MANCHESTER — City voters will head to the polls on Tuesday to cast ballots in the 2019 municipal election. Races for school board and alderman exist in all 12 wards across Manchester, along with the citywide alderman and school board at large seats and mayoral race.
Polls will be open Tuesday, Nov. 5, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The New Hampshire Union Leader sent three questions to candidates for alderman and school board to provide a short profile on them. Candidates were asked to limit responses to 100 words or less.
Today’s Union Leader presents the first installment in a multi-day series showcasing those responses. (Responses have been edited only for clarity.)
ALDERMAN AT LARGE
Candidates for alderman were asked:
1. What is the top issue facing the city, and how would you address it?
2. This year marked the fourth straight year that aldermen have voted to override the city’s tax cap to approve a budget. This was a tax cap approved by the voters meant to limit annual increases in spending. If elected, would you support a tax cap override? Why or why not?
3. What do you consider to be Manchester’s greatest strength? What needs to change?
JOSEPH KELLY LEVASSEUR (incumbent), 58, married, two boys
Top Issue: Weak leadership! Mayor Craig promised inclusiveness and respect at city hall-unfortunately it’s just a campaign slogan. Her partisanship and refusal to listen and work with those with different points of view caused many preventable problems we are now facing to explode. When alderman Baines begged for help with vagrancy issues facing downtown she pretended it did not exist-only acknowledging Baines was right 18 months later. When told Safe Station is hurting the city-she refuses to listen. Instead of working with our hard working popular governor she points fingers and accuses him of her very own failed leadership.
Tax Cap: I fought for the tax cap, and I will fight to make sure it is adhered to. If you favor the tax cap please put tax cap proponents on the BMA. We need Jeff Nyhan, Jim Roy, Mike Porter, Ross Terrio, Elizabeth Moreau, Ray Hebert, Kieth Hirschmann and Will Infantine to have any chance against a board filled with big spending union democrats. Please call me at 622-7575 if you want more information or want to meet any of these fine individuals.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: Our greatest strength is our seniors. They know the city is in trouble but they push us to keep trying to make it better. Every time I go door knocking and meet one of our great seniors I am encouraged to keep up the fight. The values they learned and adhered too are what made our country, state and city so great. Those values of family, hard work and taking care of each other without government everywhere in our lives are still alive — and must be passed on to young people that seem to be falling for socialist ideas.
DANIEL O’NEIL (incumbent) 59 , married, one son
Top Issue: Our school district. I will work to make sure the district has the needed resources.
Tax Cap: The override votes were to allow the city to bring in additional revenue that was available through new property tax assessment. The percentage of increase on spending actually has been at or lower than increases proposed by multiple mayors. I support the override to bring in the additional revenue that exists through new property tax assessment.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: Our strength is the great citizens of our city. We need to get rid of the partisan politics and always do what is right for the people of Manchester.
KATHRYN ‘KATIE’ DESROCHERS 48, two daughters
TOP ISSUE: Manchester’s top issues are underfunding of public schools, the increasing homeless population and the opioid crisis. In order for public schools to succeed in Manchester, more money must be appropriated to the district so that it is able to fund the programming it desperately needs. Homelessness and the opioid crisis are not just Manchester’s problem; this is a state and federal problem, but in Manchester we are proactively working toward effective, long-term solutions. We have Safe Stations along with the task force on homelessness that continues its work to problem solve and help address the serious issues facing our city.
Tax Cap: Overriding the tax cap is a very serious matter because it impacts the residents of Manchester directly. I believe that when a budget is put together it takes into consideration all measures of running the city and running the school district effectively. In order to effectively run the city, I would support a tax cap override, because I believe that properly funded departments are more effective than improperly funded departments and we need to keep our infrastructure strong, which in turn attracts people to want to come live and do business here.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: Manchester’s greatest strength are its residents. Manchester is a great city and people come here because they know that they can find an affordable place to reside, a plethora of cultural activities to take part in; fabulous restaurants; and easy access to Boston, or the entire country with our airport. Right now our school district’s image is suffering negatively, but there is hope and strong leadership and partnerships that are working diligently to improve our schools and focus on student learning and success.
WILLIAM INFANTINE, 55, married, two daughters.
Top Issue: The top issue facing the city is keeping the downtown area vital and the SNHU arena busy. To do this City Hall needs to deal with the drug and homeless problem that is plaguing the city. A serious review of Safe Stations ( moratorium) and the tent cities need do be done within 90 days of the November election. Open the fire station as an overflow shelter. Revise the bail process immediately. We are facing a humanitarian crisis especially as the weather gets cold.
Tax Cap: I would not support a tax cap override unless there was an emergency situation that required additional spending. The tax cap is a great check and balance for the taxpayers. It keeps the elected officials from overspending and results in more efficient budgets. It also provides for the override when necessary. The tax cap provides property tax stability. This stability gives developers and landlords confidence when deciding if they want to own property and invest in Manchester. The tax cap also provides stability for our seniors living on fixed incomes.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: I believe the city’s greatest strength is its people. Manchester residents are hard working good people that are generous at heart. They are proud of where they live and want their city to be at its best. They do not like politics as usual in city government. They have to live on their budget and they expect the city to live within its budget.
Manchester residents take care of their homes and take pride in how their neighborhoods look.
They expect the city to do the same. Tent cities and homeless on the streets is shameful. Politics as usual and lip service to city problems need to change. The mayor and aldermen need to feel the same about their city as the residents do. Some have forgotten that.
SCHOOL BOARD AT LARGE
Candidates for school board were asked:
1. The Manchester School Department is receiving an additional $15 million in state funding over the next two years, as part of a state budget deal. If elected to the school board, how would you like to see this funding used?
2. What do you see the single biggest challenge facing Manchester’s schools?
3. What do you consider to be the Manchester school district’s greatest strength? What needs to change?
JAMES O’CONNELL, 61, four children.
Funding: The Manchester schools have multiple needs. Our previous superintendent Dr. Vargas used the number $50 m. I would allocate monies to curriculum development and implementation. I would dramatically increase the access to technology to our students. I would automate some existing functions so we can streamline our services. I would use the money to replace other spending so that we could use the savings to get a contract for our employees.
Biggest Challenge: Excluding the major issue of our staff and teachers not having contracts for multiple years, I believe that the single biggest problem is the discord and in-fighting amongst the present board. The BOSC needs to concentrate on policy. It should get out of the way and let teachers be teachers, students be students and parents be parents.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: Manchester schools are full of enthusiastic students, teachers and administrators. The diversity of our student body is our greatest strength. Parents and citizens are crying out for our public representatives to properly support them and make our schools the great places they ought to be. With the cooperation of local businesses and academic institutions, with the support of parents and teachers and with a renewed energy and vision, a new school board can deliver the dream of making Manchester’s public schools the best in the state.
LARA QUIROGA, 42, one son
Funding: The one-time funding should generally be spent on one-time expenses. Our district has significant investments it needs to make in curriculum and deferred maintenance, but some funds should also be placed in the District’s expendable trusts.
Biggest Challenge: The top issue facing our schools is governance itself. The Board of School Committee has become an entity that has a culture of mistrust of its members and employees of the district. The Board needs to focus on its two most important roles: hiring the right top leader — the Superintendent — and trusting him to do his job; and focusing on policy making, including budget, to ensure student success and sound operations. I plan to bring my experience in healthy governance to the Board and model the type of behavior and leadership that fosters civility and common sense problem-solving.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: The greatest strength of the Manchester School District is its people – children, teacher, staff, administrators, and parents. As a collective, they have amazing diversity, interest in student achievement, and the power to make change. Moving forward, I’d like the Board to focus its work on student learning and achievement, getting teachers and other school personnel fair contracts, and providing the resources needed to ensure student success, all while engaging in an appropriate level of governance with a return to civil interactions and the use of common sense problem-solving.
JOSEPH LACHANCE, 49, two daughters.
Funding: Books, Update Computers and pay down any debt related items.
Biggest Challenge: Our biggest issue in Manchester is how to best utilize the scarce resources available to the district in a better and more efficient way. With a budget that continues to go up every year and the student enrollment down over time, programs, buildings and staff must be consolidated in order to free up necessary resources and reallocated where prudent.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: Our teachers and infrastructure are our greatest strengths. I also believe we need to consolidate the MANSD into the city side so we can share expenses on resources that we currently pay two departments to do. Simple smart and transparent consolidation will result in significant savings to be used elsewhere.
GENE MARTIN, 32, married, one daughter.
Funding: I believe we should make smart investments with the end goal of improving student growth and academic achievement. In my conversations with voters and families across the city, I have heard the need to provide our students and educators with up to date resources such as access to technology and new books. I believe that must be a top priority. I would listen to our parents, educators, and community members and support pilot programs that have data-driven components to help our students. I believe the superintendent’s recent request to set up a comprehensive reading intervention program in our elementary schools would be a worthwhile investment of these dollars. These are the types of smart investments that will pay dividends for our city’s children.
Biggest Challenge: The single biggest challenge facing Manchester’s schools is our dysfunctional school board that fails to prioritize student achievement. If elected as a school board member, my top priority will be making our school district one of the best in NH, so every child in Manchester has the opportunity to succeed. To make this a reality we have to work collaboratively and listen to parents, educators, and business leaders to improve student success.
Greatest Strength/Needs To Change: The greatest strength of the Manchester School District is the community that contributes to the success of our students. From families and community leaders to paraprofessionals, teachers, and administrators, collaboratively, they give so much of themselves to promote the academic gains for our city’s youth.
The change I would like to see is the perception of the school system in and outside our district. Our goal should be enacting policies and plans with the outcome being attracting families to move to or stay in Manchester because we have the best school district in the state.