MANCHESTER, N.H. – On Monday night, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) approved a pair of long discussed proposals that may potentially have a significant impact on the Manchester School District.
Following a presentation from Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. Jenn Gillis, the BOSC first approved a plan that would advance Gillis’ proposed “3-4-12” facilities policy.
The approval allows Gillis to draft requests for proposals (RFPs) on potential renovation and construction of schools in the district based on the premise of the city holding three public high schools, four public middle schools and 12 public elementary schools. This total would remove one high school and one elementary school, with Gillis stating that the total square footage of schools in the district would remain comparable to now.
Gillis stated the need for the 3-4-12 figure stemmed from the age of many of the district’s buildings inability to meet the needs of 21st century educational standards as well as a firm dislike from community members over a “super-facility” for the city’s public high school students as well as its kindergarten and preschool students.
BOSC Members were uniformly happy with Gillis’ attempt to present a proposal that addresses the district’s aging infrastructure and class size needs, with At-Large BOSC Member Jim O’Connell referring to it as the beginning of a 20 year process of renewal in the district. However, BOSC Members also urged a methodical approach, something Gillis agreed with.
“When we go fast, we make mistakes,” she said. “We are trying to follow a process.”
Gillis also added that community input will be solicited throughout the RFP process, which is estimated to take six to eight months, and beyond as district administration looks at programing needs, siting for new or merged schools, renovating or closing schools, conceptual designs, budgetary needs and scheduling timelines.
Ward 8 BOSC Member Peter Perich told Gillis that his constituents seek a continued separation between the general studies approach at Manchester Memorial High School and the vocational-focused approach at the nearby Manchester School of Technology rather than a combined campus. He also heard the importance of schools being within walking distance for students, something several other members referenced as well.
Some members also proposed a “2-4-12” approach, although those that did were happy with the 3-4-12 approach and Ward 10 BOSC Member Gary Hamer adamantly opposed 2-4-12, fearing it would adversely impact the west side.
In addition to input from community, staff and students, Gillis also said that the new facilities will also attempt to take in viewpoints that may not be heard in the construction of the facilities, such as young students just beginning school.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig said the process should focus on students rather than the facilities themselves, and expressed confidence in Gillis and her staff to continue progress on a plan that updates the district’s facilities to meet its needs.
With approval given, draft RFPs are expected to be presented at the next BOSC Finance and Facilities meeting.
Shortly after the 3-4-12 discussion, the BOSC passed a $15 an hour minimum wage for all employees working at least 30 hours a week. Unlike the 3-4-12 item, this topic passed immediately, although not without several meetings filled with supporters of the measure urging the move during public comment.
”I’m thrilled that the Board of School Committee unanimously supported a $15 minimum wage for both full-time and part-time Manchester School District employees tonight,” said Craig. “Every staff member working for our District contributes to our students’ education and deserves to make a living wage. Now, we’ll be able to attract more high-quality staff to support our kids and retain and motivate the hardworking employees already serving within our schools.”
“I want to thank the Board of School Committee for its unanimous support of these increases for our dedicated staff,” said Gillis. “First and foremost, these increases are the right thing to do for our people, the staff who work hard day-in and day-out in direct support of our students. This is an important step to help our district retain and recruit for critical positions, and I’m confident that our staff, students and entire community will see the benefits.”
The approved proposal also includes proportional increases based on employees’ labor classification, and will raise the wages of 372 district employees including, paraprofessionals, food services and 21st Century Program staff. The total fiscal impact of this change is $810,357.
The proposal is also expected to help current paraprofessional vacancies in the district, with Manchester School District Network Director Forrest Ransdell estimated at about 100 at the time of the meeting.