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September 13. 2014 9:33PM

Ted Siefer's City Hall: School starts smoothly, even with unenrolled showing up



THE SCHOOL year has gotten off to a remarkably smooth start by almost all accounts - emphasis on the almost. At Monday's school board meeting, the members discussed class size tallies as of the first day of school.

For the most part, the classes were within the state guidelines. But there were more than 40 classes at Southside Middle School that had 30 students (the state limit) or more. And Art Beaudry, being Art Beaudry, was not about to let it slide.

In Beaudry's eyes, this went against assurances Assistant Superintendent Dave Ryan had made at the previous meeting, that everything looked copacetic at the middle and high schools as far as class sizes were concerned.


Ryan said the overcrowded classes at Southside were the result of a familiar problem: previously unenrolled students showing up on the first day. In Southside's case, Ryan said, 59 new students showed up. Coupled with no-shows, this was a net increase of 41 unanticipated students.


Beaudry, who represents Ward 9, wasn't satisfied with this explanation. "I hope some Southside parents get fired up," he said. "I know if this was Hillside, they'd have WMUR there. It seems Southside year after year doesn't get the same attention as the other middle schools. I think they deserve the same class sizes as the other middle schools."

This was an allusion to the bad old days in 2012 when a parent/activist dropped a dime to the news station to inform reporters that there were classes at Hillside with more than 40 students.

Things have changed dramatically since then. There's a different school administration and a lot more money in the budget for staffing. Still, even as the district made progress in reducing the size of high school classes - the chief beef of that prompted Hooksett to look elsewhere to send its kids - the middle school crowding remained a major problem.

Ryan stressed that considerable progress had been made, despite the crowding at Southside on the first day.

"Last year, we were in position where all four middle schools were over capacity," Ryan said.

Ryan said he believed classes could be sufficiently "rebalanced" by the end of the second week of school to bring the sizes within state standards, and if not additional teachers could be brought in.

"We're now in a position where we've reallocated money in the budget, without asking for new dollars, and now we're working with one school to make sure class sizes are in line," he said.

Politics often run in the family in Manchester. And sometimes they run in the same household. On Tuesday, there were two Girards among the six candidates to be Ward 2 delegates to the Republican state convention: Richard Girard, the well-known radio host and former alderman, and his wife Jennifer Girard, a political newcomer.

The winners are the top three vote-getters, and as it turned out, Jennifer beat out Richard for the third seat (by 18 votes, according to the preliminary results).

If Richard was stung by this outcome, what probably hurt worse was the fact that Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur, Girard's bitter rival, got more votes than the both of them. (The top vote-getter, in case you're wondering, was William H. Gardner, whoever that is; he's not the secretary of state.)

Levasseur, not surprisingly, teased Girard about it on his show on Manchester Public Television.
Girard was not exactly pleased when I informed him that I intended to write about the election, but he did have this much to say on the record, via email: "I'm excited for my wife and glad she'll have the opportunity to participate in shaping the GOP's platform."

A new school administration "working group" is in the works. Superintendent Debra Livingston told the board at Monday's meeting that the administration would be working with its attorney on ways to bring policies to the board "in a more organized, rigorous fashion." The group would also concern itself with the requirements of the right-to-know law.

The announcement presumably was a response to grievances expressed by several school board members - and reporters, on occasion - that policies seemed to be developed with scant notice to or input from the board.

As it happened, Monday's meeting may have offered another case in point.

You may recall that the board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee recently reviewed a new teacher evaluation system. It's a pretty big deal; it would give "ineffective" teachers up to three years to improve, while largely replacing formal annual observations with more frequent "mini-observations."

It's the kind of thing one might expect the entire school board to weigh in on, but it was never referred to the full board, so it wasn't on the agenda on Monday. The reason, the school board's clerk explained to me, is that the committee never took a vote on the proposal.

This, of course, is a departure from the aldermen, who refer nearly everything discussed in committee to the full board.

So maybe Livingston's new working group can add another item to its agenda.

Do you live on the West Side and have questions about crime, schools and lots of other things in your neighborhood? If so, you might be interested in an event organized by Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry: the West Side Community Awareness Rally, on Saturday, Sept. 20, at West Little League on Harvell Street.

Manchester police will be on hand to discuss community policing and the Neighborhood Watch program.

Representatives from the local schools will also be on hand, as will Ward 10 school board member John Avard.

In addition, several organizations will be in attendance: the Southern New Hampshire Skating Club, West Little League, West Raiders Pop Warner Football and Cheerleaders, the Manchester Boys and Girls Club, McIntyre Ski Area, and folks involved in disc golf.

And that's not all: the police's mounted unit, the Manchester Fire Department, the Environmental Services Division and the Office of Youth Services will all be sending representatives.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at

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