Published October 11, 2012 (10-11-12 :)) at 6 PM

School Board Members vote to keep their health and dental benefits, choose to move money from fixed line items instead to restore money cut from extra curricular teacher stipends.

In his interview with Girard at Large on Wednesday, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas seemed irritated with Superintendent Tom Brennan for reducing the school district’s extracurricular activities funding as discussed during the budget process.  Gatsas said that the board had “calmed the waters” by taking action on big policy items and that the extracurricular cuts had upset the applecart.

Brennan, who said that he’d not received requested input from the principals regarding what activities should be affected in their buildings, ultimately dispatched letters to building principals that told them what they had to work with and left the decision to them as to what to cut, noting past criticism for his failure to solicit input from building level administrators.

Each school responded differently, affecting a wide range of programs including the National Honor Society, FIRST Robotics teams and DECA, among others.  The funding reduction, totaling $109,000, largely affected stipends paid to teachers who advise these organizations.

Responding to the situation, which generated angry testimony from a multitude of parents who pounded the school board during the public comment session preceding the meeting, Gatsas proposed taking money from a “surplus” line item in the budget which included funds to pay for various requests for proposal the district has issued and the district’s school supply item.

That didn’t go over well with Ward 2 member Debra Gagnon Langton or Ward 9 member Art Beaurdy who reopened the discussion over whether or not school board members should receive health and dental insurance benefits.  They wanted to increase what board members paid for their benefits or eliminate them entirely and use the savings to fund the cut activities.

Langton moved to increase the premium percentage school board members pay from 20 to 50.  The motion failed 12 to 2, with Beaudry joining Langton in favor of the measure.  Ward 4 School Board Member Roy Shoults was absent from the meeting.

Langton tried again.  This time, she proposed increasing the percentage board members pay from 20 to 30.  That failed 11 to 3, with Ward 1’s Sarah Ambrogi supporting the move.

Members of the board were clearly agitated by the moves.  At-Large member David Wihby asked why they don’t vote on something that will affect all board members, not just those who take the benefits.  Following that thought, Ward 6 member Donna Soucy, who takes the health and dental benefits costing the city approximately $14,000 per year, moved to reduce board members’ stipend by 25%, which would reduce the stipend by $500 per person.  That passed 8 to 5 with Ward 10’s John Avard, Ward 11’s Jason Cooper, Ward 12’s Roger Beauchamp, Ward 3’s Christopher Stewart and Ward 5’s Ted Rokas opposed.

Before the vote, however, Beaudry proposed eliminating both the benefits and the stipend.  That failed 12 to 2 with only Langton, who seconded the motion, voting with Beaudry.

Along the way, Ward 3 member Christopher Stewart made the point that no matter how much money would be saved by either measure, the district had spent over $1 billion over the past decade, with school spending increasing by 72% while student population remained “essentially flat” over that period of time.  He wanted to know where the money went and thought the board would be better served by addressing that question than the one over benefits.

In our interview, Gatsas was “annoyed” by the benefit discussion noting that the board had already had the discussion and made its decision earlier in the budget process.  He was emphatic that reopening the issue “does nothing to change education” saying he wants the discussion to move forward on those items that will.