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December 05. 2012 2:00AM

Manchester aldermen rebuke mayor, vote to contact SNHU dean

MANCHESTER - The aldermen have voted to send a letter to the education dean at Southern New Hampshire University urging him to reconsider his decision to no longer assist in a strategic planning process for the school system.

Tuesday's vote came after Mayor Ted Gatsas at last week's school board meeting called on SNHU Dean Mark McQuillan to appear before the board to explain comments he made at a community meeting that there was "good evidence" that the school district was underfunded.

In response McQuillan, who volunteered to facilitate the strategic planning process, stepped down from his role.

Alderman Joyce Craig made the motion to send the letter to McQuillan.

"This was an open meeting, an open dialogue. This strategic plan is something this board determined should move forward," she said. "To turn Mr. McQuillan away the way we did, I think this is wrong. I think we should let him know our board appreciates his work."

Gatsas said he welcomed the involvement of the dean, but he questioned whether he was playing an impartial role, based on his comments about under-funding, as reported in an article in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

"If you're going to facilitate a discussion, you're not on one side or the other of the issue. You're in the middle trying to find solutions. That's what a facilitator does - a good one," Gatsas said.

Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur was among those who voted unanimously, in a voice vote, to send the letter.

"An opposing view is not always a biased view," he said.

Several parents during the public comment period before the meeting also decried Gatsas' comments about the dean. "We talk so much about bullies in schools, but I have to say we are at the mercy of the bully at the head of the school board," said Leslie Want, a parent who has often spoken out about school issues.

Alderman Craig also called on Gatsas to explain how he intends to keep the towns of Candia and Hooksett from pulling their high school students from the district. She was critical of the mayor for not allowing public comments at a recent meeting between the Manchester and Candia school boards.

"If these towns walk away, that's a loss of $7.2 million," she said. "I'm not willing to just let them go. To shut the door and not let them speak at a meeting - these towns have other towns courting them."

Gatsas replied that discussions with the towns about their contract with the Manchester district were ongoing, and that the issue was beyond the scope of the aldermen.

"My plan is to sit down with the school board, not this board," Gatsas said.

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Ted Siefer may be reached at tsiefer@unionleader.com.

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