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Manchester Mayoral Candidate Arnold Blasts Mayor Gatsas After School Audit

Earlier this month, the Manchester school district was audited by Curriculum Management Systems (CMS).  They looked at what things were working, and what things needed to be changed.  The audit, which came in at just under 300 pages, showed more examples of the same failed policies from the Mayor and the Manchester School Board.

Ted Siefer of the NH Union Leader reported:

“With cold precision, the CMS report marked Manchester inadequate in column after column, and it plotted graph lines that showed declines or scant improvement in test scores over four years.”

Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year the Manchester School District has been one of the biggest continuing news stories in New Hampshire.  Math classes with 40 kids.  Classrooms so overloaded that children did not have desks, and were forced to sit on filing cabinets.  Neighboring towns that participate in the Manchester Schools District  scrambling to see if they could move students to different schools and threatened to not bring students back next year.

After the audit was released, mayoral candidate Patrick Arnold, released this statement.


“The audit validates what most of us in the city already know about the state of the Manchester School District – Mayor Gatsas’ failed leadership has left our school system in desperate need of a new vision for success.  

Among the many challenges observed, the auditors made special note of the strained working relationships and infighting on the School Board. Mayor Gatsas’ my way or the highway management style does not facilitate resolution of this challenge, nor does it promote a healthy vetting or legitimate debate of the issues we face in our district. That is why I’m running for Mayor – because our city and our school district need new leadership and a collaborative approach to solve the tough problems we face.  

In the meantime, I will ask the Joint Aldermanic-School Board Committee on Education to evaluate the findings of the audit and facilitate discussion on how best to execute the auditors’ recommendations for improvement.” 

The NH Union Leader also highlights that the Manchester School Board is not the only issue the Mayor needs to address.  The city is in negotiations with the Manchester Education Association for new teacher contracts. The United Steel Workers for contracts at the Water Works.

“No doubt, Roche (USW Representative for the MHT Water Works) wouldn’t be so upset were it not for the raw deal he feels is being offered: a fourfold increase in health insurance premiums – from 5 to 20 percent – with just a half-percent raise.”

As the mayoral elections are starting to heat up, we need to take a serious look at what Mayor Gatsas has done to Manchester over the last few years, and how it is going to take many more years to recover from those changes.

INZANE TIMES: Manchester Rallies to “Save Our Schools”

This is a special re-posting of InZane Times, by Arnie Alpert.
Originally posted here.

manchester 9-22-12 class size matters

Overcrowded Classrooms Threaten Education System

Teacher layoffs that have caused the number of students to swell above 40 in some high school classrooms sparked a “Save Our Schools” rally that brought about 250 people to Manchester’s Veterans Park for a rally this afternoon.

The school system in the New Hampshire’s largest city started the year with 150 fewer faculty members than the year before, a cut of 12%.

Luke Hayward, a first-year student at Central High School, one of 4 public high schools in the city, said his Spanish and English classes each have about 37 students.  The state’s standard for high schools is no more than 30.  Luke’s friend Andrew said his Algebra 1 class has 42 students.

In some overcrowded classes students are using clipboards for want of sufficient desks.

“It’s hard to get the teacher’s attention,” Hayward said, noting teachers have trouble controlling classes when there are so many students in the room.

Neither student had ever been to a rally before.

manchester 9-22-12 Tom OSpeaking from the Veterans Park stage, Tom O’Connell of Citizens for Manchester Schools, put the blame squarely on the city’s political leadership.  “The fundamental problem is insufficient funding,” he said.  “We spend less per kid than any other town,” he added.

That was an exaggeration, but only very slight. One town, Hudson, spends less. Manchester is269th out of 270 school districts in per-student spending.

The Queen City spends $9826 per student, 23% below the state average of $12,775.

Ron Kew, who served as a teacher and principal in the city before the threat of layoff forced him to look elsewheremanchester 9-22-12 crowd for a job, said “Every year teachers are cut, which means education for children is diminished.”  Kew, now a principal in Brentwood, accused  Manchester officials of “educational malpractice” and led the crowd in chants of “malpractice.”

Speakers at the Save Our Schools rally, organized by Citizens for Manchester Schools, united in statements that teachers deserve no blame for the fiscal situation which led the Board of Alderman to approve a school budget $8 million below the figure the Superintendent said was needed.

Jerome Duval, a former city official said “we need to invest in city-provided services.”

“Don’t allow your appeal to our city fathers for smaller class sizmanchester 9-22-12 Sarah robyes be dismissed,” he said.
Sarai Roby was the one student who spoke from the stage.  “Everybody I know complains about their class size,” said the Central High School junior in brief and well delivered remarks.  “Thankfully, there’s enough desks for everybody,” she said, but noted that in one classroom her seat is broken and “stabs me in the back.”

No one at the rally would argue with the notion that a desk for every student is a rather low standard.

City leaders should “get out from behind the excuses to fix the problem,” O’Connell charged.  “It comes back to political action.”  Almost on cue, Maggie Hassan, the Democratic candidate for Governor, appeared in the park, followed soon after by Carol Shea-Porter, Democratic candidate for Congress.  Neither spoke from the stage, but bothmanchester 9-22-12 SOS rallyshook lots of hands.

The crowd included plenty of teachers and students, at least one active principal and the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Thomas Brennan.  Brennan plans to leave his post at the end of the school year.

Nationwide, 75% of public school teachers are female; I expect Manchester’s statistics are in the same ballpark. Sarai Roby was the only woman who appeared on the stage.  For that matter, she was also the sole student and the only person of color. Citizens for Manchester Schools would benefit from a more inclusive approach if it is going to build a strong enough movement to rock the city’s power structure.

Manchester’s teachers are not the problem

President, Manchester Education Association

Twice in the last few months the Union Leader has seen fit to print the average salary of Manchester teachers, and in the same breath compare our pay to the pay of other groups in the state, most notably Bedford. In what seems to be an increasingly common practice, key omissions and misrepresentations play a large part in the paper’s piece.

In February of this year, the Board of School Committee was given a breakdown of the number of employees in the district. The number of teachers at that time totaled 1,256. Based on a breakdown by step and degree provided by the district at the same time, the average teacher salary worked out to $56,283. This is a difference of $1,066 to the number used by the Union Leader, which used older state data.

Missing from the June 7 editorial is a primary reason why the average salary may be higher than in other districts. Over the last five years, the teaching pool in the district has been reduced by 89 positions. That means 89 people who left the profession, in most cases at the top step, were not replaced. This artificially inflates the pool’s average salary because had those 89 people been replaced, the new teachers would have come in on lower steps, and brought the average down well over $1,000.

If you’re going to compare our district to Bedford’s, present all of the facts. While the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Manchester is $33,904, the starting salary for the same position in Bedford is $36,151, more than $2,200 higher. In fact, the starting salary in Bedford is higher than someone on our second step. A Manchester teacher with 14 years of service and a master’s degree actually will earn $65,383 this year. The $70,744 figure used in the editorial was for teachers with a doctorate, and should have read $70,244. (Editor’s note: We regret the error).While a teacher in Bedford with 14 years of service and a master’s degree will earn $61,624, he or she also has the opportunity to continue receiving step increases up through the 18th year of service, topping out at $68,966 this year. In Manchester, when you hit your 14th year of service you do not move up the scale any longer and are making $3,583 less than the Bedford top step.

But beyond dollars and cents should be some good old-fashioned common sense. Working in Manchester public schools is not the same as working in the public schools in any other municipality in the state. Anyone who thinks that we can compare our district side by side with any other is mistaken. It cannot be done without an examination of the intangibles. Teachers in all districts today wear far more hats than they did even five years ago. We are teachers, but we are also social workers, advisors, truant officers, translators, assimilators and, often, surrogate parents.

Over the last five years, Manchester has had the lowest attendance rate of any public school district four times. The one year we weren’t last, we were second to last. We have fallen at least 2.1 percent below the state average in all of those years. Over the same time period, Bedford’s attendance rate has been from 1 to 1.9 percent higher than the state’s average.

The most recent data show that the student population in New Hampshire has a Limited English Proficiency population that makes up 1.15 percent of the total. This equates to 2,265 students. Almost 44 percent of the group — 989 students — goes to school in Manchester. Bedford’s student body has four of those students.

Beyond English proficiency, 26.57 percent of New Hampshire’s student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch this year. In Bedford, 5.11 percent of the population is eligible. In Manchester that number reaches 47.52 percent.

I don’t share these numbers and concepts to disparage any of our colleagues in Bedford or anywhere else. I share them to show a bigger picture — a picture that presents the complex challenges faced in our district and a picture that the Union Leader conveniently overlooks when trying to turn the public against its schools, against its teachers, and against its future.

Manchester and other districts are not the same, as demonstrated in a recent New Hampshire Department of Education review of four city schools this spring. Overall, the report states that teachers in Manchester clearly face challenges that their counterparts in other districts do not, yet they have fewer tools and less opportunity for coordination than their peers.

We aren’t the same population. We aren’t the same when it comes to the range of educational services we have to offer. We aren’t the same when it comes to the socioeconomic challenges our districts face. We aren’t the same when it comes to the number of positions we’ve lost in the last five years versus the number of students we’ve lost. We aren’t the same when it comes to salary opportunities. We aren’t the same, period.

And most importantly, we aren’t the problem.

Ben Dick is president of the Manchester Education Association.

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