'Gara estimated that the district spends $750,000 paying subs; a $1 raise would require the school to budget an addition $12,000 annually.

Only certified teachers who substitute are eligible to make anything over $62 a day, and that's because of state law. Certified teachers filling in on a long-term basis for permanent teachers earn the base wage for a teacher in Nashua, $213.50 for bachelor's level and $233.20 for master's.

Though she's not directly involved in the budget discussions, O'Gara said she hopes subs will get a raise in the years to come.

Asked how much subs should earn, Hennessy said wages in Nashua should at least be consistent with neighboring districts.

"Make it competitive," she said. "How can the towns that are around us afford it and we can't? They're towns, we're a city."

Hennessy said most people gripe about wages but no one does anything about it.

"I hear everybody complaining about the pay, and they have nobody who advocates for them because they might not want to lose their job as a substitute," she said. "People get scared thinking, if I go and speak out they might not want me to work there anymore."

She said the low wage puts Nashua schools at a disadvantage, causing the better subs to teach at districts that pay better.

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