MANCHESTER, N.H. – In a special full board meeting, the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) requested steps be taken for new data in a recent study recommending a drastic reconfiguration of the city’s school buildings.
Members of the BOSC had expressed concerns about the study by MGT Consulting Group, which recommended closing several elementary schools, opening schools and renovating others with data that conflicted with a similar study conducted by Fred Matuszewski in 2018
Perhaps the key assertion from the MGT study, which asserted maintenance savings from the closed schools could be used to build the new schools and renovate the other schools, was challenged by Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. According to Craig, the MGT study did not take into account budget challenges in recent years, meaning that any savings that would be seen by closing the old and inefficient schools would be far less than their expectations.
There were also concerns from Craig and others on the BOSC that the MGT study focused on space utilization rather than the class size focus in the Matuszewski study, with MGT stating that more efficient space utilization would result in more money being able to be spent on teachers and other items that would enhance learning.
Dr. Nicole Leapley (Ward 11) went as far to say that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic made the enrollment to square footage formulas used in the study’s space utilization formula worthless.
That discrepancy, along with conflicting baseline metrics and the lack of recommendations on where to place the students of the closed schools. This last point in particular was vital to Craig and Leslie Want (Ward 4), who felt that the uncertainty caused unneeded anxiety and frustration among parents across the city.
Craig also joined with William Shea (Ward 7) in the belief that the key to success in the district was the teaching staff, although Craig said she would support new schools if they could be approached with a well-thought plan.
” A great teacher can educate children in a barn. They don’t need a castle,” said Shea.
Overall, the board did not voice approval or disapproval for the study in concept, but instead sought additional data from MGT to create a vision that can meld with the Matusewski report as well as budgetary concerns and hopes for the district in a facilities master plan.
Indeed, some members of the board endorsed certain parts of the MGT study.
Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9) felt that the focus on school consolidation was financially important for the district given increasingly smaller enrollment trends. However, he disagreed with the study’s recommendations to add magnet schools at the city’s high schools, stating that current magnet programs at West have failed to draw students from Central, Memorial or Manchester School of Technology.
Beaudry also expressed concerns that bonding for new schools may not be approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen given recent history.
James O’Connell (At-Large), agreed with the MGT assessment that the average age of Manchester’s schools put them in need of immediate replacement, stating that nearby communities are drawing in new families with state-of-the-art new schools.
Manchester School District Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt reminded the board that the study is still in its interim phase and would only act as a blueprint to any eventual decisions along with the Matuzewski study, community feedback and other factors. He also noted that the board paid for this study and should not dismiss its findings out of hand without providing an opportunity for additional analysis.
The BOSC made a motion to request that MGT verify data in their study and answer any remaining BOSC questions for the board’s Jan. 25 meeting and present a new draft of the plan by the Feb. 8 meeting.
That vote was unanimous with the exception of the opposition of O’Connell and Peter Perich (Ward 8) who felt that timeframe did not give MGT enough time to add new data. Joseph Lachance (At-Large) and Kelly Thomas (Ward 12) were absent.
A request by O’Connell to suspend the rules of the special meeting to allow the BOSC to make a resolution toward the day’s events in Washington was killed by Beaudry, who felt that the board should focus on Manchester issues. Under BOSC rules, no business not listed on the meeting agenda is allowed at a special meeting without unanimous consent.
A motion to immediately adjourn was then passed, with O’Connell and Jeremy Dobson (Ward 5) opposing.