MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester School District’s plans to reorganize Manchester’s schools are still happening, but now they’re just going to happen a little differently.
In an emergency meeting on Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) voted to appropriate $775,000 plus any needed architectural fees to add fifth grade classes to Southside Middle School by Sept. 2021.
The emergency meeting was called by several members of the board after the Board of Aldermen voted to oppose re-organizing a $2.2 million bond earlier this month that would allow Southside, Hillside and McLaughlin Middle Schools to follow in the footsteps of Parkside Middle School and become Grade 5-8 schools.
Other than feeling that the Board of Aldermen overstepped their authority in making that decision, and that the Grade 5-8 plan is an important initiative, there was little unity among members of the BOSC what the district’s next steps should be.
Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want, who was not present at the meeting due to a prior commitment scheduled in advance, asked Ward 9 BOSC Member and BOSC Vice Chair Arthur Beaudry to read a letter on her behalf asking the board not to use state funds allocated toward professional development earlier this month toward the Grade 5-8 plan.
Ward 1 BOSC Member Sarah Ambrogi echoed those sentiments, joining with Mayor Craig as well on concerns over the transparency of the meeting. For the Mayor, the concerns over transparency came from concerns from constituents that the meeting being held during school vacation with little notice during a snow storm just days before a newly elected BOSC begins its term.
For members that called the meeting, such as Ward 2 BOSC Member Kathleen Kelley Arnold and Ward 7 BOSC Member Ross Terrio, the looming turnover was one of the key reasons why immediate action was needed.
Arnold noted that with the significant turnover on the board, the loss of institutional knowledge would present a severe setback to the middle school adjustment efforts. Terrio echoed those sentiments, stating that other proposals to address the district’s overcrowding were shot down, adding that the board continually needed to start from scratch in efforts to improve schools due to constant small groups of upset people that don’t pay attention to the board’s public outreach efforts.
At-Large BOSC Member Rich Girard, who noted that he would have not attended the special meeting if not for a second special meeting regarding a potential agreement with the paraprofessional’s union, agreed with Terrio’s sentiment about not letting small groups disrupt the district’s overall strategy.
Girard also believed that the $1.4 million allocated for professional development came from an improper recommendation by Manchester School Department Superintendent John Goldhardt, stating that the money only should have been allocated after union negotiations.
Goldhardt’s preferred route to the Middle School adjustment plan was to postpone efforts for a year in the expectation of an additional several million dollars in funding coming from the state. However, he and his team also presented an option to the board if they wished to proceed immediately without the money denied by the Aldermen.
In that option of immediacy, money could be allocated from expendable trust fund money and allocated money for salaries of positions vacated and not yet refilled.
At-Large BOSC Member Pat Long advised against seeking money elsewhere in the board, warning that future Aldermanic boards would be stingier with monetary requests in the future if they believed the BOSC could find the money somewhere else in their budget on demand.
There was some discussion about beginning just the core renovation efforts for the eventual transition at all three schools, but Goldhardt advised focusing on just Southside first.
A motion by Girard to appropriate $1.43 million from the state money allocated toward professional development failed by a 3-8 vote. Girard and Terrio were joined by Ward 5 BOSC Member Lisa Freeman in support of the motion.
Ward 10 BOSC Member John Avard then moved to appropriate the utilized funds for refilling the vacated positions to focus just on Southside. That motion passed 8-3, with Girard joining Long and Ward 6 BOSC Member Dan Bergon in opposition.
Along with Want, Ward 3 BOSC Member Mary Ngwanda Georges, Ward 11 BOSC Member Katie Desrochers and Ward 12 BOSC Member Kelly Thomas were absent.