Ted Siefer's City Hall: Board may reverse course, seek full-time AD
By TED SIEFER New Hampshire Union Leaeder
The state's largest school district will revisit the topic of a hiring a full-time athletics director after all.
Manchester's school board on Wednesday voted to pull the district's posting for a part-time athletics director and re-post it as a full-time job.
"I still think to do the job right, you need someone full-time, going to games at night, checking the coaches," Ward 9 school board member Art Beaudry said.
Superintendent Tom Brennan said the school board's Athletics Committee is scheduled to discuss the full-time/part-time matter when it meets on June 11. A new job posting will follow, based on what the committee decides.
Beaudry's stance is a bit of a reversal. The former chair of the board's athletics committee, Beaudry has in the past supported keeping the job part-time, but that was only because the district had a capable director who was willing to do the job.
That changed with the announcement that Dave Gosselin was retiring.
But where will the money for a full-time salary come from at a time when the school board has been trying to hoard every last penny to hire more teachers?
Hockey games, says at-large board member Dave Wihby, the current chair of the Athletics Committee. There's a new source of revenue, now that the board has authorized the selling of tickets to hockey. Wihby notes that the past few inter-city games drew close to 600 spectators.
"These funds would at least help alleviate the funding issue," Wihby said, noting that Gosselin was already getting $37,000.
There was another wrinkle in the discussion of the position Wednesday. Apparently Gosselin, aware that the district had its hands full in trying to fill leadership posts, offered to stay on.
But Wihby said that even Gosselin said the director job shouldn't be a part-time gig.
"Talking to 'Goose,' he was limited in how much time he had to go to games. I think the right move is to make it go full-time," Wihby said.
Of course Gosselin will be missed, not least for that great nickname.
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ON WEDNESDAY, Ward 10 school board member John Avard, after emerging with his colleagues from a lengthy closed-door session, announced that a contract agreement had been reached with the district's paraprofessionals.
"We believe this agreement will lead us toward a greater future for our students, and we thank the paraprofessionals for being the first bargaining unit to reach agreement," declared Avard, who chairs the board's negotiations subcommittee.
It was pretty good timing, as earlier in the evening the board had debated and then voted to pass the cupcake ban - er, the update to its nutrition and wellness policy. It was the restriction on sweet-filled school birthday parties, of course, that drew national media attention - and closer to home, caused many to question the board's sense of priorities.
The breakthrough on the contract allowed the board to, ahem, clear any bad taste out of its collective mouth left by the cupcake debate.
The agreement with the paras, as they're often referred to, is a big deal. It marks the first time district employees have agreed to ditch health care plans that many in the private sector might consider quite generous. In place of 7 percent employee premiums and $5 co-pays, the paras will get to choose among HMO-type plans with 15 to 20 percent premiums. The district estimates the agreement will result in $514,000 in savings over two years.
Another member of the subcommittee, Chris Stewart, Ward 3, said after Wednesday's meeting that he believed the district was on the "precipice of some very exciting things."
In voting for the contract Wednesday, the board flexed its muscles in a way it never has. In the past, negotiations with the district unions were handled directly by the mayor. Early in the school year, the board foreclosed this possibility by opting to form its own negotiating committee and hire legal counsel.
Perhaps it's not surprising that Mayor Ted Gatsas didn't seem to share in the sense of triumph at Wednesday's meeting. And to be sure, any celebrating is probably premature, given that while there was agreement on the paras contract, an impasse had been declared in the talks with the teachers union, the largest of the district's bargaining units.
Gatsas abstained on the vote on the paraprofessional contract, and had critical questions for Avard and district's business administrator.
The contract, like all labor agreements, must be ratified by the aldermen, and it should be noted that in that chamber, the mayor, thanks to his veto power, wields more authority.
Gatsas told me he has a simple measure for determining whether one arrives at a good contract: "If both sides walk away and neither likes it."
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SUMMER is in the air, and in an election year that would typically mean it's time for elected officials to turn their attention to their campaigns. One senses, however, that between last minute budget revisions, the superintendent search and contract negotiations, the city's politicians will be kept plenty busy in the coming weeks.
Still, this has not prevented the two candidates for mayor from holding their big fundraisers.
Mayor Gatsas' takes place Thursday, June 6 at St. George's Cathedral on Hanover Street.
As per usual, Gatsas sees the event as a community gathering and celebration. There will be food, beverages and "a balloon person for the kids," he said.
His rival, Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold, held his own kick-off fundraiser Tuesday at the Shaskeen pub on Elm Street. The guest list was a who's who among Democratic city politicians, including state Sen. Donna Soucy and former mayor Sylvio Dupuis. The event was sponsored by the Manchester Education Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire and the State Employees Association.
The haul at Arnold's event, however, will likely be dwarfed by the amount raised by Gatsas this week.
Arnold said there will be more fundraisers to come. "It was a very successful and we're going to plan more like it," he said. "We're building momentum toward victory in the fall."
"City Hall" appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email staff reporter Ted Siefer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.