MANCHESTER, N.H. – In an 8-6 vote, the Manchester Board of Aldermen refused a bond reallocation request related to the Manchester School District’s plan to move fifth grade classes from elementary schools into middle schools.
The fifth-grade shift, one of the key components of the district’s overall redistricting plan, was a topic of discussion in December when Manchester School District Superintendent John Goldhardt requested a $2.2 million bond reallocation from the Aldermen.
That request was rejected, and the outgoing Board of School Committee (BOSC) reallocated $750,000 from elsewhere in its budget to add Southside Middle School alongside Parkside Middle School as a Grade 5-8 school, with the city’s other two middle schools transitioning later.
A flood of educators voiced their concerns and support for the fifth-grade proposal in January, leading to the new BOSC hoping to bring the matter before the Aldermen again with a pared-down $1.8 million request to put fifth grade in the other three middle schools while using the allocated $750,000 for the Southside renovation toward some of the educators’ concerns, such as a lack of supplies and sorely needed reading programs.
Ward 8 Alderman Michael Porter led the charge for the new proposal, telling other Aldermen that Goldhardt and his staff had convinced him that the bond was the best move.
“In doing this bond, we are simply providing the financing mechanism for them to do what they are going to do anyways,” he said.
Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy echoed Porter’s sentiments, saying that the bond would allow an economy of scale that would save the city money, with Ward 7 Alderman and former BOSC member Ross Terrio telling his colleagues that many misconceptions they’ve heard about the proposal were inaccurate.
In contrast, the proposal drew criticism from two of its most significant opponents in the last round: Ward 5 Alderman Anthony Sapienza and At-Large Alderman Daniel O’Neil.
Sapienza felt that the district’s plans to shift teachers from undercrowded high schools and middle schools in the city into overcrowded elementary schools as part of the fifth-grade middle school transition would not help the city’s large elementary school class sizes. He added that eventually the district would need to come back for additional funding requests to add teachers to properly staff the now larger middle schools, something he could not support given the concerns reported by the teachers and the fact that it took 25 years for Central to obtain the funding for new band uniforms.
O’Neil echoed the sentiment of higher priorities for the district, also disputing Mayor Joyce Craig’s assertion that the shift would not result in smaller elementary school class sizes, which he says is the primary concern from parents he has talked to across the city.
With both redistricting and the ongoing school charter commission process, O’Neil said that greater parental outreach would be needed to garner public support, but At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur voiced skepticism of the plan on philosophical grounds.
Levasseur questioned why the vote for $750,000 was taken before the newly elected board could begin their term and also questioned the wisdom of the plan if it separated fifth graders from other middle school students as well as remodeling only one middle school at a time if cost savings could be found with all three even though the district did not have enough money to do all at once without bonding.
Porter, Terrio and Roy were joined by Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau, Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long and Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw in supporting the measure, which would have needed 10 votes to pass.
O’Neil, Levasseur and Sapienza were joined by Ward 1 Alderman Kevin Cavanaugh, Ward 2 Alderman Will Stewart, Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, Ward 11 Alderman Normand Gamache and Ward 12 Alderman Keith Hirschmann in opposition to the measure.