Can Manchester's school budget be trimmed without harming the quality of public education in the city? Yes, and Mayor Ted Gatsas has identified where.
Manchester has a pretty lean school budget overall. The city spends far less per-pupil ($9,826) than the state average ($12,775) and less than surrounding districts do. Bedford spends $11,229 per pupil, Goffstown $10,592 and Hooksett $10,871. But the money Manchester does spend goes overwhelmingly into teacher pay and benefits.
The average teacher salary in Manchester is $57,349. The average is $51,698 in Goffstown, $51,135 in Hooksett and a lowly $49,171 in Bedford. The state average is $53,702. Manchester pays its teachers $3,647 more than the state average and a whopping $8,178 more than Bedford does. And that does not include benefits, which are extremely generous in Manchester.
The city manages to pay its teachers that well even though only 44 percent of Manchester teachers have a master's degree. The state average is 54 percent. In Bedford, it's 60 percent.
According to the official school budget, in fiscal year 2012, 75 percent of Manchester's school budget goes to salaries and benefits. In Bedford, the figure is 70 percent.
Mayor Gatsas says the city can stay within its spending cap without massive teacher layoffs as long as the unions make concessions on compensation. He is absolutely correct.
Teacher compensation in Manchester has risen beyond the city's ability to pay. It has to be contained. The bad way to do that is to undertake massive layoffs. The responsible way is to negotiate compensation adjustments with the unions. Elected officials are willing to make a deal that will save jobs and meet the voter-mandated spending cap. Are the unions equally willing?