Manchester Proud provides cornucopia of data

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Manchester Proud Coordinator Barry Bresinger on Wednesday – photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, NH – On Wednesday, Manchester Proud provided a three-hour presentation to the Board of School Committee and other Manchester residents, discussing data accumulated in its pursuit to improve Manchester’s schools.

The presentation’s data was provided by two of Manchester Proud’s partners: Reaching Higher NH, a non-profit group that serves as a public education policy and community engagement resource for New Hampshire families, educators, and elected officials; and 2Revolutions, a nationwide organization that studies learning models and school district trends.

The first hour of the evening provided an overview of the information gathering accumulated by Reaching Higher NH, beginning with the results of their community survey. In total, 983 people responded to the survey, which did have a minority of respondents hailing from outside of Manchester who were given slightly different questions.

Among respondents with children attending school in Manchester, approximately 40 percent believed that Manchester Public Schools are doing a good job while results were more mixed from respondents without children.

Additionally, both Manchester voters and non-Manchester voters believed that Manchester’s schools were underfunded and tax dollars were being used inefficiently.

On this point, Ward 8 Board of School Committee Member Jimmy Lehoux was disappointed that there was no question asking respondents how they felt regarding possible tax increases since the majority of school funding came from tax appropriations.

In response Reaching Higher NH Director of Policy and Practice Liz Canada indicated that several people who participated in the group’s door-to-door canvassing did mention the tax cap, with others also referencing funding for the police department and fire department.

Lehoux also asked if school consolidation was a concern, Canada noted that infrastructure was not mentioned frequently, outside of school dilapidation in certain areas.

Overall, Canada indicated that the primary takeaway from the community canvassing was that most respondents expressed sympathy with teachers having to do more with fewer resources while simultaneously expressing frustration at both sides in teachers’ union collective bargaining negotiations.

Canada also shared the results of a series of 23 school-based listening sessions, which focused on specific cohorts within the district’s employee and student population as well as Manchester families and other parties with expertise regarding Manchester schools.

All responses were kept anonymous, stemming from a fear of retribution, particularly from school district employees.

Individuals not connected with the district expressed concerns with the district’s reputation and leadership, particularly how it could impact Manchester’s property values. Families and students felt that there was a lack of opportunity in some areas, especially for minority students and students learning English as a second language.

In the last two hours of the presentation, 2Revolutions Founder/Partner Adam Rubin provided his recommendations on how to craft a cohesive vision for the district after obtaining data from approximately 1,000 parents, students, staff and community members.

Their recommendations came in five “buckets”: Teaching and Learning, Organizational Effectiveness, Finance, Governance and Community Partnerships.

Rubin voiced concern for the district’s fiscal situation, forecasting an upcoming budget deficit in the 2022 Fiscal Year if nothing is done and current projections continue. He also shared a picture of dysfunction in the many aspects of the district, sharing widely disparate school utilization rates, a non-existent “middle tier” of leadership and a convoluted policy review process among other concerns.

However, he praised the district’s community partners as well as the zeal he saw from the district’s staff, and also provided several recommendations for improvement.

Some of those recommendations, such as cooperation throughout the district when it comes to resources, have been discussed in the past frequently by the Board of School Committee. Others, such as the idea of holding stricter special education assessment standards, both to avoid trapping students into programs that may unnecessarily limit their growth and burden the district with needless expenses, were more novel.

Still, implementing some of the recommendations may pose a challenge given the realities that the district now faces.

One of those recommendations came in regard to bringing the non-teaching staff-to-student ratio more in line with comparable districts such as Nashua, especially in regard to technology department staff.

Ward 4 Board of School Committee Member Leslie Want said that a lack of certainty in funding made adding new employees difficult, since there would be no guarantees that they would not have to be laid off without that certainty in place.

Both parts of the presentation marked the nearing end of the data collection stage in Manchester Proud’s four-stage process, with preliminary recommendations to the Board of School Committee expected in early December. Another presentation is scheduled for Nov. 18, the Board of School Committee’s first meeting following municipal elections.

  • A video of the Reaching Higher NH presentation can be found here.
  • A video of the 2Revolution video can be found here.

You can view the presentation in its entirety below via MPTV on Vimeo.