Money from state intended to improve schools must go to schools

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

It has been a strange year to be sure and not just because of COVID-19. In August, the NH State Legislature and Governor Sununu agreed to appropriate $139 million in Fiscal Disparity Aid to NH Schools in its bi-annual budget. This one-time money went to school districts with the most need — Manchester’s portion was $11 million spread over two years.

Last year Manchester schools were appropriated $3.25 million of the additional $3.5 million in additional State funds and it was put to use to directly support our students and teachers. For example, we purchased a new district-wide K-8 reading program and bolstered professional development training to support teachers using the math curriculum we adopted last year. Because last year the State budget was not final until after the City’s, the Board Mayor and Aldermen were able to approve giving that $3.25 million provided by the State to the school district without voting to override the tax cap.

This year, we have a problem. Because we know we are receiving the rest of the State funds (the remaining $7.5 million), the city must account for it in the normal budget process. As strange as it might seem, in order to spend the funds the State has provided for schools, the BMA must vote to override the tax cap. That’s because the tax cap as written does not just limit increases to Manchester citizens’ property taxes (an expenditure cap), it also limits the amount the city can take in (a revenue cap) — even if it isn’t money raised from property taxes— without voting to override the tax cap.

This is the confounding situation we find ourselves in right now. Manchester schools have received a check for $7.5 million from the state that can’t be cashed unless the Aldermen vote to override the incoming revenue portion of the tax cap. This one-time override requires a supermajority (10 of 15) Aldermen to understand and agree to this technicality and vote to override the cap so that Manchester schools can use the funds allocated to them by the State.

Why wouldn’t the Aldermen vote to override the tax cap in this situation, you might ask? They likely fear that taxpayers will misunderstand and think that the BMA is raising taxes instead of raising the amount of revenue the city can accept. This “revenue side” override will not cost Manchester taxpayers one cent but it will absolutely help Manchester students. It’s a win-win.

This money was allocated by the State because it was sorely needed — and that was before COVID-19 struck. COVID-19 has added an additional heavy load to our already stressed schools. The district did not take one day off when the state of emergency was announced. Employees and volunteers at all levels came together to make sure curious minds continued to have access to teachers, social workers, packets, books, computers, Internet and that hungry students were fed every day. In order for our city to get through this historically-challenging time we must look out for our children. The economy can only work if workers are confident their children are learning, safe and cared for every day.

What can you do to make sure these already-allocated, and desperately, needed funds go to our schools? Call or e-mail your Aldermen (both your ward and At-Large) before they vote on the budget on Tuesday, June 9! Ask them to vote to override the tax-cap to accept the one- time State money that was intended to improve our city schools.

THEY NEED TO KNOW THEY HAVE YOUR SUPPORT to accept these funds on behalf of our kids. We cannot let politics stand in the way of student achievement. Please make your voice heard. You can help make a difference. Manchester’s future depends on it.

Respectfully submitted by, Leslie Want, BOSC Ward4/Vice Chair