MANCHESTER — Public school parents blasted the Mayor and Board of School Committee at a hearing Wednesday for approving a budget that, in the words of one parent, will prove to be an “unmitigated disaster” for the district.
The committee scheduled the hearing two days earlier after being informed that, under the city charter, the public had to have a chance to comment on the final $154 million budget for the 2013 school year.
Only nine of the 14 committee members were present — and none spoke during the hearing, while nearly a dozen parents made their views known.
“By any metric, we don't provide enough funding. This is going to be unmitigated disaster for the Manchester School District,” said Nick Want, alluding to the prospect of large unruly classes, among other things. “We as citizens are going to be demanding safety for our children.”
The budget, approved late last month, allocates $152 million in city funds for the schools and taps another $2.3 million from the school district's expendable trusts to restore teacher and administrative positions that had been slated for elimination.
The budget will allow the school district to bring back about 55 positions, while around 145 positions will be left vacant, according to Superintendant of Schools Thomas Brennan.
Over the next six weeks, the administration is faced with the complicated task of filling dozens of positions, transferring staff and hiring new administrators. The process has already sparked intense criticism from at least one committee member, as well as parents.
“You seem to have little or no respect for the citizens of this city — to schedule this hearing with less than 24 hours notice — and to the teachers in your own schools,” said Kimberlee Hebert, who was upset over recent staff transfers at Hillside Middle School.
Hebert added: “The people that usually get the blame in all this is teachers. Imagine a multi-national company that blames its employees for its money problems. What would we think of a company that hands out employee appreciation notices at the same time it hands out pink slips?”
Kevin Phelan urged the school committee and mayor to look at school systems in other towns that he said aspire to “excellence,” not mediocrity. “We're not even at mediocrity,” he said. “It's no secret that people are packing their bags and leaving Manchester for no other reason than to pursue a better education. That affects me, my daughters. When property values go down, it affects everyone.”
Many of the parents are involved with a recently formed group, Citizens for Manchester Schools, which has held several rallies during the budget process. The group wanted at least $162 million for schools, the amount the superintendent has said is necessary to level-fund existing staff levels and programs.
Such a budget would have required the lifting of the tax cap, which Mayor Ted Gatsas adamantly opposed.
Gatsas said after the hearing that he understood the frustrations of the parents. “It's a difficult time for everybody. We all have to work through these difficult times,” he said.
Superintendant Brennan said that he shared the anger expressed by the parents. “I'm supposed to be the educational leader of this school district and I'm frustrated by the (budget) process. I've done some research on this, and it seems to be something that's been going on for decades.”
- - - - - - - -
Ted Seifer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.