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August 28. 2013 12:10AM

City schools to hire PR help

MANCHESTER — The Board of School Committee has voted to authorize the hiring of a full-time spokesperson for the district.

Superintendent Debra Livingston, who is beginning her first school year as head of the district, told the school board on Monday that she's quickly realized the schools need a public liaison.

"It's very apparent how important it is to make sure we are communicating regularly with our public and with our schools and parents," she said. "I believe it is critical to have someone who can make that happen with our local media, as well as within the district, communicating the mission, vision and other ideas."

The board approved the hiring of the "communications coordinator" by a voice vote at its meeting Monday. Earlier in the evening, the proposal was debated and passed 5-2 by the board's Coordination Committee.

Livingston had first proposed having the coordinator be a part-time hourly employee working about 24 hours a week. When asked about a rate of pay, she suggested $25 an hour.

The committee revised the job to be a full-time, benefited position with a salary range of $30,000 to $32,000. The job would entail communicating with the public and parents, coordinating special events and preparing news releases, among other responsibilities. The board also voted to have the coordinator oversee the district's recently established policy allowing limited advertising on school campuses. Several board members were enthusiastic about the idea.

"I'm in favor of the concept," Ward 10 board member John Avard said. "The school district needs a cheerleader out there. There are people believing stories out there in the newspapers. Some of these are based on rumors in the sending communities."

Ward 3 board member Chris Stewart called the coordinator a "great position," and he proposed that the person also handle social media for the district.

Two members of the Coordination Committee opposed hiring the spokesman, arguing that the district had more pressing staffing priorities.

"I think this is sending the wrong message by hiring this individual," Ward 2 school board member Debra Gagnon Langton said. "There are still a substantial amount of classes with over 30 students. I don't believe we're doing the best we can with our resources."

Ward 9 board member Art Beaudry, who also voted against the proposal, said Livingston should be responsible for speaking on behalf of the schools. "I think you are the face the district. You should be the one communicating where the district is heading," he told the superintendent.

Noting that paraprofessionals get paid $11 an hour, Beaudry said that it "seemed we throw a lot of money at the district office."

Mayor Ted Gatsas replied that the recent audit of the district concluded that it didn't have enough people working in the administration office.

Gatsas supported creating the position and proposed having it be full-time at the salary of $30,000-$32,000.

It's not clear at this point where the money for the new position will come from.

Livingston did not return a call for comment late Tuesday. tsiefer@unionleader.com


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