School district autonomy gets Aldermanic support; public hearing set for July 20

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Pat Long on July 6, 2021. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

MANCHESTER, N.H. – For years, the Manchester School District (MSD) has remained in limbo between independence and subordination to the city government. On Tuesday night, a charter amendment seeking to move the MSD down the former route took one step forward.

In an 8-3 vote, four measures originally proposed and eventually tabled by the Manchester School Charter Commission received first approval, including an amendment to one of the measures by Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3)

That amendment addresses tax cap override votes of the MSD’s annual budget. In the original amendment proposed by the Charter Commission, the BMA would no longer be able to approve or deny the MSD budget proposed by the Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) beyond overrides of the city’s tax cap.

In Long’s amendment to that measure, the BMA would be completely cut from the MSD’s budget process, with a supermajority (ten votes) of the BOSC needed to pass any overrides.

The other proposals by the Charter Commission including renaming the BOSC as the Manchester School Board, removing the mayor from the School Board as chairman and giving the MSD to issue bonds on its own authority under state law.

Alderman Ross Terrio (Ward 7) believed that the mayor should remain as the head of the BOSC/School Board and also expressed concern over granting fiscal independence to the MSD following the recent announcement of MSD Superintendent Dr. John Goldhardt’s facilities plan.

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) also indicated that the Aldermen have served as a check on the BOSC in the past, providing an alternative perspective to the BOSC on school budgetary issues.

Alderman Sebastian Sharonov (Ward 6) went as far to say that Long’s amendment was the opposite of what was needed and the MSD should be a department of the city like the Police Department of Department of Public Works.

Supporters of Long’s amendment noted the current limbo that leaves neither side truly responsible for fiscal matters in the city’s public schools.

Will Stewart on July 6, 2021. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Alderman Will Stewart (Ward 2) used the example of an imaginary constituent wanting German language instruction in the city’s schools. Stewart said he would refer the constituent to Ward 2’s BOSC Member, Kathleen Kelley Arnold, as the BOSC dictates school policy. He then assumed that Arnold would tell the constituent to contact Stewart and ask for more money for the program since the BOSC does not have final control over how much money it receives.

Alderman Anthony Sapienza (Ward 5) said that if voters did not like how their BOSC/School Board member voted on budgetary items, they could use it as a reason to vote them out of office. But as things stand now, he said that BOSC members can pass blame to the Aldermen for interfering with school funding.

The four items, along with Long’s amendment, received support from Stewart, Long, Sapienza, Kevin Cavanaugh (Ward 1), Barbara Shaw (Ward 9), Bill Barry (Ward 10), Normand Gamache (Ward 11) and Dan O’Neil (At-Large). The motion was opposed by Sharonov, Terrio and Levasseur.

Jim Roy (Ward 4) and Keith Hirschmann (Ward 12) were absent.

A public hearing will now be held on July 20 on the items.