School board splits against mayor’s motion on union talks

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Superintendent John Goldhardt. File Photo/MPTV

MANCHESTER, NH — A divided and frustrated Board of School Committee failed Monday night to pass Mayor Joyce Craig’s proposal to make Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt the primary negotiator in contract talks with the teacher’s union. Craig’s motion was defeated 8-7 in a roll call that saw several committee members bark their votes quickly, but others take as long as 10 seconds to cast their vote.

Craig insisted that her motion was not meant as a reflection on the school negotiating committee, and at no time during the lengthy debate at City Hall did anyone, including Craig, suggest that placing negotiations in Goldhardt’s hands would produce a quick contract settlement with the Manchester Educators Association. The common theme among those advocating for the move was that the talks had simply dragged on for so long without success that anything different was worth trying. 

Goldhardt himself was not among them. “I function from a perspective of trust … anything else would compromise my principles,” he told the committee. Both Craig and the negotiation committee had worked very hard, he said, and he did not wish to see a split school board. While Goldhardt made clear he would not shirk the duty if placed on him, he all but pleaded that his brief not go beyond his current role supporting the BOSC’s negotiation committee, calling the concept a “lose-lose” scenario. That phrase was echoed by several committee members who said that such a role would place Goldhardt — a newly installed superintendent still acclimating to Manchester — in an awkward position at best as he tries to form relationships with school staff.

“I would rather not do this,” Goldhardt said, later stating “I am not here to serve as a pawn for political purposes.” However, he cautioned that if he did take over negotiations, people should know “I am not a doormat” and the district in his view had a fiscal need to stay within its tax-cap budget. 

Members of the BOSC negotiating team spoke against the motion, sometimes in heated volleys with Craig, citing the work they had done so far in talks with the MEA. Negotiation committee chair Richard Girard said he found Craig’s letter “disconcerting.” Changing the negotiation committee, either with or without a new role for Goldhardt, seems like “blaming the victim of a crime,” he said. The biggest obstacle to a settlement, Girard said, was the MEA itself, for allegedly not coming to the table for an extended period. 

The only direct comment on the matter from the union was when MEA President Sue Hannan testified during the public forum portion of the meeting that the protracted negotiations were negatively affecting teacher morale. “Personalities must be taken out of the equation,” she said. She also referenced a “mass exodus of educators this summer,” and claimed that compensation was part of the reason why the educators had left.

Part of the debate was whether or not a direct negotiating role for the superintendent would set a precedent. Members of the committee disagreed on history of what officers had been involved in previous contract negotiations.

The last contract with the MEA expired in June 2018, and talks have either stalled or proceeded in fits and starts since then.

About Jeff Epstein 5 Articles
Jeff has reported news over the years for many different newspapers, newsletters, magazines, websites, and radio and television. He resides in Manchester.