Ted Siefer's City Hall: Baines is out, let the search begin (again)
By TED SIEFER New Hampshire Union Leader
ROBERT BAINES is out. A week after the school board rejected the three finalists for superintendent, the former mayor and Manchester High School West principal has made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't want the job.
"I'm not a candidate for the job. I did not express any interest in the job. I have already accepted another job, and I wish the school board all the best as they select the next leader for the school district," he said.
So that's a no, right?
Mayor Ted Gatsas floated the idea of Baines stepping in as superintendent, right around the time he determined late last month that the three finalists were lacking.
Baines said he and Gatsas "have always had a good relationship. He's been very supportive. He mentioned something (about being superintendent). There was speculation going on, but it was nothing I caused."
In fact, Baines said he has no interest at this point in being back in the public eye, and he said he did not want to discuss his new job.
So what's next in the city's quest for a new school leader? It's safe to say the school board's superintendent search committee, assuming it can get past the recriminations, will have its work cut out for it when it reconvenes on Thursday. Committee members have less than three months to find someone to take the helm before Superintendent Tom Brennan walks into the sunset.
For his part, Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur is still lamenting the one who got away.
You may recall he was prepared to refer Gatsas to the Conduct Board for "subverting the superintendent nominee process."
That didn't happen. Levasseur determined ahead of Tuesday's aldermen meeting that he wouldn't even be able to get a second for the motion.
But Levasseur did take some time at the meeting to share a letter Vincent Cotter, the retired superintendent from the Philadelphia area, sent to the school board. "Please know that I was touched by the students, staff and people of Manchester in their desire to build a stronger school system, and know of my willingness to further demonstrate my ability to assist in making Manchester a model of urban education."
Levasseur liked the guy. "I think we missed out on a very good person for the superintendent job," he told the aldermen. "I'm very disappointed in the school board."
His colleagues weren't inclined to touch this issue either. But the school board did get some words of support from Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig. "I was impressed they had the courage not to pick a candidate that did not gain consensus," she said.
On Monday, earnest parents lined up at a hearing at Manchester Memorial High School to urge the city's elected officials to spend more on the school system. Not all of them came out and said it, but the implicit plea was to override the tax cap.
It's safe to say those parents probably shouldn't get their hopes up, based on an unscientific survey of the aldermen.
It only takes five aldermen to sink an override of the tax cap, either by voting no or abstaining.
Aldermen Levasseur, Jim Roy, Tom Katsiantonis and Phil Greazzo are already pretty firmly planted in the no camp.
Others said they still wanted to go over the budget numbers before making such a decision.
But the comments of Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold, a Democrat and upstart candidate for mayor, are perhaps telling.
"I think all the aldermen take their responsibility to represent their constituents very seriously," he said. "Our focus in campaign discussions is to provide new leadership to the problems we face, not simply by throwing more money at the problem."
Alderman Roy, Ward 4, was dubious there would be an override but said he sympathesized with people who raised concerns at the school budget hearing earlier in the week.
"Personally, I have some of the same feelings as those people in favor of the schools have, but I'm not there to vote for me personally. I'm there to vote for my constituents," he said.
Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne also said he wasn't ready to say whether an override is in order, but he wanted to make one thing clear: He doesn't like the tax cap as a matter of principle - and he intends to do something about it. He's hoping to bring a motion before the aldermen at their next meeting to yet again put the issue on the ballot in November.
"Now after two years voters are getting a taste of what this means, " he said. "Let's get this over with. If this is still on the books two-to-three years from now, I don't want to see the shape the city is in."
There are other ways to send more money to the school district besides overriding the tax cap. Last year, the aldermen bumped up the $150 million allocation proposed by the mayor by $2 million, by sending over a chunk of the hefty surplus from 2012.
But it doesn't appear the city will be seeing surpluses of that order this year, thanks to the fact that there was a real winter and a flood of retirements, which blew a huge hole in the severance account.
At this point, Finance Director Bill Sanders sees the surplus tracking closer to $800,000. If the aldermen do try to go the surplus route to bolster the district budget, it's likely the budgets won't be finalized until later in the year, and district officials will be none too pleased about this. They pinned much of the chaos at the start of the school year on getting their final budget with only a couple months before the first day of classes.
The aldermen will be able to get a better sense of the prospect for surpluses this year and the impact of the mayor's proposed budget for 2014 on Tuesday, when department heads will appear before them at a special meeting. The issue of severance, which the mayor left unfunded in his budget, will loom large.
"The aldermen were told by the mayor that these severance buyouts would result in saving money on the salary line," Ward 6 Alderman Garth Corriveau said. "Instead we're seeing huge deficits. We need figure out why this is happening."
Corriveau, it turns out, won't be a candidate for mayor after all.
He had been seriously considering the idea, as he did two years ago.
Unlike then, however, the Democrat said this time the reason for not running was personal.
"The answer really was I have my upcoming marriage, my work for my clients . and serving as an alderman. I thought I can continue to be happy and continue to serve. It wasn't a political decision at all."
As for endorsing the lone Democrat in the race at this point, Alderman Arnold, Corriveau said, "I haven't given any thought to that. I assume so, but I wouldn't endorse a candidate until the filing period closed anyway."
Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.