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Elf, Santa address Manchester school officials on overcrowding

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 11. 2012 12:08AM
Hooksett parent Josh Lyscars, right, along with his friend, Santa Claus, speaks during a Manchester School Board meeting held at City Hall Monday evening. (MARK BOLTON/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Parents again lined up to criticize some of the mayor's recent actions as chairman of the school board. His critics on Monday included a man in the guise of an elf accompanied by Santa Claus.

The elf was John Lyscars, a Hooksett parent and activist who has spoken out against conditions in Manchester high schools that have prompted the town's school board to find the city in breach of its contract to send its high school students to district schools.

"The overcrowding at Central is serious and could cost you your accreditation. Santa and I have a proposal to solve many of your problems," Lyscars told the board during the public comment period before the Board of School Committee meeting Monday, sitting beside a man dressed as Santa. "Santa and I are full of hope that you will truly bestow gifts on the children of Manchester, Hooksett and Candia."

Lyscars distributed a seven-point plan to the school board. He said he did not want to release it to the media until the board members had a chance to review it.

Mayor Ted Gatsas did not appear to be amused by Lyscars' presentation.

Lyscars addressed the board after other parents and teachers spoke for more than an hour. They raised similar concerns about keeping Hooksett and Candia from pulling their kids from the district, and they urged the board to ask a Southern New Hampshire University dean to continue to assist in the board's strategic planning process.

Dean invited back

SNHU School of Education Dean Mark McQuillan had indicated that he would no longer participate after Gatsas called on him to answer for comments he made suggesting city schools were underfunded.

The first action of the school board when its official meeting began was to unanimously pass a motion to ask McQuillan to return. The action followed a similar motion by the aldermen last week.

Board member Kathy Staub, who has been leading the strategic planning process, said that McQuillan told her he would be willing to come back.

"But he wold like to know that this board also supports what we're doing and understands we need to have space for differences of opinion," she said.

Gatsas said he had no problem personally with McQuillan, and he noted that he had worked with him long before the issue with the planning committee arose.

"All I was asking for was for him to come forward. He could've called me. I don't have a problem with Mr. McQuillan stepping up and helping this district," Gatsas said.

Administrator contracts

In other business Monday, the school board voted to renew the contracts of its three top administrators.

The vote came after considerable debate over a motion from board member Art Beaudry to make Assistant Superintendents Karen Burkush and Michael Tursi unclassified employees, until a new superintendent is hired.

The board voted to renew the contract for Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis without debate.

Superintendent Thomas Brennan, who is stepping down at the end of this school year, recommended the contracts for all three be renewed, and he recommended a 2.5 percent cost-of-living raise.

Citing the economy, the administrators declined to accept the raises, unless they are part of the contract negotiated with school principals.

The board voted 7-4 to renew Burkush's contract, and 6-4 to renew Tursi's.

Board members Christopher Stewart, Debra Gagnon Langton, John Avard and Beaudry voted no in both cases.

Gatsas joined board members Dave Gelinas, Sarah Ambrogi, Roy Shoults, Donna Soucy, Erika Connors and Kathy Staub in voting to renew Burkush's contract. The same members voted to renew Tursi's contract, with the exception of Gatsas, who abstained, along with Ted Rokas, who abstained in both votes.

Burkush is paid more than $111,000, while Tursi and DeFrancis are both paid about $105,000.

The new contracts would start in the fall of 2013.

$40,000 for audit

In other action, the board voted to spend $40,000 on a contract for a company to perform an audit of the schools over the spring. A total of $35,000 would be reallocated from the athletics trust fund, leaving a $5,000 balance. Another $5,000 would come from a special fund created through voluntary donations that residents sent in along with their tax bills.

The vote was 7-5, with board members Stewart, Shoults, Soucy, Gelinas and Gatsas voting no, and Ambrogi, Avard, Beaudry, Connors, Langton, Rokas and Staub voting yes.

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