MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) approved a plan submitted by New Hampshire Listens, concluding several weeks of discussion on whether contract the group for outreach purposes in the ongoing search for the Manchester School District’s next superintendent.
The amount came after the BOSC Special Committee on Superintendent Search recommended a plan to solicit feedback from community members, which in turn followed approval by the BOSC to provide the UNH-based group up to $10,000.
As application submissions for those seeking to be considered for the Manchester School District Superintendent position must be submitted by April 29, New Hampshire Listens agreed to a truncated version of the plan that was recommended, providing only four or five community stakeholder meetings instead of seven. With the reduced commitment from the group, the $10,000 ceiling was replaced with an amount of $7,952.02.
The item was taken off the BOSC’s consent agenda schedule by At-Large BOSC Member Peter Argeropoulos and Ward 6 BOSC Member Ken Tassey Jr., both of whom have opposed giving money to the group in the past.
Argeropoulos and Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer told the board that they have received feedback from constituents opposing giving any money to the group, with Hamer adding concern over a potential conflict of interest for Manchester School District Chief Equity Officer Tina Philibotte, who has spoken positively of the group at previous meetings and also is a member of the group’s executive board.
In previous meetings, Manchester School District Attorney Kathryn Cox Pelletier said that Philibotte’s role with the group is that of a consultant on matters specifically outside of Manchester.
Hamer added that bringing in the group served as an unneeded distraction given the short timeframe to obtain community feedback, which he believes should be obtained by district staff suited to the task.
In contrast, Ward 7 BOSC Member Chris Potter and Ward 5 BOSC Member Jason Bonilla were incredulous that the debate whether New Hampshire Listens should be brought on board by the district was still going on. Potter once again praised the group and Bonilla saw the issue as tied to the district’s stated policy of increasing equity among students and families given New Hampshire Listens’ track record with soliciting feedback from underrepresented groups.
“I think it’s wild that we’re still arguing this. I’m seeing this pattern every time we’re going toward building equity,” said Bonilla. “We seem to hesitate and I don’t like seeing that as we unconsciously cause harm, especially toward those individuals who have historically not had a seat at the table.”
Ward 11 BOSC Member Nicole Leapley echoed Potter and Bonilla’s statements, stating that bringing in New Hampshire Listens is more cost-effective than a consultant group based outside of New Hampshire and that district staff is stretched too thin to do the job as well as New Hampshire Listens given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell and Ward 1 BOSC Member Julie Turner echoed Hamer and Argeropoulos in that they have received extensive feedback from constituents, but varied from Argeropoulos and Hamer in correcting misconceptions about New Hampshire Listens and the BOSC’s efforts so far.
O’Connell also reported that one key concern among community members reaching out to him is that the process be kept as local as possible, something he believes is best served through New Hampshire Listens rather than a national consultant firm.
Ward 4 BOSC Member Leslie Want agreed with those supporting New Hampshire Listens before the item was voted upon.
No roll call was taken, the voice vote was not unanimous.
In the newly modified plan from New Hampshire Listens, located in the meeting’s agenda materials, specific dates for the community meetings to be hosted by New Hampshire Listens are scheduled for yet-to-be-determined dates in April.