On average, N.H. teachers get paid more in wealthy communities


Monitor staff

Published: 07-16-2017 10:55 PM

In New Hampshire, a school district will pay teachers, on average, anywhere from $34,800 to $78,498 a year. The difference in salaries is the result of several factors – tax-base, affluence, and a community’s general willingness to pay. But in poorer districts, the competition between schools means administrators are typically left at the end of the year scrambling to fill new vacancies and finding money to retrain new hires.

With an average salary last year of $41,459, Pittsfield loses a lot of teachers to Pembroke Academy, Chichester, Barnstead, even Deerfield. It’s in the bottom 10 in the state for average teacher pay in districts with more than 10 teachers.

“It doesn’t matter which way you go – they pay better,” said Michael Wolfe, Pittsfield school board chairman.

The district, with 56 teachers, lost nearly a quarter of its staff the year before last. Among those were some “unbelievable teachers,” Wolfe said.

“They feel bad. They don’t want to leave. But they can go one or two towns over and make 10-ish thousand more,” Wolfe said.

Desperate to improve turnover in a district already struggling with high poverty, the Pittsfield school board proposed longevity bonuses in the latest teachers contract. But voters – facing a $2.50 bump in the tax rate from the school budget alone – defeated the plan in March.

With $463,649 in tax-base per-pupil, Pittsfield has about half the taxing capacity than is average for the state. For Wolfe, that’s the main problem.

“The way New Hampshire funds its school is undoubtedly the biggest issue,” he said.

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Pittsfield wasn’t the only town to vote down a teachers contract. This year, voters in Henniker and Weare defeated a contract for teachers at John Stark Regional High School twice, in March and then June.

According to Marjorie Burke, the school board chairwoman in Weare, the town regularly defeats contracts, which has kept salaries low. The district’s average salary of $46,733 has created a retention problem.

“It’s not advantageous for students to have continual turnover for teachers,” Burke said. “There is that lack of consistency – that lack of cohesiveness among the staff.”

Costs of finding and re-training new staff aside, school officials say that the loss of consistency for students is the biggest – if intangible – loss for schools. Especially in higher-poverty districts where students are more likely to have instability in their lives, trusting relationships with adults at school can be important.

“Sometimes teachers and staff are one of the few constants,” said Laconia superintendent Brendan Minnihan. The district finally settled on a five-year contract last month after years without one as school and city officials struggled to reach a deal with teachers under the city’s tax-cap.

But, unsure a deal would be struck, several teachers accepted positions elsewhere for better pay. Among those were Tate Aldrich, 2017’s New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, the Laconia Daily Sun reported.

In general, the lowest salaries are found in the districts with the highest concentrations of poverty – while the best-paid teachers educate the most affluent communities. Statewide, the average teacher salary was $57,522 during the 2016-2017 school year.

The highest paying districts include Exeter, Rye, Durham and Hanover. All have average pay of $70,000 a year or more.

Concord, which is in the top 10 in the state for teacher pay, is an outlier. As the highest paying district in Merrimack County, its teachers made an average of $71,952 last year. That’s despite relatively high levels of poverty in the district – 37 percent of children were on free or reduced lunch this year – and a tax-base per-student slightly below the state average.

Like many districts who pay higher-than-average salaries despite high poverty rates, Concord is urban. Unlike in towns where voters get to approve or reject a teacher’s contract, Concord has a school board that negotiates and approves contracts.

Superintendent Terri Forsten thinks the district’s size and the community’s willingness to support competitive wages contribute to the higher pay.

Either way, the high wages mean teachers typically only leave the district because they’re retiring or moving out of state, according to Forsten. And when positions open up, applications are aplenty.

“You can really be quite picky as you’re hiring. You have a sense of – we’re offering a competitive salary. Benefits are strong,” Forsten said. “And therefore, as we are looking for teachers to join us, we want to make sure that we’re getting strong candidates.”