Dear Mayor Gatsas and Ms. Langton: I am writing to follow up on the request I made at last night’s meeting of the Manchester Board of School Committee.
As you may recall, during the public comment session, I asked the board to consider opening up the community participation component of the superintendent selection process. According to what I have been able to download from the school district’s website, no room in the September 23 schedule is devoted to designated meetings with teachers, principals, parents, students, and/or community partners. True public input, it seems, will be possible only at a Friday night public forum to be convened mere hours before the board is set to extend a job offer to one of the finalists.
This schedule is a significant departure from my experience facilitating the schedule of public appearances that preceded the selection of Dr. Ludwell and Dr. Brennan. I participated in the hiring process of these individuals when I worked in the mayor’s office and when I served as the school district’s community relations coordinator. I recall spending considerable effort assembling focus groups that provided written feedback to the school board. This feedback was used to inform the school board’s decision-making process. Given the pent-up desire on the part of community members to assist the school district with critical decisions, it might be advisable to construct a schedule on September 23 that reflects the critical role community members play as school district partners — something the current schedule does not seem to accommodate.
I want to amplify my concerns about the meeting with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. As I mentioned last night, I am wondering if there are any guarantees in place that would ensure those Chamber members chosen to participate in this meeting will be Manchester residents? It does not seem fair that a resident of Bedford or Amherst would have a greater say in this critical decision that a Manchester parent or student whose only outlet for input will be at a Friday night community forum.
Further, the Chamber meeting raises considerable questions that implicate the New Hampshire Right To Know law’s provision of the requirement that advisory committees (and that is what the Chamber meeting would appear to be) must comply with the requirements of the statute in the same manner as an elected board. I am assuming – correct me if I am wrong – that the “performance” of each candidate at the Chamber meeting will be included in discussions about which candidate to hire and that the opinions about the candidates’ respective performances might be solicited from those the Chamber assembles. (If this is not the case, I am left to wonder: Why have the meeting in the first place?)
As I recall from my experience in the past, we made great efforts to ensure that the meetings of the community groups assembled to weigh in on the Ludwell and Brennan candidacies were posted and that notes were taken to comply with the record-keeping aspect of the law. (I am certain of this part, because I took the notes.) Further, every effort was made to ensure that the members of the school board observing these meetings did not constitute a quorum of any school board committee.
Will that be the case this time around?
I look forward to hearing back from you with answers to these questions. I hope you can see your way clear to opening up this process in a manner that ensures that the hiring of a successor to Dr. Livingston is not clouded by questions about the selection process. We all want a superintendent who can hit the ground running with wide community support.
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