MANCHESTER, NH – On Tuesday night, the Manchester Board of Aldermen voted to support a letter asking legislators to oppose Senate Bill 193.
The letter, drafted by Manchester School District superintendent Bolgen Vargas, was approved by the School Board a 10-3-1 vote last week.
No formal roll call was taken on the motion to support the letter after it was clear a majority of the Aldermen backed the School Board’s decision, although the voice vote was not unanimous.
However, those voicing opposition to the motion did not speak in favor of Senate Bill 193, instead urging patience.
Alderman John Cataldo told the board that he was not prepared to vote on the matter, which was discussed in the board’s general legislative update, while Alderman Barbara Shaw said that the legislation may soon be tabled or radically altered by the legislature, making the letter a moot point.
The most vocal opponent to the motion was Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, who supported the concept of school choice espoused by the bill, but was uncertain about the bill’s details and requested an expert provide clarity to the board before acting on the letter.
Levasseur also questioned whether drawing back students leaving the school district could counteract any negative impacts the legislation may have.
Supporters of the letter were less equivocal, seeing little grey area on legislation they believed would harm Manchester’s public schools.
“You either support SB 193 or you support the Manchester School System, (but) you can’t support both,” said Alderman Tony Sapienza. “It’s obvious.”
Mayor Joyce Craig, who spent much of the day in Concord Tuesday testifying against the bill, indicated it would take away approximately $400,000 in funding currently allocated for Manchester’s public schools if 35 students took advantage of it.
Supporters of the letter also indicated that the legislation could violate the state constitution’s prohibition on giving public funding to institutions of any particular religious denomination.
The bill is currently in the hands of the Finance Committee of New Hampshire House of Representatives after being transferred, following recommendation from the House’s Education Committee.
After amendments, the bill passed the State Senate last March, with Manchester senators Donna Soucy and Lou D’Allesandro voting against its passage.