LACONIA — What a difference a year and a new teacher contract make.
Last spring, Laconia School Superintendent Dr. Brendan Minnihan was concerned about losing experienced teachers amid budget cutbacks and compensation that wasn't keeping pace with neighboring districts.
Then, last summer, teachers got a 5-year contract that provided salary hikes and a sense of stability.
“Our sense is that the new contract helped quite a bit with retention,” Minnihan said Tuesday. “Last year at this time, you knew a lot of people were out looking for positions that would pay more. You're not hearing a lot of that this year.”
There was significant turnover last year from teachers who left for more money elsewhere, or to be nearer to families, or who simply retired. Thirty new teachers were hired. Such movement is not optimal.
“You need stability to build the school culture and to mentor other people,” Minnihan said. “For most people, it takes three to five years to become the best teacher you can be.”
Stability in the administrative ranks is also prized, but hasn't always been the case.
When David Bartlett quit as principal of Laconia High School last year, he became the sixth school administrator to resign from the district since 2015. Four went to Concord schools. Two went to Gilford.
Those municipalities do not have a property tax cap. This has allowed them to provide more school funding, better employee compensation and more budget certainty than Laconia, which is subject to a tax cap.
Terri Forsten resigned in 2015 as Laconia school superintendent to take the top job at the Concord School District.
Jim Corkum, an assistant principal at Laconia Middle School, left to become an assistant principal at Concord High School. Jim McCollum quit as Laconia High School principal to be principal at Rundlett Middle School in Concord. Bartlett became assistant principal at Rundlett.
Last month, McCollum announced his retirement, and a committee that included Forsten selected two finalists for the job, one of whom was Alison Bryant, the principal at Laconia Middle School. The Concord School Board on Monday gave the job to Paulette Fitzgerald, the principal at Claremont Middle School.
Forsten said the Concord district is in the top 10 for compensation levels in the state.
“That makes us highly competitive,” she said. “Teachers come and have a beginning salary in the 40s, and that's very compelling, along with strong health care benefits. They come and want to stay.”
She said compensation was not the reason she left Laconia. She is a longtime resident of Concord, and her son attends school there.
“When this came open, a lot of people said, 'It's time to go home and influence our community.'
“My career started here in Concord. I was in Laconia for 20 years and really liked working in Laconia.
“We always built a culture of community in our schools. The tax cap was challenging, and negotiations were challenging, but also there was a compelling collegiality between administrators and teachers and we were focused on all the right things.”
She said she has assiduously avoided seeking new employees from her old district.
“I very clearly have not recruited anybody,” she said. “That's been important to me, but people have certainly been interested in openings. They have put their hat in the ring.”
As Concord superintendent, she makes $146,727 annually, while Minnihan makes $140,000 as superintendent in Laconia, according to the state Education Department.
The average teacher salary in Concord was $71,952 during 2016-17, according to the last report available from the department. The average salary in Laconia was $49,555, while Gilford’s average was $58,038.
Under the current Laconia contract, pay for teachers ranges from $37,112 for a new teacher with a bachelor's degree to $74,950 for a teacher with a master's degree and 30 years of experience.