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March 10. 2013 8:55PM

Candia begins campaign to lobby state legislators on Manchester school crowding

While Hooksett considers taking its case against Manchester to the state, the Candia School Board is undertaking an email campaign to urge state officials to address the high school class size issue in Manchester.

The emails, sent by Candia School Board vice chairman Nicole LaFlamme, ask the officials to "intervene on our behalf to lower class sizes at Central High School," while noting the board is not asking for them to become involved in the contractual dispute itself.

Recipients of the emails include Executive Councilor Chris Pappas, state Sen. David Boutin, state Reps. Joe Duarte, Kyle Tasker, Maureen Mann, and Romeo Danais, Attorney General Michael Delaney, and state Board of Education representative John Rist and chairman Tom Raffio.

"I want to reach out to them and say, 'You know, the largest school system in the state is not abiding by these very basic requirements,'" said LaFlamme. "We have done everything we can to make Manchester abide by those standards, but quite frankly, it's not our responsibility as the Candia School Board to ensure that other communities are abiding by state standards. That's the responsibility of the leadership team of the state."

"These representatives represent the people of Candia, and so this educational challenge is affecting the entire community of Candia," she continued. "We need everybody to drop what they're doing and get involved. What could be more important than the education of our kids? Somebody, somewhere, has got to have an answer on how to get Manchester to agree to basic standards."

LaFlamme noted that after the "basic issue" of class sizes was addressed, she hopes to work on other issues in the district such as staffing, textbooks, technology and infrastructure.

Candia has been reluctant to take Hooksett's approach of declaring a breach of contract, fearing that the town, which is less than a third the size of Hooksett, could not afford the expensive, lengthy and uncertain legal battle required in such a process, and which could potentially hinder the finances of their own K-8 program.

When asked if Hooksett's breach proceedings proved successful would Candia be more confident in such a course, LaFlamme answered "absolutely."

Candia Budget Committee member Todd Allen has also sent a letter to Education Commissioner Virginia Barry as an "interested parent" asking why she had not requested a hearing with Manchester on the issue of their compliance.

"Is there some political reason for not formally documenting the issue with Manchester?" he asks in the email. "Is there some material information that is in dispute between Manchester, the sending districts and NH DOE? Is there some process problem being experienced causing a delay in holding the hearing?"

"Our position has been really to try to work with the (Manchester School) District to reduce their problems, and they're working very hard to do that," said Leather.

In Candia, most of the officials responded to LaFlamme by the end of the month, offering support but generally arguing that they lacked the authority to act.

Tasker deferred to Duarte, who said he would "look into (her) concerns" and "see what (he) can do." Mann argued that "the state has no say in agreements between towns regarding school attendance," and suggested that a previously postponed state aid formula was "the real solution." Rist, Danais and Boutin have yet to respond.

Pappas' response stated that while he was a "proud product of Manchester public schools," he was "worried that public policy decisions have compromised the opportunities afforded to students and with it the economic future of our communities." He went on to note that he lacked "direct oversight" over schools in Manchester but was willing to offer himself as an advocate.

Patrick Queenan, an attorney in the Civil Bureau responding on behalf of the NHDOJ, stated that issue was under the jurisdiction of the NHDOE. Raffio responded by noting that the Manchester school system was on the next meeting agenda and that he would bring this up there.

The Candia School Board has also invited Mayor Ted Gastas to its April 4 meeting, asking him to provide "an update regarding the classroom overcrowding situation." The letter also encourages him to invite the chairmen of the district's finance and curriculum committees to discuss class offerings and class size projections for the 2013-2014 school year.

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