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Ted Siefer's City Hall: A dust-up over Common Core, and kudos to custodians

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 30. 2013 8:40PM

The city's decision to create Manchester Academic Standards has been viewed both as a bold rejection of Common Core and a validation of the learning benchmarks, which have been the subject of fierce debate across the state and the nation.

In fact, there's quite a difference of opinion on this question within the Manchester Board of School Committee itself, and that was made clear at Monday's meeting.

It began with a somewhat cryptic statement from MayorTed Gatsas about how he's heard talk that the Manchester Academic Standards are really just Common Core by another name.

"I'm hearing some people are talking, in a tongue-in-cheek way, about Common Core, that what's coming forward is just a wolf in sheep's clothing. I know and I believe ... that Common Core isn't going to have anything to do with this (the Manchester Academic Standards), except as a base," he said, adding, "If you know who you are, you can chime in."

Chime in she did. Gatsas was referring to at-large school board member Kathy Staub and her recent appearance on the local cable access show "Progress Report," hosted by Bob Backus, who also had as a guest fellow Democratic state Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, the chairman of the House Education Committee.

"What I said was Common Core standards would serve as a jumping-off point. They're limited to (English language arts) and math. The Manchester Academic Standards would include other things, like arts, science and social studies," Staub said. "I personally think some of the (Common Core) things, like teaching second-graders what a verb is, is good regardless of what you call it."

Later, Staub told me she wasn't sure why Gatsas called her out publicly for expressing her views, which often diverge from those of the mayor.

"I just want our teachers to be able get back to work," she said, while adding (jokingly), "Maybe he was mad at me because I got more votes than him."

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A group of school employees who are often overlooked got some love last week, or at least their employer did. Aramark, the district's custodial contractor, was recognized at Monday's school board meeting for being the first company to step up to support the newly unveiled STEAM Ahead program at West High.

Gatsas hailed the company's $62,500 donation, which will be made over three years. "This is how public-private partnerships come together, and they're coming together for the students," he said.

It so happened that the next day, Aramark's new contract was up for a vote at the Building and Sites Committee.

There was more good news in the contract, as Facilities Manager Kevin O'Maley explained to the committee.

Its cost would essentially hold steady for the next three years, going down slightly next year, and up 1 percent in 2016. The current contract costs about $4.3 million, O'Maley said. In addition, the company would undertake a facilities assessment, which O'Maley has long sought, and it would invest an additional $100,000 in new cleaning equipment and technology.

Ward 10 board member John Avard praised Aramark's work. "I was proud to lead tours through the schools; they're clean, and every principal has had praise for them.

"The more money we save on any of these line items, the more we can put into the classroom," he said.

Ward 9's Art Beaudry also had kind words for Aramark - and he insisted it had nothing to do with the STEAM donation. "I'm more concerned with what's going on in the buildings; I want to thank Aramark and the employees for their good work," he said.

One wonders whether all the praise for Aramark will prompt district officials to take a second look at outsourcing its food service to the company, as it had a couple of years ago. After all, with the latest outcry over students ditching meals just to get a carton of milk, the current operation hasn't exactly been basking in good press.

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Hopefully, their Thanksgiving meals have been well-digested because the aldermen have a full plate of meetings this week, and there are some potentially upsetting topics on the agendas.

The Committee on Public Safety on Monday will take up the proposal to hire more police officers, which emerged during the election amid rising concerns over crime.

And the full board meeting on Tuesday could offer the latest installment in the feud between Ward 10 Alderman Phil Greazzo and Alderman-At-Large Joe Kelly Levasseur.

You may recall that at the last aldermen's meeting, Greazzo invoked a section of the charter to have the mayor review his allegation that Levasseur had improperly disclosed confidential information - and he later expanded the list of alleged charter violations.

A member of Gatsas' staff had proposed possible dates for a meeting last week. Greazzo indicated he would be available to meet at the mayor's convenience, while Levasseur wrote that he would "be good" in January. By then, of course, Greazzo, who lost his bid for reelection, will no longer be on the board.

Levasseur has also said he has no intention of submitting to the review and letting the mayor be the judge of his actions.

In any case, Gatsas is now referring the matter, as per the charter, to the city solicitor. "I have requested that a review be completed in a timely manner and prior to a new board being seated," he wrote in a letter to the board.

Ted Siefer may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.

City Hall Manchester

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