THE relationship between Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the city’s Board of School Committee continues to deteriorate, reaching the point where it is time to recognize the differences are irreconcilable. Mom and Dad really need to get a divorce.

The arguments arise from the BOMA’s control over school finances. Although the BOSC sets its budget, the amount of the school allocation requires aldermanic approval. The BOSC also does not have bonding authority, so that improvements to the school facilities need BOMA approval. In addition, the BOMA controls the decision as to whether to override the city’s tax cap.

This system creates inherent tension between the two boards. One example is redistricting, which the BOSC has been working on for years. After finally reaching an agreement, the BOSC asked the BOMA for bonding approval to finance the cost of necessary school facility reconfiguration. Some members of the BOMA do not like the redistricting plan and have balked at approving the bonding. The latest version of the request is pending, but whether the proposal will receive the necessary votes is in doubt.

Redistricting is a school district policy decision; the BOMA should leave it in the hands of the BOSC. We elect a school committee to make those decisions. If some of the aldermen want to control school policy, they should run for the school committee.

This interference over bonding has played out while the BOMA refused to override the city’s tax cap to allow the district to accept an allocation of state aid to education. That also was a wrong decision by the BOMA, as the schools have unmet needs which these funds could have helped.

My disappointment with the BOMA does not automatically put me on Team School Board instead of Team Aldermen. The BOSC does not always make the right decisions, either. Take the imbroglio between the boards over the cost of school crossing guards.

The Manchester Police Department hires, trains and pays the salaries of the guards, with the school district reimbursing the police department for the salaries. When the schools closed, the police department continued to pay guards’ wages, first because they did not know if the schools would reopen, and then because they wanted to make sure the guards would come back in the fall when (hopefully) the schools reopen. The total bill, which the BOSC voted not to reimburse, was $26,637. That is the equivalent of 1,750 hours of pay; obviously, keeping Manchester’s kids safe on the way to school is not a job these folks do for the money.

Yes, the school district is underfunded, but this was the wrong battle for the BOSC to fight.

City voters can adopt proposed city charter amendments in November that can end most of these disputes. Under the proposal, the aldermen no longer will approve the school district budget, and the BOSC will have the authority to issue its own bonds. Approving the changes will go a long way toward eliminating these annual disputes and establish clear lines of authority and accountability. The only financial control aldermen would have over the district would be overrides to the city’s tax cap. Maintaining aldermanic override approval was a compromise on the part of the School District Charter Commission to obtain support of enough members to confer budget and bonding authority to the district.

The BOSC recently sent a letter to the Charter Commission asking the commission to reconvene and reconsider the tax cap provision. The commission cannot do that. State law does not permit any new changes to the proposal, unless the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, or the Department of Revenue Administration find changes are required to conform to state law. Otherwise, the proposal will go the voters as is on Nov. 3, 2020, a date mandated by the state law authorizing the establishment of the charter commission.

Hopefully, both the BOSC and the BOMA will agree that it is in the best interests of the city, the school district and the two boards to go their separate ways as provided in the charter proposal. If both boards get behind the proposal, it will help ensure a positive vote.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

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Thursday, August 06, 2020

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