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Lingering contract, layoff woes keep everyone guessing

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 26. 2012 8:46PM

WHAT NOW? Parents, students, school board members, teachers, aldermen and pretty much everyone else in this city who cares even a little about city schools has been asking this question since the Manchester Education Association (the teachers' union) soundly rejected a concessions deal that could have saved up to 143 school jobs next year. Later in the week, the principals' union rejected similar concessions by a closer margin.

The Board of School Committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss the teachers' vote.

The Board of Aldermen will meet the same night to talk budgets, both city and school. Expect the school budget to take up most of the evening's debate and for the MEA, which has promised to continue lobbying the aldermen, to show up in force.

Parents also met last week, trying to wrap their heads around the impact of the budget and the teachers' vote. Word about a meeting at Hillside Middle School Thursday evening that was strictly for parents - no politicians or teachers allowed - was spread via Facebook Thursday afternoon. Members of the newly formed Citizens for Manchester Schools group also plan to meet outside City Hall Tuesday evening prior to the aldermen's meeting

The district's largest union is the MEA. If it made a deal, it stood to have the biggest impact on classroom size, courses and the overall state of the schools next year.

If the aldermen appropriate Mayor Ted Gatsas' proposed $150 million to the school district, there will be 161 school staff layoffs. Positions open because of retirements or people finding work elsewhere would not be filled, nor would the jobs vacated by a few teachers asked not to return. Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan estimates there will be between 188 to 200 vacancies in the district next year.

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WHEN LAYOFF NOTICES are delivered, they are typically handed out to the most junior members of the staff. Brennan said teachers with five or fewer years of experience were vulnerable this year.

Laying off the youngest staff members every few years has 'a significant impact' on the teaching pool, said Brennan. Currently, there is a gap in the number of teachers with between six and 15 years experience. Older teachers carry higher salaries and health care costs, Brennan noted. Intermediate teachers are also needed by senior teachers and administrators to take over leadership rolls and to mentor younger teachers in coming years, he said.

'That's an impact no one considers when we have few of these people survive (layoffs) or they have moved on,' said Brennan.

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MAYOR GATSAS might need a police escort from the school board to the aldermen meeting Tuesday night, and not because of his stance on the budget. The school board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. at the district offices on McGregor Street, and the aldermen are meeting in City Hall at 7 p.m. For those of you who have sat through a school board meeting, you know these are not speedy affairs. Both the board and the mayor will need some hefty restraint to wrap up a discussion about the budget and union contracts in less than an hour.

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ENCOURAGING PUBLIC engagement is nothing new for Alderman Garth Corriveau, who often tweets or posts items to Facebook asking constituents to show up to meetings, write letters or give him a call about an issue. But his activism went a step too far in the eyes of Committeeman Chris Stewart when Corriveau last week posted a petition called, 'Mayor Ted Gatsas & the Manchester, NH School Board Abandoned our Children.'

Corriveau said he did not create the petition or sign it.

'I support its overall message of opposing cuts to the schools in the mayor's budget, and a constituent asked me to share it with people,' said Corriveau. 'If I created a petition, I would use my own language. I wouldn't go so far as to say the school board has abandoned anybody. I just consider it a petition that opposed the mayor's budget for the schools.'

But Stewart took issue with promoting something that criticizes the school board for something beyond its control.

'Alderman Corriveau's accusation the school board has abandoned Manchester's children is unhelpful,' said Stewart. The school board requested $152 million from the aldermen, he said, the maximum amount allowed under the tax cap. 'If Mr. Corriveau is unhappy with the school board's tax cap budget, he has the ability as an alderman to change it.'

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PROPERTY TAXPAYERS will notice something different in their tax bill envelopes this year.

A note has been included announcing the new Manchester School District voluntary fund to aid local schools. People who want to donate should forward a separate check to the Manchester School District, the message says. Be advised, this payment doesn't reduce the amount you owe in property taxes.

The aldermen approved the fund in a phone vote conducted last week. The idea was crafted late during the last Board of Aldermen meeting by Alderman Patrick Long.

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CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL interim Principal Ron Mailhot quietly took over as the principal of the state's oldest public high school this month.

Mailhot was one of 33 applicants to the post and the only one of the three finalists from within the school district. Mailhot had served as interim principal since last year, when Principal John Rist retired.

'After my assessment of his current work, I felt it was in the best interest of the school,' said Brennan.

Former Central Assistant Principal Forrest Ransdell, who was serving as interim principal at Parkside Middle School, has officially been appointed principal of the middle school.

Read Beth LaMontagne Hall's coverage of Manchester City Hall in the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email her at

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