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March 12. 2013 4:50PM

Another View: The people of Manchester have to save the city's schools - now

The City of Manchester is a great place to live. We, its citizens, whether born here or elsewhere, take great pride in our city and its people. When Manchester was named - more than once in the past decade - among the top 10 cities to live in the United States, we were rightly proud. Sadly, over the past few years we have had to witness the deterioration of Manchester's reputation as a place that families seek to live. This is only because of the foolish mismanagement of our school district and its funding in recent years.

The continual underfunding of our schools has taken its toll both on the actual education that our students receive and, just as importantly, the perception of Manchester as a community that does not value education.

Despite the elimination of many programs, the laying off of hundreds of staff members in recent years (96 last year alone), there are still many great teachers and students in our schools today. With its large and diverse population, the Manchester School District is a hive of activity, creativity and enthusiasm. It is these strengths that we must tap into and ensure that our political leadership wakes up to the reality that we must ensure adequate funding for our schools.

A recent report on tax burdens in the United States found that Manchester was one of the 10 lowest-taxed cities in the country. This puts the lie to the often repeated notion that we are overburdened with taxes and cannot afford to teach the next generation like we did earlier ones. The thought that today's citizens are less well able to afford an adequate education system than the Manchester residents of the 1930s and 40s or the 1970s and 80s is nonsense.

Men and women of great ambition, foresight and determination saw to it that Manchester had great schools. These great schools turned out the leaders of the future and the businessmen and women who would transform Manchester from a post-industrial dying mill town to the modern and vibrant center of commercial and social activity of today.

Any political leader with the future of our city in mind would have resolved to find the funds needed, or the savings necessary, to supply a quality education to our students. Instead of that, we have had politicians hide behind a tax cap as a reason to oversee the destruction of the finest education system in the state. This must stop, and it must stop now. It is up to you, the citizens of this great city, to see that it does.

There is great concern in our community about the proposed withdrawal of the students from the remaining contributing towns of Hooksett and Candia. With more than 100 years of history at Manchester High School Central and Manchester High School West, it would be a deeply sad to see the students of these communities leave our district. It will not just increase the burden on the taxpayers of Manchester, but it will tear at the fabric of the greater Manchester area. It will damage the cohesiveness of our region. For these and many other reasons, it is imperative that our school district be brought into compliance with state education standards.

I encourage my fellow citizens to come and join us at Citizens for Manchester Schools as we seek to have the voices of the parents, children and community members heard in the upcoming debates. This is a critical time for our schools and our city. Make no mistake, our city stands at a vital juncture in its history. We will either be a great place for families to raise their children, with all the vibrancy, pride and economic growth that this promises, or we will became a second-rate city, shabby and tired, resting on faded memories of a previous greatness but without the will to recreate it.

It is in our hands to determine which path is taken. Come join us as we forge a bright future for the schools of Manchester and with them a bright future for our children and all of our citizens.

Jim O'Connell is president of Citizens for Manchester Schools.

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