MANCHESTER — A celebratory graduation Saturday had a low-key political undercurrent as teachers failed to take part in the Manchester Memorial High School ceremony at the SNHU Arena Saturday night.
But you had to be paying attention to even notice it was happening; there were no informational pickets outside the hall or placards protesting the lack of a collective bargaining agreement for city teachers.
The only sign of this silent boycott were a few dozen, empty folding chairs on the floor of the arena where staff at graduations typically sit behind the graduates.
Manchester Memorial Principal Arthur Adamakos, a 30-year administrator, clearly sought to keep it a special event for graduates and family members as he recognized sitting among these students several principals and administrative staff who have had past ties to Memorial.
One person who did notice was Rich Girard, who chairs the negotiations working group for the Manchester School Committee.
Girard’s daughter graduated from West High School earlier Saturday and he praised their teachers and staff for turning out in force.
“The West teachers put the children first; they understood this ceremony was all about them and not about some ongoing dispute over a contract,” Girard said.
He’s been critical of the Manchester Education Association negotiators for not bargaining with the school board team for several months earlier this year.
Girard said this meant going to mediation and then failing that to a factfinder was inevitable.
“I think those Memorial teachers should ask their leadership the hard question about why they stayed away from the bargaining table so we could get this done,” Girard said.
Prior to the event, MEA President Sue Hannan and Principal Adamakos had denied any knowledge about a planned protest.
Hannan said there was no organized effort by the MTA on this front.
"I do not know what teachers did for graduation. As I have stated, none of this was from MEA. They can express themselves," Hannan said in a statement.
But Memorial High School Valedictorian Christine Le didn’t shy away from the controversy with her address.
“The teachers are finally taking a stand, wanting to be recognized for all the extra, unpaid work they have put in to make our school and our lives better,” Le said.
Last Monday, the Manchester Board of Aldermen approved a $353 million fiscal year 2020 budget that overrode the tax cap to earmark an additional $6.6 million in funds for city schools.
After that vote Mayor Joyce Craig said she hoped this would ensure there was enough money in the budget to pay for a new teacher contract.