MANCHESTER, N.H. – Manchester voters head to the polls in just 12 days, but they may have a difficult time making a choice when it comes to the two at-large slots on the Board of School Committee or BOSC.
Three of the four BOSC candidates were in attendance at Manchester Public Library Auditorium on Thursday for the Manchester General Election Municipal Forum, hosted by Manchester Ink Link, Rights and Democracy NH, the New Hampshire Youth Movement and Progressive Manchester NH.
Moderated by Hippopress Reporter Travis Morin, candidates Gene Martin, Lara Quiroga and James O’Connell shared fairly similar views throughout the evening, particularly in regard for a need in a change of tone within the BOSC.
All three candidates criticized what they saw as endemic divisiveness on the current board, believing that it lay at the root of the school district’s problems. All three stated that they would seek a more collaborative approach if elected, particularly in regard to seeking a more constructive approach in collective bargaining negotiations with Manchester’s teachers and other public-school employees.
Martin in particular said he decided to run after watching a BOSC meeting and growing frustrated with the division.
“My biggest criticism with the current school board is they talk, fight, repeat,” he said.
All three voiced the need for a future BOSC to craft a unified vision for district, with Quiroga and O’Connell explicitly saying so and Martin advocating for annual board goals based on agreed board priorities.
There was also a shared opinion throughout the evening that the district should prioritize hiring more paraprofessional educators to help disabled children, pay educators more money to reduce the exodus of teachers leaving for nearby towns and make sure that parents and students from minority backgrounds feel like school administrators are listening to their needs.
O’Connell also added that more money needed to be added to the new depleted district reserve fund, also criticizing Governor Sununu for his veto of the state budget earlier this year that disrupted the district’s ability to plan for the future.
As one would expect given the similarities between the candidates, the tone at the forum was particularly cordial, with O’Connell praising his two opponents and Martin joking that he hoped all three candidates could be cloned with both the original candidates and the clones earning seats on the board.
The event also held questions for Alderman At-Large Candidate Katie Desrochers. After serving six years on the BOSC, Desrochers told the crowd that she felt it was time to move on.
Like the BOSC candidates, Desrochers believed that being willing to listen to all sides was one of the key things needed on the board. Desrochers said that the matter of homelessness may be a problem that cannot be solved by the city alone, but advocated for identifying needed resources to address the problem and tackling the issue of affordable housing and housing insecurity.
In response to questions from the audience, Desrochers opposed the proposed Granite Bridge pipeline project and said she would support a ban on Styrofoam. When asked if she thought the city should transition from an Aldermanic Board to a City Council form of government and hire a full-time City Manager, Desrochers said she did not have an opinion, but was not against investigating the topic.
Incumbent Alderman At-Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur was announced to be in attendance at the forum but could not attend, with Morin noting that Levasseur recently suffered a death in the family.