Mention of performance-based pay gets icy reception at school meeting

LACONIA — School Board member at-large Mike Persson broached the topic of teacher performance-based pay Tuesday night by suggesting the school create a "fund" to be used to try and keep excellent educators in the district by augmenting their salaries.

Persson's suggestion was triggered by the recent departure of a "much loved" high school guidance counselor who left Laconia for Inter-Lakes Regional School District for what Persson said was a higher salary.

"I was sad to see we lost her for what amounts to money," Persson said.

Performance pay and teacher contracts have long been a battle ground between teachers' unions and school administrators. While it has been a long time since the subject of performance pay was broached openly in Laconia, it nonetheless hit a nerve with other board members and retired teacher and former teachers' union president Richard Coggon, who was in the audience.

While Coggon, who attends almost every meeting of the school board, didn't speak directly to performance pay, he was critical of the School Board for freezing teacher pay for the past three years "in order to keep the City Council happy."

"This is what happens when people go three years without a raise," Coggon told the board.

Other school board members looked uneasy when Persson made his statement during the board member comment period, which happens at the end of the meeting. Performance pay was not on the agenda.

Persson is the newest member of the Laconia School Board, elected in November of last year.

"The only thing we can do is look at slots within the (confines) of the teacher's contract," said School Board Chair Joe Cormier, who has been negotiating union contracts as a member of the School Board for 11 years.

Laconia's collective bargaining agreement with its teachers' union — typical to the industry — currently allows for only two factors to be taken into consideration when determining salary: 1. the number of years a teachers has been working in the district, and 2. the number of credit hours of post-graduate education the teacher has earned, assuming a Bachelors degree as a given.

Cormier said the wage freeze implemented over the past few years was city-wide and was not specific to the schools.

"Leaving a school is the result of freezing salaries," Coggon continued. "You liked the idea to please the City Council."

Coggon also cautioned that if the School Board was going to head down the path suggested by Persson, the should check first with School District attorney Paul Fitzgerald before "they all end up in Concord."

Cormier fired back by saying the district went through the city-wide freeze with the agreement of all three unions that represent different groups of employees within the School District.

He said employee departures are an "inherent risk" in any school districts with close neighbors because somebody always pays at little better.

Persson said yesterday that his goal is not to cut teacher salaries but for the district to have the ability to reward extraordinary teachers.