Ahead of a final vote this week to place on the ballot charter amendments that would allow the city’s school board to set its own budget and override the city’s tax cap, residents reeling from the recent revaluation are urging Manchester aldermen not to put the issue to voters this fall.
The city’s first revaluation in 10 years saw a 40% increase in the tax base, with the value of single- family homes rising 46%.
Ward 9 Alderman Barbara Shaw, who voted to approve the language of the proposed amendments in July, said this weekend she’s had a change of heart.
“I think the people of this city have had enough blows for a while,” Shaw said Sunday.
She said she wished she’d never voted for the amendment, which gives the school board control over the school district budget, without input or approval from the Board of Aldermen.
“To have the BMA be the final judge was good for the taxpayers,” said Shaw, noting the school portion of the city budget is about 50%.
She is joined in that sentiment by Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur.
“The big-spending aldermen can vote any way they want, but even if my toenails were pulled out one by one I wouldn’t vote to put those crazy amendments on the ballot or give those loons on the school board autonomy over a lemonade stand,” Levasseur said Friday.
Others believe voters should have their say.
“The members of our school board are elected by the residents of our city,” Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry said in response to a Union Leader reporter’s query. “They decide school issues and have the knowledge of what the needs of our district are year after year. I am confident that the residents of our city will research the questions on the ballot and make a decision that will best benefit our schools and our children.”
Aldermen voted 8-4 in early July to approve the language for the suggested charter amendments. In favor were aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Pat Long, Tony Sapienza, Shaw, Barry, Normand Gamache and Dan O’Neil. Opposed were Sebastian Sharonov, Ross Terrio and Levasseur. Jim Roy and Keith Hirschmann were absent.
A November vote on the proposed charter amendments was up in the air for weeks, after the Attorney General’s Office refused to sign off. But Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge David Anderson ruled last week the city may move ahead, finding that the proposed change to the charter, “while substantial, does not result in a change in the city’s form of government.”
The amendments won’t officially be greenlighted for placement on the ballot until aldermen take one final vote on the matter, scheduled for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Newly elected Ward 8 Alderman Ed Sapienza will be sworn in Monday at 5 p.m., in time to vote on the amendments. He said he feels there’s a lot of “complexity if not outright confusion” around the issue among city residents.
“To simplify things, I say let’s put the question of granting them (the school board) taxing authority — a prospect I find horrifying — to the people and let them decide on November 2,” said Sapienza.
He said he had confidence “the people will reject it outright, especially if they have ever actually watched a Board of School Committee meeting. And let’s just please move on from this.”
Ward 6 Alderman Sharonov said he will vote no this week. He believes the question is intentionally worded in such a way as to confuse the average voter.
“Four seemingly separate issues are crammed in the same question, and the meat of the proposal – whether to give the Board of School Committee the authority to override the tax cap without approval from the Board of Aldermen – is hidden in paragraph three,” said Sharonov.
He said some conservatives in the city actually want the proposal on the ballot, believing it will drive turnout against it and boost candidates who oppose it. Sharonov disagrees, saying he fears the proposal may end up passing.
“The school district cannot keep track of expensive Chromebooks costing taxpayers thousands, yet they keep asking for more and more money every year,” said Sharonov. “This is evidence that the Board of School Committee has zero restraint when it comes to keeping the budget within the tax cap, and they would override the tax cap without any hesitation.”