Ted Siefer's City Hall: Manchester school board should be proud of its accomplishments
The end of the school year is a time for honors and recognitions, and last week the school board could pat itself on the back.
Preliminary numbers indicated that the district had managed to cut its dropout rate in half over the past school year; donors were ponying up tens of thousands of dollars for the STEAM Ahead program; and, most important, the board had finalized a budget that the superintendent said should allow the district to begin the school year in the fall without a single overcrowded class.
The final vote on the 2015 budget came at the end of Monday's board meeting. Of course, the district's total budget, $159.5 million, was established a couple of weeks ago by the aldermen. But it was up to the administration and the board to adjust the allocations as they saw fit.
The administration proposed scaling back its plan to hire additional assistant principals at each of the high schools (instead, just one would be hired at Central). There also was close to an additional $600,000 in the budget because, at the end of the budget year, there were more favorable projections for tuition revenue and savings from retirements and professional service costs.
Superintendent Debra Livingston said she wanted the additional money to be set aside to hire staff as needed to deal with fluctuating enrollments in the opening weeks of the school year."We looked over and over again at class size," she said. "That's why we built flexibility in there and decided we would wait on some administrative positions to ensure that we can do that and hire (teachers), if we should need to, before the beginning of the school year."
After some debate, part of which took place behind closed doors, the board ended up voting to support the budget with minor tweaks. The only "no" votes came from Deb Gagnon Langton, Art Beaudry and Chris Stewart.
As the board's resident iconoclasts, the votes of Langton and Beaudry weren't surprising.
Stewart used the opportunity to reiterate his belief the school budget remained inadequate and that the district doesn't do enough long-term planning. "I know I sound like a broken record here, but I want to see what it looks like to have the schools fully funded for the next five years," he said.
The administration is looking ahead on at least one score: It's already announced the graduation date for next year - June 13, 2015. The announcement came as a pleasant surprise to board member John Avard, even if the date is later in June than he would have liked. Avard was the chief proponent of going to an hours-based school calendar that allowed the district to move up the graduation date this year.
But, as the district also announced last week, it was going back to a longer day-based calendar.
The end of school could come even later next year, Avard noted, if there are a lot of snow days.
Still, Avard was happy to see the graduation date put out there so soon.
"We always vote on it in the spring and give people very little notice as to when the graduation date is," he said. "I'm very pleased to see it come forward now."
The sky isn't falling at City Hall after all. You might recall that Mayor Ted Gatsas had proposed bonding close to $1 million for repairs and renovations at City Hall. At their final budget meeting, earlier this month, most of the aldermen thought it would be better to put the bond money toward road repairs.
A rather spirited discussion ensued about the dire state of the building that included that alarming revelation that the roof at City Hall was leaking. Since then, Kevin O'Maley, the city's chief facilities manager, did some investigating and reported back to the aldermen in an email. "We do not have any record that there is an active roof leak," he wrote. "This past March there was an issue with a roof leak. But the facilities team responded and repaired a large tear in the roof membrane in a timely fashion. ... Based on the age and condition, we feel the roof is good for at least the next 5+ years."
So it appears all's well at City Hall for the time being. And if anything does go wrong, its chief occupant will be sure to tell the aldermen that he told them so.
Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.