Sununu check

Gov. Chris Sununu and Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut meet students after a ceremonial check presentation at Bakersville Elementary School in Manchester on Oct. 7, 2019.

MANCHESTER — As protesters held signs claiming he was taking credit for funding he tried to cut, Gov. Chris Sununu visited the Bakersville Elementary School Monday with a ceremonial check representing $20.8 million in additional funding the Queen City will receive from the compromise state budget signed last month.

Sununu, a Republican, joined a small bipartisan group of local lawmakers to present the ceremonial check for $20,861,996 to Manchester officials, with nearly $14.9 million going towards city schools and $5.8 million to municipal revenue sharing.

“It might just be a ceremonial $20 million check, but it’s also real money,” said Sununu. “It’s going to go into the back account and be invested over the next couple of years, and allows for a lot of flexibility in terms of how your schools spend it, how your communities spend it, how the revenue sharing is proportioned, all of that is dictated for the most part at the local level.”

“This financial increase is substantial and we greatly appreciate it, because it will help children,” said Manchester Superintendent of Schools John Goldhardt. “It’s for them this matters. We express our appreciation for those that worked so hard in those committee meetings, and after-committee meetings, and other places to help this come to be. We will use these funds wisely and prudently, and focus on the needs of our students.”

“I’m extremely happy how the committees came to a compromise,” said Manchester school board vice chair Art Beaudry, who met with Sununu to discuss the budget’s impact on Manchester schools prior to its passage. “It’s going to be better for Manchester, having additional dollars. We know it’s one-time money, and we have hopefully one-time uses for it. We also need to build up our expendable trust funds, we need money set aside for surprises. I’m very happy the governor and the Legislature came to a compromise.”

Sununu check

Gov. Chris Sununu speaks at ceremonial check presentation at Bakersville Elementary School in Manchester on Oct. 7, 2019. Also pictured are Principal Kate Josef and Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur.

Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, a lifelong Democrat, did not attend Monday’s check presentation. Lauren Smith, Craig’s policy and strategic outreach director, said the mayor’s office “was not notified or invited to the event today.”

In an email, Sununu spokesman Ben Vihstadt said his office told local school officials all city officials were welcome.

“Given the majority of the funding is going towards the Manchester school district, we told the school that all city elected officials were welcome and anyone could attend,” said Vihstadt in an email. “Our office reached out to the House and Senate at the state level to invite all local reps, both Republicans and Democrats. Our office did not make personal invites at the local level, we indicated to local leaders that any and all were welcome to attend.”

Craig issued a statement following the check presentation, thanking state officials for agreeing on a budget.

“The Manchester School District is slated to receive much-needed education funding after a decade of cuts in state aid that have cost Manchester taxpayers more than $50 million,” said Craig. “Currently, our educators, administrators, and school staff are asked to do a lot with limited resources — and the increase the Manchester School District will receive over the next two years can help with implementation of new curriculum, professional development, supplies, and more. I want to thank the legislature and the Governor for agreeing to a budget that continues to strengthen our public schools.”

Sununu himself said “everyone” was welcome at Monday’s check presentation.

“We invited everyone, both Republican and Democratic reps, both Republican and Democratic senators. This really was a process where we relied on local stakeholder input to know where the funds should go. We invited everyone to come because it really is a win for everyone, the fact that we can provide all this funding and not have the tax increase.”

Candidate for mayor and former Republican state representative Victoria Sullivan said she was disappointed Craig did not take part in stakeholder budget talks with Sununu.

“We always welcome Gov. Sununu here,” said Sullivan. “It’s going to take a partnership between the state and the city to see the changes that we need to see happen. He worked very diligently on this budget since last year. He spoke about collaboration, and he did invite the leaders to speak about the budget. It’s unfortunate our mayor chose not to attend, but I’m grateful that our school board vice chair Art Beaudry took the initiative to go and meet with the governor and other leaders. I think it showed tremendous leadership on his part. It’s unfortunate our own mayor chose not to attend.”

In response Smith issued a statement saying Craig has worked “diligently to secure more funding for Manchester public schools.”

“She testified in-person for more education funding and offered additional written testimony to state leadership,” said Smith in a statement. “Mayor Craig also hosted a meeting in Manchester with state legislators and the superintendent to discuss the need for increased state education funding. On a local level, Mayor Craig worked with the College and University Council to apply for, and the district was awarded, the highly-competitive $10.5 million GEAR UP grant. The Mayor’s Office is glad the Governor ended his stand-off over the state budget and that communities across the state, including Manchester, finally have access to much-needed education funding.”

On Sept. 25, after a three-month stalemate, a compromise state budget was passed in the House and Senate and was signed by Sununu.

Full-day kindergarten, special education, school transportation, and building aid are all fully funded, and reliance on Keno money is eliminated under the compromise budget.

Sununu check

Protesters hold signs outside Bakersville Elementary School at a ceremonial check presentation with elected officials in Manchester on Oct. 7, 2019.

New Hampshire Democrats were quick to criticize the governor’s Queen City visit, labeling it a political stunt hours before he arrived.

“Today, the Manchester school district is receiving much needed education funding thanks to Democrats who proposed the largest education funding increase in the state’s history — and no thanks to Chris Sununu,” said state Rep. Mary Heath, D-Manchester.

“Sununu tried to cut Manchester’s school budget by half a million dollars. When he couldn’t do that, he delayed education funding by months — just because he wanted tax breaks for large corporations. It is only because Granite Staters from across the state and from all political parties held him accountable and demanded that he do his job, that he finally gave students and their schools the resources they need.”

“If Chris Sununu really likes handing out these oversized checks, for things he’s not responsible for, he can apply for a job at the lottery commission in 2021,” said Senate Majority Leader and Democratic candidate for governor Dan Feltes.

“Governor Sununu seems intent on rewriting the last few months. In his proposed budget Manchester lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in education funding. Ultimately, he caved to the Democratic education funding plan and is now trying to take credit. Granite Staters are going to see right through these inappropriate political stunts.”QQ

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at pfeely@unionleader.com

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