MANCHESTER, NH – School Superintendent Bolgen Vargas did his best to share with the Board of Aldermen the plan he is mapping out for the future of the district, one that is focused on achievement in a time of budgetary austerity.
For the most part, it was well received. There were questions about process, and practicalities. And, of course, cost.
Vargas came before the board on two fronts – to try and resolve the open and ongoing questions about cost-savings to the district by moving administrative offices to West High School and utilizing surplus space. That would result in a conservative estimate of $100,000 in savings, he said, by giving up the city-owned condo where offices are currently housed.
The second issue Vargas reviewed with the board was a recent draft proposal for redistricting presented that would reduce elementary school class sizes and move fifth-graders into a middle school setting. Vargas emphasized to aldermen, as he has to the Board of School Committee, that this is more than just “moving the lines” and shuffling students.
Although Aldermen Dan O’Neil and Joe Levasseur spoke against moving the district offices, the board otherwise came together for a unity vote, to signal their approval and get the project back on track after several months of delay over second-guessing the plan.
O’Neil felt it was a mistake not to invest more in MST to make it a comprehensive high school. Levasseur felt it was a mistake to move the offices to West and instead proposed a vision in which MST was moved to West, creating a multi-million dollar magnet tech school, and either selling MST or making it into a performing arts school.
“We shouldn’t be selling ourselves short,” Levasseur said. “Let’s retrofit [West] to something that’s going to make us some money.”
Alderman Tony Sapienza rejected Levasseur’s plan, which also included putting the brakes on everything and doing a cost-analysis for selling MST. Sapienza said he supported moving the offices to West and reducing surplus space, and suggested Levasseur run for school board if he wanted to work full time on his $25 million idea.
Vargas told the board that he will firm up his plan after drawing more public feedback from a series of upcoming redistricting meetings, the first of which is set for Feb. 21 from 6-7 p.m. at Middle School at Parkside.
O’Neil asked Vargas what his deadline was, and what would happen to his redistricting plan if he didn’t get the $1.5 million needed to execute phase 1, which would focus on West Side schools first.
Vargas said if he can get approval from the school board, he will begin working with school principals – who are already engaged – to make sure the necessary changes are calculated and ready for an action plan, which he would like to finalize by the second week in April.
“We need certainty here. If we’re considering this, then we either need to say yes, or no. From a budget perspective, when the board gives me the go ahead, I will give the go ahead to the principals. We don’t have to spend a dollar to prepare for a schedule where we have grades 5 through 8 together, and K through 4,” Vargas said. “If I don’t get the green light from the school board, then I won’t come back to you.”