The Manchester School District has been fighting to keep the towns of Hooksett and Candia from withdrawing their students after layoffs resulted in overcrowded, high-school classrooms. The Manchester School Board met with the Candia School Board Thursday night for a second time and the two boards walked away without a solution.
The meeting began with a somber and unified tone. Mayor Ted Gatsas asked everyone to observe a moment of silence for the students and families of Newtown, Connecticut.
But that unified tone quickly dissipated. The Manchester School District’s attorney, Jim O’Shaughnessy, spoke first. He had not been sitting with the board at any of the previous meetings. But, as he soon made clear, the decision by Hooksett to send a formal notice of breach last week made his presence necessary.
“…Because Manchester absolutely disputes that it is in breach of its agreement with Hooksett and Candia.”
The Candia School Board has not sent a notice of breach to Manchester yet. The board is considering it but doing so would mean getting embroiled in an expensive legal process.
During the meeting, Candia board members pointed to big class sizes with more than 30 students as evidence that Manchester is not complying with the terms of their agreement. Manchester board members admit that there are problems but that the existing benefits still outweigh them; like a nationally acclaimed band program, an award-winning school newspaper and their partnerships with Manchester colleges.
Candia and Hooksett, along with Auburn are part of School Administrative Unit 15. Its Superintendent, Charles “Phil” Littlefield, says the Manchester board is simply in denial.
“The conversation appears to me to be defensive as opposed to problem solving. Like I’m leaving here tonight truly believing that the board of school committee doesn’t think that there’s an issue surrounding adequate resources.”
Candia board vice chair Nicole LaFlamme says there’s absolutely an issue with adequate resources. Early in the meeting, she presented a pre-signed contract to end the agreement between Candia and Manchester, signaling a willingness to leave.
“We’re here as board members. We’re not professional politicians. We’re not lawyers ourselves. We are five moms on a board. I mean that’s truly what we are. And we’re trying to simply do this ourselves. We don’t want to spend money on lawyers that should be spent on education.”
Manchester stands to lose about $6.3 million in revenue from Hooksett and another $1.8 million from Candia if they withdraw their students. According to Manchester, for every five students lost, one teacher is likely to be laid off.
In a last minute decision, Manchester cancelled a meeting with Hooksett that was scheduled tonight. Manchester says the meeting would have interfered with the legal process. A formal response to Hooksett’s notice of breach is expected in January.