Teacher contracts hit an impasse

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 6:40PM

ConVal teacher negotiations reached an impasse after nearly a year of failed negotiations have been passed back and forth between the school board and an association that represents teachers and professional staff.

The ConVal school board unanimously voted to strike down a third party fact-finders report during a school board meeting on Tuesday night. The ConVal Education Association, the group that represents the district’s teachers and professional staff, voted to accept the report. 

The administration currently gives out raises based on performance, although the CVEA wants to return to a traditional salary schedule.

The two parties made several attempts to reach an agreement although the efforts fell short. ConVal Education Association co-chair Lori Groleau said the parties were forced to hire a fact-finder, a process that cost $12,433. She said that cost is split evenly between the association and the district.

“There is not much middle ground here on these very important issues,” the fact finder’s report reads, which was written by Allan S. McCausland. “... It is only through mutual collaboration that you will be able to get by these issues without doing substantial damage to employee morale and the education mission of the district.”

The report recommends that teachers receive a minimum salary increase of 2 percent, and would be subject to an increase based on their performance evaluation from the previous year. Paraprofessionals would receive a 3 percent on top of their hourly wage and special services would receive a minimum of a 2 percent increase, and would both be eligible to receive a performance raise. 

School board Chair Myron Steere said the fact finder’s recommendations would cost the district about $1.7 million to absorb. 

“We couldn’t in good conscience put that on the budget,” Steere said as a reason the board unanimously decided to deny the recommendations laid out in the fact finder’s report.

He said after the report came out, the board offered the association a counter-proposal, which would have included a $2,000 raise for each full-time salaried employee and a $1-per hour increase for each hourly employee. There were no changes to benefits. It would not have included a merit-based pay system. Steere said that offer would have cost the district about $640,000.

“We really appreciate all the work teachers do and we want to give them something,” Steere said about the counter-agreement.

In a press release, the CVEA said it refused the board’s counteroffer because “it would do little to resolve our issue with non-competitive salaries with other school districts and we may not be able to cut off the continued loss of highly qualified teachers to those districts.”

The release said about 30 teachers were lost at the end of the 2016 - 2017 school year.

In a response to the comment, Steere said teachers leave for a myriad of reasons, some which have to do with pay and many that don’t.

The CVEA states in its release that teachers at ConVal are the second-lowest paid in the region.

“Our goal was to get to a point where we were at or near a median or average compensation from a geographic perspective,” the release from the CVEA reads.

A document from the state’s Department of Education says the average teacher salary at ConVal is $51,489 while the state average is $57,522 in Fiscal Year 2017. And while that number is below the state average, the average teacher salary at ConVal is higher than Hinsdale School District, Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District and Mascenic Regional School District, according to the document. 

The same document reads that ConVal’s minimum teacher salary is the lowest of five schools in the region, coming in at $34,850 in 2017. The state average for its minimum teacher salary was $36,747. 

School board Vice Chair Rich Cahoon said during the negotiations process the board attempted to boost salaries for its new hires and specialty special service professionals (psychologist, therapists, nurses) in an attempt to move those individuals into a more competitive pay grade. He said it’s especially hard to keep SSP professionals in the district due to competitive wages they can find elsewhere.

Cahoon said the committee also emphasized the importance of education during the negotiation process by asking for things like an increase in the number of days new teachers work for professional development purposes. He said they also tried to work in a way to spread new hires and those with experience across the district evenly. 

Steere pointed to a recent example at Temple Elementary School where all the teachers in the building were new hires. He said the board would have liked to see one or two more experienced professionals transferred to the school.  

But Steere said those negotiations went nowhere. He called the entire process “frustrating.”

The CVEA said it too presented alternative offers to the board, one of which placed all existing teachers on a hiring matrix that offers wages on an experience and education schedule with cost-of-living adjustments built in, or a 2 percent increase, whichever is higher. The plan would eliminate merit and outstanding performance awards. It then proposed a step scheduled, which it said was refused by the board as well.

Because the two parties couldn’t come to an agreement, the decision will be left to taxpayers, who will decide its fate.

If they vote to pass the fact finders report, the district would have to shell over money, which could increase taxes. If voters strike down the fact finder’s report then teachers won’t receive any raise at all. 

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.