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Kearsarge School District to Vote on Resource Officer, Merit-Based Pay

Australian ballot voting for the Kearsarge Regional School District will take place in each of the district towns on Tuesday, March 12.

New London e_SEmD Although the ballot is short this year, residents in the Kearsarge Regional School District have a lot to grapple with when they cast their votes March 12, including multiple options on budgets.

In addition to the budget for the school district — which includes the towns of New London, Springfield, Bradford, Newbury, Sutton, Warner and Wilmot — voters will decide whether to hire a school resource officer and approve contracts for teachers and paraeducators.

The biggest change in Kearsarge is in the third year of the teachers’ contract, where raises would go from a step system to a merit-based system. If it passes, Kearsarge would be one of the first school districts in the state to move to this kind of system.

Both the School Board and New London Budget Committee unanimously recommend the approval of both collective bargaining agreements.

Under the agreement, if approved by voters, teachers would receive an approximately 1.3 percent cost-of-living raise each year for the first two years of the contract.

The first year of the teachers contract would see the salaries and benefits line increase by $455,791 and then bump up in the 2014-15 school year by another $470,755. But in the third year, the total would increase by $542,000. Kearsarge Superintendent Jerome Frew said paying based on merit would cost more.

Under the current step system, which includes yearly salary increases as teachers gain experience and seniority, there is a cap on the amount a teacher’s salary can be raised. So after a time, teachers max out on step raises. Under a merit-based system, all teachers would be eligible for raises on top of cost of living raises. Frew said it may cost more, but he thinks that it will give teachers incentive to excel.

School Board Chairman Dan Wolf explained that principals and administrators and an outside firm will be responsible for evaluating teachers to determine raises under a merit-based system. The raises would be based on a prescribed set of standards, he said.

The average Kearsarge teacher this year earns $57,822, about $3,500 more than the statewide average teacher’s pay.

Voters will also be asked to approve a two-year contract for paraeducators that will raise their hourly pay from $11.50 per hour to $11.81 per hour. That means $72,159 would have to be approved for 2013-14 and $295,132 for 2014-15. Part of the increase in the second year of the contract is to account for the school district’s share of the health insurance contribution under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Voters will also have to decide whether they want a school resource officer. In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Richard Anderson, the New London representative on the Municipal Budget Committee amended the budget at January’s deliberative session to include $50,000 for the officer.

“The voters will have three options on the ballot,” Frew said. “If they are in favor of adding the $50,000 to the budget for the resource officer, that is Option C.”

The other options under Question 1 on the ballot are Option A, which is the School Board’s recommended operating budget of $37.3 million and Option B, which is the Municipal Budget Committee’s recommended operating budget of $37.27 without the $50,000 for the officer. If all proposed spending and contracts are approved, the overall budget would increase by about 2 percent.

The resource officer would be contracted through the Sutton Police Department and would spend most of his or her time at the middle and high schools, while providing programming to elementary students. The $50,000 would cover salary and benefits.

Though the school resource officer measure has failed at least three times in the past, Frew thinks it may have a shot this time.

“There hasn’t been a big campaign for it this time,” he said. “But I think there’s support for it. I think after what happened (in Newtown) that was the tipping point for a lot of people. “

Melanie Plenda can be reached at plendame@gmail.com.