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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Average teachers pay shown up in city by 20% in 5 years

Nashua teachers on average are making 20 percent more this year than they did five years ago, when their current contract took effect.

The average teacher salary in Nashua this year is $57,268, according to a public data released by the state Department of Education. That is a 19.8 percent increase from 2006-07, when the average teacher salary was $47,818. Although the teachers contract wasn’t approved until the spring of 2008, it was retroactive to September of 2006. Teachers agreed to take no retroactive raise in the first year of the contract but got double step increases in 2008-09.

The contract, approved under the duress of a threatened teachers strike after city officials had shot down several other proposals, expires at the end of this school year, on Aug. 31. The Nashua Teachers Union declared an impasse in negotiations on a new deal in January, a week after Superintendent Mark Conrad proposed a budget that may, based on what is set aside for raises, keep teacher salaries flat next year.

The 20 percent increase in Nashua is compared to a 12.6 percent increase statewide over the same time period, from $46,797 to $52,706. Only two other local school districts – Milford and Brookline – have seen a higher rate of increase over that same time period. In both towns, teacher salaries have gone up roughly 22 percent. Among other local towns, Amherst teacher salaries increased by 7 percent; Hudson by 7.4 percent; Merrimack by 9.3 percent; and Litchfield by 13.4 percent.

In Manchester, the state’s largest school district, teacher salaries have increased 17.5 percent.

According to Nashua payroll data, 487 of the city’s teachers will earn $60,000 or more this year; 308 will earn $65,000 or more; and 18 will earn more than $70,000.

During budget deliberations, Superintendent Mark Conrad said the district has been forced to make cuts to staffing and programs because other costs, like the contracted salary increases, have been rising faster than the rate of inflation, which sets the city’s spending cap.

Still, Conrad said there is value to having a teacher salary that is competitive with surrounding towns. He said Nashua offers teachers a competitive salary with competitive benefits.

“That has an impact on our ability to hire quality teachers over time,” he said.

Nashua has the fifth highest average teacher salary among 13 local school districts, including Manchester. Only Amherst, Brookline, Milford and Souhegan school districts have higher average salaries.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, said figures in the contract have come out exactly as they were projected when it was proposed to the school board and city officials. The district’s overspending in recent years was due to administration’s faulty budgeting practices, not the contract, he said.

Sherman said the 20 percent figure hides the fact that many veteran teachers at the top of the scale didn’t see raises that high over the life of the contract. Teachers at the top of the sale with a master’s degree, for example, would have only seen a 13.6 percent increase over the five-year period, according to the contract.

The contract shortened the number of steps in the salary schedule, while also increasing the starting pay. A new teacher with a bachelor’s degree this year started out at $38,409. The state average minimum starting salary is $33,603.

Facing decisions over where to cut in the budget, the Board of Education asked the teachers union to renegotiate their contract for this school year, but the union declined. It cost the district $3 million to pay for teacher raises this year, a 5.6 percent increase.

This year’s budget included such cost-saving measures as closing the Phoenix Program for at-risk students, imposing a “pay to play” system for high school sports and limiting gifted and talented services to the elementary schools.

Sherman acknowledged the contract was agreed upon in a different economic climate. But when asked whether unions should have been expected to renegotiate when the recession hit, Sherman said no.

“When you’re already locked into an agreement, both parties are expected to go along with it,” he said.

Mayor Donnalee Lozeau has since said she regretted approving the contract, saying it was clear the costs were beyond what the School District could afford.

The average teacher salary does not take into account health care concessions made in the contract. Teacher contributions for HMO plans have gone from 5 to 10 percent; for those on a point-of-service plan, contributions have risen from 15 to 20 percent. Co-payments for office visits, emergency room visits and prescriptions doubled.

Principals have seen their salaries go up over the past few years, in part to account for a change in their working requirements. Some principal salaries went up as much as 10 percent from 2007-08 to 2008-09, but Conrad said that was to accommodate a change for principals being expected to work year-round, similar to central office administrators. Between 2008-09 and this year, principal salaries have gone up 2 percent.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.