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Paul Feely's City Hall: Aldermen asked to rethink school department vote

By PAUL FEELY
April 15. 2017 9:57PM

Arthur Beaudry, vice chairman of the Manchester school board 

SCHOOL BOARD VICE Chair ART BEAUDRY has sent a letter to aldermen asking them to reconsider their April 4 vote to put a question on the municipal election ballot in November asking voters if they favor making the school district a city department.

A motion by Alderman At Large Dan O'Neil to reconsider that vote appears as item 25 on the agenda for Tuesday night's meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA), scheduled to get underway at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

In his letter to the BMA, Beaudry asks aldermen to reconsider their vote because "the separation of powers allows each board to fulfill their duties to their best extent."

"In 1999 a declaratory judgment was handed down after the School District filed a petition to determine if it was a city department," writes Beaudry. "According to Judge (Tina) Nadeau's ruling, the 'school district functions as a substantially independent governmental entity' and it was not a city department. While there was a change in statute, it has not been vetted by the courts."

Beaudry points out the city departments and school district play "different roles" within Manchester's municipal government structure.

"While the city provides for everything from plowing to trash pick up to elections to building permits and everything in between, the Manchester School District is strictly charged with providing an adequate education for all students by state law," writes Beaudry. "By maintaining the district status this has been successfully achieved because the district, with the oversight and direction of the Board of School Committee, is able to use its appropriation in the best way possible for students."

"While there may be some synergies that could be achieved by bringing the district under the aegis of the city," continues Beaudry, "there are certain departments which would need to continue to operate independently given the unique nature of the school district's operations - for example, legal issues related to special education and human resources related to the specialized nature of statutory protections afforded to teachers."

Beaudry concludes the letter by suggesting that if aldermen want to discuss additional ways the two boards could work "more effectively and harmoniously" together, the Special Joint Committee on Education might be a good place to start the conversation.

Alderman At Large Joseph Kelly Levasseur, who made the April 4 motion to put the question on the ballot, wasn't having any of it at week's end.

"They have had over a decade to make the district better and they haven't been able to do so, as the image of the district has become a joke," said Levasseur. "Now the school board is trying to kill bake sales. It seems that they have very important issues like that to discuss. Better to let the big boys and girls at the BMA handle the tough monetary issues that are hurting schoolchildren, the city's image, and taxpayers."

The effort to "kill bake sales" Levasseur mentions is in reference to a new rule approved last week by the school board's Coordination Committee, requiring an 'opt-in' parental notification form to participate in bake sales offering food deemed non-compliant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition standards.

Yes. Permission to buy brownies. Or cookies. Or cupcakes.

The district's policy regarding school bake sales or fundraisers, and what can be sold at them, applies only to events taking place during school hours. Hold the bake sale more than 30 minutes after school ends, and there are no restrictions.

But new language approved last week by the committee allows three bake sales to be held per school, per school year, where food is not required to conform to USDA nutritional standards. Any bake sale beyond the three a year held at a school must comply with the USDA standards.

When asked by committee member Ross Terrio of Ward 7 that if the guidelines were changed to allow more bake sales, would the district revisit its policy, Beaudry said he may not want to change it.

"In my opinion, I may not be willing to go more than three," said Beaudry. "In my opinion, some of these fundraisers - give them an inch and they'll take a mile. They'll have one every day if they can."

Online posts on websites for several schools in the district point out fundraisers such as bake sales are held to help defray the cost of activities and trips for students.

The new policy amendment also requires that parents be notified of any non-compliant bake sales through the use of an opt-in permission form - in other words, written permission for students to participate in bake sales.

"I think this opt-in policy is going to put a crimp in their fundraising," warned Terrio.

"Are we here to protect children or are we here to raise money?" asked Beaudry. "I'm here to protect children."

The policy passed 4-1 at the committee level, with Beaudry, Sarah Ambrogi of Ward 1, At Large member Nancy Tessier and Connie Van Houten of Ward 12 in favor and Terrio opposed. Mayor Ted Gatsas and Debra Langton of Ward 2 were absent.

The policy as amended will go before the full school board for a vote sometime in May.

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David Scannell announced last week he will seek the Ward 2 seat - currently held by Langton - on the school board this November.

"I am running to give back to a school system that has given so much to me," said Scannell, a graduate of Smyth Road School, Hillside Middle School, and Central High School. "For too long, the same voices have dominated the conversation about our schools. It is time for new voices to be heard."

Scannell said he will work to establish a "parents' advisory council" and student representation on the board.

Scannell, a former member of the English department at Manchester High School Central, now teaches at Milford High School. A graduate of Colby College and the University of Maine School of Law, he served as an aide to Mayor Robert Baines and as the school district's coordinator of school and community relations. He also represented Ward 2 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

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An upgrade performed at the city's wastewater treatment facility has earned a gold-level Engineering Excellence Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New Hampshire (ACEC/NH). The ACEC awards annually recognize engineering projects that "epitomize quality, innovation, value and client satisfaction."

Wright-Pierce, a water, wastewater and civil infrastructure firm with offices in Manchester and Portsmouth, provided design and construction phase engineering for the $22.4 million upgrade to the facility's aeration system. According to a release from Wright-Pierce, the company worked with the city's Environmental Protection Division to increase the plant's secondary treatment capacity by 23 percent.

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The Central Alumni Network, which oversees the Manchester High School Central Hall of Fame, donated $1,000 during last week's school board meeting to help fund Central's state champion mock trial team's trip to the 2017 High School Mock Trial Nationals in Hartford, Conn., in May.

The team consists of students Lilly Hayward, Faith Hazelton, Angela Romilla, Gabi Roy, Kristina Zimmerman, Gabby Tayag, Maggie Delaney, and Julie Cotton, and is coached by Ashley Scott, a lawyer at McLane Middleton in Manchester, and Jaime Myers of the Bianco law firm in Concord. Margaret Burke, a teacher at Central, and John Rist, a former Central principal, serve as team advisers.

Staff reporter Paul Feely covers Manchester City Hall for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Email: pfeely@unionleader.com


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