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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Chorus of grumbling grows over Manchester school administration

May 31. 2014 7:30PM

IT'S SAFE TO say, the honeymoon for Superintendent Debra Livingston ended a while ago, but Tuesday's school board meeting raised the question if the marriage is already on the rocks.

Members of the media have grumbled for a while now that it's not always easy to get information from Livingston's administration, and that significant developments and documents don't always find their way onto agendas or into the packets released to the public.

Tuesday, much louder voices joined the chorus: school board members and, most significantly, Mayor Ted Gatsas.

Public meetings always contain an element of theater, and so it was that Gatsas brought forward - on the agenda of the meeting - his plan to convene a special committee to deal with the ongoing review by the federal Office for Civil Rights.

Livingston, with the assistance of board member Kathy Staub, had already formed a "working group" to deal with the issues raised by the agency. But Gatsas insisted that the panel take the form of a proper school board committee, with all the accompanying open meeting rules.

Gatsas and others on the board were already surprised to learn that the district had been under review by the agency for more than three years before a settlement was announced last month, compelling it to take steps to address racial disparities in advanced high school courses.

Earlier in the evening, Livingston and her deputy, Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan, found themselves in the hot seat over the handling of the decision to have high school basketball teams continue to compete with Pembroke Academy, despite a boycott agreed to by other schools.

Gatsas was incensed that he had learned about the matter only when he was called by a reporter.

School board member John Avard implored Livingston to adopt the past practice of sending out regular email updates to the school board.

"We have to know what's going on," he said. "Rather than reading it in the paper or finding out a few weeks later, I'd appreciate your firing off something to let us know."

LAST WEEK, the teachers union once again broke Mayor Gatsas' heart.

He had thought that he and the team representing the Manchester Education Association had reached a long-awaited deal on a contract, only to have it rejected by a 2-1 margin by the union's general membership.

Naturally, the question put to Gatsas at Tuesday's meeting was, what's next?

Ever the optimist, Gatsas said he was hopeful the parties could sit down again in the near future.

Referring to the union's president, Gatsas said, "I think he's going to be out polling his membership about what items they didn't like, and as soon as he gets that back, then maybe we'll sit down and talk again."

IT APPEARS Patrick Arnold is seriously considering another run for mayor.

Arnold, in case you do not recall, is the fresh-faced former Ward 12 alderman who surprised everyone and came within single digits of Mayor Gatsas in last November's election.

Arnold has since become a darling of the state Democratic Party, and they had sought to draft him to run for the state Senate seat held by David Boutin.

Arnold was considering it, but then put out a statement last week saying he would instead focus on the challenges facing Manchester.

"The closeness of last year's race for Mayor left us not deterred, but indeed inspired by the certainty that Manchester's finest days are ahead," Arnold said.

It's no wonder that Arnold is still keeping his "Arnold for Mayor" Twitter and Facebook accounts active.

AN AIDE TO the mayor told me that I might want to bring a smock to Tuesday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting - to keep the blood off my clothes. The meeting promises to be a doozy.

It's the last scheduled meeting of the fiscal year, and the aldermen's last, best chance to put together a budget.

And the aldermen will be faced with what could be the most politically significant vote of their careers: whether to override the tax cap.

And on top of that, they'll have lots of unfinished business that they will want to wrap up before the end of the budget year.

I just might bring a smock - and a 44-ounce Big Gulp of espresso.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.

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