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Paul Feely's City Hall: NRA grant for West raises the hackles of some on school board

By PAUL FEELY
January 13. 2018 9:19PM
Manchester West High School (BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER FILE)



A request from Manchester High School West Principal Rick Dichard for permission to apply for a National Rifle Association grant to update the school's shooting range - used by the local Navy Junior Reserve Officer Corps program - met resistance last week due to concerns over the NRA's politics.

Dichard went before the school board's Committee on Building and Sites recently asking the district to apply for a 2018 NRA Foundation Grant of $25,000.

West has hosted the NJROTC program for 47 years.

According to Dichard, marksmanship has been part of the program since the start, and if the district was successful in securing the grant the funds would be used to upgrade the onsite shooting range at West, commonly referred to as "The Hold."

The basement range was created in 2016 and only low-powered, single-pellet air rifles are used there.

"This is an opportunity for our NJROTC program to get a better space," said Dichard. "It is a great opportunity for our school to build on its infrastructure."

Dichard said the proposed upgrades would create a second range and result in better air quality in The Hold.

This file photo shows Samantha Chebook lining up with her fellow cadets during the NJROTC annual inspection at Manchester West High School in Manchester in 2013. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

"It is kind of a dingy, dungy place that could use a face-lift," said Dichard. "This is just a no-brainer opportunity for our school to get a better space for our kids to make an area of the building that might not necessarily be aesthetically pleasing although not unsafe or bad, just to make it better. ..."

According to Dichard, the school would repurpose adjoining space to create the range. It would display a banner recognizing the NRA Foundation.

But when the matter went before the full school board last week for approval, some members raised concerns about the district accepting money from the NRA.

"I think some votes are an expression of conscience, and this is one of them," said newly-elected Committeeman David Scannell of Ward 2. "It's unconscionable to associate this district, and its dedication to the safety and the well being of its students, with an organization that so casually and gleefully in the wake of Columbine and Sandy Hook cast aside, indeed mocked, genuine concerns for student safety. I will be voting against this motion."

"I am just opposed to accepting money from a single-issue lobbying group, and feel there are strings that could be attached to it, and don't think that we want to get involved with lobbying," said Committeewoman Kate Desrochers of Ward 11.

"In terms of not taking money from a single-issue lobbying group, I will hold the committee member to that the next time Save the Children comes before this board looking for something," answered At Large member Rich Girard. The Save the Children Action Network, a Washington D.C.-based political action committee, sent out mailers in the city last fall backing several candidates for school board, following a vote to give the group access to a portable classroom at Northwest Elementary School for use as a Head Start preschool. 

"I spoke with Principal Dichard, and nothing new will be happening," said Mayor Joyce Craig. "He said the activity that will be happening at West High School as a result of this is happening today, and that the money will be used to provide a better environment for the students in the ROTC program. Although I do share your concerns and do understand where you are coming, Committeeman Scannell, in talking to the principal and understanding the benefits it will be bringing the students, I will be supporting it."

According to the NRA Foundation's website, the group has awarded more than $335 million since 1990 for firearms education, marksmanship and to "encourage firearms, shooting sports and hunting safety."

The full board approved the grant application on a 10-4 vote, with Sarah Ambrogi, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Kelly Thomas, Girard, Ross Terrio, Jimmy Lehoux, Art Beaudry, John Avard and Mayor Craig in favor. 

Opposed were Scannell, Desrochers, Nancy Tessier and Dan Bergeron. Lisa Freeman was absent.

Lehoux, who represents Ward 8, was asked last week to chair a special committee on a "Parental Advisory Council" for the Manchester school board. Scannell, Georges and Lehoux along with several administrators will meet to develop an action plan for what the council will look like, and what information is needed at the board level to get it up and running.

Lehoux hopes to have a plan ready soon to bring to the board for discussion and approval.

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Staff in the city's planning department will hold a public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2019 Community Improvement Program on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall.

The meeting is being held to offer residents a chance to comment on the use of federal Fiscal Year 2018 HUD funds beginning next July 2018.

These may include Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, Home Investment Partnerships (HOME), Emergency Solutions Grant Program (ESG), and may also include HUD Section 108 funds.

Manchester residents, public and private agencies, community groups, businesses and other interested parties are invited to attend to voice concerns and opinions on the priorities of the community.

The comments received will be compiled by city staff and used in the development of the 2018/2019 Annual Action Plan, an element of the five-year Consolidated Plan.

For more information contact CIP Coordinator Todd Fleming in the Manchester Planning and Community Development Department at 624-6450.

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School officials announced this week that the academic calendar has been adjusted due to the number of snow dates the district has already used.

Due to the number of snow days - four - used during the second quarter of the current academic school year, the first semester for middle and high school students will end Jan. 29, instead of Jan. 25. High school midterm exams will take place Jan. 24, 25, 26 and 29.

The change also affects other important dates during the school year. The third quarter will begin on Jan. 30 and end on April 6. The fourth quarter will begin on April 9.

Unless makeup days are added to the end of the school year due to future weather-related closures, high school final exam dates in June remain as scheduled.

The decision to adjust the calendar was made to account for the number of classroom days lost when school was canceled in recent weeks due to snow.

There are five "snow days" built into the academic calendar; the city has used four since October.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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