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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Alderman fearful after police dispatcher's 'manic' response to station debate

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 06. 2013 1:05AM

THE NAMING of the new police headquarters has stirred up quite a bit of passion. Recall that Chief David Mara had intended to name the station after Michael Briggs, the officer killed in the line of duty in 2006. Some felt the move effaced the memory of Ralph Miller, an officer killed 1976 and the namesake for the now-defunct Chestnut Street station. Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur had proposed a hyphenated name. According to Levasseur, he and Mara had a heated exchange about the issue at the final aldermen's meeting of the year, Dec. 18. At least one person in the audience, later identified as a city police dispatcher, was none too pleased with Levasseur, and by the alderman's account, he went beyond giving him dirty looks. "It is quite obvious he became unglued, unhinged and manic in his actions," Levasseur wrote in an email to Mara. "To have to be pulled out of the room by the chief of police says quite a bit about his character and ability to effectively work for the Manchester Police Department." Levasseur wants to lodge a formal complaint against the officer, whom he fears may try to retaliate against him, he said. So far, the MPD hasn't identified the officer to Levasseur. He was not in uniform at the meeting. But an officer investigating the incident did contact the alderman late last week. In his email, Levasseur raised the possibility of going to the Attorney General's Office if the department wasn't more responsive to his concerns. "I do not even feel safe simply going out for a beer because of this officer's actions. If he acts this way directly towards me in an open setting like a meeting at City Hall, what in the world is he going to do in a dark street?"

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For those concerned that the school district is moving toward replacing teachers with robots, rest assured. Mayor Ted Gatsas wants there to be real live people in the "virtual classrooms" the district hopes to have in place in a couple of weeks. But just as Gatsas has presented virtual education as a novel response to the district's shortage of funds and teachers, the mayor is taking an original approach to staffing the labs: He's seeking volunteers. "I would hope all the people out there who have had a lot to say about our schools would call Dr. (Thomas) Brennan," Gatsas said, referring to the superintendent. The volunteers could be "retired businesspeople, teachers, anybody in the community that wants to donate some time," Gatsas said, adding that "they would have to get clearances to move forward." The virtual education plan has two components: "blended" classrooms, in which students would take courses offered by the state's virtual charter school (V-LACS), and remote classrooms, in which students could participate through video teleconferencing in a teacher-led class at another location. Gatsas said he would like to make use of volunteer proctors in both settings. Not surprisingly, the teachers union has been wary of the plan, and the prospect of manning the virtual classrooms with volunteers further discomforted Ben Dick, the president of the Manchester Education Association. "The whole thing in its infancy raises concerns," he said. "I've maintained all along that this certainly has the potential to be beneficial, but it certainly is not the end-all, be-all to solving problems, particularly financial and overcrowding concerns." Dick said that based on his talks with the superintendent, he thought the plan was to "hire monitors" who wouldn't necessarily have to be certified teachers. The district uses monitors, who are paid and trained, in computer labs where students take remedial courses, according to Dick. Gatsas may have more leverage when it comes to the virtual classrooms. He is the guy, after all, who went out and raised $37,500 from the business community to fund the program. That's not as much as the $80,000 Brennan estimated starting up the program would cost when he presented the idea in November. The greatest expense, by Brennan's calculations, would be the $43,500 per semester for three V-LACS lab facilitators. Gatsas said he's in the final stages of securing donations of equipment for the program. As for the businesses that "stepped up" to support the program, they would be: Dan Quirk of Quirk Automotive; the Scrivanos family, who own several Dunkin' Donuts franchises; and Jeremy Hitchcock, the CEO of Dyn, the Internet technology company.

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Speaking of the business community getting involved in the schools, the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce is sending out a survey to business owners and leaders to get their views on education issues. Robin Comstock, chamber president, said the survey is the first step of the chamber's newly established education committee. "A lot of members are quite concerned about the challenges they see with the public education system," she said. "We believe a sound education system is the foundation of a strong community that attracts employers and jobs and that has a work force that is ready and capable." This is not the first time the chamber has waded into education matters. In 2004, it presented a 120-page report, the product of months of interviews conducted by a research firm. Amid the current uproar of school conditions and allegations of underfunding, the nearly decade-old report does offer a little historical perspective. For example, about 62 percent of businesses and residents at the time said schools were underfunded. The report also noted there were 100 high school classes that had more than 30 students. At that same time, it's worth noting that 68 percent of the people interviewed for the 2004 report said they would recommend the district to those considering moving to the city, and 65 percent said they thought the district was headed in the right direction. It would be interesting to see how people might respond to these questions this time around.

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

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Editor's note: Initial editions of this column said the alleged threatening behavior came from a police officer. That person has since been identified as a police dispatcher

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