With less than a month to go before Election Day, signs have been popping up around Manchester regarding Question 1. For those who are unaware of what Question 1 actually is, the answer is simultaneously simple and complex.
As submitted to the ballot, Question 1 would ultimately transfer authority in the creation of a School Charter Commission from the New Hampshire State Legislature to the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
That Commission would then be able to propose school-related changes to Manchester voters, following review by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen provided that the proposed changes do not exceed the authority of school districts under state law.
Additionally, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen would have to ask voters every ten years whether they want to create a School Charter Commission.
That proposal was pared down from a much larger set of proposals to be put before voters that would have removed the Mayor from the Manchester Board of School Committee, renamed the Board of School Committee into the Manchester School Board and given the newly named School Board broad autonomy in financial matters not currently available to the Board of School Committee save for overriding the city’s expenditure and revenue caps.
Ultimately, that proposal was limited in part due to a lawsuit over the filing period for the recently dissolved School Charter Commission that put together Question 1.
Proponents of Question 1 see it as a first step that could eventually lead to greater autonomy for the School District with the charter and negate concerns fueling the lawsuit.
At-Large Board of School Committee Member James O’Connell who urged the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve the final report of the Manchester School Charter Commission, sees Question 1 as a method to take decisions on Manchester Schools out of Concord’s hands an into the hands of Manchester voters.
“We’re getting local control back for the charter, nothing else,” he said.
The Board of School Committee’s other At-Large Member, Joseph Lachance, was one of nine people elected to the School Charter Commission in November 2019.
He praised the work as well as the diversity of the opinions found on the Charter Commission, but is opposed to Question 1.
In addition to legal concerns surrounding the filing period for the Commission in 2019, he was also concerned over confusion from the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office regarding the legislation that allowed the creation of the Commission, specifically wording surrounding the procedure on how voters would deliberate upon any proposed changes.
In addition to that complexity, Lachance fears over-politicization in the selection process of a School Charter Commission if the Aldermen were allowed to appoint its members. He says he would support the Aldermen proposing an election of a new School Charter Commission, but even then he believes the Board of School Committee should not obtain authority over appropriations that is currently held by most school boards in the state.
“It’s been back and forth, one way this way, one way that way,” he said. “At this rate, I don’t think the School Board should have its own taxing authority, I like the system of checks and balances. The potential exists to have the Aldermen appoint a whole new Charter Commission that could become very political, and that’s not the will of the people.”