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Manchester school board committee favors dropping residency requirement for top administrators

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 09. 2014 8:02PM

MANCHESTER — The school board is set to vote on whether to drop the residency requirement for top administrators, a policy that has been a priority for Mayor Ted Gatsas.

The board’s Coordination Committee voted on Tuesday to back eliminating the requirement. Gatsas, a member of the committee, was not present at the meeting because he was in the hospital recovering from surgery. The board could vote on the proposal as soon as its meeting Monday, which the mayor is not expected to attend while he recuperates.

The residency issue has been controversial, with opponents arguing that the requirement imposes unrealistic expectations on professionals to uproot their homes, and supporters, in particular Gatsas, insisting it’s an important signal of commitment by some of the city’s highest paid employees.

The board adopted a policy in 2012 requiring any superintendent or assistant superintendent hired after 2010 to establish a home in the city within 180 days of signing an employment contract.

The requirement has proven difficult for Dave Ryan, the assistant superintendent hired in the summer who lives in Hooksett with his family. At a school board meeting a couple of months ago, the board agreed to grant Ryan a six-month extension to meet the contract provision.

Dropping the residency requirement has been a priority for Ward 8 school board member Erika Connors. “I did research this quite a bit. We’re the only school district in New Hampshire that has this policy,” she said at Tuesday’s Coordination Committee meeting. “I don’t think this helps our school district. If we want to hire the best and brightest, we shouldn’t care where their head is hitting the pillow at night.”

Connors told the committee that she had let the mayor know that she would be bringing up the issue at the meeting.

On Wednesday, Connors explained that she had told Gatsas about her intention prior to his being unexpectedly admitted to Catholic Medical Center.

Connors said she did have “some hesitation” about raising the issue at the committee meeting. But, she added, “We do have the end of the school year coming up, so I think it’s time-sensitive. I was not looking to put one past (the mayor) at the meeting.”

Connors noted that when the district briefly had in place a residency requirement for new principals, it only had four applications for the position at Central High. With the policy no longer in effect, the district has had 33 applicants for the current opening.

She also told the committee that the residency requirement may be on shaky legal ground and have been found unconstitutional elsewhere.

Others on the committee were supportive of dropping the requirement.

“I feel it’s not a realistic policy given the current housing market, to expect people who don’t live here to sell their homes and move here,” Ward 1 school board member Sarah Ambrogi said. “I understand the rationale for the policy — our superintendents and assistant superintendents should have a strong commitment to the Manchester School District — but it’s just that the current policy is not working,”

However, Ward 6 board member Robyn Dunphy said she didn’t think changing the policy should retroactively affect the contract of Dave Ryan.

“I’m OK with this going forward, but a contract has been signed,” she said. “When you sign a contract, you agree to a contract.”

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