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Hanover, Dresden Agree on Proposed Teacher Contract

The Hanover and Dresden school board members and teachers have agreed on a three-year contract that they hope residents will approve at next year’s annual meeting.

The new contracts, which are the same for both Dresden and Hanover teachers, were unanimously approved Monday by both boards. Teachers have been working without a contract since the last one expired at the end of 2010-11 school year, and voters at last year’s annual School Meeting rejected proposed contracts.

“Nobody, neither the school board nor administration, likes it when it fails, so both parties felt it was necessary to have a lower cost contract,” said Robin Carpenter, chairman of the Hanover School Board.

Last year’s rejected three-year proposal would have given teachers raises of 2.6 percent, 2 percent and 2.35 percent, respectively, for the three years.

The new proposal would offer a 2 percent increase to teachers each year of the contract, a total savings of about $250,000, said John Aubin, assistant superintendent for business.

Because the last contract expired, teachers at Hanover High School, Richmond Middle School and Bernice A. Ray Elementary School have worked without pay increases this year and last. The average Dresden teacher’s salary is about $73,000, which is about $20,000 more than the state average for teacher pay, according to the New Hampshire Department of Education.

While raises are lower, several details from last year’s proposal were included in the latest iteration, such as reducing the districts’ retirement fund match from 4 percent to 3 percent for the life of the contract. Early retirement eligibility will be moved from 15 years to 20 years, which will save the district about $100,000 a year, Aubin said.

The contract also would decrease staff development by $10,000 a year, cut enrichment grants in half and eliminate $25,000 set aside to reimburse teachers for alternative track activities .

Liz Murray, president of the Hanover Education Association, said the decrease in funding for staff development and grants shouldn’t affect the quality of education. Teachers already pay for many seminars and workshops out of pocket, and she expects they will continue to do so.

Murray said teachers compromised to reach an agreement, including lowering the districts’ match for retirement contribution. She said there was an awareness the districts had to make cuts if they wanted voter approval.

For example, the expired contract said, “All tenured employees on continuing contract are granted sick leave for 90 consecutive calendar days with zero unused days carried forward into subsequent years.” After 90 consecutive days of absence, a teacher would be placed on a disability plan, Aubin said. That contract goes on to say that “disability resulting in pregnancy” can be used as sick leave, and the superintendent can ask for medical evidence after three consecutive sick days.

The proposed contract allows teachers to take off only 60 consecutive days before they are placed on the disability plan.

Murray said she’s hopeful the contract will pass at Town Meeting and said the Hanover Education Association has a public relations committee that she hopes can educate voters before they come to the polls. The Dresden School Board will also give a short presentation on the contract at its next meeting on Monday.

“Two years without a contract does have an effect,” Superintendent Frank Bass said. “It weighs on the enthusiasm and sense of commitment.”

Last year the Dresden contract failed 1,313 to 978 votes, and the Hanover contract failed 775 votes to 586 votes.

While many residents expect high-quality schools, many worry that the district faces an unsustainable level of spending, said James Dwinell, chairman of the Dresden Finance Committee.

The split within the community is echoed within the Dresden Finance Committee, which voted 5 to 3 against recommending last year’s proposed teacher contract. The committee often refers to the “Dresden premium,” a reference to the town’s higher than average teacher salaries.

“It’s hard to vote against the teachers. It’s hard to vote against the school, but we also have a responsibility to the tax payers,” Dwinell said.

Carey Callaghan, chairman of the Dresden School Board, said he listened to voters who said that last year’s proposed contract was too expensive, but he said there’s also a mandate from residents that they want excellent schools.

“It’s true, Hanover teachers are paid more on average,” Callaghan said. “But as a board member, my perception of what the public wants, they certainly don’t want average schools. And while it would be nice to deliver excellent schools at an average cost, it’s totally unrealistic.”

Aubin said the board would love to see the contract pass so it can focus on other education issues. The boards and the Hanover Education Association has spent hundreds of hours during the past three years working on the contract.

“We occasionally have fun doing it,” Aubin said, “but it gets old after two or three years.”

“The thrill is gone,” Carpenter added jokingly.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.