MANCHESTER — Members of the Manchester school district charter commission received feedback Wednesday from over two dozen people on their list of recommended revisions during a public hearing conducted remotely from City Hall.
The recommended changes, which include removing the mayor from the Board of School Committee and giving board members the ability to adopt their own annual budget, were drafted following months of deliberations and public testimony.
The charter commission has been meeting since early January to study whether the Board of School Committee should determine its own budget number rather than wait to be assigned a budget figure to work with by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
In essence, that would give school board members the authority to develop their own budget. Any change to the charter must be approved by voters through a ballot question.
The key revisions being recommended:
• The mayor would no longer be a member of, or serve as chair of, the school board;
• The school board would elect one of its members to serve as chair for a term of two years;
• The school board should be responsible for proposing, approving, adopting, appropriating and accounting for and spending the school district’s annual budget;
• The school board will propose and adopt the annual budget, which would no longer be included as part of the city’s annual budget;
• The school district’s annual budget shall be subject to the same limits on budget increases — i.e. the tax cap — as currently imposed on the city’s annual budget increases and as set forth in the city’s current charter;
• In the event that the school board wants to approve an annual budget in excess of the tax cap, the board, by a majority vote of all its members, will forward a request to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to approve an override of the tax cap. Approval of any such override would require a two-thirds vote of all aldermen;
• The school board would continue to consist of 12 members elected to represent the city’s 12 wards, and two members elected at large;
• In the event of a vacancy in the office of the school board, the school board itself — not the aldermen — would fill the vacancy in accordance with state law.
The proposed amendments also provide technical procedures for the school board to adopt and account for its annual budget and capital budget, including public hearings; employing a school district treasurer, clerk and independent auditor in accordance with state law; designating a depository for school district funds; and fiduciary bonding.
Commission members heard feedback on the recommendations from both residents and city officials during Wednesday’s public hearing.
Ward 3 alderman and former school board member Pat Long said he supported the recommended changes and thanked commissioners for the work they’ve done. Former mayoral candidate and state representative Victoria Sullivan said she opposed the idea of removing the mayor from the school board.
School board member Leslie Want said she doesn’t believe “aldermen should be on the hook” for a tax cap override if one is deemed necessary by the school board.
“Please reconsider and let the school board take responsibility for its own budget,” Want said.
Liz Kirwan and Barry Brensinger of the community group Manchester Proud said their organization “wholeheartedly” supports the commission’s recommendations.
Supt. of Schools John Goldhardt emailed commission members expressing concerns over the aldermen remaining the lone board with control over the tax cap, which he said perpetuates the “lesser than” role of the school board. He also recommended giving the school district ownership over school buildings, and warned if the mayor is removed from the school board the numbers of members would be reduced to 14 — which could result in tie votes.