The Board of the School Committee of the Manchester School District will be able to examine the financial projections that Mayor Ted Gatsas referenced to justify his veto of the teacher contract in a special meeting called by Gatsas, who as mayor, also serves as committee chair. The date of the special meeting will be set once Manchester Finance Director William Sanders returns from vacation.
On Tuesday, August 4, the 15-member Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BOMA) approved the contract by a vote of 7-3. The mayor is not allowed to vote unless there is a tie, and Aldermen Ron Ludwig and Barbara Shaw had abstained from the vote due to conflict of interests. Ward 11 Alderman Norm Gamache was unable to attend the meeting for health reasons. The two Republican members of the board, tax cap supporters Keith Hirschmann of Ward 12 and Alderman at Large Joe Kelly Levasseur, voted against the contract, as did outgoing Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy.
Alderman at Large Daniel O’Neil then called upon BOMA to override the veto, which required 10 votes. O’Neil’s motion failed as the result of the override vote was the same 7-3 vote by the same people.
Gatsas’ call for a special meeting comes in the wake of a public backlash against his veto of the three-year contract. The teachers have been working without a contract and the union had been willing to reduce its healthcare benefits to permit Manchester to avoid the imposition of Obamacare’s “Cadillac tax”. The healthcare coverage concession would have saved the City hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The contract had been worked out between the union and negotiators representing the City, including School Board member John Avard, who criticized Gatsas on social media after the mayor gave the contract his thumbs down.
On his Facebook page, Avard wrote, “Mayor Gatsas has chosen to disregard the majority of voting teachers, the entire Board of School Committee and the administration of the Manchester School District for political gain. His veto of the teacher’s contract will cost the city of Manchester $300,000+ per month from lost savings. It is high time we find a new mayor for this city and stop bleeding money. We have high crime, a run-down city, underfunded schools and disheartened educators. Great legacy, Mayor Gatsas! It’s time for a change.”
A Republican, Avard has served Manchester’s Ward 10 for many years, despite it tilting Democratic during election time. Unopposed for reelection, the conservative Avard is well-known for his bipartisanship, and has worked closely with Ward 10 Alderman Bill Barry, a Democrat, for the betterment of Manchester schools. Their crowning achievement has been the great success of Parker-Varney, a middle school located in their ward, that was named the top elementary school in New Hampshire.
Gatsas’ veto of the teacher contract also was denounced by mayoral candidates Joyce Craig, a sitting alderman who previously represented her ward on the School Committee for two terms, and former Ward 12 Alderman Patrick Arnold. Craig was skeptical about the economics cited by Gatsas in justifying his veto, which she denounced as “another example of the Mayor holding our city back.”
In a press release, Craig stated, “Both our School District and City Finance Director validated the contract, yet the Mayor ignored their professional assessments and chose to do his own math. We should have passed this contract but the Mayor failed to provide any good reason for his veto other than his poor arithmetic which he failed to share with anyone else prior to the meeting.”
Arnold called the veto “absurd”. Curiously, independent sources say he met with Alderman Jim Roy at the Pint Publick House the day after the Gatsas’ veto of the teachers contract was upheld with Roy’s support. A BOMA member who called Roy “a nice guy” said that he was perceived to be a Gatsas supporter. The meeting was odd in that it was Roy who challenged Alderman Ron Ludwig on his earlier vote in favor of the teacher contract, which led to Ludwig’s abstentions during the critical August 4 votes.
Mayor Gatsas was quoted in the New Hampshire Union Leader that his reason for calling the meeting was to counter “misinformation” about the economic projections made by Manchester’s finance director. Those economic projections, which were made by Sanders after the veto and before the veto override vote, were based on projections of the Consumer Price Index and how it would affect the tax cap. Gatsas stated he was bound by the City Charter to uphold the tax cap, and thus had no choice but to veto it.
However, the logic of the veto was rooted in Sanders’ own, idiosyncratic financial projections of future tax cap limits. His projections were torturous and difficult to understand, Sanders admitted in his testimony before BOMA. When he finally said he might not know what he was talking about, BOMA members and the audience in City Hall’s aldermanic chamber greeted his confession with laughter.
At its Monday, August 11 meeting, the School Board voted 10-2 in favor of a “No Confidence” motion put forward by John Avard. After signaling its displeasure with the mayor’s conduct as School Board chair. it then passed a second motion asking BOMA to take another vote on the contract. The Board stipulated that Gatsas should abstain from voting on the contract because of his own conflict of interest, due to his being the heads of both BOMA and the School Board.
Now on a summer hiatus, BOMA is scheduled to meet again on September 8, so it is unlikely that another vote on the teacher contract will be taken before the municipal primary on September 15. BOMA’s reconsideration of the contract likely will hinge on its own investigation of Finance Director Sanders’ financial projections.