More School Board budget talks, this time without the mayor

I spent a lot of time researching this one, making calls and confirming information that was given off the record.

No Mayor, but vote on a budget?

Feb. 24, 2010

MANCHESTER – Board of School Committee members say they are ready to vote on next year’s school budget at a special meeting tonight — even though some members will be unable to attend, including board chairman Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is vacationing in Aruba.

“I think everyone has this desire to get this budget completed, including the mayor,” said committee member John Avard. “If we’ve got a consensus of ideas, I’m prepared to vote.”

But Tom Katsiantonis and Steve Dolman say they are unwilling to vote with members absent; committee members Arthur Beaudry and Mike DeBlasi also have deep reservations about a Thursday vote.

“I’m not ready to vote. I’m ready to see if we can finally sit down together see what we can agree on,” said Dolman. “I don’t think it’s right to take a vote when not everybody has the opportunity to be there.”

Gatsas has been pushing board members to speed up the budget process and vote before the mayor’s March 31 deadline to present a budget to the city. Yet voting now, when he and other members are away, is unfair, he said.

“I think certainly on the biggest issue on a yearly basis — the budget — that not allowing 15 elected officials who represent this great city to vote on the budget is unjust,” said Gatsas, who is out of town this week.

The special school board meeting, which can be called by three members, was requested on Tuesday by Committee members Kate Vaughn, Chris Herbert and Joe Briggs. When the mayor announced on Friday he wanted the board to approve a budget on Monday, Feb. 28, the board felt it needed more time to discuss the budget, said Vaughn.

School committee members have been presented with three budgets. Gatsas and Superintendent Thomas Brennan’s budget would cut 200 paraprofessionals, but would likely lead to a nominal tax increase. Briggs’ budget preserves current spending levels and staff, but would lead to a 6.7 percent tax increase. Beaudry’s budget falls in between with a 1.5 percent tax increase.

Talks have been slow going and at times contentious, with Briggs, Herbert and Beaudry getting into sometimes-heated discussions with Gatsas over proposed cuts. Briggs said in an e-mail on Tuesday he hoped Thursday would be a productive meeting.

“The meeting was spearheaded by (Ward 4) Committeeman Herbert. I agreed because up until now it has been difficult to objectively exercise our responsibility to independently determine educational requirements and a budget to implement them with the mayor in the room,” said Briggs. “Our job is to set goals, priorities, and policies based on federal, state, and local requirements, and then determine the funding necessary to achieve them. Until now, we have not able to have a productive discussion on these or other matters outside of the Mayors agenda.

“(Gatsas) is away and Vice Chairman (Dave) Gelinas will chair,” Briggs added. “I hope we can determine the programs, priorities and budget that mean most to education in the City of Manchester at that time.”

On Wednesday during an appearance on Manchester Public Television Service program, the “Will & Joe Show,” Briggs said Thursday’s meeting was to set priorities and decide on a budget number, not push through a budget.

“It is not our intention to vote on a budget without the mayor,” Briggs said.

Another board member, who asked not to be named, said there are members who feel intimidated by Gatsas and the meeting was called because they want to work on the budget without him there.

DeBlasi said he didn’t know if this was true, but the idea of a vote did not sit well with him.

“The planning of this special meeting was something I was surprised to hear about. I do have concerns about a meeting that may be, if not intentionally scheduled, certainly scheduled knowing full well the mayor, the chairman of the school board, would not be in attendance,” said DeBlasi. “The thought of having a meeting for a budget workshop thinking we might accomplish more if we got together without the mayor and to deliberately have a vote without him there is irresponsible and a bad message to send.”

The school board was originally scheduled to vote on the budget on Feb. 28.

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