School board scrambles to grab new state funds

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Mayor Joyce Craig/File photo

MANCHESTER, NH –Thanks to the new state budget, Manchester schools can get more money. But to get it you have to hurry, said Mayor Joyce Craig at Monday’s meeting of the Board of School Committee.

Craig, who serves as chair of the BOSC, wasn’t trying to sound like a social media marketer. She was simply explaining on behalf of the school district the reality that the state funds needed to be claimed rapidly. To do that, the BOSC passed by voice acclamation a request to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for a special supplemental appropriation of $3,250,000. The point of this appropriation would be to access new funds available to the Manchester School District under the new state budget passed in late September. The amount of those funds is actually about $3,500,000. However, the district administration said they discounted the request by $250,000 in case those funds are needed later, such as for unanticipated Medicaid expenses. The matter now will go to a committee of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and may land on the agenda of the board’s next meeting October 29. Passage by the BOSC at this meeting was required to hit that timeline, Craig said.

Asked what he would spend the funds on, Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt stated his interest in establishing a comprehensive reading program in elementary schools, but did not go into detail about the concept.

Another tight-timed matter involved spending federal money on a contract with Manchester Community Resource Center and 21st Century Community Learning Centers to support their Project iSucceed. The project is an after-school program that claims to help students do their homework better and improve study skills. The program summary states iSucceed has “expanded the size and scope of our existing homework clubs” and that district teachers help deliver the services in the first program hour. The instruction includes study skills, test-taking, “higher-level problem solving” and subject instruction in English, math, reading, social studies and science.

The city would pay the contractor approximately $2,250 a month for the services. However, the funds would ultimately come from a federal grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The 21st CCLC has been granted $20,000 for the 2019-2020 school year, according to the recommendation document from the Committee on Coordination and Administration.

The contract specifies that Project iSucceed must help at least 100 students from living within the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area, and at least 70 percent of the students must be from low- to moderate-income families.

The contract, however, has not yet been approved by the BOSC’s Finance Committee, so it was only informational for the full board Monday. However, according to Craig, the plan is to hold a “phone poll” of the full BOSC after all subcommittees necessary approve the contract.

In other business, the BOSC gave its blessing by voice vote to a planned presentation regarding the hazards of vaping, offered by a trio of nonprofit groups. The groups who plan to warn students against vaping are the Catholic Medical Center, Breathe NH and Making It Happen. The presentation itself was not shown to the committee Monday night, but there was a brief discussion about it. The spokespeople for the presenters said it was a prevention program aimed at kids, but also said the kids already know all about vaping. Some committee members agreed, and said the ones who needed the education most were parents. The groups did, under questioning, promise that the presentations would not take instructional time away from schools.

Educators at West High School will have more time to prepare lessons as a result of an agreement between the school district and the Manchester Education Association. The agreement, codified in a memorandum of understanding, is a one-time exception to union rules only for this year and only at West. It allows for each teacher at West to have a period for classroom preparation, usually either 42 or 78 minutes depending on the building schedule that day. Some of the prep time, according to the agreement, will come from teachers reducing their lunch period from 50 minutes to 39 minutes. Educators also agree to be available to cover for other educators who are out that day. “The administration will be equitable when using educators to do this,” the MOU states. The matter passed on a voice vote.

About Jeff Epstein 6 Articles
Jeff has reported news over the years for many different newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, and radio and television. He resides in Manchester.