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March 17. 2012 11:45PM

Threat of layoffs creates 'terrible' morale for school staff


 

The school board's decision to pink slip 161 school staffers last week came as a surprise to some board members, who entered the chambers that evening under the assumption that the votes to pass a reduction in force were not there.

Since then, the reality has sunk in, especially for teachers, and the union leadership has met to discuss the ramifications of the layoffs. As of Wednesday, there were no plans to bring the entire union membership together to talk about concessions.

With little movement expected from either side, both school and union top officials said the vote has further chipped away at the staff's already low morale.

“Right now, people aren't feeling good, especially after that meeting,” said Manchester Education Association President Ben Dick.

Staff morale is “terrible,” said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan. “People are very anxious and concerned about their livelihood.”

Although the deadline for laying off teachers is not until May, Brennan said his staff will soon determine how to spread the 161 pink slips throughout the district.

“We certainly have the obligation to give all the staff time to get into the job market earlier,” said Brennan.

When those pink slips do come out, they'll be hand delivered by Brennan, which he sees as his responsibility.

“My name is on the bottom of that page,” he said.

Mayor Ted Gatsas sees the teachers' down attitude in another light.

“It seems as though the morale in the city (employees) was the same thing,” said Gatsas. “We came to an agreement with the unions on concessions, and it seems the morale has changed 180 degrees.”

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SOMETIMES REACHING a compromise comes easy to the aldermen, and other times they find themselves walking away with a few bumps and bruises.

The mayor and aldermen are clearly showing some black and blue marks, caused by banging their heads against the wall in the ongoing debate over the city's new fleet-management system. For the fourth meeting in a row, the aldermen on Tuesday are expected to take up whether the city should form a new department or maintain a division under the Highway Department.

The sticking point all along has been how to shift the maintenance garage employees — represented by six different unions — to one new department without launching a barrage of labor grievances.

To help smooth things over, the aldermen asked the unions for their input. Last week, the unions responded with a letter outlining how they would like the transition to take place.

The unions asked that all current garage employees be transferred to a newly created department but that they also be “grandfathered” into their roles at their previous departments. In other words, a Fire Department mechanic would continue to work on fire trucks in the new garage under the same benefits given to fire employees. If a situation arose in which that mechanic was needed to work on another department's vehicle, that employee could work on other projects.

These workers should also be offered certification and training, the letter says, so mechanics from different departments could expand the kinds of equipment they could work on and increase efficiency.

Alderman Patrick Long, who has been working with the unions to reach some agreement, said the response was what he expected. He now hopes some compromise can be made and that the aldermen vote soon to create the Fleet Management Department.

Gatsas, who plans to talk about the department in his budget address on Tuesday, said he appreciates the work the unions did to move toward an agreement.

“The board needs to step up and take a vote to make it a department and move forward,” said Gatsas.

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BRENNAN HAS REJECTED the proposal to shift fifth-graders into the city's four middle schools. For more than a year, he has been researching ways to reassign city students to relieve crowding in some schools while using extra space in others. Brennan told the school board on Monday there is not enough room in all of the middle schools — despite being under capacity — to properly accommodate all the fifth-graders. Even if the move was made, Brennan added, it would not create enough room in those crowded elementary schools to make much of a difference.

Brennan didn't get an argument from the board. On Tuesday, Brennan said he will probably suggest the school board make only small adjustments to school populations when he presents his redistricting plan in April.

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BEFORE LOCAL DEMS head to the St. Patrick's Parade next Sunday, they'll gather at the Brady-Sullivan Tower's grill at 9 a.m. for their annual St. Patrick's Day breakfast. Former House Democratic Leader Jim Craig will serve as master of ceremonies. Former Board of School Committee At-Large member Kathleen Kelley, who stepped down last fall, will be recognized at the event.

Tickets are $25. For more information, go to manchester dems@gmail.com.

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GRANITE STATE Republicans will gather on Friday to honor former Manchester Mayor and Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek during a fundraisng event at the Executive Court.

Called NHGOP's Tribute to Ray Wieczorek, the event will come weeks after Wieczorek announced he would not seek another term on the Executive Council. Tickets for this evening event start at $50.

Read Beth Lamontagne Hall's coverage of Manchester City Hall in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email her at bhall@unionleader.com.


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