Laying blame. It’s what makes up the bulk of any political debate. I felt Avard did a great job of making a clear and persuasive case that the blame wasn’t just on school staff or the board. And there was the umbrella item, which cannot be beat.
Avard blames officials, not unions, for budget standoff
There’s been a lot of blame levied at the city and school employee unions this budget season, but Board of School Committee member John Avard criticized his fellow officials last week for their support of a contract extension that some claim is far too generous.
In 2009, the city and the school district struck a deal with staff that would delay cost-of-living increases in exchange for a three-year contract extension. The extension promised full cost-of-living raises in the next two years of the contract, which Avard said some school board members “stood firmly against.”
“We said we cannot afford this contract and in future it will result in significant layoffs or asking for concessions,” said Avard. “We were told the money will be there. The aldermen said we won’t let you down. So far, I’m feeling let down.”
Avard said the city and the school district now have to honor the contract language, and the aldermen should put up the money they promised to meet the obligation.
“The aldermen need to look back at the conversation that occurred two years ago,” said Avard. “They guaranteed those contracts, and now they’re not funding them.”
THE POLICE OFFICERS’ UNION SPOKE OUT against those who claim city unions have been unwilling to make concessions, namely Mayor Ted Gatsas.
Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association President Dave Connare said his union offered to pay 12.5 percent of health insurance premiums and more for doctor and prescription drug co-pays. Not quite the 20 percent the mayor asked for, but “we were meeting them halfway on that,” Connare said.
“The bottom line was that they walked away and left money on the table,” said Connare. “I keep hearing the unions refused to give concessions, and that simply isn’t true.”
The police did present an offer, but it wasn’t enough, Gatsas said without providing details.
“The numbers that came to us via (Finance Director) Bill Sanders were not about meeting the city halfway,” said Gatsas. He added he still wants to work with unions on a possible deal.
GO, LITTLE GREEN! The Central High School student newspaper published breaking news on Thursday that former Mayor Robert Baines turned down an offer to serve as Central’s interim principal next year. The news was sent out in a special email edition because the students landed the story after their paper had gone to print, said The Little Green adviser David Scannell.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan said he has considered filling the spot, vacated by retiring Principal John Rist, with an interim so he could conduct a thorough search for a long-term replacement.
“The mayor approached me at an event and asked me to consider taking the job. I indicated that I loved the job I am doing and that I would not be able to take on the position,” Baines told The Little Green.
Gatsas told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Thursday his conversation with Baines was less of a direct offer than a general conversation about whether he’d be interested in the post.
UP-AND-COMER ALDERMAN Garth Corriveau attended a reception for young elected officials at the White House on Friday, at which President Obama was said to attend. Corriveau said he doesn’t know how he was selected, but as a clear rising star in the state Democratic Party, I would guess a connected New Hampshire Dem recommended him.
FORGET ABOUT BACKUS. Manchester attorney Bob Backus saw his name climb the list of possible mayoral contenders after Alderman Corriveau bowed out of the race last month, but he said on Thursday he’ll sit this one out.
“I have considered it, but I’m not considering for this year,” said Backus. “I ran against Mr. Gatsas twice for the state Senate, and I don’t want to run against him a third time for a different office.”
JOINING FORCES TO DEFEAT ALDERMEN At-Large Dan O’Neil and Mike Lopez are former Aldermen Joe Kelly Levasseur and Manchester state Rep. Will Infantine. The two announced last week they are running as a team for the two at-large seats.
“Our slogan is: ‘Who do you want negotiating the city contracts?’” said Levasseur, referring to the upcoming contract negotiations with city unions in 2013. He laid the blame for the current contract on Lopez and O’Neil, though he didn’t mention Gatsas was a key player in the deal, as well.
“We want to get through the next contract with the least amount of damage to the taxpayers,” said Levasseur. “You can’t begrudge the unions for getting the bad contract. It’s the aldermen who refused to do the right thing, and the repercussions of that decision are playing out in a bad way for everyone.”
THE RACE FOR AT-LARGE ALDERMAN is getting crowded. Board of School Committee member Joe Briggs will be filing to run for the job this summer, inspired by the cool reception he received from the aldermen last week during a budget hearing.
“The aldermen, I think they’re out of touch,” said Briggs. He has pushed for a tax increase to better fund school and city services, which Briggs said would add about $100 a year to the average home tax bill. “I don’t want to raise them. I would rather the cost of (employee) health care be lowered. The reality is our taxes are not too high. I just don’t think we have the problem the aldermen think we do.”
THE POLITICAL TENSIONS have been running high, but the spirit of bipartisanship was flowing last weekend at the Central High School graduation.
Democratic National Committee member Kathy Sullivan was spotted sharing an umbrella with Mayor Gatsas on their way into the commencement ceremonies last Saturday. Sullivan saw Gatsas in the parking lot — walking in without an umbrella — and offered coverage under hers.
“I said, ‘Can you imagine what a picture this would be. You and your umbrella helping me,’” said Gatsas, adding, “She was very, very cordial.”