THE SAUSAGE-MAKING that went into the 56-page report on rules for reopening New Hampshire public schools sparked plenty of controversy last week.
Executive Councilor and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andru Volinsky of Concord repeatedly pressed Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut on the process, getting him to admit that state education staff and a federal consultant prepared the final document after weeks of work by a citizen task force.
“The purpose was not for the task force to write the report, but to guide the framework to make it useable for the school districts,” Edleblut told the council.
Volinsky said the task force should have had the opportunity to do a final read of that plan before it went to Gov. Chris Sununu and the Division of Public Health Services for their review and release.
“It’s the Betsy DeVos federal Department of Education that put this consultant in place, so who should be surprised the final report says, ‘OK, it’s time to reopen public schools, but you’re on your own on how to do it,” Volinsky said.
The American Institutes for Research facilitated the effort.
Months before COVID-19 hit the U.S., the Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan group was picked in the fall of 2019 for a $1 million, five-year contract to serve as the “comprehensive center” for New England states to work on research and innovation projects.
The group has a $1.7 million contract to perform the same duties in Iowa and Illinois.
Last Thursday, Sununu said state DOE staff, not the consultant, produced the report based on recommendations the task force endorsed at the end of June.
“They did not write content. The content was written by the Department of Education right here in New Hampshire,” Sununu said.
“The federal government did not write the document at all.”
Edelblut pointed out the firm has been assisting the state since 2005 and that similar grants occurred during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
“This has been going on literally for decades,” Sununu said.
Volinsky and others objected that the report contains no reference to the American Institutes for Research.
But when this process was unveiled last spring, Edelblut spelled out the consultant’s role and said the task force would adopt the “preliminary summary recommendations.”
“These will be followed up with more developed and detailed recommendations within 30 days. In addition, we anticipate (the task force) will continue to periodically meet to provide input as circumstances develop in advance of the start of school,” Edelblut said.
Future meetings could be spirited.
Dems push masks
When it comes to plans to reopen schools, Sununu’s two Democratic opponents insist the governor’s report is a failure. They both say they would have imposed mandates to ensure the safety of students, teachers and staff.
Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes of Concord said the state should be using federal CARES Act money to supply teachers and students with masks that should be worn by all middle and high school students in the classroom and on school buses.
The state also should use leftover federal grants to cover the cost of paid sick leave for teachers and staff who are absent for COVID-19 reasons, as well as to provide on-site testing of all staff and students for the virus, he said.
“The average teacher spends $400 a year out of pocket in New Hampshire for school supplies, and they shouldn’t be spending out of pocket to protect themselves and their students,” Feltes said.
In addition to also advocating a mask mandate, Volinsky said provisions should be made for holding classes outside as much as possible during September.
Volinsky said he would have required that student density in classrooms be reduced through a staggered schedule of learning, either by having students rotate what days they attend school or by having some do morning sessions and others do afternoons.
All schools should be tested and required to meet air ventilation safety standards before they can open to students, Volinsky said.
Volinsky said he would call for a return to remote learning beginning as early as mid-October until a vaccine is approved.
“We know that this virus is going to cycle back on us later in the fall, and all districts already have the experience with remote learning. I simply feel that’s the safest and best course to take for students and their families,” Volinsky said.
Complaint against campaign
Grantham Democratic Treasurer Theodore Fantl has brought an election law complaint against Sen. Ruth Ward, R-Stoddard, for failing to file a campaign report he claimed was due a month ago.
“While we know Senator Ward votes in opposition to increased access to the voting booth, against increased worker protections and against renewable energy solutions like net metering, we don’t know who is funding her campaign for a third term,” said Dario Scalco, director of the New Hampshire Senate Democratic Caucus. “What is Ruth Ward hiding?”
Periklis Karoutas, Ward’s campaign consultant, said that because she has filed as a candidate for office rather than as a political committee, she doesn’t have to report on any spending or donations until Aug. 19.
“There are four different ways to organize as a candidate, and it can be confusing, but she’s complied with all the campaign finance laws and will continue to,” Karoutsas said.
Democratic candidate Jenn Alford-Teaster of Sutton is Ward’s opponent for the District 8 seat.
In 2018, Alford-Teaster outspent Ward by a wide margin but still lost by nearly 650 votes.
State rep steps down
A one-term Republican lawmaker resigned from the House last week.
Rep. Gates Lucas, R-Sunapee, said he stepped down and didn’t seek reelection because he moved to Portsmouth.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done in the House to uphold @GovChrisSununu’s vetoes and reject many of the radical policies of the left. It’s been an honor serving Sunapee & Croydon!” Lucas tweeted.
Lucas is the son of former Republican nominee for governor Jay Lucas of Portsmouth. In 2018, he narrowly defeated Sue Gottling of Sunapee by 120 votes.
Gottling, the Democratic nominee-to-be this fall, will face Don Bettencourt of Sunapee, a past candidate for selectman.
Council hopeful wins backing
Executive Council Republican candidate Bruce Crochetiere of Hampton Falls won over another prominent GOP figure in his bid to replace Councilor Russell Prescott, R-Exeter, who is retiring.
Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, joined Senate Republican Leader Chuck Morse of Salem and Sen. Sharon Carson of Londonderry in backing Crochetiere.
“He’s an impressive business leader and proven job creator with the energy and vision to get things done,” Bradley said.
“I look forward to helping his campaign in the weeks ahead.”
Crochetiere also has received the approval of Trump leaders Bruce Breton and State Senate hopeful Lou Gargiulo, as well as such moderates as ex-House Speaker Doug Scamman and former Sen. Nancy Stiles.
In 2018, Crochetiere sought the GOP nomination to the First Congressional District seat but dropped out because of demands on his business.
This primary race, one of the most competitive on the GOP side, also features Janet Stevens of Rye and ex-State Rep. Tim Comerford of Fremont.
Senator gets DC help
A prominent, left-wing advocacy group has gotten behind State Sen. Melanie Levesque’s bid for a second term.
Levesque, a Brookline Democrat, in 2018 became the first person of color to win a Senate seat.
Since 2016, the Collective PAC has targeted its support for “under-representation” of elected seats for local, state and federal offices.
“We know this is going to be a tight race, and...it’s critical that she continue her work to fight for voting rights, criminal justice reform and equity in our education system,” said Chris Scott, the PAC’s director of campaigns.
This District 12 race is a rematch, with Levesque challenged by former Sen. Kevin Avard of Nashua, who lost in 2018 by 169 votes.