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Gatsas vs. teachers
Mayor faces angry teachers and school board members

08/20/15
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 After Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas vetoed the most recent contract for the Manchester Education Association, union leaders and elected officials responded with a rally of about 200 teachers and a vote of “no confidence” by the school board against Gatsas, who also serves as the chair of the school board.

 
Red shirts
During a meeting of the Manchester Board of School Committee on Aug. 10, Gatsas silently stood at the podium in the packed aldermanic chambers of City Hall while resident after resident expressed dissatisfaction with him and his decision to veto the union contract six days prior. Those who spoke included teachers, parents, students and candidates for mayor.
Hundreds of teachers and their allies rallied outside of City Hall in red shirts, holding signs that read “Teachers Deserve a Fair Contract” and “Students Deserve Better Than Gatsas,” before shuffling into the school board meeting and lining up to speak during a public input session.
Mike Porter of Ward 8 accused Gatsas of using “fuzzy math” in order to reach a conclusion that left the teachers feeling “kicked in the teeth.” Others accused Gatsas of bullying and called for residents to vote him out of office. One mother said she was seriously considering moving out of Manchester over the conditions at what she sees as under-resourced schools.
During the testimony of Hillside Middle School Principal Brendan McCafferty, he recounted a time when Gatsas pulled him aside during a public function and said privately to McCafferty to “remember how you got here.”
A majority of the school board wore red shirts in solidarity with the union, and they had all previously voted in favor of the contract Gatsas vetoed.
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Debra Livingston asked the board to table raises for herself and other top administrators making six-digit salaries.
“It is my intent not to negotiate any kind of raise until the people behind me have a contract,” Livingston said.
The board tabled the contracts. Then, in a surprise move, committee member John Avard, who also served as the chief negotiator for the district when the contract was being crafted, called for a vote of no-confidence against Gatsas, which passed 10-2. Committee members Ted Rokas and Debra Gagnon Langton voted in the opposition.
Gatsas could not be reached for comment following the vote, which the city clerk says is largely symbolic.
The contract
Ben Dick, the outgoing president of the MEA, said getting this contract this far wasn’t easy.
“It’s really the culmination of two years of work,” Dick said. “Both sides worked hard to find creative solutions to the biggest problems, which are typically health care and salary, while at the same time doing some other innovative things including adjusting the way we set our calendar….”
Committee member Avard agreed.
“It was a hard-fought battle to get to this point. There were concessions made on both sides,” Avard said. “Everybody worked very, very hard to accomplish this offer, and I don’t know what else we can do.”
Now, Dick says, the teachers are going into their third year without a contract and their fourth year without a pay increase.
Some of the key provisions of the deal would have provided a flexible health care option that many, like Avard, argue would have saved the city money in the long run.
“Looking at what happens without a [contract], we have guaranteed increases within our insurance line because premiums will be going up. And the policies that the teachers [are] on were very rich policies,” Avard said. “The teachers were willing to surrender those policies and to take less rich policies at a higher premium expense to them in exchange for the remainder of the contract.”
In other words, Avard said, the contract would have meant less spending, but Gatsas claimed the contract would cost the city too much and force it to exceed the tax cap.
Gatsas based his argument on numbers provided by Finance Director Bill Sanders, which showed deficits over $700,000 in FY2017 and FY2018, while Avard argued it’s impossible to know that far into the future what the tax cap will be.
“It’s a very volatile number and nobody can predict where it’s going to be next year, much less two years from now,” Avard said.
He accused Gatsas of vetoing the contract, which had unanimous support from the school board and majority support of the union, based on “fabricated” reasons and said Gatsas chose to ignore the data.
“For him to disregard this information and fabricate his own to justify his veto is just astounding to me,” Avard said.
Following the no-confidence vote, Avard, a Republican like Gatsas, threw his support behind one of Gatsas’ Democratic challengers in the upcoming nonpartisan election: former alderman Patrick Arnold.
The school board also passed a non-binding motion asking the aldermen to revisit the contract vote.  
 
As seen in the August 20th 2015 issue of the Hippo. 





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