Ted Siefer's City Hall: City down to the wire on school budget, superintendent
The additional funds will come from the surplus that has steadily piled up in the latter months of the current fiscal year, thanks in large part to vehicle registration fees and departmental belt-tightening. According to the latest estimate from the Finance Department, the city is on track to finish the year $1.69 million in the black.
Of course, Craig's plan is not a done deal. Other aldermen have been eyeing the surplus for their own priorities. But Craig and Long's plan has the advantage that it's already been run by Gatsas. He may not support everything in it, but he won't be blind-sided when his budget is finally pulled off the table for consideration.
All the while, there's another big moving part to consider - the ongoing negotiations with the teachers union. Gatsas has said that he'd like to see any additional money for teachers come from contract concessions, in particular on their health care plans.
But Gatsas did say that he's been astonished by the changes he's seen at West since the resignation of the former principal, MaryEllen McGorry, for reasons the district has yet to disclose.
Gatsas acknowledged that he can't say the same for every school he visits.
"There have been an awful lot of schools that have great concerns. Teacher morale is down. We need to find a way to get the district to a place where everyone is working for a common cause, for the children," he said.
Meanwhile, the school board's superintendent search committee is set to have a closed-door meeting on Friday at which time it will narrow down a list of five finalists, who will then be invited to the city for interviews the following week.
"I've had talks with the search firm, and they told me they've got even better candidates than the first time," he said, referring to the three candidates who came to Manchester in March - and were sent packing.
On the topic of education, Gatsas' Democrat opponent for mayor, Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold, picked up a couple of big, if unsurprising, endorsements last week.
Patrick was endorsed by the Manchester Education Association, the city teachers union, and the National Education Association-New Hampshire, the main statewide teacher union.
At their meeting Tuesday, the aldermen OK'd one of the more novel ideas to come out of City Hall in some time. Coming to downtown will be six "spare change" meters, retooled parking meters where passersby can deposit coins that will help fund programs at the New Horizons shelter and soup kitchen. The idea is to both raise money and deter panhandling.
The firm agreed to donate $260 to cover the initial costs. Craig, not so incidentally, is the husband of Alderman Joyce Craig. Credit where credit is due.
If the mayor's gig doesn't work out, Gatsas might want to consider trying out for "America's Got Talent." It seems he's been taking a star turn of late.
A couple of weeks ago, he was a judge at a dancing contest at the Moore Center, which assists special needs adults. The week before that, he stepped up to play bass in an impromptu ensemble at McLaughlin Middle School. He was a big hit with the students, and now photos of the mayor getting down are making the rounds on Facebook.
"It took longer to teach me how to play than to perform," Gatsas said. "I'm not looking to perform for the Boston Pops."
Ted Siefer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tbsreporter.
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