Posted June 14th, 2012 at 10 PM

Osborne, Levasseur flip on vote, Give Craig budget veto proof majority to increase school funding.  54 teachers will NOT be rehired by the aldermen’s budget.  There are numbers and there are politics and this article addresses both.  Chalk this one up to the “unexpected, but true.”


$152,472,582.  That’s what the Board of School Committee asked for under the new tax cap and that’s the number they based their decision to send Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to school district employees.  In light of the $150,200,000 budget proposed by Mayor Ted Gatsas, the district also anticipated not being able to fill another 27 positions left vacant by retirements, resignations and non-renewals.  (Non renewals are pre-tenure employees whose contracts are not renewed for whatever reason.)  A total of 188 vacancies were anticipated due to the mayor’s proposed budget.

$2,017,000 is the amount Ward 1 Alderman Joyce Craig’s budget added to the mayor’s proposed total, bringing the school budget to at total of $152,217,000; fully $250,000 shy of the school district’s request under the tax cap.  In addition to the increased appropriation, the aldermen delayed the scheduled $428,000 payment on the district’s $3 million book and technology loan (of which only $2.34 million was used for books and technology.  $660,000 was used for salaries.) making that money available for other uses.

If one counts not having to pay that loan as an appropriation, which it isn’t, then the schools received an “effective” budget of $152,645,000 from the aldermen.  Make no mistake, their actual appropriation remains $255,580 LESS than the requested budget that laid off 143.5 teachers, 9.5 principals and 8 support staff.  BEST case scenario, using deferred loan payment, there’s an “additional” $172,418 to recall laid off teachers.  No doubt, some staff will be recalled to fill those positions vacated by retirement, resignation and non-renewal.  But given that those only totaled 27 positions, even if they were all filled, the extra $171,418 would hardly be sufficient to fulfill the expectation of rehiring 54 teachers.

Add to this reality the FACT that Craig’s budget relied almost exclusively on “one time funds” to increase their appropriation, and one has to know that the probability of those recalled district employees being pink slipped next year is likely 100%.  One has to wonder what the aldermen really did by approving this budget.

Due to some sort of oversight, Craig’s budget took advantage of an additional $700,000 found in this year’s auto registration revenues.  She said half went to the schools and half went to the city’s contingency fund.  That’s $350,000 in one time revenues to the schools.  Another $521,468 in one time revenues (from decreases in Health Insurance costs and severance pay to savings from the health insurance contract with Anthem) were also included.  Questionable savings of nearly $145,000 in unemployment costs for laid off employees (questionable because it anticipates the recall of 54 teachers) were added to the mix, as were nearly $231,000 in increased revenues from auto registrations, parking leases and parking fees.

Total it all up (and I did right from Craig’s budget sheets, including the allocated decrease in severance costs of $200,000) and of the $2,589,705 “in additional funds available to School District,” only the increased revenues of $230,899 aren’t one time funds, assuming they materialize.  That simply means that the aldermen dug $2,358,806 hole that will have to be filled next year as the one time funds used this year are not likely to be around next year.

Moreover, if the increased revenue projections aren’t realized, the entire amount or more could be GONE, meaning that any rehired staff will automatically be on the chopping block for next year’s budget, whatever the actual number of rehires are.  If the revenue’s hold, then all but those saved by the additional $230,899 in funding will be lost.  If they’re lucky, that might save 3 teaching positions, including benefits.

On the numbers, this budget did little more than almost meet the school board’s requested budget, while again creating significant funding liabilities next year through the use of one time funds.  While several aldermen expressed the hope that contract negotiations with the teachers’ union would fill this gap, that is by no means guaranteed.  Even if they are realized, they first must fill the hole created by this budget before “progress” can be made elsewhere.



NOBODY believed that this budget fundamentally changed the looming situation with the schools.  The increase in spending represents a 1.5% increase in funding over the mayor’s proposed budget.  Yet, Superintendent Tom Brennan advocated for a budget of $162,055,047, an increase of 7.9% over the mayor’s recommendation.  So, if the superintendent is to be believed, the aldermen’s budget leaves the schools nearly $10,000,000 short of being able to maintain the status quo, which has been propped up by massive infusions of one time cash from federal stimulus and expendable trust fund dollars over the past 2 years.

Alderman Craig was able to coax Ward 5 Alderman Ed Osborne to her side with the argument that nothing other than her budget would pass and, while he may not like it, her budget was better than the default budget, which, by city charter is the mayor’s original proposal.  Ward 3 Alderman Patrick Long helped convince Osborne, who eventually bought the argument and gave his support; his multiple public statements and “on the record” comments to Girard at Large about fairness to the other city employees who did make concessions and his aversion to using one time funds notwithstanding.  Osborne was vote number 9, joining Craig, Ward 2’s Ron Ludwig, Long, Ward 6’s Garth Corriveau, Ward 8’s Tom Katsiantonis, Ward 9’s Barbara Shaw, Ward 12’s Patrick Arnold and Alderman at-Large Dan O’Neil, all of whom had voted for her original budget in the prior week.

That brings us to Alderman at-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, whose defection to Craig’s budget is the most notable given his vociferous public and private statements about not giving “one more dime” to the schools not only because of the unions’ failure to accept concessions, but also because of the school board’s refusal to use its expendable trust funds, which are supposed to handle health care cost overruns, to rehire pink slipped teachers.  Levasseur’s pronouncements were particularly pointed and colorful as he referred to children falling off a raft drifting down river to criticize the unions and school board for their failure to “jump in” and “save the children.”

Despite publicly and vehemently pledging to oppose any increase in funding for the schools because of the failures of the unions and the school board, and reiterating that pledge in multiple interviews with Girard at Large, Levasseur happily became the deciding vote for Craig’s budget declaring ” Oh that was fun! It’s great being the 10th vote!” after the meeting.  He told me to “quote him on that.”  Clearly, he wanted his pivotal role in the passage of this budget known as widely as possible.  By comparison, Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo simply said he was “speechless” when asked for comment after the meeting.

Levasseur offered multiple reasons for his flip flop.  From “saving” Mayor Gatsas from the consequences of his proposed budget (a curious statement given his sharp public attacks on Gatsas over budget issues), to “keeping his cards close to the vest” in the budged proceedings he equated to a “poker game,” to saying he wasn’t going to reveal his strategy publicly, to saying it wasnt’ fair to the kids, Levasseur seemed to be fishing for a viable excuse for abandoning his multiple public statements against increasing school spending and advocating for the adoption of the mayor’s default budget.  Given his joy at being the 10th vote, one has to wonder whether or not he just wanted to stick it to Gatsas.

Craig, who once criticized Gatsas for not spending up to the tax cap and leaving $85,000 on the table for tax reduction, added $115,000 in tax “relief” to her budget.  When questioned by Girard at Large about this contradiction, Craig said she did what she had to do to win over the necessary votes.  Since Levasseur was the only alderman to emphasize that Craig’s budget hired back teachers and lowered the tax increase, it’s clear that this was the price she paid to get his vote; which isn’t hard to believe given Levasseur wanted the mayor’s default budget to pass in part because it had the lowest tax rate of any proposal.  He needed to get something on taxes from Craig to flip and he got it.

Having been told by Osborne and Levasseur that they would not support Craig’s budget, Girard at Large predicted that the budget proposed by Greazzo would win the day.  Ward 3 Alderman Patrick Long did tell us that he would support Craig’s budget before he’d support the compromise budget he’d been working with Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy to construct.  Their’s was a “compromise budget” he said, noting that he would only support it if Craig’s didn’t pass.  That came as a surprise to Roy who didn’t know of Long’s position until just before the budget meeting.

Only Craig and Arnold told Girard at Large that they would not, under any circumstance vote for Roy’s budget as they believed any additional funds should be directly appropriated to the school district, not put in city’s contingency budget as the Roy-Long budget called for.  Ludwig said he was “inclined against” that approach, but would remain open to it as a last resort.  Given their prior public statements and conversations with Girard at Large, we had no reason to question whether or not Osborne or Levassuer would abandon their positions to support Craig’s budget.  Ward 8 Alderman Tom Katsiantonis said he would vote to support Roy’s budget if Craig’s failed as he was very upset that the school board didn’t even discuss any budget items at their meeting on Monday night.

Gatsas told Girard at Large that he would not veto either Roy’s budget nor Greazzo’s, but indicated that he would again veto Craig’s if it passed given it’s reliance on one time funds to increase school spending.


The Winners and Losers

Winner?  Time will tell: Alderman Craig seems to have won the day in this budget battle.  She gathered the votes needed to override the mayor’s veto to pass her budget and has garnered the accolades of “pro school” advocates across the city, in addition to adoring comments from her colleagues on the Board of Aldermen, along with the gratitude of her former colleagues on the Board of School Committee.

However, Girard at Large believes the “after-glow” will wear off as soon as reality sets in and the hoped for number of teachers isn’t rehired.  While Craig may have properly applied the rule of thumb that says every million dollars equals approximately 22 teachers, she forgot that teachers are hired back by seniority, meaning the more expensive ones come back first, and didn’t deal with the fact that the school district issued layoffs based on their requested budget of $152.4 million, not the mayor’s recommended $150.2 million budget.

Loser?  It won’t be their fault: No doubt, some will seek to blame either Superintendent Brennan or the school board or both when the aldermen’s budget doesn’t rehire the proclaimed number of teachers.  That deficiency falls on Craig and her supporters who either failed to understand or misrepresented for political purposes the impact of The Craig Budget.  Moreover, because of its reliance on one time funds to support ongoing operational expenses, such as salaries, the best case scenario for Craig is that every rehired pink slipped employee gets pink slipped again next year.

The early winner, Joyce Craig, owns this budget and will be the “over time” loser when reality catches up with the math.

It’s up to them, not the aldermen: Don’t be surprised if the school board, not wanting to go through this horrific budget process again, decides NOT to rehire ANY personnel with the one time money included in Craig budget.  THEY don’t want to go through this Hell again and just might take the amount of one time funds and decide to get caught up on their technology or other infrastructure needs.

Winner, no matter what: Mayor Gatsas was overridden on several votes leading to this budget’s adoption.  Behind the scenes and off the record, some aldermen have said his tactics are responsible for his isolation and opposition to his position.  Publicly, and not without some justification, Levasseur faulted Gatsas for his past use of one time funds, failure to change the city’s Yager Decker personnel classification system and for negotiating the extensions that led to this year’s budget problems in the first place.  Craig’s budget was used by some aldermen to repudiate Gatsas’ approach and handling of the aldermen and school board.

That said, he wins in the short term given public sentiment in his favor and is likely to win in the long term as the school district will be unable to hire the expected number of teachers with Craig’s budget.  If the one time funds used in Craig’s budget to inflate school spending don’t recur next year, and they’re not expected to, Gatsas will be in the perfect “I told you so” position and his opposition will have been not only justified, but vindicated; not a bad thing in an election year.

Integrity Winners: Ward 4’s Jim Roy, Ward 7’s Bill Shea, Ward 10’s Phil Greazzo and Ward 11’s Russ Ouellette win no matter what happens.  Unlike Osborne and Levasseur, their votes followed their rhetoric.  They were eloquent, articulate and pointed in their advocacy for fairness, opposition to the use of one time money and questions of those who advocated neither.  They fought the good fight respectfully, earnestly, and honestly.  When the school board can’t rehire 54 teachers, when the one time money doesn’t come back, if the increased revenues don’t materialize, their hands are clean.  And, even if all goes perfectly under this budget, they still have the moral high ground that comes with not spending one time money and honoring the concessions of the city’s other unions, not to mention the sensibilities of a body politic that’s fed up with ever increasing taxes and spending.

Losers:  Those who said wanted the teachers union to make concessions but gave them the money they waned anyway. That includes Ludwig, Long, O’Neil, Katsiantonis, Shaw, Arnold and ESPECIALLY Osborne and Levasseur who flip flopped to get there.  They did it “for the children,” which means they allowed the unions who claimed to be fighting for the kids, to take the kids hostage to their demands.  They validated the unions’ tactics and gave them the ability to justify their hard line against the contract extension that modified their health benefits.  Look for the union to bring everything it can to bear against the school board to get them to cough up a couple of million bucks in one time funds to bring back more teachers this year.

Looks like a winner, but really is a loser:  The Manchester Education Association. When informed by Girard at Large about the aldermen’s vote, MEA President Ben Dick said “that’s amazingly awesome!  It’s fantastic! It’s a step in a better direction.  Everywhere you turn, people are saying that funding is an issue and needs to be addressed.”

On the “winning side,” they essentially got something for nothing, even though more than 100 of their members will still be laid off under this budget.  If they succeed in getting the school board to cough up another couple million in expendable trust funds, they will have gotten the city to fork over almost as much as they would’ve gained by accepting the city’s concessions.  Their hard line will appear to have paid off.  More than a few aldermen and school board members are talking tough on pending contract negotiations with the teachers, so that outcome remains to be seen.  However, we’d do well to remember their their tough talk against the use of one time money and the unions’ failure to accept concessions in this budget cycle, which turned out to be a whole lot of hot air.

Ultimately, they do lose, however.  They’ve caused deep anger and resentment in the general public over their petulant refusal to do as the other employee unions had done.  There is NO public sympathy for the teachers’ union whose members will receive pay raises of between 2.5% and 8% while so many of their colleagues get laid off.  The public is unamused by their antics and the insulting argument that they don’t care about or value education.

Winners who could become losers:  The unions that conceded and the city that created a double standard. Rest assured that every bargaining group that gave the city what it was looking for will take note of what the city did for the teachers who gave nothing, especially the firefighters who suffered layoffs and, even after concessions, were still 30 positions short of a full compliment due to budget constraints.  If the aldermen don’t crush the teachers in negotiations at the end of the contract year, don’t expect these bargaining groups to play nice at the table when their contracts are up.  They keep score and have long memories.

They do win with the public on this one, though.  They were asked to help and they did, without a whole lot of protest or fanfare.  The public for the most part, is appreciative.

LOSERS:  The taxpayers, the aldermen and the schools. Because of the use of one time funds, we’ll be back in this mess again next year.  The idea that teacher concessions will produce sufficient funds to offset the use of one time funds, a fervent hope Craig and others have pinned to this budget, is farcical.  The thought that the MEA is suddenly going to be reasonable given the rewards received from the aldermen and pending from the school board is simply just stupid.  Ask yourself:  Would you give up the ghost after getting your opponent to do what you wanted by refusing to cooperate?   They think they won this round and are looking to beat the school board in round 2.

Three years ago, the union insisted on the “better deal” and look what that produced.  Now, feeling the full affect of that “better deal,” they insist it’s a funding problem and demand more money be spent.  While they didn’t get all they wanted in terms of increased funding, they got some and there is potential for more.  Why wouldn’t they hold out for more next year?  Remember, they think they’ve shifted the conversation away from salary and benefits to the broader question of adequate funding, and we all know what that means:  More teachers, higher salaries, better benefits.

A closing thought:  One has to wonder just where we’d be today IF, instead of using somewhere between $15 and $20 million in one time funding over the past two years to perpetuate the status quo, they’d used the money for the district’s unending list of technology, program, planning and other needs (like what to do with West High and developing a special needs facility) and gotten their operating budget in order instead.