Manchester’s Board of School Committee held a special meeting last night to discuss the proposed fiscal 2 0 1 7 budget. For the first time since proposing her so called “needs budget,” Superintendent Debra Livingston recommended cuts to her request to bring the budget within the city’s tax cap. Among them was a twenty percent reduction in supplies and textbooks, elimination of deferred maintenance, paying the city less for the services it provides, not filling vacancies, and laying off teaching and administrative positions teachers.
After a passionate discussion over possible ways to cut costs without getting rid of teachers, the board voted to send both the tax cap budget and the superintendent’s budget to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for the special meeting it’s scheduled on the school budget on Monday, May second.
At the meeting, Director of Student Services Nash Reddy, shed some light on the high costs of special education that have overrun the district’s outplacement budget. According to Reddy, the district will spend six point five million dollars for just eighty seven students placed in special schools outside of the district. Students are either out placed because of court orders or the child’s special education team deems it necessary because the district lacks the necessary expertise. Despite being over budget by more than one point one million dollars, a cost overrun of more than twenty percent, Reddy said there are still eighteen students in need of outplacement. She advised the board that the district had issued a Request for Proposals hoping to entice an outplacement provider to establish either a k through 6 or 8 school in the city that would serve students in need, reduce transportation costs and possibly generate revenue from other districts looking to send their students to the school. Reddy said it could save ten thousand dollars per student in tuition and dramatically reduce transportation costs.
During that discussion it was disclosed that the district’s total special ed costs exceed forty three million dollars, for which it receives six million in state and federal revenues. Ouch.
Several tense discussions took place on several topics, including whether or not the board was going to pay for buses it was obligated to buy under its contract with the Manchester Transit Authority, it’s going to, to Ward Ten Committeeman John Avard suggesting a twenty five percent reduction in the district’s Athletic’s budget, reducing extracurricular programming for students and cutting what he called “excessive” transportation services to the city’s charter and parochial schools. Avard also defended the teachers contract he played a central role in developing in light of data from Business Administrator Karen DeFrancis showing the district’s budget would be approximately one point eight million dollars lower without the pact.
Several board members, including Mayor Ted Gatsas, Vice-Chairman Arthur Beaudry and at-Large member Rich Girard, questioned why the administration came forward with its recommended reductions instead of identifying the long questioned savings that could be found if high school teachers interested in teaching a sixth class were identified, a permanent substitute pool was established, distance learning tools the district already has were put to use and redistricting was done.
At Livingston’s request, Girard moved to authorize her to issue Reduction in Force notices to how many ever teachers would be required to bring the budget within the tax cap. However, Girard withdrew the motion at Gatsas’ request after Ward Two Committee Member Debra Langton suggested the board eliminate health benefits for itself before voting to layoff teachers. That motion led to all kinds of fun and went down to a narrow defeat with only Langton, Gatsas Girard, Beaudry and Ward Five’s Lisa Freeman, who challenged board members to “put their money where the mouth was,” voting in favor. Ward Seven’s Ross Terrio was absent. Ward One’s Sarah Ambrogi abstained, saying she’d just recently took the district’s health benefits. Ward Sixes Dan Bergeron abstained as well saying the benefits were necessary to quote “attract good board members.”
After Langton’s motion failed, Girard brought back the motion requested by Livingston to authorize the issuance of pink slips. That motion failed after an interesting back and forth between Girard and Gatsas.
Gatsas said if the board won’t vote to terminate its own benefits to save teaching positions, then he wouldn’t vote to “RIF” teachers. Gatsas also said the move was premature given the administration’s failure to pursue other cost saving measures.
Girard didn’t disagree with the mayor, but said the amount of time available to meet the RIF terms of the teachers contract was too short to expect the administration to come forward on all the neglected areas and that issuing layoff notices now would both provide enough time and incentive for them to get those cost saving measures established so that as many laid off teachers as possible could be recalled.
The motion went down to defeat with Girard, Freeman, Bergeron and Ambrogi in favor.
There was OOOHHH sooo much more and it’s all in our Live Blog Forum at Girard at Large dot com. Of course, we’ve linked to it.
News from our own backyard continues after this.
The Manchester School District is hosting a forum to introduce the two finalists for principal at Webster Elementary School on Thursday, April 21st beginning at 6 at the school. The candidates are Benjamin Loi, Principal of Peterborough Elementary School since 2010, and Sarah Lynch, currently a building administrator at the School for Exceptional Studies in Lawrence, MA. The forum is open to the public.
Jane Raymond, a chemistry teacher at Manchester’s Central High School, was nominated by several of her former students to receive the New England Institute of Chemists Secondary School Chemistry Teacher Award. Raymond will receive that award, which is given to one high school chemistry teacher from each New England state, during the organization’s awards dinner at Brandeis University on April 21st. Raymond has been at Central since 1999 and likes to bring everyday life examples into her lessons. She says chemistry also helps students learn lifelong problem-solving skills.
That’s news from our own backyard! Girard at Large hour ___ is next!