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Ted Siefer's City Hall: Manchester Supt. Livingston won't explain modified school standards

City Hall

July 12. 2014 7:56PM
Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas delivers his inaugural address at the Palace Theatre Tuesday. (1/5/10) (BOB LaPREE/UNION LEADER)

PIX FOR NEW MANCHESTER SUPERINTENDENT Manchester's school board on Saturday selects Debra Livingston, the current superintendent of the Fall Mountain Regional School District, to be Manchester's next school superintendent. MICHAEL COUSINEAU/UNION LEADER

IT'S THE SUMMER doldrums for the city's elected officials; there are mercifully few meetings over the next month or so. But there was one meeting last week - and it was notable for its stunning brevity. Its purpose was a public hearing on the Manchester Academic Standards, which were supposed to be the district's alternative to Common Core, the standards reviled by conservative groups as an attempt by the federal government to undermine local control over curriculum.

The handful of people who spoke at the hearing in the Memorial High School auditorium were by now familiar critics of Common Core. Their opposition to the standards is partly what prompted the school board back in the fall to try and go its own way, and their chief criticism on Tuesday was that the Manchester standards bore a strong similarity to the Common Core State Standards.

Regardless of one's perspective on Common Core, one could take issue with how the standards have been presented to the public. There are ideologues on both sides of the issue, but in the middle are likely many parents who want to know what their kids are going to be expected to learn.

Last month, members of the committee that drafted the city standards gave a presentation to the school board on their efforts. But it came in the form of a selective PowerPoint presentation; no document was presented that offered a line-by-line description of the standards.

And no such document was presented ahead of Tuesday's hearing or at the meeting. Instead, draft versions of the standards, in the form of numerous differently formatted documents, were posted on the district's website, and not on its homepage.

Superintendent Debra Livingston and Assistant Superintendent David Ryan, who led the review process for the standards, shared the stage with all the members of the board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee. But there was not a word of explanation about the standards - or about the next steps in the process. Instead, the committee's chair read from the standard script for public hearings and adjourned the meeting after 15 minutes.

Ryan did not respond to a request to answer follow-up questions.

Parents will have another opportunity to voice their concerns about the standards at a public hearing set for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Manchester West High School auditorium, 9 Notre Dame Ave.

No sooner had the aldermen finalized the budget than they were asked to begin a process that will likely be the main event over the next year: contract negotiations. The contracts for nearly all of the unions that represent city employees expire June 30, 2015.

Over the past couple of weeks, the city's human resources director has received at least four letters from union representatives indicating their desire to begin the negotiations process.

Three of the letters came from Teamsters Local 633, which represents workers in the Welfare Department, library system and airport.

The most immediate concern for the aldermen is who will head up the negotiations on the city's side. The last time most of the contracts were negotiated, the city had a staff attorney who handled the talks. This time around, it doesn't. The aldermen will likely be keen to hire an outside attorney, although Mayor Ted Gatsas will no doubt be more than willing to take a seat at the table.

Normally, the prospect of a private company paving over a railroad bed would raise some hackles. But apparently it's a different story when the railroad bed has been out of use for so long that it's barely noticeable, and when the company is a manufacturing firm that employs many residents.

The company is RSCC Aerospace and Defense, which is located at 680 Hayward St., and its president went before the aldermen earlier this month with a request to create a new driveway off Valley Street, a block north. The entrance would be used for company trucks, while Hayward Street would remain the entrance for employees.

The project's engineer noted in a letter to the Land and Building's Committee that the new right-of-way would reduce truck traffic in the neighborhood and would increase "the long term viability of RSCC here in Manchester."

The hitch was that the driveway would go right over the former rail bed of the Portsmouth branch of the B&M railroad. The line bisects a broad swath of properties on the east side. The state transferred the property to the city, with covenants that it not be paved over. But the city was allowed to make exceptions, and with the blessing of public works and planning department officials, that's just what the aldermen voted to do.

It's starting to seem like the "leaky roof" at City Hall, much like the ghosts that haunt the place, is going to linger around for a while.

As you may recall, the aldermen, in their final budget, voted to direct $1 million worth of repairs to City Hall proposed by Gatsas in favor spending the money on road repairs. The vote was preceded by a debate that included many references to City Hall's leaky roof. Kevin O'Maley, the city's chief facilities manager, did some investigating and determined that the roof at City Hall was in decent shape after all.

Then came the torrential rains last weekend. The ceiling tiles in some offices apparently ended up pretty soaked.

This prompted an email from Planning Director Leon LaFreniere, which was forwarded to the board by the mayor's chief of staff.

In it, LaFreniere thanks O'Maley for having the tiles replaced. But then poses a question:

"In light of your earlier investigation, do you anticipate that heavy rain events will continue to be a problem? Thanks again for your efforts."

A mea culpa is in order. Last week, I reported that the aldermen voted to override Mayor Gatsas' veto of a motion that would have backed the fire chief in his decision to hire Jon Fosher, the young man who has been stymied in his desire to join the fire department due to the determination of the city's medical consultant. In fact, the override came up one vote short. The aldermen then rallied around the recommendation of the fire chief - and Gatsas - to receive and file the motion.

Ted Siefer is the City Hall reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at and followed on Twitter @tbsreporter.

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