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Paul Feely's City Hall: Vargas says staff attrition could bridge some of $2.3m budget gap

February 25. 2018 1:01AM

Manchester Superintendent of Schools Bolgen Vargas 

Members of the school board's Subcommittee on Finance were treated last week to an early look at a draft version of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas' Fiscal Year 2019 budget presentation, and while it's still too early to know exactly how the administration plans to address a $2.3 million gap, reduction in staff through attrition is one of the options in the mix.

"We do have some challenges, but working together we can achieve success like we did last year," said Vargas, referencing efforts to close a $3 million gap last fiscal year. "Our mission is to support and empower our students in partnership with the community."

School Business Manager Karen DeFrancis showed three budget figures she and other administrators are looking at for FY '19: a tax cap expenditure budget of $169,729,727; a tax cap revenue budget of $161,181,905; and a "rollover budget," where current programs and staffing levels are maintained, of $168,853,171.

According to DeFrancis, the total revenue projection for the district for 2018-2019 is $193,637,054, with state and local taxes accounting for 52.7 percent of that revenue. Of that revenue, 74.3 percent of the funds will go toward salaries.

To close a $2.3 million gap, DeFrancis said the district is looking to:

. Hold steady on technology

. Continue with the move of the SAU offices to Manchester High School West

. Achieve a reduction in workforce through attrition

Vargas said potential positions to be reduced through attrition would be identified using enrollment figures.

Vargas and DeFrancis said they hope to have more specific information when the Finance Subcommittee next meets on March 13.

"I'm looking forward to the next eight weeks we have ahead of us, and hoping we achieve our (objective)," said Vargas. "You have to stay positive, and bring some solutions."

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Members of the Aldermanic Committee on Lands and Buildings last week doubled down on a vote they took in January to recommend a proposal from Tokena Corporation for 630 Harvard St., site of the former Genest's Bakery, despite suggestions from some aldermen and Mayor Joyce Craig that the city missed a step when reviewing responses to requests for proposals for the property.

The city received just two responses to an RFP for the site - one from Tokena Corporation, headed up by former state Sen. Tom DeBlois, and one from Custom Architectural Design Management (CADM), LLC, a five-member multi-company development team.

The city took title to the building last year as compensation for years of unpaid taxes totaling nearly $804,000. The building was constructed in 1933 and has housed a book bindery, a metal shop, a metal sculptor and a taxidermy shop.

Aldermen voted last month to send the recommendation for the Tokena proposal back to committee, after Atty. John Cronin expressed concern that a list of requests outlined by CADM in its response - including having the city remove all debris and items from the property, having the city remove all graffiti from the building exterior, and having Manchester police patrol the area in the evening during construction - may have been misinterpreted by committee members as "conditions" put upon the CADM proposal.

Last week, Lands and Buildings Chair Barbara Shaw defended the vote by her committee to recommend Tokena's proposal.

"The RFP process for the purchase and sale for this property was followed," said Shaw. "There were two responses to the RFP, both of which were taken into consideration by the board. We had an impact study done by the tax assessors office and tax collectors office and submitted to us for review. We looked at both responses very carefully, and a decision was made. I am ready to stand by that decision."

Alderman John Cataldo of Ward 8, a member of the Lands and Buildings committee, also stood by his initial vote to recommend the Tokena proposal.

"I feel as though we went through the correct process," said Cataldo. "The idea we ultimately chose at the last meeting was the best bid for the city and met the requirements of the RFP more closely."

During last week's committee meeting Craig said she believes a step in the RFP process was missed, because the two responses were never sent back to the Economic Development office - which would, in turn, have approached both parties to ask if these were the final proposals.

"We made a decision and we based it on the idea that the process was being followed," said Shaw. "I just think this is very unfortunate, but I still stand by our action."

Committee members voted 3-1 to stick with their initial recommendation of Tokena's proposal, with Shaw, Cataldo and Elizabeth Moreau in favor, Kevin Cavanaugh opposed, and Joseph Kelly Levasseur abstaining.

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Keno is still a go at the Derryfield Restaurant.

Atty. Roy Tilsley went before the Lands and Buildings Committee last week to address concerns over the popular restaurant and lounge on Mammoth Road offering Keno 603, after learning that "various people (in) city government remain uncomfortable" with the fact that Keno is not specifically addressed in the existing management agreement between the city's Parks and Recreation Department and BLL Restaurant Inc.

The management agreement prevents Derryfield management from putting slot machines or video poker machines on the premises, and requires that all employees be informed that gambling is prohibited on the premises at all times. According to Tilsley, the language was added to the agreement in response to an allegation that an employee was running a private football pool at the restaurant.

As Tilsley points out to the aldermen, Keno 603 does not require management to have either video poker machines or slot machines on site.

"Just as a convenience store does not become a casino simply because they sell lottery tickets, my client is not allowing or conducting unlawful gambling when it offers a New Hampshire State Lottery Commission game as a licensee of the Lottery Commission," writes Tilsley in a letter to city aldermen.

To address any concerns by city officials, Tilsley drafted a Fifth Addendum to the management agreement that specifically allows BLL Restaurant Inc. to operate Keno on site.

Committee members voted unanimously to recommend the new addendum be approved. The matter should appear on the agenda for the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.

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Colleges recruit students, and now city schools are getting in on the act.

A letter went out from Vargas to all staff in the district, urging them to choose Manchester public schools for their own children - even those who reside in neighboring towns.

"While we offer excellent opportunities for our students, we are experiencing a significant challenge attracting and retaining students from our surrounding communities," writes Vargas. "If we attract a number of you to make Manchester your choice, it will serve as a powerful message to other families about your confidence in our schools' ability to provide an excellent education to every child."

Vargas tells school board members he has already received "enthusiastic feedback" from the staff.

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

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