View from the Cheap Seats: Public comment, times 2; education remains a black box

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Members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen received public comments twice on Tuesday concerning the city’s budget in addition to the usual comments received at 7 p.m. This was the first public meeting of the Board since Manchester’s Director of Housing Stability, Adrienne Beloin, reached a settlement agreement with the city. Among the topics covered were public school budgets, the city’s homelessness crisis, and the ongoing situation in Gaza.

Former school board member and mayoral candidate Rich Girard spoke twice, once at the 6 p.m. session and again at 7 p.m. He declared that the city was overspending on its schools, while others referenced how the schools are underfunded. Mention was made how some of the city’s students regularly under-perform. Whichever view was correct, it became clear in the course of the meeting that not enough information about school district spending was available to the public so that they could at least understand why certain choices are made regarding school budgets.

Jim O’Connell, an At-Large member of the Manchester School Board, came forward to speak in what he said was a process of years and decades offering his comments.

“Despite all our efforts and our wins and losses,” O’Connell said, “We have one of the least-funded school districts in the state of New Hampshire. […] We spent years in this chamber being told that the tax cap is the tax cap and we’d love to do what needed to be done but couldn’t be done because the tax cap wouldn’t allow you to do it. The inference was that when there aren’t bad times, and the tax cap will allow it, we will not use that blunt instrument against you; we will actually fund you to the level we all know we need to. Now we find ourselves with a 5.6 percent tax cap. It turns out the tax cap didn’t matter all along.”

Glenn Ouellette, who ran for mayor in 2017, spoke about a several million dollar allocation to paint the Beech Street Elementary School several years ago only to find out later that the building is being considered for demolition so that a new structure can be built across the street based on a study and assessment of the buildings.

There was a sense from everyone on any side of the issue that the reasoning behind funding decisions in public education remains clouded from view. Brittany Ping, a Free State Project member and supporter of Mayor Ruais’ campaign last year, suggested there are people in town who could no longer afford their homes if property taxes rise any higher.

While property values have risen, leading to many properties being purchased by out-of-state investors, increasing property taxes in accordance with such value may not make economic sense. Those homeowners on year 10 of a 30-year loan may have purchased a home at a much lower price than it is now. Whether such a person could afford higher property taxes in the face of ever-increasing inflation caused in part by corporate profit-seeking is an open question.

The state government, for its part, was found by the Rockingham County Supreme Court to be underfunding its public education . Judge David Ruoff’s ruling suggests the state should send $7,356 dollars per student in order to meet its adequacy requirements.

Manchester reportedly has 12,105 students in public school. Judge Ruoff’s figure would have a little over $89 million spent on each student. This number falls well short of Mayor Joyce Craig’s budget proposal last year, which sent $196 million to the city’s schools. The difference between the two figures is $107 million.

The city’s own budget proposal  does not make it clear where that money was going. Page 10 of the proposal lists funding for social services. The name of the services, its intended purpose, and the amount of money given are listed clearly. For example: 1269 Cafe received 150,000 dollars from the city of Manchester to operate a warming station and shelter for chronically homeless individuals.

No such specificity was provided for the city’s educational funding. Educational spending remains a black box, which leaves citizens, such as those who come to speak in before the Board, filling in blanks on their own with incomplete or inaccurate information.

Those who suggest the city spends too much on education have a valid argument, based on Judge Ruoff’s ruling and his data points. Those who suggest the city doesn’t spend enough on education do so from their own personal experience and knowledge, such as Jim O’Connell, who has spent years working on the Manchester school board.

The missing middle between these two points of view would likely be found in a breakdown in educational spending data.

The Situation in Palestine

Seven members of the community came to speak in support of an immediate resolution from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen demanding a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian.

Activists have been gathering in support of Palestine and its citizens for several months. On Tuesday, many of them gathered in City Hall to remind the board of the ongoing suffering and hardship Palestinians endure each day.

The humanitarian crisis in Palestine has reached levels rarely seen in human history. Only the Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933 deliberately caused by Josef Stalin has any comparison. In that famine, called Holodomor – a combination of Ukrainian words which mean “to inflict death” and “starvation” –  3.9 million people were killed.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen have stated they would never pass a ceasefire resolution – a decision that has drawn ire from activists who interrupted a previous meeting in February 

At the time, Ward 2 Alderman Dan Goonan felt the activists “did their cause more harm than good.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, some members of the Board of Mayor and Alderman sat passively listening to comments regarding current events of the ongoing genocide. One member of the public suggested World War III would soon begin, and the Board should do something to protect themselves and the city.

When public comments were over, the board moved to adjourn and receive its presentations. No resolution regarding Palestine was brought forth.

The Ongoing Homelessness Crisis

Having lost two homelessness gurus in less than two years, the city of Manchester finds themselves only a little closer to solving the homelessness crisis than before. While progress has been made in helping people find places of their own, the overall problem is no closer to being solved.

Members of the Manchester Housing Alliance spoke before the Board about the need for affordable housing. These members included Brandon LeMay, NH State Rep. Kathy Staub, and Mickayla Aboujaoude.

In a prepared statement, the Alliance wrote:

“A city’s budget is a reflection of that city’s priorities. We at the Manchester Housing Alliance believe that anybody who wants to live and work in Manchester should be able to afford to live and work in Manchester.”

Of concern to the group were buildings that were not up to code in which tenants felt trapped, believing they would be evicted due to a renovation claim by the property owner. The city should lead the way in helping to make all rentals in an acceptable condition, the group stated.

As a child of a Lebanese immigrant, Aboujaoude expressed a unique perspective on Manchester’s housing crisis.

“Who are we to decide that we know why someone is in the state they’re in or that someone deserves to suffer?” Aboujaoude asked. “Why is it that I, making 85K a year and paying 1500 dollars rent for a one-bedroom apartment deserve to have a roof over my head when it’s super cold outside and other people have to sleep outside?”

Dam Wright, who has worked in Manchester as a homelessness activist for many years, which included working with Director Beloin, came forward with harsh words for the Board.

“What a difference two weeks can make,” Wright said. “Two weeks ago, we had a qualified Director of Housing Stability that we no longer have. We also had 57,000 dollars of taxpayer money that we no longer have. (…) When you have to pay someone’s legal fees, you screwed up. I do think there’s a problem with Jake King’s management and oversight structure. I don’t think that problem was with Adrienne. I think that problem is you.”

“Here’s the thing,” Wright went on. “You screwed up. We lost 57,000 dollars in taxpayer money. We lost the best hope we had in seeing some long-term solutions to the problems of homelessness that’s impacting everyone in this city. Here’s my question: you were so sure two weeks ago that there’s a problem with Beech Street and the solution is to have the person who manages that facility needs to have oversight on site. Now that Adrienne’s gone, you are the oversight. So which one of you is moving your office over to Beech Street? You established the solution. You said it yourselves. Let me know. I’ll get some of my boys to help you pack.”


View from the Cheap Seats is a new feature here at the Ink link. Think of it as a place to provide your take and commentary on the public comment segment of city meetings. Why? Normal procedure is that public comment becomes part of the public record but there is no feedback from city officials – or anyone else for that matter. We’d like to provide a forum for that. Let’s see how it goes!

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Winter and Chase 1 e1712078957199Winter Trabex is a freelance writer and frequent Community Contributor to the Ink Link. She can be reached at wtrabex@gmail.com.

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Winter Trabex

Winter Trabex is a freelance writer from Manchester and regular contributor to Community Voices.