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Paul Feely's City Hall: No-questions move left some on school board 'flabbergasted'

January 27. 2018 6:45PM

Leslie Want, chairman of the Manchester school board's Buildings and Sites committee 

Days after a "no-questions-asked" approach was used at last week's meeting of the school board's Buildings and Sites committee, some members are still fuming.

Committee members voted to authorize school administrators to move ahead with securing a construction manager to oversee the relocation of the district's administrative offices from a condo on McGregor Street into space at Manchester High School West. The vote followed a declaration by committee chair Leslie Want of Ward 4 that no questions would be entertained following a brief presentation by Fred Matuszewski of Corzilius Matuszewski Krause (CMK) Architects - the firm heading up the redesign of West High School - on his plans for the move.

"I'm flabbergasted not only by Want's refusal to allow questions, but also that she tried to prevent the presentation," said at-large board member Rich Girard late last week.

Want said a special committee meeting would be scheduled where board members, district administrators, West High School teachers, students, and city residents can ask questions and offer input.

Want's decision angered some board members, who felt they had been promised at a meeting of the full school board last Monday that all their questions would be answered at the committee meeting.

Girard had made a motion to overturn Want's ruling at the Tuesday meeting. It failed on a 3-2 vote, with Girard and Ward 8's Jimmy Lehoux in favor, and Want, Dan Bergeron of Ward 6, and Ross Terrio of Ward 7 against.

Want said last week that the whole situation had become "blown way out of proportion," because anyone who has questions or concerns about the draft plans for the move will have them answered at the special meeting of the Buildings and Sites committee - now scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 6 p.m. at West High School.

Want's statement hasn't calmed the waters.

"In 10 years on the board I have never seen a situation where board members have been prohibited from discussing a topic that was on the agenda and presented to them at the meeting," said Avard. "Furthermore, committee members were asked to vote to spend taxpayer dollars to hire a contractor for a project that they were not allowed to find out more information about. This is a clear violation of proper parliamentary procedure and an insult to the voters and taxpayers of Manchester. When an elected official's voice is stifled in this manner, his constituents lose their voice."

"We were told at Monday night's meeting that we would have any questions answered," said Lehoux in a social media post. "We received the presentation via email and did our homework. Some board members came for that specific reason. For me, I had a couple questions regarding the entrance and security of the building. The documents are only about 30 percent complete so now was the time to ask so any significant changes could be made. It would be equivalent to you asking for drawings of your house based on a concept and not being able to see them again until after you hired the construction manager. The little things are not a problem but the big things can cause issues."

"It could have easily been handled by stating we will stay focused on the big ticket items," added Lehoux. "The drawings are only 30 percent complete, so asking questions about paint or tile or furniture, this was not the time. But, to discuss life/safety issues, mechanical, electrical, plumbing issues - that needs to be vetted out early so the construction manager is basing his pricing on the expectation that major things have been dealt with. These are issues that can blow the budget right out of the water on one misstep."

"This is the very reason committees exist - to do the heavy lifting, ask all of the questions, and report back to the board," said Jon DiPietro, who ran against Bergeron for the Ward 6 school board seat. "This is either an abdication of responsibility by the chair or some sort of political maneuver to bypass a committee for some reason. It's one thing to prevent the public from speaking or asking questions. And it's another to prevent board members from doing so. But preventing committee members from performing their specific responsibilities means that something rotten and corrupt is going on."

"At this point in time, I feel that this project has been dragging on for far too long with far too little information being given to the board," said Avard. "They keep coming back and asking us to approve money, but refuse to give us answers.."

Want sent an email about the vote to the Buildings and Sites committee at 5:30 p.m. last Sunday, two days before the committee was to meet.

"It was my intent with the email, and I was obviously not clear enough, that we were not looking to get into a long debate about the design that night as I believe it should be a conversation that stakeholders - the West High community, district office employees and community at large - can weigh in on and also ask questions," said Want. "I also knew that we had a longer than usual agenda as is often the case for the January meeting. This was borne out by the fact that the balance of the agenda took four hours to complete without getting into the West/Admin offices design."

Avard said he intends to bring up his concerns over the "no-questions-asked" approach at the next meeting of the full school board.

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Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas is just starting to draft a budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, and has two forums this week where the public is invited to hear "a presentation of the financial factors and challenges that must be considered," according to a news release.

The forums will be held Monday at 6 p.m. at Memorial High School, One Crusader Way, and on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Middle School at Parkside, 75 Parkside Ave.

Both forums will feature brief PowerPoint presentations with three or four slides focusing on projected expenditures, projected revenues and an explanation of how each is calculated.

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The Central High School Guidance Department is looking for local businesses to take part in a Career Day on April 17.

Central staff are billing the event as an opportunity to introduce students to a wide range of professional fields, along the same lines as the format Manchester High School West used for a career day last spring.

Central staff are seeking business partners from all fields to spend the day with students and educate them about the careers available to them to pursue.

Every teacher will be paired with a different professional for the day, with emphasis placed on matching the teacher's subject area with the most relevant business professional signed up to participate in the event. Organizers say this approach will afford professionals the opportunity to interact with hundreds of students as they run through their class schedules, with each student interacting with professionals in at least five career fields.

Career Day at Central High School will be held April 17 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Interested businesses are asked to complete a career day participation form available online at

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Mayor Joyce Craig has been invited to appear as a panelist at a question-and-answer session in Boston next month put on by The Washington Post. On Feb. 22, Craig will join Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, medical experts and advocates to discuss the opioid epidemic in the Northeast. The event is part of Washington Post Live's "Addiction in America" series.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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