MANCHESTER, N.H. – There are four public middle schools in Manchester. One of them has fifth graders. One is in the process of being modified to bring in fifth graders. But it appears fifth graders are unlikely to come to the other two schools any time soon.
On Monday, Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt told the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) that it should temporarily refocus on issuing bonds for enhancing the district’s remote learning capacity instead of bonds for the reconfiguration of Henry J. McLaughlin Middle School and Hillside Middle School.
For years, district officials have made the re-creation of the city’s four middle schools into Grade 5 to 8 schools as the keystone of an overarching reorganization strategy that creates smaller class sizes for younger students and builds a geographically-based feeder system where students remain together over the years as they advance through the city’s public schools.
Parkside Middle School on the city’s West Side already is a four-grade school and earlier this year the BOSC appropriated money from its general fund to begin construction at Southside Middle School. However, recently the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen mustered only seven votes on a bond measure for construction that would allow the other two schools to also become four-grade schools.
Those seven votes were enough for the bond measure to advance to a second and final vote, but with the three more needed votes to pass the measure unlikely to be found and the COVID-19 pandemic making full in-person learning infeasible, Goldhardt advised the BOSC regarding the short-term pivot on remote learning technology.
Goldhardt, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig and the BOSC as a whole did not support abandoning the concept of reconfiguration plans on Monday night, with the discussion divided between idealism and realism, despite the fact that the $183 million budget passed by the Aldermen included the initial repayments for the bonds on McLaughlin and Hillside.
“I think we need to acknowledge where we are and the needs in our district,” said Craig.
Ward 9 BOSC Member Arthur Beaudry said that the matter has been delayed for too long already and the BOSC did pass a motion urging the Aldermen to support issuing bonds for the schools by a vote of 9 to 5.
Beaudry was joined by James Porter (Ward 1), Karen Soule (Ward 3), Leslie Want (Ward 4), William Shea (Ward 7), Jane Beaulieu (Ward 10), Dr. Nicole Leapley (Ward 11), Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) and Joseph Lachance (At-Large).
Craig opposed the motion, as did Kathleen Kelly Arnold (Ward 2), Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5), Peter Perich (Ward 8) and Jim O’Connell (At-Large). Dan Bergeron (Ward 6) was absent.
During the vote, Dobson stated that more information would not be helpful to the Aldermen and Perich stressed a deep concern over the state of remote learning in the district.
O’Connell echoed concerns he has raised in the past, asking for any measures relating to adding fifth grade into the city’s middle schools to wait until an upcoming facilities study is completed.
After the vote, Arnold also asked her fellow members if they understood what they just voted on, with Soule indicating that she may not have heard the entire motion due to technical difficulties.
Arnold also expressed concern over how quickly the remote learning technology could be obtained given the rapidly approaching school year, with Goldhardt replying that computers could be obtained quickly.
To avoid confusion, the BOSC then passed a motion asking the Aldermen to support funding for increased remote learning technology by a vote of 13-1. Only Beaudry opposed, stating that the board was negotiating against itself.