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Move to add $2 million to Manchester school budget falls 1 vote short


MANCHESTER — A motion to increase the fiscal year 2018 school district budget allocation by $2 million failed to generate the necessary eight affirmative votes from city aldermen, failing 7-6 late Tuesday night.

Last week, school board members upped their budget request by $2 million to account for anticipated money coming back to the district if the state funds all-day kindergarten.

Voting in favor of board Chairman Pat Long's motion — which would have upped the budget allocation to $167,007,505 — were Ron Ludwig, Tony Sapienza, Dan O'Neil, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache, and Long. Opposed were Kevin Cavanaugh, Chris Herbert, Joseph Kelly Levasseur, Bill Shea, Tom Katsiantonis and Keith Hirschmann.

Though the vote was 7-6 in favor, budget votes require at least 8 votes in the affirmative to pass.

Several aldermen asked city Finance Director Bill Sanders if it was appropriate to seek an additional $2 million when state officials have yet to settle the matter in Concord.

"I think taking this $2 million now is reasonable, unless we are being tricked by Concord," said Sanders.

"I believe strongly that a high percentage of senators want this, a high percentage of House members want this, and the governor wants this," said Long of Ward 3. "The bottom line is they appropriated $2 million more, they believe they're getting it, and I believe they are getting it."

Mayor Ted Gatsas had a different response: "I have no idea why we're doing this tonight, when the Senate and the House have to do something before deadlines," he said. "Here we are, voting on something tonight, that the taxpayers are going to be at risk for."

MST students testify

The vote followed testimony by 20-plus students, former students and teachers from the Manchester School of Technology (MST), upset with the vote by school board members last week to issue pink slips to 14 teachers, eight of whom taught at MST.

"We've got to stand up, we've got to do what's right for the city," said Alderman Barry of Ward 10. "I can't remember the last time we added teachers."

Gatsas' budget

Gatsas presented his budget for fiscal year 2018 back in February. The mayor's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget came in at $315.9 million: $150.9 million in spending on the city side and $165 million for the school district.

Gatsas' budget fully funds the 237 police positions approved by city aldermen and fully funds and maintains the coverage ratios for the Manchester Fire Department.

The mayor's budget operates within the 1.20 percent tax increase outlined in the voter-approved tax cap that allows about $2.5 million in additional spending over the previous fiscal year.

The mayor's budget allocates an additional $1.5 million in fiscal year 2018 to pave Elm Street from the North End of Manchester, through downtown and on to South Manchester in Ward 9, using the Municipal Transportation Improvement Fund included in the city's general fund reserves. The budget also allocates money for the Downtown Rail Trail Connection Project and Rockingham Rail Trail.

The fiscal year 2018 budget makes no allocations for costs associated with collective bargaining units, other than police, for steps, longevity, and COLAs — including the city's non-affiliated employees.

In March, school board members voted to send the budget request of $165,007,505 to the aldermen. School board members also voted to send along a list of priorities the board would add back in if given a dollar figure higher than that, up to a level-funded request of $170,080,065. That list includes health and Spanish curriculum at the middle school level, a reading program and addressing class size issues in city elementary schools.

pfeely@unionleader.com