A school board member is calling for “greater transparency and increased opportunities for public input” in the process that may lead to a contract extension for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, following a late-night vote last week by the Board of School Committee recommending a two-year contract extension.
The extension was voted on after school board members rejected a proposal to amend the board’s rules to allow for a five-year contract to be offered to Vargas and any future superintendents employed by the district.
The board sent its recommendation for a contract extension to the Committee on Coordination and Administration for review.
Committeeman David Scannell of Ward 2 called attempts to change board rules to allow for five-year contracts “an affront to open government and a potential violation of the spirit and letter of the right-to-know law.”
“At about midnight, long after the last taxpayer had been shooed out the door to enable the board to enter nonpublic session and long after community television had turned the cameras off, the board debated a change in its rules that would allow the board to offer five-year contracts to superintendents, “ Scannell said. “A critical decision such as this should be clearly presented on the agenda and should be debated at a time when someone other than vampires and school board members are awake.”
Scannell said he objected to attempts to “ram through under the cover of darkness” a contract that could “bind the superintendent to the district for half a decade,” citing potential costs to the district in the event a buyout of the superintendent’s contract was required.
“We could be on the hook for almost $700,000 if, after the first year of the contract, the board and the superintendent wanted to part ways. Buyouts are not unheard of in these situations,” said Scannell, who said he based his estimate on an annual $175,000 salary for a superintendent.
“Three municipal election cycles will take place in the next five years,” Scannell said. “No superintendents should be granted a contract that would make them less responsive to the evolving needs of the people of Manchester.”
Scannell said he plans to offer a series of proposals for policies and procedures to address “what took place on Tuesday,” including notice being provided on the agenda that the superintendent’s contract will be voted on, a rule requiring that all votes pertaining to a superintendent’s contract take place before 9 p.m., and a rule requiring that any votes taken by the board after 9 p.m. be clearly announced on the district’s website by noon the following day.
Scannell said his objections should not be interpreted as lack of confidence in Vargas, pointing to the fact the vote to send a two-year deal to committee for review was unanimous.
Members of Manchester Proud — a citizens’ coalition committed to uniting the Queen City behind an aspirational vision for its school system — went before the school board last week to give elected officials an update on the group’s plans for the coming months.
Barry Brensinger of Lavallee Brensinger Architects and Manchester Proud’s coordinator, along with Arthur Sullivan of Brady Sullivan Properties, and Patty Lynott of Southern New Hampshire University, provided the update to the board.
“Our movement is a first for Manchester, and we are learning every day,” Brensinger said.
According to Brensinger, the process will unfold in four phases: discovery, design, validation and, finally, implementation.
“That’s when we return to the board with a plan achieved through consensus with the community and seeking approval to proceed,” Brensinger said.
The discovery phase includes assessment of the district, with Brensinger saying “we understand it’s really important to have a solid foundation of information.”
For the design phase, Brensinger said Manchester Proud is proposing to create a community planning group that will work “hand in hand” with the group’s chosen planning consultant. The group will consist of school district leaders, teachers, parents, students, staff and city partners.
How will members be chosen for the planning group?
“Our intent is to open up the process,” Brensinger said. “We’re speaking with the (Greater Manchester) Chamber (of Commerce), and having the chamber select the business partners to engage in this process. The United Way will select the nonprofits to take part in the process, etc.”
In the validation phase, drafts of the group’s vision for the district will be posted on its website and made available to board members to take back to their constituents “so everyone in the community has an opportunity to critique the plan, share in the plan, and guide it’s development.”
Brensinger said Manchester Proud is also planning a second round of community involvement, including additional canvassing, town hall meetings and surveys.
“I want to thank Manchester Proud for the terrific work they are doing to help the district,” Vargas said. “I do believe this will pay off in the long run in an unprecedented way. The partnership with the Manchester school district is unique — some people might even question to what degree it is possible. The only reason one might question that is it’s very rare. I can’t thank them enough.”
Don Pinard, chief of Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries, and Sara Beaudry, executive director of Intown Manchester, will go before the Aldermanic Committee on Lands and Buildings this Monday to discuss a city-owned piece of land currently deemed to be a buildable, sellable lot adjacent to the Lamont Hanley Building at 1138 Elm St., near the intersection with Bridge Street.
“We would like to propose that this lot or green space be rezoned as a park so improvements can be made, turning an unused lot into a small gathering place and entry way to downtown,” Beaudry wrote in a letter to aldermen, requesting a meeting on the topic.
According to Beaudry, the cost would be about $30,000, “at no cost to the city,” she points out because the funds “have been privately raised already.”
Aldermen will hold a public hearing this week on a rezoning request filed by several property owners in the city’s South End — including two who took the city to court to challenge a rezoning vote allowing the construction of 160 luxury townhouses in one of the last residential, rural areas of Manchester — that would allow for multi-family developments on their combined 140 acres.
Attorney John Bisson of Cronin, Bisson & Zalinsky, P.C. in Manchester represents Elizabeth and Yiannis Voyiatzakis, the Robert A. Demers 1998 Trust, David Giovagnoli and 415 Farm, LLC,., who collectively own approximately 140 acres along South Mammoth Road. A public hearing on the request will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
City aldermen voted earlier this fall to override a veto by Mayor Joyce Craig and pass a controversial rezoning request by developer William Socha allowing construction of 160 luxury townhouses on 24.5 acres.
In August, Bisson warned city aldermen his client’s rezoning request would be coming if Socha’s request was approved.
Giovagnoli said he wants to develop starter homes of between 1,000 and 1,500 square feet on the land.
The proposed amendment would change the present zoning classification of the Voyiatzakis lots from residential suburban to residential suburban multi-family, and the Demers lots — along with property owned by Giovagnoli and 415 Farm, LLC — from residential one-family district to residential suburban multi-family, to allow for the development of multi-family properties on the land.
The request does not specify the number of homes the applicants are considering for the property.
City planners have completed an analysis of the latest rezoning request and determined, “from a technical perspective, the applicant’s rezoning petition contains the necessary documents and statements required by the city’s ordinances and policies and may now be forwarded to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for their review and consideration and for a required public hearing.”
“If approved, the rezoning would permit for the development of attached, townhouse-style residential communities which may alter the character of the existing neighborhoods, depending on the location of the lot or lots in question,” the report finds.
The report also points out the request, if approved, would increase the number of residential units allowed in this area.
“The city should anticipate an increase in public school enrollees as well as an increase in fire and police services to support the development of residential buildings on the rezoned lands,” according to the report.