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May 07. 2013 11:50PM

Manchester aldermen approve $2.8 million school technology bond

MANCHESTER - The Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Tuesday narrowly voted to give final authorization for a $2.8 million bond to fund technology and security upgrades in the schools.

The 11-3 vote came after weeks of debate that saw a contingent of aldermen oppose the bond, despite the unanimous support of the school board and the urging of Superintendent Thomas Brennan and district's technology director. A 10-vote majority is necessary to enroll a bond.

The bond will fund a district-wide wireless network, a new telephone and intercom system, teacher training and the purchase of hundreds of new computers and tablets.

At the core of the debate Tuesday was whether the school district would be better off using the debt service it would be paying on the bond, roughly $460,000 a year, to hire more teachers.

Alderman Joyce Craig, Ward 1, who had been a chief opponent of the bond, reiterated these concerns Monday, but she decided to support it in the end.

"This is a tough decision for me," she said. "But a little progress is better than none."

The three who voted against the bond were Aldermen Dan O'Neil, Garth Corriveau and Patrick Arnold, all Democrats. O'Neil said his chief concern was the security component of the plan, the replacement of the district's telephone and intercom systems, a priority for emergencies backed by the city police, fire and health departments.

O'Neil said he has done research on the Internet about school security systems.

"I'm the king of Google," he said. He had found that other districts made having an emergency plan the first priority, whereas, he argued, Manchester had not.

"I think this is backwards, to do this before we have a plan. I don't think that is how government should operate. We're talking taxpayer dollars," he said.

Arnold, a candidate for mayor, did not speak during the debate.

Corriveau argued that the technology bond was less a priority than hiring more teachers. "Considering the funding crisis facing the Manchester district, our top priority has to be getting every single possible teacher we can into the classrooms," he said.

O'Neil also questioned how the mayor arrived at the $2.8 million figure, suggesting that the figure wasn't based on the needs of the district.

Mayor Ted Gatsas acknowledged that the amount was based on the amount of debt service the district could afford, assuming that the city would allow it to forgo the $460,000 yearly payment on its book loan indefinitely, as called for under his plan.

"We did the simple thing. We forgave the book loan and went with what we could," he said. "I did what any businessman would do."

During the debate, Brennan repeatedly and forcefully defended the plan for the bond.

"I think it is one of the most critical decisions for the school district, when we talk about how far behind we've fallen."

In the end, Alderman Ron Ludwig argued that the board had to defer to the experts.

"No one wants teachers more than I do. But the superintendent supports the plan, an I.T. director supports the plan. The 14 school board members support the plan," he said.

Those supporting the bond were Aldermen Craig, Ludwig, Pat Long, Jim Roy, Ed Osborne, Joe Kelly Levasseur, Phil Greazzo, Normand Gamache, William Shea, Barbara Shaw and Tom Katsiantonis.

Following the vote on the technology bond, aldermen voted 13-1 to authorize another bond, $3 million for energy efficiency upgrades for the school district.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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