Teachers Get Bump in Pay In Lebanon

Deal Has 1.5 Percent Raises But Merit-Based Plan Delayed

Lebanon — After surprisingly smooth negotiations, the School Board on Wednesday approved a two-year teacher’s contract, although the most controversial aspect of the agreement remains in limbo.

“Most everyone felt it was a fair contract,” School Board Vice Chairman Jeff Peavey said yesterday of the Lebanon district’s agreement with the members of the teacher’s union. The contract authorizes 1.5 percent pay raises for teachers in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years. If voters approve the deal in March it will take effect July 1.

The estimated total cost of the pay raises is about $900,000 over two years. According to the state Department of Education, teachers in the Lebanon district receive an average salary of about $62,000, roughly $10,000 more than the state average.

The agreement delays a decision on one of the major sticking points in negotiations in recent years — a merit-based pay system that relies on teacher evaluations, proposed by district officials as an incentive to reward teacher performance.

Teachers argue that there is already a merit-based system in place.

“Let’s be honest, teachers are evaluated all the time,” said Andrew Gamble, a social studies teacher at Lebanon High School and member of the union’s negotiating team.

Gamble said that there is already a system in place by which teachers are reviewed, and if they receive a poor review, administrators may place the teacher on a one-year contract with an improvement plan. Last year, the teacher’s union suggested that administrators withhold pay raises from teachers who receive poor reviews as an alternative to the proposed merit-based pay system, but the district rejected that proposal.

Also in last year’s deal, a committee was set up to craft a potential merit-based pay system. Their proposal was supposed to be voted on last March, but the committee is still working on the first piece of the puzzle, the evaluations, according to Gamble and district superintendent Gail Paludi.

Paludi said that the committee, which comprises of herself, three administrators, three teachers who represent their union and a School Board member, have been working since the spring to come to an agreement on the evaluation component of a potential merit-based pay system.

The most recent agreement specifies that by Dec. 31, a consensus on the evaluation component should be in place, which would then be implemented in the second year of the contract, according to Gamble.

“Once we get that, we will then start discussing the — no pun intended — merits of merit pay,” he said.

Paludi, who joined the Lebanon School District in 2010, managed a merit pay system in the late 1990s when she worked as an administrator in the Beford, N.H. school district, but the system is no longer in place there.

One new addition to the contract is the innovation clause, which sets up a mechanism for teachers to implement new ideas that might conflict with language in their contract.

An example, Gamble said, would be creating a new schedule, an issue he said has come up in the past.

If teachers wanted to institute a block schedule, they might on certain days not have a prep period, which is required for each school day in the contract language.

With the innovation clause in place, teachers could bring the proposed schedule to the principal of the school.

If the principal and school’s teachers signed off on the idea, the proposed change would be brought to the union’s bargaining team. If the union approved the idea, the idea would finally work its way up to a School Board vote.

Gamble said the idea was first introduced in last year’s round of negotiations, and described its implementation as “very exciting.”

Both Paludi and Gamble praised the mediator in the process — a professional labor arbitrator from Londonderry, N.H. named Bonnie McSpiritt — and indicated that her efforts to streamline the negotiating process were quite successful this time around.

The mediator was unable to strike a deal in last year’s negotiations, which led to the recruitment of an independent “fact finder.” The negotiating process, in turn, ran late, which led to Lebanon teachers going without a contract in the 2011-2012 school year. Teachers, however, still received a 2.5 percent increase in pay that year, which was approved by city voters in March.

This year, negotiations started in September and were wrapped up before the holidays, which Gamble said was “a very positive sign.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.