Paul Feely's City Hall: Board finds out Wednesday about kindergarten money | New Hampshire
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Paul Feely's City Hall: Board finds out Wednesday about kindergarten money

By PAUL FEELY
May 20. 2017 11:33PM
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas (UNION LEADER file photo)



LAST WEDNESDAY, Senate Finance committee members in Concord voted 4-2 along party lines to nix full-day kindergarten funding from the Senate version of the state's education budget.

The Senate passed SB 191 on March 30, which created a targeted funding program for full-day kindergarten. The House amended the bill to fully fund all full-day kindergarten programs, and the bill is currently in the House Finance Committee.

The vote by the Senate Finance Committee last week doesn't quite kill any hope districts that offer full-day kindergarten - such as Manchester - have for receiving extra money next year, but it will be difficult for the Senate to bring up the issue again during the current session if the House Finance committee decides to hold, or kill, SB 191. That vote is scheduled for Wednesday.

On May 8, school board members voted to up their budget request to aldermen by $2 million, based on anticipated kindergarten funding coming back to the district from the state - despite cautions from At Large board member Rich Girard and Mayor Ted Gatsas, who called the vote "irresponsible." A vote by city aldermen last week to increase the school budget amount by the additional $2 million fell one vote shy of passage.

Gatsas said the Senate Finance committee vote is another example of why budgeting "anticipated" funding is a bad idea.

"It just goes to prove that you can't anticipate funding from the House or Senate until the final shoe drops," said Gatsas. "There's nobody that supports kindergarten more than I do. I understand that we need it. It's the best opportunity for children, but again you can't spend the money and put the burden on the taxpayers if you don't get that money. I would hope that we learned our lesson and we wait until everything is done."

Gatsas said he has "no idea" how future votes on the funding may go this week.

"I'm sure they are going to be working on something," said Gatsas. "The position the Senate took of not putting it in the budget doesn't bode well. This is the bargaining chip, this is what everybody is holding. I can't tell you where they are going. I made some calls, but nobody is talking."

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School board members recently approved a "linkage agreement" between the Manchester School District and the New Hampshire Job Corps Center, but only after a lengthy - and at times contentious - discussion.

Under the terms of the agreement, the district collects state adequacy aid for Manchester students enrolled at Job Corps. In return, the students will receive a Manchester high school diploma upon graduation.

School Board member Leslie Want of Ward 4 quizzed Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, seeking assurances that upon graduation from Jobs Corps, students would meet the criteria needed to earn a Queen City diploma.

"There are certain metrics that you could adhere to," said Vargas. "One could make the case if you could handle a college course and met the criteria of that curriculum that you do have the skill set necessary to move on in certain areas. I'm not saying always, but those are the kind of things that one can look at when making the decision whether you are going to award a diploma or not."

Want responded: "I don't mean to be difficult, but I just want to understand because I think our diploma is extremely valuable, and I know it requires certain numbers of credits and in particular areas," said Want. "I'm happy to have more kids that have diplomas, the more the better. I'm very happy to give them a diploma if I can be assured that that is not somehow devaluing the diploma that is earned inside our schools."

Vargas then said, "I will say to you that when you examine the objectives of this program, if you have completed that program you have similar skill sets to succeed in the workforce, the military or in college, and also there are citizenship and civics and other lessons that the students must obey. You have to adhere to so many standards that I will submit to you that you have earned the skill set or acquired the skill set that is necessary to succeed in college, career or citizenship. We don't just give a diploma to any kid."

"The students that are going to the Job Corps right now, we don't get any adequacy grants for because they are out of the system," said Gatsas. "If they go to the Job Corps we get adequacy grants for them. If we want to talk about educational opportunities for students and give every student every possibility that we can, the Job Corps is a good thing. I don't know how anybody can say that the kids that are up there that are out of our system that I have met don't love it and don't think that they would ever be in those courses if it wasn't for the Job Corps."

Board Vice Chair Art Beaudry of Ward 9 suggested sending the agreement to committee for further review, a move some on the board argued against making.

"We are talking about making opportunities for kids," said school board member Katie Desrochers of Ward 11. "Like Dr. Vargas said, the most vulnerable kids. Let's stop being a roadblock."

"I can tell you that I'm not trying to be a roadblock," said Beaudry. "I just want to get all the I's dotted and T's crossed. We have board members that have concerns. I think there are valid concerns. They should be vetted out."

The agreement was eventually approved by the board.

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We are about three weeks into the automated trash pickup pilot program in wards 6, 7 and 12, and the early results are good, according to Mark Gomez, environmental programs manager for the Public Works Department.

"The implementation of automated collection has gone very smoothly," reports Gomez. "With only a handful of exceptions, the residents and businesses we service have complied with the requirement to use a container compatible with the automated truck. By Week 2, 99.5 percent of the nearly 3,000 customers in the pilot areas were using an authorized container."

Gomez said he appreciates the support of a majority of customers in the pilot program area.

"By the second week, there were only 15 locations where any significant compliance issues remained," said Gomez. "The drivers are acclimating themselves very quickly to the controls on the automated truck. They've really demonstrated impressive skill operating the mechanical arm. They are also continuing to fine-tune their routes to maximize efficiency. For this reason, some residents may find that the time of day their trash is collected has changed."

Gomez said he has heard from a few residents, particularly elderly people or those living alone, who report the 65-gallon trash cart the city sells is too large for them. Gomez said the city has opted to temporarily make used 35-gallon carts available to them to use. Gomez said an order for smaller containers has been placed, and he expects them to arrive in late June.

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The grand opening for the new Dupont Splash Pad, 207 Mason St. - Rock Rimmon Park - is this Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Don Pinard, chief of Parks and Recreation for the city, said he hopes the pad gets a lot of use - because it's not the only city swimming hole he'd like to see renovated.

"I'm not sure I'll ever get to this point before I retire, but Hunt Pool would be the next area that we would be looking at," said Pinard. "It would be a huge project - you've got the rec center that's there, the skate park...the whole area really needs dynamite. Just blow it all up."

Pinard pointed out the recreation center is located in front of the pool.

"There's no line of sight," said Pinard. "The big joke is the pool gets more use at night than it does during the day. They literally cut a hole in the fence every night."

Pinard said he has grand visions of a new, bigger rec center, with a splash pad and also a pool.

"I'm talking multimillions, that's my vision," said Pinard. "It's thinking big, but it would be great for that area. It would be huge for all the kids."

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The Manchester School District is kicking off a summer reading and learning initiative on the last day of school this year throughout the city of Manchester to raise awareness about the importance of summer reading and learning. "Booked for Summer" will offer elementary, middle and high school students a variety of activities appropriate to each age group and encourage students to achieve reading and learning goals during their summer vacation. Community partners will support the initiative and outreach efforts.

Drop books off at the nearest elementary school, or call 624-6300 to arrange for a pickup.

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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