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BOLGEN VARGAS 

Manchester assesses impact of cutting teacher positions


MANCHESTER — Advocates for Manchester schools questioned Wednesday how the elimination of at least 34 teacher jobs will help a school district that is already suffering from student defections, poor performance measurements and negative perceptions.

But they also acknowledge that they expected much worse before Dr. Bolgen Vargas proposed his first budget as Manchester school superintendent on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Vargas said only 34 teaching jobs — and 38 jobs overall — would be eliminated in the proposed budget. But by late Wednesday, it appeared another nine school district jobs had been budgeted for elimination, which would save an additional $468,000.

On-line budget documents attributed the further reductions to declining student enrollment. School board Member Richard Girard said he confirmed with the administration that the nine were in addition to the 38 overall job reductions.

On Tuesday, Vargas proposed several measures to keep layoffs and job losses at a minimum. He wants to move the central office to West High School, better manage special education and teacher absenteeism, and reduce spending for supplies, textbooks and equipment upgrades.

The fear now is that people will be happy with the loss of 34 teacher jobs, after expecting so much more, said Jim O’Connell, president of the Citizens for Manchester Schools.

He said some classes are already at capacity, so he doesn’t understand how further teacher reductions will work, especially in elementary schools.

“We are acquiescing and becoming apathetic to it,” said O’Connell, who has consistently advocated for more local spending for Manchester schools. He notes that Manchester schools rank near the bottom in the state for per pupil spending: $11,034 last year compared with a state average of $15,033.

But others see the Vargas budget good on analysis and creative thinking. School board member Girard noted that Vargas drew attention to the fact that 1,300 Manchester children are either educated at home or in charter schools.

That’s a sign that the district has to rethink how it educates students, Girard said.

He said the salaries of 18 laid off teachers approximate a 5.7 percent cost-of-living pay raise, which is required under a teacher union contract.

“Nothing would make me happier if the teachers stood up to the plate and said ‘we’ll give up our pay raise in Year 3 (of the contract),’” Girard said. Vargas hopes to use attrition, retirements and leaves to keep layoffs to 18 or less.

Under law, the school district is obligated to notify individual teachers of a layoff by May 10. Vargas said enrollment, teacher seniority and other factors will determine which jobs are eliminated.

Jerome Duval shudders whenever teacher layoffs come up.

A former alderman, Duval is a real estate agent and past president of the Greater Manchester-Nashua Board of Realtors. He said young homebuyers with families tell him they don’t want to buy in Manchester because of the schools.

They visit the state Education Department website and compare test scores, per-pupil spending, student -teacher ratios and services such as special education, Duval said.

Duval said the negative perception of Manchester also involves crime. The perception also hurts retirees who downsize and sell their big, family-sized home, but can’t find a young family willing to buy, Duval said.

“If the perception of the community is negative, of course it’s going to depress property values,” Duval said.

At the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, President Michael Skelton was not so bleak. He said young professionals and millennials are drawn to the urban Manchester environment. But he acknowledged that more targeting has to be done toward young families.

Skelton said the chamber’s education committee and board of directors will likely weigh in on the budget, but it is too early.

mhayward@unionleader.com.

Union Leader reporter Paul Feely contributed to this article.


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