BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham School Board voted Monday to give ‘thank-you’ bonuses to retiring teachers.
On a 3-1 vote, the board adopted a suggestion by School Director Priscilla Lambert, who suggested that the teachers get $100 per year of service as a departing gift.
Only teachers with 20 years of experience in the school district would be eligible for the thank you gift, so that a teacher with 20 years would get a $2,000 bonus.
Lambert said it is a relatively modest gesture the school district could adopt to help say thank you for years of dedication.
School Director Jason Terry said he was uncomfortable with the bonus idea and voted against it. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” he said, saying he wanted to see “hard numbers” before a vote.
The vote only applies to teachers and not the para-educators, who are employees of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, not the Rockingham board.
Lambert, who herself is a retired special education teacher from Bellows Falls Union High School, said traditionally teachers there get a rocking chair — or a straight chair — as a retirement gift.
Superintendent of Schools Christopher Pratt said that he is only aware of two or three teachers — “tops” that would be eligible for the bonus this year. The bonus is slated to go into effect retroactively with the end of the 2021 school year.
The action came after the board failed to revisit an earlier decision denying a longtime teacher at Central Elementary School — Terry Obuchowski — the incentive payment teachers can get if they give the school district advance notice of their retirement.
That provision, which is included in the master contract with the Windham Northeast Education Association, stipulates that notice must be given by October. Obuchowski, who was watching Monday night’s meeting via Zoom, gave her notice in April that she planned on retiring and requested the incentive and asked for a waiver of the October requirement.
But in a decision made the following month, the board turned down Obuchowski’s request because of the timing.
According to statements Lambert made Monday night, Obuchowski has decided to return this coming school year, but only work part-time. She didn’t mention Obuchowski by name.
The board tackled another issue involving a newly-hired school nurse, Kat Goodell of Putney, who requested that her children be allowed to attend Rockingham schools.
Goodell’s husband owns a large business in Westminster, which is part of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union.
Goodell, who was also attending the meeting via Zoom, said she only accepted the job offer because she had been told that her children could attend Rockingham schools tuition-free.
But the school board members asked Goodell to ask Putney school officials if they would be willing to pay tuition for her children to attend school in Rockingham.
The local Rockingham tuition costs are over $19,000, according to business manager Flora Pagan.
School Director Megan Applegate said that offering free tuition to staff might be a great recruiting incentive. The schools currently have no policy covering the issue.
Lambert said when she was a child in Grafton she attended elementary school in Bellows Falls for six years because her mother was teacher at Central Elementary. Grafton paid her tuition, she said.
Chairman George Smith told the gathering that Monday night would be his last as a member of the Rockingham School Board and that he was stepping down, effective Monday.
Smith had earlier announced his intentions of leaving the board. He gave no reason for his decision.
Lambert told fellow board members that she had tried to talk Smith into staying, if not as chairman, as a member of the board, but that he said his mind was made up.
Other board member Megan Applegate and Jason Terry, along with Lambert, praised Smith’s work on behalf of the school district, particularly during the past 15 months as the schools coped with the coronavirus pandemic, which turned the school year topsy turvy.
Lambert was unanimously elected the new chairwoman of the Rockingham School Board, once Smith formally stepped down.