McAuliffe steps down from Bellows Falls School Board

James "Jiggs" McAuliffe

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BELLOWS FALLS — Giving teachers a cash incentive to retire early no longer makes sense, said Rockingham School Board member James “Jiggs” McAuliffe.

McAuliffe told fellow Rockingham board members Monday night that the incentive should be dropped if at all possible. The school district has trouble attracting enough qualified teachers now, he said, and giving any teachers incentive to leave is only hurting the school district.

The board was discussing long-range budget matters Monday night, and Rockingham board Chairwoman Priscilla Lambert questioned her fellow board members about whether they wanted to level-fund the budget, cut it, or plan for an increase.

McAuliffe pointed out that the board had earlier in the year signed new labor contracts with both the teachers and the para-professionals, which would make an increase likely.

But as for the incentive, McAuliffe acknowledged that since it was part of the contract language, no change was in the offing.

“We’re stuck,” McAuliffe said, saying it was “ridiculous” that the incentive language was included in the new bargaining agreement. Previously, the agreement said the board “could offer” a retirement incentive.

The retirement incentive with specific language is now written into the collective bargaining agreement, which McAuliffe said was a mistake because it reduces the board’s flexibility.

The discussion started on the timing of when teachers needed to file a notice of retirement, so that the extra money could be included in the budget.

The current incentive is $7,500, while when the incentive was first adopted, it was $2,000.

Only teachers who are at least 50 years old and have 20 years experience in the district are eligible for the payout. And teachers must give relatively early notice during the school year that they plan on retiring at the end of that year.

That timing requirement has created some problems for the school district in the past, as a teacher decided past the deadline she wanted to retire and wanted the incentive nonetheless.

Rockingham School Director Christopher Kibbe, who is the retired Windham Northeast superintendent, said that he had required an “irrevocable” letter of retirement, which held the teacher to that decision.

But Lambert said teachers who change their minds could come and discuss their situation one-on-one with the board.

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Kibbe and McAuliffe said that defeated the intent of the early retirement notice.

Lambert said after the meeting that she wasn’t on the board when the incentive was increased from $2,000 to $7,500, but she said the reason behind the incentive was to allow the school district to plan ahead and start advertising early to fill those positions.

Currently, in order to receive the incentive, teachers must let the school district know by Oct. 1, she said. Previously, teachers had until November or December to notify the district.

And how do you interpret “district,” Superintendent Andrew Haas asked.

Is it just the Rockingham district, or does it include the entire Windham Northeast Supervisory Union? If it is just Rockingham, that would create plenty of accounting headaches, Haas said.

Teachers move around within the supervisory union, he said.

He said after the meeting that he had already been told by three teachers that they plan on retiring at the end of the school year. Last year, about six teachers took advantage of the $7,500 bonus. Only teachers are eligible for the incentive, he said.

The board was working with only three members Monday night, and Kibbe chided Lambert for not putting on the agenda the filling of one vacancy on the board.

Kibbe pointed out that the board members are all on the older side, and if one of them came down sick, the board couldn’t get any work done.

Member Megan Applegate resigned in August, but Lambert had hoped to get her to reconsider, which Kibbe said was a mistake since Applegate was very clear about her intentions in her letter of resignation.

Kibbe said the board had received one letter of interest from a well-qualified candidate, and he urged Lambert to let the board act on it.

Lambert said she couldn’t do that since she had publicly said the board would keep applications open until Oct. 17. Board member Bill Morse wasn’t present for the meeting.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.