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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Brennan's faux pas added fuel to already sizzling school issue

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 16. 2012 12:01AM

Things have gotten pretty heavy with Hooksett, notwithstanding the town denizen who came to speak at Monday's Board of School Committee meeting dressed as an elf.

Hooksett's school board has voted to find Manchester in breach of the contract by which it sends its high school students - and more than $7 million annually in tuition - to the district. Both sides appear to have lawyered up; the city school board has held two non-public meetings about the contract with the district's attorney. (See Manchester attorney Brad Cook's op-ed piece, Page B3.)

Superintendent Tom Brennan has underscored the seriousness of the situation by telling school board members that he has Hooksett's intentions, to find the district in breach of contract, in writing.

It turns out, no such letter has been sent - and Hooksett may be more amenable to negotiations than it appears.

Brennan, in an email to the school board last week, said that he had mistakenly indicated that Hooksett had sent a "Formal Letter of Breach."

Hooksett's superintendent has not yet sent such a letter, Brennan explained in the email, which was forwarded to the New Hampshire Union Leader. The Hooksett school chief had, in fact, told Brennan that the board is still pursuing several options, including "meeting with the BOSC to reach a resolution, negotiating an early release, and/or declaring a formal breach."

Brennan said in the email that he cannot explain "How I came to the conclusion, nor can I explain why I thought I had received the letter."

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Maybe Brennan slipped up because he has had a lot on his mind, what with the careers of his three top deputies on the line.

The school board on Monday ended up voting to renew the contracts of Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis and, by much narrower margins, those of Assistant Superintendents Karen Burkush and Michael Tursi.

All three likely breathed sighs of relief after the meeting, but the vote had board member Art Beaudry breathing fire.

Beaudry has argued that Burkush and Tursi should be made at-will employees without contracts, to give the new superintendent, after Brennan steps down at the end of the school year, the chance to form his or her own team.

Going into the meeting, Beaudry thought he had the votes. Two board members he said had indicated they would vote against renewing the contracts voted otherwise. The contracts for Burkush and Tursi, to start next fall, were approved by a three- and two-vote margin, respectively.

Beaudry also didn't like that Brennan had proposed giving all three administrators the 2.5 percent cost of living increase called for in their contracts. Brennan said that the three wouldn't accept the raises, but still, Beaudry noted, the offer was made, just as the board is gearing up for negotiations with the teachers union and other district employees.

"The union guys sitting up in the balcony listening now can say, 'You offered your administrators 2.5 percent - Why not us?'" Beaudry said. "It's just a poor way of negotiating."

Beaudry and others on the board have suggested that the pay for the assistant superintendents, above $105,000 for Tursi and above $111,000 for Burkush, is excessive at it is.

"This happens more and more and more. We treat upper management much different than our rank-and-file workers," Beaudry said.

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Now for some good news. Alderman Garth Corriveau is the 2012 recipient of the New Hampshire Young Democrats "C. Arthur Soucy Award." The group singled out Corriveau for his work as an alderman, the former president of the New Hampshire Young Democrats and his "tireless effort . in working up and down the ticket to reelect Democrats in November."

So will Corriveau use the accolade to launch a run for mayor in 2013?

He said he's still weighing his options. "I intend to ask people in the city after the holidays for their input and advice on how I can best serve Manchester going forward," Corriveau said.

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There's at least one other young Democratic alderman said to considering taking on the formidable Mayor Gatsas: Patrick Arnold. From his perch beside the mayor's podium at board meetings, he has often been a thorn in Gatsas' side.

"I'm discussing it with people." That's all Arnold would tell me at this point, although he added, "I do have major concerns about the state of the city."

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Next week may be our elected officials' last chance to get anything done this year. So it's no surprise that the schedule at City Hall is jam-packed.

There's a special meeting of the Board of School Committee on Monday.

There's also a Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting on Tuesday, and in between those meetings, there's a Curriculum and Instruction subcommittee meeting and six aldermanic subcommittee meetings.

The week wraps up with joint meetings between the school board and the Candia board on Thursday, and with the Hooksett board on Friday, to discuss the sending towns' ongoing issues with the Manchester district.

Hopefully by then, Christmas spirit will be in the air and the meetings will be less acrimonious than past ones.

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Ted Siefer may be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @tbsreporter.

City Hall Manchester

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