MANCHESTER — Voters in Manchester will have a chance this fall to weigh in on the issue of student representation on the school board, after city aldermen voted Tuesday to place a non-binding question on municipal election ballots in November.
Manchester High School Central boys’ basketball coach Sudi Lett, who also serves as the youth and education coordinator for Young Organizers United (Y.O.U.) and the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP), went before the aldermen requesting the following question be put to the public next fall: “Are you in favor of a student from each high school having a seat on the School Committee as a non-voting member?”
The question was approved after Mayor Joyce Craig voted in favor of the request, breaking a 7-7 tie vote by board members. Voting in favor were Aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Tim Baines, Will Stewart, Dan O’Neil, Bill Barry, Normand Gamache and Chris Herbert. Opposed were Bill Shea, John Cataldo, Barbara Shaw, Keith Hirschmann, Tony Sapienza, Elizabeth Moreau and Joe Kelly Levasseur.
School board members approved an avenue for student voices to be heard at the board level earlier this year, creating an agenda item for student presenters during each board meeting.
School board members established criteria for how the student speakers are chosen, defining their length of term and making sure each of the city’s high schools are included.
Lett points out that while students do take part as “special presenters,” they do not sit on the school board with other members.
“This amounts to only slightly higher distinction than the community forum portion where anybody on our community can speak to the board,” Lett told aldermen.
“The difference is that the board engages in dialogue with the students.”
Several aldermen raised concerns that approving Lett’s request could be interpreted as stepping on the school board’s toes. Herbert advocated for putting the question on the ballot for the public to decide, saying the question represented a unique opportunity to gauge “how deep is our support in the public’s mind for our public education.”
City Clerk Matt Normand pointed out that regardless of whether the aldermen approved the request, members of the GSOP or any other group can have a question placed on the ballot by collecting signatures on a petition.
If the non-binding measure passes, and school board members adopt the suggested policy, four student reps would rotate to allow a different one to sit in with the board each week.
Student reps would not have a vote, but would participate in discussions at the full board level.