Pelham voters debate increasing teachers' pay
HUDSON - With many changes under way in the Pelham School District, those attending Wednesday night's school deliberative session had much to say when it came to a new contract for the town's 160 or so teachers.
Around 60 people attended the meeting.
Pelham Superintendent Amanda Lecaroz said school officials have been working hard in recent months to set the tone for the new Pelham School Administrative Unit No. 28. The district will separate from Windham in July. Highlights of next year's $27,491,453 operating budget and separate warrant articles include the opening of a new SAU office at Pelham Town Hall and new contracts for the district's teachers and support staff.
A collective bargaining agreement with the Pelham Education Association, the town's teacher's union, would cost zero dollars in the coming year but would increase the budget by $363,283 in the following year to reflect increases in salaries and benefits, school board vice chairman Deb Ryan said. Ryan, who spoke in favor of the new contract, said the district saw three longtime teachers leave for greener pastures over the past year in hopes of earning more competitive salaries.
"A well-constructed salary system rewards classroom experience," she said. "And the costs of teachers leaving are costs that cannot be ignored."
Susan Harden, vice president of the town's teacher's union, said seeing students succeed is the most important part of her job.
"We need to have a partnership, and we need to know the town has faith in us," Harden said. "We're giving our all and our best to the children of Pelham, and we're hoping to get support with this contract."
Resident Tom Gellar said while he understood the desire to match salaries with other districts, he asked whether an increase in salaries was the only way to address this issue.
"Is this the sole, most beneficial solution to this problem?" he asked the board.
"We'd love to match salaries, but we'd need four more contracts to do that," board member Rob Hardy said. "But if this warrant passes, we'll still just be almost competitive."
Resident Jim Bundock suggested having merit-based pay raises rather than step-based increases.
"Incentives for superior performance need to be rewarded, if you ask me," he said.
Resident Bill Scanzani said he doesn't support the new contract due to cost implications.
"After four years, the operating budget will be $2.2 million dollars higher than it is today, period," Scanzani said. "What you can't calculate is the costs of medical insurance (four years from now)."
Resident Mary Alice Cookinham said it's tough to put a price tag on true value of the district's teachers.
"Especially in the Pelham school district, we don't support our educators as much as we should," Cookinham said. "Let's put education and our students first."
Following a lengthy discussion, the warrant article was moved to the March ballot without amendment, as was a separate contract for the Pelham Education Support Personnel Association.
If passed, the contract with the support staff union would cost an additional $60,280 next year to reflect salary and benefits increases.
Voting on all school warrant items will take place at Pelham High School on Tuesday, March 12. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.