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.
Speaking 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 is 269th 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 elsewhere 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.”
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 both shook 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.