Voting ‘Yes’ on Question 1 promotes local control, enables citizens to improve school budget process

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Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.

The great irony of the reaction against Question 1 is that the forces attacking it under the false claim that it would allow the Board of the School Committee to override the tax cap portray themselves, in the political arena, as advocates of local control. What Question 1 does is give back control over the City Charter to the people of Manchester.

If passed, the School Committee cannot and will not be able to override the tax cap. As before, the oversight of the Manchester School District will conform to state law.

The fact is, Question 1 simply is enabling legislation that allows Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) to put City Charter amendments, as regards redefining the role of the School Committee, on the municipal ballot starting in 2021. If passed, Question 1 won’t change the Charter, let alone give the School Committee authority to override the tax cap.

Overriding the tax cap remains the prerogative of the BMA. The BMA retains its monopoly over the tax cap if Question 1 is approved by the voters.

A “Yes” vote scales back state government control over the charter revision process.

A “Yes” vote on Question 1 grants Manchester independence from Concord, in the realm of charter revision.

A “Yes” vote is a vote for local control.

The arguments put forward by Question 1 opponents are wrong. Firstly, the BMA has to vote to put any proposed charter amendments on the ballot. Then, it is up to you, the Queen City voters, to vote for or against the charter amendments.

This is hardly a radical proposal. It is not a stealthy attempt to give the School Committee the power to break the tax cap. It was the intention of members of the School Charter Commission, which I chaired, to improve the school budget process.

Charter amendments developed by the Commission, which can only be put on the ballot after a vote by the BMA and can only go into effect if voted into law by Queen City citizens, would streamline the annual budgeting process.

The School Committee, under current rules, has to present a tax cap-compliant budget to the BMA. The BMA, in turn, takes the School Committee’s budget proposals and incorporates them as line items into the municipal budget.

Under proposed Charter changes, if the BMA votes to put them on the ballot in 2021 and voters pass them, the School Committee would set and approve the school budget, which cannot exceed the tax cap. The School Committee would not have to wait until the BMA approves the municipal budget in June.

As long as the School Committee is complying with the tax cap, which they are required to do, there’s no reason for it to wait until June. The school year ends in May, and vital decisions need to be made in a timely fashion.

If either the BMA or the voters vote down the proposed charter changes, the current system remains in force, even if Question 1 passes.

Checks and balances mandating that school spending approved by the School Committee complies with the tax cap remain in place if voters approve Question 1.

Question 1 simply is a piece of enabling legislation. If passed by the voters, Question 1 only allows the BMA and Queen City voters to engage in rationalizing the school budgeting process, if they chose to do so. A streamlined process will result in better school budgeting.

I know city budgets, having prepared eight of them while serving as alderman-at-large on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen under Mayors Baines and Gatsas. The Charter amendments proposed by the Commission will improve school budgeting.

The opponents of Question 1 have portrayed themselves as champions of local control, yet, they’ve come out against limiting Concord’s sovereignty over Manchester and its citizens. I urge you to vote “Yes” on Question 1 and put power back into your own hands.

Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send submissions to, subject line: The Soapbox.

School Charter Commissioner Mike Lopez served six terms as alderman-at-large. He was Chairman of the Board of Mayor and Alderman from 2005 to 2011. For eight years, he oversaw the preparation of the city budget. The opinion expressed is his and does not represent the official stand of the School Charter Commission.

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