School board approves district calendar, calls for further review of Ethics Code

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Dr. Bolgen Vargas and his administrative team report on preliminary positive academic progress tracked among the districts elementary schools. MPTV

MANCHESTER, NH — Some teachers pitch in $5 a week so that students can be taken on field trips and others write grants in hopes of obtaining money to buy equipment.

One special education teacher at McLaughlin Middle School bought a therapy ball, gloves and other equipment for a disabled student as a way to comfort the child.

Teachers are grocery shopping for students to ensure they are nourished and others are buying clothes for their students.

Those were some of the comments made during the public comment session of the regular Monday night meeting of the Manchester Board of School Committee meeting at City Hall.

Earlier, the board had a special session for the public to weigh in on its proposed $172 million Fiscal Year 2020 budget approved by the Board of School Committee.  Another $3.8 million, over the tax cap, is needed to cover collective bargaining agreements, non-affiliated increases and classroom technology.

Three people opted to voice their opinion.

Chris Turner, who resides on Ray Street, said he was tired of saying goodbye to families who keep moving out of the city to other communities because the school districts offer more.

“I’m here to encourage each school board member to ask the aldermen to approve the larger of the two budget requests,” he said.

“Maximizing budget increases under the tax cap is leaving us further and further behind each year.”

He said the district would have to spend another $50 million to reach the state’s average per pupil spending.

Rebecca Linehan, media specialist at Wilson Elementary School, asked the board to provide funding so the school can purchase library books.

Librarians, she said, are encouraged to conduct book fairs to raise money but some children don’t have the money to buy books.

The books are from a for-profit company and in exchange for selling them, she said, schools receive flimsy paperbacks.

“Our libraries should be able to rely on core funding for library books,” she said.

Maxine Moseley, vice president of the Manchester Education Association who resides in Ward 6 and is a counselor at the McLaughlin Middle School, said social and emotional support is needed to meet the needs of children.  She also advocated for a language program, particularly American Sign Language, which she said the children are interested in learning.

Many of the educators speaking during the second public session encouraged the board to approve a contract with the union.  A Manchester Education Association member also distributed a paper listing facts, obtained through the state Department of Education, about the school district, the state’s largest with 13,476 students.
They included that:
  • For 2017-18, students eligible for free/reduced meals ranged from 93 percent at Beech Street Elementary School to 23 percent at Green Acres Elementary School;
  • In 2016-17, 60 percent of students identified as white; 40 percent are non-white, including African American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or multi-racial.
  • Large class sizes were reported in grades 1 and 2 with 27 students; grades 3 and 4 with 29, and grades 5 through 8, 30.
  • For the past decade, per-pupil spending has been among the lowest statewide. For 2017-18, Manchester spent $12,024 per pupil,  $3,841 lower than the state average of $15,865.  If the city spent the state average, the budget would have to be increased by $51,761,316, according to the MEA fact sheet

In other matters:

  • The board approved the district’s 2019-2020 school district calendar.  Teachers will attend workshops on Aug. 30 and Sept. 3 with students returning to classes on Wednesday, Sept. 4.  Originally, the district wanted teachers to attend workshops on Aug. 28 and 29 with students returning on Tuesday, Sept. 3. Education Assn. President Sue Hannan, in the public session of the meeting, told board members that, without a union contract, teachers are abiding by work-to-rule and that calls for school not to start before Sept. 3, although a workshop could be scheduled for Aug. 30.
  • Referred a proposed change in the board’s Code of Ethics back to the coordination committee for clarification.  The altered rule would allow for the investigation of a member who violates confidentiality and the referral to Hillsborough County Superior Court North by the board’s attorney for the member’s possible removal from office.
  • Dr. Bolgen Vargas and his team shared with the board a report detailing positive results from a recent evaluation of iReady data, which showed academic improvement at all the city’s elementary schools. Vice Chair Beaudry said the information was heartening, and felt that the district should be doing more to publicly promote student achievements, a sentiment echoed by Mayor Joyce Craig. Vargas told the board that by the close of the school year there would be a comprehensive report made available, as the iReady data as presented, was preliminary. Below is the report, which details “Glowing Areas” of improvement and “Growing Areas” or goals for continued success for students and teachers. iReady is an assessment tool measuring achievement in math and reading.