The Manchester Board of School Committee (BOSC) held their first full meeting of the year in City Hall last night following the two sub-committee meetings of the Committee on Coordination and Administration and the Sub-Committee on Finance. The public forum consisted mostly of supporters and organizers of HOPE New Hampshire asking for the opportunity to formally present their program to the BOSC instead of being limited to a 3 minute time limit. Other people expressed concerns over redistricting, the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores, and the proposed 10:00 PM time limit for board meetings. For the remainder of the public meeting until 11:30 PM, the BOSC passed almost every item on their agenda – yes, even the rules of the BOSC.
For the first part of the meeting, the BOSC members worked well together to pass items on the agenda, but the room heated up with red cheeks and hand raises when the Board was asked to consider the rules that they would accept. Committee Member Connie Van Houten (Ward 12) began the discussion on the rule changes and amendments flustered by the document proposed by Vice Chair Arthur Beaudry (Ward 9) and concerned that her voice was “being silenced” in the online discussion that took place on the rules. After a little confusion over what exactly the BOSC was voting on, Mayor Ted Gatsas declared that they would be going through each rule modification and amendment line by line.
Van Houten continued to belabor the procedural points, defending her complaints by saying she wasn’t about politics, but the children. The mayor, in response to Van Houten’s complaints about things being personal stated, “I could make this if you want to make it personal, I’ll make it personal. Almost every rule change (you proposed) takes power away from the chair.” Needless to say, the rule discussion did not begin on a good note.
The mayor also voiced his unconditional opposition of the proposed time limit policy of 10:00 PM by Van Houten saying that the peoples’ business must be done regardless of how long it takes. He called it “ridiculous” and underscored his position emphatically saying that any elected member of the board that takes their stipend and district’s health insurance benefits ought to stay until the job is done. At 10:10 PM, the mayor provided a small amount of comedic relief by sarcastically stating that it was time to end the meeting.
After the obvious tension in the beginning of the discussion, the BOSC members began to work well together and buckled down to get through all of the rules and all of the proposed changes. One of the most significant rule changes passed was to require the board’s clerk and vice chair to attend all of the meetings over the board agenda with Gatsas and Superintendent Debra Livingston “schedules allowing.” Gatsas opposed this rule because, as he said, the last time the clerk was allowed into the agenda meetings, information was leaked that should not have been leaked, and he was concerned this would allow for this possibility to happen again. All board members will now be required to submit agenda items by noon the Tuesday before the meeting to ensure that, as Committee Member John Avard (Ward 10) put it would “stop bomb shells from being dropped” on the committee and the public.
At the end of the night, both Van Houten and Beaudry expressed their appreciation and gratitude to the BOSC for working together and coming to a consensus on the rules. Despite allowing personality to shake up at the beginning of the discussion, they were able to put the good of the public forward and come to an agreement on the rules. Perhaps this will serve as a reminder of the purpose of the board – to serve their constituents and uphold the betterment of Manchester as their highest priority. With the combination of new rules and new board members, it appears that the Manchester School District is in for some positive changes and some long, spirited Monday night School Board meetings.