Paul Feely's City Hall: Budget vote motion could put nurses' jobs under knife
WHEN SCHOOL BOARD members voted last week on a budget number to send to city aldermen, almost lost in the marathon night's proceedings was a vote taken earlier that evening to reduce the amount of charge backs the school district pays to the city.
The motion, made by Vice Chair Art Beaudry of Ward 9, reduces city charge backs - funds the district reimburses city departments for services provided, such as school nurses, plowing or field maintenance - by 5 percent in Fiscal Year 2018.
Beaudry said the 5 percent reduction would save $419,941 and could save eight teaching positions now on the chopping block.
"There are some major cuts we are looking at," said Beaudry. "Why can't these areas be cut? If we're going to have pain, everybody's going to feel the pain."
"You might not be eliminating a teacher, but pick the school that's not going to have a nurse," said Mayor Ted Gatsas. "That money doesn't go to anything but paying the nurses. It's a line item."
Beaudry's main pitch to sell the merits of the motion to fellow board members centered around the number of days school nurses are paid to work in an academic school year.
"The nurses actually charge us for 193 days - 183 days and 10 holidays," said Beaudry. "We only have 175 school days. They are overcharging us."
"Do you think somebody is just making up that number?" asked Gatsas.
"You've got 35 positions they are charging us for," said Beaudry. "Twenty-seven of those are FTEs (full-time employees) in our schools. They are charging us $81,499 for the additional eight days that we're paying for that they're not in our schools."
What wasn't discussed Monday night was the fact that the amount of days the school nurses are paid for is spelled out in their contract - a contract negotiated prior to the school board voting to approve a new deal with the teachers union in 2015.
That deal, in addition to boosting teachers pay, returned the district to an hours-based schedule - where city schools operate on a 175-day academic calendar that extends the school day, and has 30 additional hours - or five days - of instructional time to cover snow days.
The contract with the school nurses was for 183 days and 10 holidays, and that deal is still in effect, though negotiations on a new agreement are ongoing.
City Health Director Tim Soucy told this reporter that Beaudry's motion would likely result in job losses in his department.
"We have a budget that's a little over $2 million, and this would amount to just over a $100,000 reduction," said Soucy. "Our budget is 98.6 percent salaries and benefits, and around $80,000 in operating costs. The only place to cut is people."
Beaudry's motion passed with 9 yeas and 2 nays. In favor were Debra Langton, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Dan Bergeron, Ross Terrio, Erika Connors, Beaudry, Kate Desrochers and Connie Van Houten. Opposed were Nancy Tessier and Rich Girard, with Gatsas abstaining. School board members Sarah Ambrogi, Lisa Freeman, and John Avard were absent from the room when the vote was taken.
Van Houten has already publicly asked the board reconsider the vote at the school board's next meeting on March 27. Soucy plans to attend as well.
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Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut is scheduled to visit city schools on April 4.
According to a tentative agenda discussed last week, Edelblut is slated to begin the day at Central High School at 8:30 a.m., followed by stops at Beech Street and Parker-Varney elementary schools, then the Middle School at Parkside before heading to the district offices to meet with a PTO group and members of the Board of School Committee later in the day.
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Beginning later this month, the number of police officers in the Queen City will exceed the authorized complement of 237 by one - for a period of three weeks.
Manchester police are scheduled to hold a swearing-in ceremony on March 27 for five new officers, which will bring the number of police in Manchester to 238 - a situation Gatsas and Police Chief Nick Willard said will be negated on April 17 with the retirement of Officer Mark Ampuja.
Gatsas approved the request.
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The Manchester NH Connect app has been downloaded by "thousands of citizens," according to Melanie Sanuth, the city's economic development director, and the Information Systems Department continues to work with city departments on methods to integrate existing city services with the mobile application.
According to Sanuth, the city has received over 2,500 citizen reports through the app since it went live in 2015, reporting everything from snow removal complaints to street light repair requests. The Department of Public Works has integrated the app into its work order system and the city's entire website, is accessible from a single click through the app. The app is available at the city's website at www.manchesternh.gov.
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Arielys Liriano Trejo, 18, a senior at Manchester High School West, received a standing ovation from those attending last week's school board meeting as she was presented with an engraved bronze medallion honoring her selection as a Distinguished Finalist for New Hampshire in the 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
Trejo has been a volunteer teacher since October 2015 with Breakthrough Manchester, a program that provides middle schoolers with skills and tools to help them pursue a college education. Arielys, who participated in the program as a student for five years, now prepares, revises and teaches lessons, and also checks in with students during monthly calls.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards is a youth recognition program based on volunteer community service. All middle and high schools in the U.S., along with all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award last November. Two state honorees - one middle and one high school student - plus a number of Distinguished Finalists from each state and the District of Columbia were selected based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
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Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org