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Paul Feely's City Hall: Manchester's school nurses dragged into ongoing bake-sale boondoggle

December 09. 2017 10:57PM

Bake sale goodie (Susan Dromey Heeter)

Just when it appeared city school board members had put the "cupcake controversy" behind them, new concerns over regulations governing bake sales held in the district are being raised.

The state Department of Education issued a technical advisory to school districts across New Hampshire on Sept. 13, alerting local officials to a change in the rules governing noncompliant bake sales. State education officials had previously allowed just three noncompliant events - bake sales offering food deemed noncompliant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition standards - of up to three days over the course of a school year. The state now allows up to nine such one-day events.

An amended policy approved in October by city officials reads, "The principal or designee may allow their school to hold up to nine exempt bake sales or fundraisers, which are one day in duration, per school year. The sales should not be in competition with the school breakfast and lunch programs."

The policy also dictates that all ingredients used to make the items being sold in these bake sales "shall be reviewed and approved by the school nurse for students with known allergies prior to dissemination."

That line caught the eye of Public Health Director Tim Soucy, who says his department was never consulted as the policy was being developed, and has concerns over how school nurses can meet this provision of the policy.

"For example, there is no way a school nurse can review ingredients for allergens of products baked in individual homes," writes Soucy in a letter to Mayor Ted Gatsas and school board members. "They would never be able to assess for cross-contamination or deviations from the recipe by looking at a finished baked good, or list of ingredients."

"The language as stated puts a school nurse in a precarious position of approving something without having all of the knowledge or facts on how the baked good was prepared," continues Soucy. "This approval could potentially put a child with known or unknown food allergies at risk."

New language addressing Soucy's concerns has been drafted, which reads: "The school nurse will consult with staff/students during a bake sale about food allergies. All known ingredients shall be reviewed by the nurse for students with known allergies prior to dissemination. The nurse cannot guarantee that any item prepared in a home is allergen free."

The new language goes before the school board's Coordination and Administration Committee Monday at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall.

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Mayor-elect Joyce Craig continues to prepare to be sworn in Jan. 2, holding meetings with department heads and elected officials from across the city.

"They (the meetings) have been going well," said Craig last week. "Elected officials have passed along issues in their wards, and we are looking at those to see if there's anything I can help with. They also let me know what committees they are interested in."

Craig said she has been working with City Clerk Matt Normand in terms of the day-to-day business of government. She said she is not prepared to name who will serve as chief of staff, or other office positions.

"Nothing official yet," said Craig. "There has been a lot of interest, and we are looking to finalize our staff and put that information out there soon."

Craig said she has meet with Superintendant of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas, following a vote by the school board to extend his contract to a third year.

"We've had one meeting, and I look forward to working with Dr. Vargas and the board on issues affecting student achievement and improve outcomes for all of our students."

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Craig sent a letter last week to members of the Executive Council voicing her support for bringing commuter rail service to the Queen City.

During her campaign for mayor, Craig released an economic development plan where she proposed "working with private rail service to extend a proposed line from Nashua and Bedford to Manchester's Millyard."

On Wednesday, Craig sent a letter to Executive Councilor David Wheeler, Chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation, as well as councilors Joseph Kenney, Andru Volinsky, Russell Prescott, and Chris Pappas where she asks the council to include funding for an engineering and environmental assessment for the Capitol Corridor commuter rail project in the commission's 2019-2028 Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan submission to Gov. Chris Sununu.

"Manchester's Millyard is a booming technology and education hub, and its continued vibrancy is crucial to our city's and state's economic success. Bringing commuter rail to Manchester is an essential step in supporting and strengthening our community and I urge you to include this vital funding in the 10 Year Plan."

The Executive Council has directed the DOT to include $4 million to fund a rail study in the 10 Year Plan. A final vote by the Executive Council on the release of rail study funds is expected later this month.

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Dr. Vargas reports school administrators are working with staff at CMK Architects to design a plan to move the district offices from McGregor Street to West High School. Aldermen approved the project and authorized bonding $1.4 million back in October.

An initial timeline shows construction beginning on March 1, 2018, with a move-in date at the end of August. Those dates may change.

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Finally, congratulations go out to new Ward 6 Alderman Elizabeth Moreau and her family. Moreau missed last week's meeting, with good reason - she was busy giving birth to a son, Jonathan Pierre. Mother and son are doing fine, and the aldermen directed City Clerk Normand to send her a celebratory gift to mark the occasion, possibly a box of chocolates.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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