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Parents group urges funding of Manchester schools

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 24. 2012 11:24PM
Jim O'Connell, a parent of Hillside Middle and Central High students, foreground, discusses Manchester schools with interested parents. (MARK HAYWARD/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Adequately fund education in the city of Manchester, even if it means raising taxes, a majority of people in the newly formed Citizens for Manchester Schools said Thursday night.

In a meeting billed as being only for parents, with teachers and politicians forbidden, the group seemed to agree that the city had to fund schools by more than the $152 million proposed by the school board.

'When you get rid of the emotion and look at the facts, there isn't one piece of data that doesn't say we're not woefully underfunded and atrociously underfunded,' said Jim O'Connell, who was voted the head of the group by the roughly 30 people at the meeting, held Thursday night at Hillside Middle School.

Group members said they wanted to add a voice to school budget discussions whose only stake was the children being educated. The district recently laid off 161 employees, including 143 teachers, and the teachers union on Wednesday rejected a proposed contract that sought significant health care concessions to cancel the layoffs.

'Stop using our children as a bargaining chip,' Sam Spezeski said.

The group elected a handful of officers and agreed to hold another meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in front of City Hall in hopes of 'overwhelming' that night's Mayor and Board of Aldermen meeting.

Not everyone was in agreement, though. One member, Dr. Anna Ray, asked whether the group was planning to specify what it meant by funding education. She said she would want assurances that any increased funding targeted real education efforts.

'This sounds very pie-in-the-sky. It's easy to say we want strong schools. Of course we want strong schools,' Ray said. 'What part of education is paying for bloated benefits?'

O'Connell said the concerned citizens' group should stay focused on convincing the Board of Aldermen to increase school funding, citing state Department of Education statistics that show Manchester at or near the bottom of the state in per-student education funding.

'This radical underfunding can no longer be tolerated,' he said.

'It's 2012 and our children are using computers from the mid-90s,' said Moira Byrne-Philbrook. 'We're behind the eight-ball as it is.'

Though the meeting was intended to exclude teachers and politicians, it still had their influence. One man identified himself as a teacher and received playful jeers from the others.

Another man, who said Mayor Ted Gatsas has been 'effective' at pitting the public against the teachers union and said it was 'unfair' of elected officials to 'bully' the teachers union while it has an existing contract, declined to provide his name to a reporter, saying his wife is a city school teacher and he didn't want his words used against her.

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