Ode to the school board

Being on the school board is a thankless job. I would argue the most thankless out of all locally elected posts. Sometimes it’s good to acknowledge that.

Board caught between a squawk and a hard-times place

AS DIFFICULT as it is to sit on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the job of a Manchester Board of School Committee member is unenviable.

Members regularly hear from parents, teachers and students about important programs that can’t possibly be cut and what a struggle it is to muddle through with what little schools have now. Any attempts to fix these problems are limited by the aldermen, who control how much money city schools get year to year. This fiscal arrangement traps every school board member in a tight spot between those asking for more and those reluctant to give it.

It may be because of this sensitive position that the school committee reacted as it did to a passing comment from an alderman in April about changing the school district to a school department. (It was a city department years ago, before a court ruled it a separate entity.)

At the June 27 meeting, the board voted to call in legal counsel to explain the ramifications of a charter amendment to return school operations to city control. Right now, the Manchester School District is run separately from city operations. The superintendent of schools answers to the school board. The aldermen give the district a lump sum of money each year, but it is the school board — not the aldermen — who decide how that money is spent.

If the voters decided to make the school district a department, it could give the aldermen more control over the school budget. Committee member Joe Briggs, who raised the issue, wanted to know what the role of the school board would be in a school department, whether the superintendent would report to school officials or to the aldermen and whether the aldermen could shift money from the school department to other areas, such as police and fire services.

All of this in response to a comment by Alderman Phil Greazzo about wanting to see the change. As of now, there is no proposal being discussed by the aldermen or Mayor Ted Gatsas. He has been supportive of a move to transfer the school district to a department, but has stopped short of coming forward with a plan. Briggs asked Gatsas on Monday whether he was backing a plan, and if so, would he come forward with it?

Gatsas said after the meeting he wasn’t planning anything, but then added, “This might have enticed me into doing it, listening to committee member Briggs.”

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HUNTSMAN IS HEADING to Cremeland. Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is scheduled to be in Manchester on Sunday to attend a house party in the morning, have lunch at the Cremeland Drive-In on Valley Street, and attend the Independence Day celebration in Arms Park in the evening. Huntsman is touring other towns in New Hampshire on July 4, but will be back in Manchester on Tuesday to meet with Gatsas in his chambers.

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HAVING HUNTSMAN come in for a visit almost completes Gatsas’ dance card of presidential candidates. Gatsas said he has already met with Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich. He said he is still waiting to meet Michele Bachmann.

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AFTER GETTING slammed for texting during a recent school board meeting, Briggs came clean last week about his texting habits.

“I will admit that today and to the world I do receive text messages from constituents who watch these meetings, and I think that promotes the right-to-know law,” said Briggs. “I’ve never exchanged information on a vote with another board member.”

Briggs then asked whether Gatsas — in the spirit of openness — would make open to the public his regular meetings with Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan and board Vice Chairman David Gelinas.

Gatsas told Briggs he’d take the request under advisement.

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IT’S NOT UNUSUAL for Gatsas to hold small meetings with city officials. According to scheduling records, Gatsas started the week of June 20 with a department head meeting in his chambers.

On Tuesday of that week, he met with Finance Officer Bill Sanders and City Solicitor Tom Clark. These were just two of the many regular meetings with city staff and aldermen listed on his calendar this year.

The schedules also revealed with whom Gatsas met in the final weeks of the city budget battle. On June 9, Gatsas sat down with Aldermen Joyce Craig, Pat Long and Bill Shea in the morning and Aldermen Jim Roy, Phil Greazzo and Ed Osborne in the afternoon. The morning the Board of Mayor and Aldermen were in City Hall until 2 a.m., Gatsas had an appointment at 8 a.m. with Aldermen At-Large Dan O’Neil and Mike Lopez.

Gatsas has also been meeting with local businesses. On June 21, Gatsas sat down with Stefan Condemetraky of the CF Partners venture capital firm to discuss holding car races in Manchester (which looks unlikely), and on June 22, Gatsas stopped by McDevitt Trucks to have coffee with owner Jack McDevitt to discuss the new Walmart plans.

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THE ELECTION FILING period doesn’t begin until July 11, but two candidates for school board have already submitted their forms. Ted Rokas has filed for the Ward 5 school committee seat, and Ward 9 school committee member Arthur Beaudry has filed for reelection. Both did so, according to the clerk’s office, because of other obligations during the filing period.

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STILL ON THE FENCE is school committee Vice Chairman David Gelinas, who sources on the board say is considering running for alderman in Ward 7. The seat is now held by Shea, who said earlier this year he would likely run for reelection.

“Some board members are urging me to come back to the school board and take the vice chair again, and others have urged me to look at other offers,” said Gelinas. “I’m weighing my options.”

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MANCHESTER CITY DEMOCRATS last week honored school committee member and city Democratic Treasurer Donna Soucy for her commitment to Manchester politics. The honor was bestowed at a Flag Day Dinner held at the Puritan Back Room.

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