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Manchester school board OKs 'phase one' of school redistricting

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 20. 2017 2:27PM
The Manchester School Department's redistricting proposal is designed to streamline the alignment of the city's elementary schools with its middle schools and high schools. Above is the approved feeder pattern. (Manchester School Department)

MANCHESTER — The first steps toward a long-term redistricting plan will be taken next fall, after school board members voted to approve a "phase one" school feeder plan Wednesday night.

Members of the Board of School Committee debated multiple redistricting options at City Hall, after members of the Special Committee on Redistricting voted last week to send them three proposals — one from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas; a school feeder pattern proposed by At-Large school board member Rich Girard; and a new option suggested for the first time last week by Vargas that all Beech Street School students attend McLaughlin Middle School.

Under the Vargas proposal approved by the school board:

• Students at Parker Varney, Northwest and Gossler schools will go to Middle School at Parkside and then Manchester High School West;

• Students at Smyth, Webster, McDonough and Wilson will attend Hillside Middle School and go on to Manchester High School Central;

• Hallsville, Jewett, Highland Goffe’s Falls and Bakersville students will go to Southside Middle School and then on to Manchester Memorial High School;

• Green Acres and Weston students will attend McLaughlin Middle School and Memorial High School;

• Beech Street Elementary School students will split between McLaughlin and Southside middle schools equally, with all former Beech Street students eventually attending Central.

School board members voted 8-3 to approve the plan, with Sarah Ambrogi, Mary Georges, Leslie Want, Lisa Freeman, Dan Bergeron, Rich Girard, Art Beaudry and Katie Desrochers in favor. Opposed were Nancy Tessier, Connie Van Houten and Mayor Ted Gatsas. School board members Debra Gagnon Langton, Ross Terrio, Erika Connors and John Avard were absent.

"This is not a perfect plan, but it’s the best plan I could put together given the limitations we are facing," said Vargas.

Weston Elementary School Principal Liz MacDonald spoke Wednesday night in favor of Dr. Vargas’ initial plan.

"Every year around this time our fifth-graders get very anxious about how they’re splitting from friends," said MacDonald. "Every year it seems there are a couple students left going to a middle school without any friends. So from that standpoint it looks very good for Weston. I see it as an improvement."

Ward 8 resident Michelle Wood addressed school board members on the lack of interest among residents in the drawn-out redistricting process.

"If you look behind me, there’s like nobody here," said Wood. "That’s because this whole redistricting thing is a total and complete joke. You have to all look very hard in the mirror and think about what you are here for, because as a taxpayer technically I’m your employer and I think your job performance sucks. Parents are sick of coming to these meetings to have someone else pull out something at the last minute."

Gatsas expressed frustration with the proposals brought forth by the redistricting committee.

"When we started discussions eight years ago, it was about what do we do to create space in some of our elementary schools," said Gatsas. "This plan doesn’t create one classroom for the elementary schools. Not one. Let’s not fool ourselves this is just something that feels good. This city is looking for redistricting, not a Band-Aid. Let’s rip the Band-Aid off; nobody wants to see redistricting in this district more than I do. This isn’t redistricting."

The proposal for the plan as submitted in March can be viewed below:

Board members then debated the merits of the three plans.

"I am supporting Dr. Vargas, I think he has a really good plan," said Want. "Right now Beech is split between Southside and McLaughlin. If we do nothing tonight, it will still be split between Southside and McLaughlin, and you will take away from all of the other schools that could benefit from being in this feeder pattern."

"I’m going to support Dr. Vargas because he did his due diligence," said Beaudry. "He did go around, talked to parents and tweaked his plans based on those discussions."

The new feeder plan will take effect for the 2017-2018 school year.

Board members also approved a secondary plan reassigning a small segment of students attending McDonough Elementary School to Smyth Road School. The reassignments will be done gradually over four years, and are expected to help even out class sizes and allow for the eventual elimination of a bus route.

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