By Alex Malm
The Londonderry School District has had trouble filling special education assistant positions which is why the School Board recently asked the District Administration to explore options to help recruit new applicants and to retain the ones they have.
In a memo to the School Board it was pointed out by Londonderry School District Human Resources Manager Heather Meninger that during the pandemic it has been particularly difficult to fill vacancies.
“This year has been especially difficult with COVID, retirements, and general staffing shortages that have impacted every industry; the retail and service industries have increased their starting pay to $15-$20 per hour for entry level positions,” she wrote in the memo. ” As a comparison, our compensation rate for these positions is $13.11-$13.34 per hour. “
Londonderry Business Manager Peter Curro said that he along with other staff members and the School District’s legal counsel looked at different possible options but determined the only one they could go with immediately to increase pay for employees is by changing the pay grade.
“Our issues stem from the current labor shortages but continue to be impacted by the lack of compensation we provide when compared to nearby districts. An immediate increase in pay is warranted to remain competitive and retain staff,” Meninger said in the memo. “We’re able to accomplish this by increasing the special education assistants from grade 3 to a grade 4. This would increase their pay an average of $2 per hour, thereby allowing us to hire at $14.99-$15.13 per hour.”
Curro told the School Board that they would only be able to take an up or down vote on the proposal otherwise it would be considered negotiating. He said that if they didn’t like the proposal they could consider reopening the contract but didn’t think that was the best choice.
“This in our opinion is the option to address the issue now and hopefully moving forward,” Curro said.
As part of the presentation Meninger also told the Board what the maximum amount it would cost the District if they decide to increase the pay.
Meninger said the maximum amount for this year would be $290,786.29 if they filled all of their vacancies by Nov. 1 which she said wouldn’t likely be the case.
She said that estimated increase for next year would be $370,801.31 if they are able to fill all the vacancies.
One question during the meeting came from Heather Burke during the public comment portion of the discussion. She asked if they do exit interviews with each person who chooses to leave the district.
It was explained by Meninger that they try to but sometimes people aren’t willing to come in after to take part in one.
School Board Vice Chair Sara Loughlin said that she thinks it’s important for the District to limit the amount of turnover they have because of the connections they make with the students.
“I want to say I see first hand what it means to have a dedicated and committed support staff in the schools everyday,” she said. “I see students who have one on one paras everyday and the connections they make with those paras are sometimes more than they make with the actual teachers.”
One of the final questions asked was the approximate amount it costs the school district to send a student to a different district because they don’t have the services that a particular student needs.
It was explained that the approximate cost ranges from $70,000 to $120,000 plus the cost of transportation.
The School Board ultimately approved the proposed increases with a vote of 5-0.