MANCHESTER — Upset by plans to cut education spending and by the way the city's school budget debate has been framed, about 150 people gathered outside City Hall Tuesday to dramatize their opposition to cuts in city school spending.
Participants claimed the school budget shortfall would harm education and ultimately drive down property values as potential homebuyers pass on Manchester because of concerns over the city schools.
“I want Manchester schools to be properly funded, not just adequately funded but properly funded,” said participant Lisa Johnston, parent of a Southside Middle School student.
The rally was organized by Manchester Citizens for Education, a group established last week to serve as a voice for parents who believe that city schools should get more money than proposed by Mayor Ted Gatsas or the Board of School Committee.
Gatsas has proposed a $150 million school budget, the school board voted $152 million and members of the parents group claim $162 million is needed to properly operate city schools.
“We've come here to put a stop to the nonsense, we don't want to be confrontational, nothing can be gained from that,” said Jim O'Connell, an organizer of the group and a Hillside Middle School parent. “Mayor Gatsas can be part of the solution, he does have a broad view of the city.”
Nick Want, one of a handful of activists who addressed the crowd, said higher taxes for schools would benefit all homeowners.
“If we have an education system that nobody wants to send their kids to, then the value of all of our homes goes down and every citizen in Manchester is going to lose,” Want said.
Parent C.J. Hebert complained that the looming budget cuts will set a bad tone for the future.
“The youngest, most energetic, brightest teachers got pink slips,” he said. “I am afraid for the town that I was born in.”
One of the teachers who received a layoff notice, Debi Rapson, a graphic arts teacher, said potential layoffs cloud the atmosphere in the classrooms.
“When you have a layoff, everybody goes into treadmill mode until things settle out,” she said. “The process needs to change because we do this every year, it's crazy.”
The parents group plans to hold a follow-up meeting in June at Manchester Central High School.