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MANCHESTER, NH – Mayor Ted Gatsas was seeing red during Monday night’s Board of School Committee – a sea of red shirts, that is, worn by teachers assembled as a sign of unity. They filled the Aldermanic Chambers, singing and chanting at times, many of them holding signs that read #VetoGatsas, and “Teachers Deserve a Fair Contract.”
More than a dozen members of the public spoke during public comment in support of the contract, including former students, parents, teachers and all four of Gatsas’ opponents in the upcoming mayoral primary.
About two hours into the meeting, Ward 10 board member John Avard made two motions – the first, calling for a vote of “no confidence” in Gatsas as board chair, which passed by a vote of 10 to 2.
The second motion made by Avard was to send the contract back to the Board of Aldermen, and to ask that Gatsas recuse himself from voting or vetoing because he has a conflict of interest as chair of both boards. That motion also passed 10 to 2. Voting against both motions were Debra Gagnon Langton of Ward 2 and Ted Rokas of Ward 5. Gatsas abstained and board member Ross Terrio was not present, and the Ward 6 seat is vacant.
After other agenda items were discussed, Gatsas took a moment to defend his veto, and his calculations, which were questioned at various times throughout the public meeting.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation being thrown around here,” Gatsas said. “And let’s get clarification once and for all. I will call a special meeting of this board and ask Mr. [William] Sanders [Director of Finance] to attend and review the numbers. The numbers are Mr. Sanders’ numbers, not mine. They are calculations based on his numbers not mine, and I will be happy to have him come in before this board, and the taxpayers, for a discussion.”
Gatsas said he supports teachers, but reiterated that he believes the contract is not fiscally sound.
“In my message on Tuesday I believe I was very specific about the financials of this agreement,” Gatsas said. “When you compare the cost of the agreement to what we know the tax cap numbers [are –] they don’t work. They are upside-down and we’re spending more than what we have. In the agreement over three years the increase in salaries is 18.7 percent.”
From there Gatsas went back and forth with district Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis about how the calculations were arrived at. Gatsas also said he had no problem reviewing the contract, but said parties involved need to look at “every aspect” of the contract and not just “what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Before the meeting upwards of 100 protesters – mainly teachers – gathered outside City Hall to rally against Gatsas’ veto Aug. 4 of the proposed teacher’s contract. Protesters voiced their feelings loud and clear.
And the prevailing emotion was disappointment.
“We’re disappointed, very disappointed,” said Sean Russell, exiting Vice-President of the Manchester Education Association and current English teacher at Central High School.
“We had a fair deal for everybody and to have it go down at the last minute is not good for the city and not good for us, not good for the students,” Russell said.
The next step toward ratification, says Russell, is for the community to let their school board representatives know in advance of the next board meeting that they support the contract.
“We’re hoping that we can turn things around, either through activism or through the [mayoral] election,” says Russell. A change of office would be the only other way to approve the contract outside of the political process.
The consequences of moving forward without a contract for the third year running would demoralize the teachers and create a negative environment, says Russell. Without job security, teachers won’t be as willing to do things, like pay for supplies out of pocket, he said. And ultimately, they will look for jobs that provide a more supportive administration.
He said he has seen decline in morale over the past three years, with the change of administration.
“It’s a matter of building up again,” Russell says, “but with this administration we’ve just seen the reverse. It’s been a slow burn, but I think it would just be a few years to build it back up again.”
Below is a copy of the contract as presented to the Board of Aldermen on Aug. 4.
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