By Lloyd Jones
CONWAY — It was a bittersweet night at the Conway School Board meeting Monday as 11 longtime district employees who will retire at the end of this month were recognized for their commitment to education. They were presented plaques and received a standing ovation.
The employees represented 224 years of service to the district. Just five were in attendance for the ceremony, which opened Monday night's board meeting.
Honored Monday were: Judy Williams, administrative assistant A. Crosby Kennett Middle School, 32 years in the district; Nelita Garland, a paraprofessional at John H. Fuller School, 31 years in the district; Jack Hadam, science teacher at Kennett High School, 31 years in the district; Janis Hamel, second grade teacher at Conway Elementary School, 26 years in the district; Nancy Manoogian, a special education teacher at Kennett High School, 20 years in the district; Christine Lydecker, a special education teacher at Pine Tree Elementary School, 19 years in the district; Theresa Sires, graphic arts teacher in the Mount Washington Valley Career and Technical Center at Kennett High School, 17 years in the district; Brenda Harris, resource room/English teacher at Kennett High School, 17 years in the district; Ronald St. Gelais, a custodian at John H. Fuller School, 12 years in the district; Joe Souza, building supervisor at Kennett High School, 10 years in the district; and Brenda Monahan, special education coordinator at Kennett High School, nine years in the district.
One by one, the retirees stepped forward to receive plaques from Board Chairman Joe Lentini and School Superintendent Kevin Richard, then shook hands with school board members Syndi White, Michelle Capozzoli, Jessica Whitelaw, Joe Mosca and Randy Davison.
The plaques read: "Upon your retirement, the Conway School Board presents this certificate and wishes to express its sincere thanks and gratitude for your years of dedicated service. Your wisdom and commitment to excellence have long inspired all of us and will be remembered for many years to come. We wish you very good health, happiness and continued success in your retirement."
Hadam and Sires requested and were granted early retirement by the school board.
The contract with the Conway Education Association teachers' union requires the board to accept three early retirement requests, though it can accept more if it chooses.
To qualify, teachers must be at the top of their tracks on salary schedule; have taught at least 20 years, with 10 in Conway; and submit requests prior to Nov. 15, according to Richard.
There is no mandatory age to retire in the district or state.
If approved for early retirement, retiring teachers age 55-58 receive 30 percent of their last salary for a five-year period, and teachers age 59-63 get 25 percent of their last salary annually until age 65.
From 2008-10, a large number of teachers — 23 — were granted early retirement. Then-Superintendent Carl Nelson said a prime reason for the volume of requests was "a concern over a health subsidy, which the state may be changing in the near future."
Retirement health insurance is also mentioned in the contract, which basically says retirees with 10 years in the system will receive health insurance for themselves (but not their spouses or families) equal to what active teachers get.
Employees hired after June 30, 2000, must have taught in the district at least 15 years to be eligible for the retirement benefits.