A proposed city charter amendment that would allow Manchester’s school board to set its own budget for local schools — and override the city’s tax cap without input or approval by aldermen — has been hand-delivered to state officials for approval.
If the proposed language gets the green light from the Attorney General’s office, voters will decide the issue at the polls this fall.
City aldermen voted last week to give final approval to the proposed amendments, which City Clerk Matt Normand reports were hand-delivered to the appropriate state agencies on July 21. Officials have 45 days to review and respond.
That vote was 7-4 with Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Pat Long, Tony Sapienza, Barbara Shaw, Bill Barry and Normand Gamache in support. Sebastian Sharonov, Ross Terrio, Keith Hirschmann and Joe Kelly Levasseur were opposed. Dan O’Neil and Jim Roy were absent.
The approved language for a summary of the charter amendments that would appear on municipal ballots this fall is as follows:
“Shall the City of Manchester approve amendment to the City of Manchester Charter summarized below:
1. The Charter is amended throughout so that the “School Committee” is referred to as the “School Board,” a “School Committeeman” is referred to as a “School Board Member,” consistent with the State law.
2. The School Board shall elect from among its members a chairman to serve for a term of two years. In the event of a vacancy, the School Board shall appoint a replacement to serve for the remainder of the term.
3. The School Board shall have fiscal autonomy and be responsible for overseeing the administration of the School District’s budget. It shall have the authority to borrow money on behalf of the School District. The School Board shall be subject to the existing limitation on budget increase but shall have the authority to override that limitation with two-thirds super-majority of its membership.
4. Various provisions of the Charter are amended to provide that the School Board shall comply with the laws of the State of New Hampshire for the adoption and accounting of its annual budget and its capital budget and for the issuance of a debt instrument; to authorize the School Board to appoint an independent auditor, a clerk, and a treasurer.
5. Effective Date: Upon Passage
If you favor this proposal, vote YES; if you do not favor it, vote NO.”
Last November, Manchester voters overwhelmingly passed ballot Question 1, authorizing aldermen to propose charter amendments to voters in the November 2021 city election.
The question passed with 63% of the vote and racked up majorities in all 12 wards. Question 1 gave city aldermen the power to establish a School Charter Commission — eliminating the need to go through the state Legislature to do so.
The city’s School Charter Commission started meeting in early January 2020 to study whether the Board of School Committee should determine its own total budget rather than wait to be assigned a figure by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The commission spent $30,000 over several months to complete those deliberations.
The commission initially proposed a long list of amendments to the charter, but the Attorney General’s office eventually ruled they were beyond the scope of the School Charter Commission process.
The original list of recommendations included removing the mayor from the school board and limiting the role of aldermen in the school budget process to approving or denying a tax cap override request.
Earlier this month, Alderman Long proposed four amendments to the charter covering the above recommendations, with one major change — giving the school board “fiscal autonomy and responsibility proposing, approving, adopting, appropriating, and overseeing the administration of the School District’s annual budget and capital budget.”
Long’s proposed amendments would also give school board members the authority to override the city’s tax cap with the same two-thirds supermajority of its membership as required for aldermen to approve an override for the city budget.