EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

February 8, 2012

Salem voters to debate contracts, school plans

SALEM — School officials are hopeful voters will approve five employee contracts in March, despite a history of rejecting such deals.

Residents can comment on the contracts and a $21.5 million plan to renovate three elementary schools at the district's deliberative session tomorrow night.

The annual meeting comes only days after residents attending the town's first deliberative session questioned the wisdom of offering multi-year contracts.

Voters are asked to approve three-year agreements for town employees, including police and firefighters, March 13. They also will vote on the school contracts, most for two years, that same day.

But this is the first year residents will be asked to approve funding for all three years of the town employee contracts.

It's called "Sanbornization" — after a controversial contract dispute in the Sanborn Regional School District.

Salem school officials started offering these contracts several years ago, hoping it would improve the chance of reaching agreements with unions.

Approving funding only one year at a time presented problems, Superintendent Michael Delahanty said.

"It's time consuming, costly and affects employee morale," he said.

Negotiating multi-year contracts helps retain employees and remain competitive with other school districts, according to Delahanty and School Board Chairman Peter Morgan.

About 10 to 12 teachers leave the district each year, Morgan said. It's been difficult to replace them since Salem teachers haven't received a raise since the 2008-2009 school year, he said.

"From our perspective, our real issue is our salary schedule is not really competitive with other schools in southeastern New Hampshire," Morgan said.

The two-year teachers contract proposes $877,760 in step increases for 2012-2013 and a 2 percent general wage increase, totaling $942,530, for 2013-2014.

Harold Sachs, president of the Salem Education Association, said the teachers union has made various concessions. The union sought a one-year deal, but agreed with the district's request for two years, he said.

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