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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 O 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 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 both manchester 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. 

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This morning’s Concord Monitor had a letter to the editor from Tonya Angwin, president of the Shaker Regional Educational Association, the union representing teachers and school staff in the district where we live.  As she reported, the union had reached an agreement for a new contract with the negotiating team for the School District, but the school board voted it down. 

“The school board has placed us in a difficult situation by refusing to include money for our contract in its proposed budget. As a result, the SREA must ask district members tonight to amend the budget to include money needed to support a reasonable contract,” she wrote.

Like traditional New England Town Meetings, the annual meetings of New Hampshire School districts are small-d democratic.  We often skip School District meetings, but tonight we decided to go.

A couple hundred people gathered in the Belmont High School gym.  At the beginning of the meeting, Roy Roberts, the Moderator, asked everyone present who was not a registered voter in Belmont or Canterbury to raise their hands so we would all know who was not entitled to vote.  Otherwise, we were on the honor system. 

The budget was Article 4, a proposal for $19,837,324 for the year ‘”for the support of schools, the salaries of school district officials and agents, and for the payment of statutory obligations.”  A member of the school board explained this amount constituted a 2% increase over the previous year, but noted there was at present no collective bargaining agreement with the employees.  He also noted the uncertainties associated with the chronic debate over education funding in the state legislature.

Discussion pat piscetta shaker schools 3-18-11began with Pat Piscetta, who identified herself as a Belmont taxpayer and a school district employee and asked the school board members why they rejected their own negotiating team’s collective bargaining agreement.  Speaking for the board, Sumner Dole said the proposed contract “did not meet the long term interests of what we were trying to attain,” but said he couldn’t be more specific due to confidentiality agreements. 

Pat Piscetta was not mollified.  How can voters understand what is going on if the board refuses to tell them, she asked, then called for money to be set aside for the contract.

Michael Guglielmo followed with a motion to add $213,380 to the budget to settle the teachers contract and michael guglielmo shaker schools 3-18-11 restore custodial and technical positions which had been eliminated.  “I’m just here to support the teachers and all our children,” he said.  

A bit of debate followed, and Pat Piscetta returned to the microphone. “We’re not asking for a raise, just for the step increases,” she said.  

We voted by a show of hands, counted by the supervisors of the voter checklists.  The outcome was a tie, 94 to 94.  The moderator broke the tie with a “no” vote, but then said he would entertain a motion to reconsider.  Thashaker schools 3-18-11 012t motion was made and adopted.

Moderator Roberts wisely decided the re-vote would be by ballot.  After again asking those who were not allowed to vote to identify themselves, we stood and filed to the voting booths, where the checklist supervisors gave each voter a green slip with two boxes marked “yes” and “no.” 

This time the vote came out 116 for the amendment, and 114 against.  We’re glad we were there.

Now it was time to vote on the amended budget, again by secret ballot.  The budget passed, 156 to 75.

 

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