Following a two-month hiatus, contract talks between city negotiators and the teachers union are expected to resume early next month.
The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the Manchester Education Association (MEA) expired June 30. After union leadership declared an impasse on June 4 - citing an inability to find "common ground" - negotiations between the district and the MEA resumed July 26. Planned negotiation sessions in August were then canceled, with at-large school board member Rich Girard, chair of the district's negotiations committee, sending emails to union officials accusing the MEA of not bargaining in good faith on a new contract.
Girard said at the time the union refused to come back to the table until his committee was ready to talk salaries.
MEA leadership sent a letter to school board members earlier this month, announcing a desire to return to the table.
"The MEA negotiations team is taking this opportunity to express it's concerns about the issues with the negotiations process," the letter states. "We prefer to keep our negotiations as positive as possible, recognizing that what has passed has passed and we must continue to communicate. We would ask that instead of punitive comments about perceptions of what has happened we all go forward with a new sense of purpose and urgency to be able to develop a collective bargaining agreement that works for everyone involved, and is followed by everyone involved as well."
According to Girard, his team is ready to talk. He said the negotiations team received a list of four suggested dates for possible daylong negotiating sessions.
"While we agree that a longer session may be productive, our committee can only attend such a meeting on a weekend," Girard said. "We have notified the association that we are available on Nov. 3 and that we expect to be ready to discuss salaries and sick time. With respect to the MEA's letter to the board, we are pleased to welcome them back to the table. We hope that our well-known budget restrictions will not become a stumbling block once we return to the table."
Mayor Joyce Craig said she is "hopeful" conversations will start up again soon.
"I'm glad we're putting the past behind us," Craig said. "Everybody seems to be putting the past behind us, and I'm hopeful that we can work together to get something done."
- - - - -
Craig said recent discussions with school board vice chair Art Beaudry have produced a potential addition to school board meeting agendas - an opportunity for elected officials to address concerns raised during the public forum portion of each session before members of the public go home.
"We have public participation, but our board can't address concerns until the end of the meeting under 'New Business,'" Craig said. "By then a lot of the people that have spoken end up leaving and so they never hear the response."
Craig said her office is bringing forward a proposal that would add a permanent item to their agendas moving forward, under the "Action Agenda," involving response to public comment.
"So the public would come up, provide comments and feedback, and then the next step would be if there's something that any of our board members would like to respond to it's done right then and there so it's timely," Craig said. "The people who come forward will be able to hear firsthand the response."
The proposal is expected to appear on the Nov. 25 agenda of the school board's Committee on Coordination/Administration.
- - - - -
School board members will gather for a special session this week to hear from the author of a book on best practices for school committees. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas handed out copies of "The Essential School Board Book" by Nancy Walser to school committee members last year and again this year, asking them to read it - or at least a couple of chapters - when they have time.
According to an online summary, the book "highlights effective practices that are common to high-functioning boards around the country - boards that are working successfully with their superintendents and communities to improve teaching and learning. In this age of accountability, all school boards need to consider how best to maintain a focus on student achievement and promote it through district and school policies."
The school board is scheduled to meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the SNHU Sandbox Collaborative at 1230 Elm St., with Walser also expected to attend.
"The goal is really to discuss better governance for our school board," Craig said. "How we can collaborate with our superintendent, and how we should be focused on policy. If we can all come together in agreement eventually, I think we'll be better off as a board and most effective for the school district as well."
- - - - -
Mike Ramshaw, president of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, sent a letter to city aldermen last week announcing the team will be replacing the right center field video board at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium over the next few weeks, with the Eastern League champs picking up the tab.
According to Ramshaw, the current video board is 15 years old. The average lifespan of similar equipment is around 10 to 12 years.
"The current video board is now sufficiently outdated, such that replacement parts are no longer being manufactured for it, requiring us to send existing parts out to be refurbished and returned to us," Ramshaw wrote.
The team intends to invest $628,000 in the replacement of the video board and updates to the production room, Ramshaw stated.
"The Fisher Cats will fully fund the cost of the purchase of this new video board and updates without tapping any funds available in the capital reserve fund," Ramshaw wrote. "Adding a state-of-the-art video board will significantly enhance the fan experience at Fisher Cats games and maintain the reputation of our facility as one of the best in the Eastern League."
- - - - -
A grand reopening celebration at Rock Rimmon Park on Mason Street is planned for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
The pickle ball courts at the park on Manchester's West Side were renovated with funds from the Kiwanis Club of Manchester's Major Emphasis Grant, awarded to the city earlier this year. The Rock Rimmon playground, renovated this fall, is located next to the pickle ball courts.
- - - - -
City officials say the Planning and Community Development Department office will be closed Friday, Oct. 26, for staff to complete scheduled computer upgrades. Officials say all previously scheduled construction and housing code inspections will go on as planned that day, and the office will reopen for normal operations on Monday, Oct. 29.
Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at email@example.com.