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Pembroke voters to consider new teachers contract

Union Leader Correspondent

February 19. 2014 7:41PM

For the second year in a row, Pembroke residents will be asked to approve a new contract for their school teachers.

This year, however, the length of the contract is three years, as opposed to the two-year deal rejected by voters at 2013 School District Meeting, and Pembroke Co-Superintendent Patty Sherman said the overall value of the current contract proposal is significantly more in favor of the taxpayers.

The 2013 contract presented a $423,675 increase in year one and a $476,227 bump in year two, a total allocation of $899,902.

The current proposal, which begins at the start of the 2014-2015 school year and runs through 2016-2017, offers annual increases of $394,099, $257,974 and $264,164, respectively. The total amount of tax dollars being asked of voters this time around is $916,237.

The first year provides teachers with a 4 percent raise, which Sherman said is only fair given the reality that they're working without a contract this year, which essentially translates into a salary freeze. The last two years of the contract each represent 2.5-percent raises.

Sherman said striking a deal took time and effort from both sides, but she praised the teachers' union for its willingness to compromise.

"We did end up going to mediation, but mediation was very successful and it produced an outcome that everyone was excited about," she said. "I think it's a good deal because the teachers heard the voters last year, and acknowledged those concerns, and they worked really hard to come back to the table and eventually accept a deal that was virtually the same for three years instead of two years. That was a huge concession on their part and I give them a lot of credit."

Likewise, Becky Butler, president of the Education Association of Pembroke, said she and fellow teachers are appreciative of the Pembroke School Board's good-faith efforts during negotiations.

"You know, we worked really hard with the school board to come to an agreement ... and we worked hard through mediation to come to some compromises, and what we gathered from the school board members is they very much want what's best for our teachers and what's best for the taxpayers, and were equally eager to come up with a fair compromise," said Butler.

One revision to the contract calls for students to take home "blizzard bags" with assignments they must complete during all snow days. Sherman said that teachers must be online and accessible to parents and students during weather-related school closures. An 80-percent participation is required of students during those days to prevent make-up days at the end of the school year.

"The teachers are taking a little bit of a chance here because if 80 percent of students don't complete their take-home assignments through the "HomeworkNow" website, it adds a day at the end of the school year that teachers wouldn't get paid," said Sherman.

Teachers will, however, be provided an additional paid half day at the end of the summer for classroom preparation.

Elementary teachers also requested an additional 15 minutes a day in instructional time, said Butler.

Another revision allows the district to lay off a teacher with seniority who is on an improvement plan over an educator with less years of service who is exceeding expectations.

The two sides agreed to form a committee to explore a higher deductible insurance plan due to what Sherman termed "skyrocketing insurance rates."

Both the Pembroke School Board and Budget Committee recommended the proposal. Voters will have their say on March 8.

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