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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Prepare for some deja vu in school budget debate

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 22. 2012 10:14PM

Someone may have some extra homework to do over the Christmas break. The school board last week asked Superintendent Tom Brennan to have at least two budgets ready to present at its next meeting, Jan. 14.

There will likely be a big gap between the budgets. One will be a tax cap budget, which, in keeping with the voter-approved measure, can increase by no more than the three-year average increase in the Consumer Price Index (expected to be below 2 percent).

The other will be a budget that will "fully fund the Manchester district and meet state standards," in the words of board member Art Beaudry, who made the motion at Monday's meeting.

Coming up with the budget numbers will be an inexact science, since one the greatest costs - teacher salaries and benefits - will be the subject of negotiations set to get under way with the teachers union early next year.

But doesn't a "fully funded" budget belong more on Santa's wish list, given the constraints of the tax cap and city's overall budgetary woes?

Board member John Avard said at the meeting last week that the public needs to be presented with this number. "We need to know what the number is that is going to keep us in compliance with state guidelines," he said. "We have to see what a fully funded budget looks like."

And then there is the slim possibility that two-thirds of the aldermen, who must ultimately approve the budget for the school district, will vote to override the tax cap.

If all this sounds like deja vu, that's because something very similar happened last year. Brennan presented a tax cap budget of $152 million, along with a "needs" budget and a "progressive" budget that were more than $10 million higher.

This time around, however, the issue of school funding looms larger than ever, with the uproar over class sizes and the towns Candia and Hooksett actively seeking to get out of the contract to send their high school students to the district.

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City Clerk Matt Normand may be one of the hardest working and least appreciated employees at City Hall. But Normand did get a little love at Tuesday's Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting from Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur.

As was reported last week, Dean Mark McQuillan of the SNHU School of Education has agreed to come back and facilitate the school board's strategic planning process, after Mayor Ted Gatsas took issue with some comments the dean made and McQuillan said he would step down. The school and aldermanic boards had voted to send a letter to the dean urging him to come back. That task fell to Normand.

Levasseur was the bearer of the news at Tuesday's meeting that McQuillan agreed to return, and he credited the decision partly to Normand. "It was our outstanding city clerk that wrote the letter," he said.

Here's a sampling of Normand's prose: "The board recognizes the critical impact of your involvement in this process given your experience and asks that you reconsider your decision."

As for Mayor Gatsas, he says there's no hard feelings and he welcomes the dean's involvement. "I'm sure he'll do what's in the best interest to facilitate the school district's long-range plan," he told me.

Levasseur was never one to shy away from controversy. Now he's volunteered his legal services to Alexander Ramasci, the young man who was arrested this month in a Manchester police sting operation in a shopping center parking lot.

Ramasci was charged with misdemeanor theft after police say he took a purse and electronic device from an unattended shopping cart planted by police. Ramasci, who was suspended from his job because of the charge, said he had placed the items in his car with the intention of tracking down the owner.

Levasseur thinks the MPD should have better things to do with its time.

"We hired four new guys for this?" he said. "I felt bad for the kid."

Ramasci's trial is scheduled for March.

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Ready for another election? The aldermen, following protocol, have voted to request the Executive Council approve a special election to fill the Hillsborough District 9 state representative seat. The seat, representing the city's Ward 2, was vacated by Robert Thompson, the Democrat who ran for the seat and then up and moved to Florida.

The primary, if necessary, is scheduled for March 19, and the general election will be held on May 7.

Two candidates have already expressed an interest in the seat: Republican Win Hutchinson and Democrat Thomas Evans, both legislative candidates who lost in the 2012 elections.

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Finally, some good news courtesy of Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig. The Dorrs Pond warming hut at Livingston Park will be open Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Craig says this is the first time in about five years the warming hut has been open to the public during the winter months.

Unfortunately, Craig says, the pond's not ready for skating, but visitors can enjoy a walk or run around the pond, kids can play at the playground, and they can enjoy a cup of hot cocoa at the warming hut, provided by the Puritan Backroom.

Weather permitting, the warming hut will also be open on Monday, Jan. 21, as well as the week of February vacation. Hopefully by then, says Craig, the pond will be frozen over and people can skate. Happy holidays to all!

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

City Hall Manchester

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