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Superintendent Answers Questions About SMARTR Committee Proposal

Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel outlined a series of answers to questions by school board and community members regarding the future of Manchester schools Monday night.

An artist rendering of the proposed fifth/sixth grade academy that would combine Bennet Academy and the Cheney Building. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Town of Manchester.
An artist rendering of the proposed fifth/sixth grade academy that would combine Bennet Academy and the Cheney Building. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Town of Manchester.

Interim Superintendent Richard Kisiel presented the Manchester Board of Education with about six pages of answers to questions submitted by various members of the school board and greater Manchester community concerning a proposal to drastically revamp the town’s public schools model at the board’s meeting Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, but afterwards many board members said they still remained confused and frustrated over the direction the process was headed. 

“We’re spinning our wheels,” said Neal Leon, an unaffiliated member of the school board, adding that he was “extremely frustrated” with the process so far. 

“We still don’t have an answer ourselves in terms of what to do,” Leon added. 

Under the proposal currently on the table, which was assembled by the School Modernization and Reinvestment Team Revisited (SMARTR) Committee, the town would establish a joint fifth/sixth grade academy at the site of the current Elisabeth M. Bennet Academy on Main Street. Then expand and renovate two existing elementary schools "like new," while closing two others by the year 2020.

In total, the projects would cost an estimated $100 million, with Manchester taxpayers responsible for about $40 million of those costs after state reimbursements.

But the schools to be renovated and closed have not been formally determined by the Manchester Board of Education. 

After a public forum was held at Waddell Elementary School on Dec. 18, 2013 – which is one of the schools potentially slated for closure – Kisiel said he felt the need to provide a written explanation to a number of the questions asked by members of the community and school board regarding SMARTR’s proposal.

Kisiel said his answers were just the administration’s response to a number of the questions posed, not a full report or a recommendation on any aspects of the proposal.

“The board has a major responsibility of not just taking the SMARTR committee’s recommendation, but at that point going beyond them,” Kisiel told the school board. “…Are there other options? I think that’s a question this board needs to consider.”

Leon said he was frustrated because he had a counter proposal to SMARTR’s plan, but that there did not seem to be any forum to present his plan.

“I think I might have a Plan B, but we can’t talk about that,” Leon said.

Carl Stafford, a Democratic member of the school board, said he thought the board needed to be as deliberate and thorough as possible in its process before coming to any decisions or recommendations on whether it wanted to vote to close elementary schools or try and come up with another plan.

“I don’t want to just rush the process because we can,” Stafford said. “It doesn’t work for me like that.”

The school board has already voted to place the fifth/sixth academy on a referendum ballot, which is expected to be held in the spring.

Kisiel’s answers are attached to this article as a PDF.

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Rick January 14, 2014 at 07:22 PM
I thought we elect a the BOD & BOE to make these major decisions based on citizen input and what is best for students.......instead the onus is subbed to outsiders who they then pay lots of money to make these same decisions........save the money wasted on these consultants and put it towards renovating both schools; coupled with the extrememly high taxes this town charges, there should be no problem affording it. After renovating MHS, Bennet, and Highland Park, at this point the town of Manchester has so much experience in this matter that they should be receiving offers to consult for other towns!!!
Autumn Struk January 15, 2014 at 07:22 AM
The referendum for the 5th and 6th grade academy is going to not go "as planned" without the information regarding the elementary schools (the ones that will close and those that will become mega schools). The vote will end up being no for the academy because of the lack of information people are receiving about the elementary schools. The elementary school proposals are a huge part of the 5th/6th grade vote and I don't think that some of the members of the board are realizing that. I really would love to hear Leon's Plan B and I completely agree with Stafford on knowing all the details... Also, it seems like the community is notified last minute of these meetings and the word needs to get out on when BoE will discuss SMARTR at their meetings as well as advance notice for public forums. It's frustrating to The community who is supposed to be "involved" - but how without enough notice??
Greg January 15, 2014 at 07:48 AM
Still no input heard from our soon to be replacement for our acting superintendent Mr. Geary. Maybe it is time for the BOE and BOD to ask, did they hire the right person for the job. He will have to live with whatever decisions are made regarding this controversial plan. What would you propose Mr. Geary as a resolution for what has become yet another Manchester educational fiasco. Has the Patch considered interviewing him on this subject?
tina bourke January 15, 2014 at 11:17 AM
I'm all for updating the schools but in a way that hopefully makes most happy in the way it is done. I would worry if we continue getting into combined historic arrangements though. I read the cafeteria cannot be touched at Bennett during the upgrades because it is deemed historic. Understandable but in the future perhaps those arrangements should be separated so the schools can get what they need, when they need it in the future.
tina bourke January 15, 2014 at 11:28 AM
And the library on Main didn't get updated because of a threat of a law suit by historic commission. I just think in the future perhaps we should not get into combined arrangements or maybe I'm not understanding something? Also, what is to become of Broad St., Nathan Hale, and/or the library. Is there a way to consider all the projects in totality? And finally if there are school closings, please do not cut anyone's job as a result....
Dean January 15, 2014 at 08:59 PM
Its simple...the boe has to have a clear fully funded plan the does not keep secrets from the public. If theylose then make a new plan. This is being done to appease state requirements on racial balance. If the state does not like what voters choose in a democratic election, then maybe they should give manchester the money they need to meet their requirements (like crec). In other words, if the state wants.something they should pay for it and not put the blame on local politicians and taxpayers.
tina bourke January 16, 2014 at 12:08 PM
Oh, I had no idea it is sort of a turf battle fight w/state vs town if that is what I think you are saying Dean? Does the state have to comply with mandates due to racial balance law suits stemming from civil rights movements? The state is paying 60% of the costs and I was under the impression some of the schools are in disrepair and need updating anyway? The state also contributes to other town costs in other areas and forms such as to sub-contracts and grants... Regardless of sides, I hope our town runs the school racially balanced.
Dean January 16, 2014 at 08:26 PM
I am not sure if it related to Sheff vs. O'Neill, but the state looks at the minority population of schools in relation to the towns total student population. I agree, there should be racial balance, but I have 2 problems with the state. The first is it picks on diverse towns like Manchester for racial balance, but ignores the regional racial and economic imbalance justified through "town lines." The second problem that I have with the state is that it underfunds towns requiring an increase in taxes. Last year the state increased funding to towns for education, but said it could only go towards new programs, it could not be used to fill budget holes. So although towns get more money, they are forced to raise taxes in relation to the tough economy and new requirements from the state. Tina, my biggest issue is that the state puts requirements on towns and then tells them to foot the bill instead of the state being the ones to raise taxes for their programs. I get its politics, but still, its annoying.
tina bourke January 17, 2014 at 11:03 AM
Do you mean with the economic imbalance here, the ones benefiting from the programs are not the ones who can afford to pay for them? Unlike surrounding towns like Glastonbury who are richer? I didn't know we were being picked on. I thought we were chosen because we are one of the lowest performing school districts in the state? One can imagine perhaps because we are one of the lowest performing in the state, the old programs were not working? Politics aside, sometimes creativity could be used in place of hard lines in ideas? Sometimes the cost savings shift to other areas for example an increase in performance could reduce rates in incarceration or unemployment for example. Just a thought but I'm no expert.
Beth S. January 17, 2014 at 02:06 PM
Please review the new Common Core State Standards before separating 5th and 6th grade students into a single school.
Greg January 17, 2014 at 04:27 PM
What I find upsetting about this whole issue of racial balance is that Manchester has been out of compliance for more years and I can remember. If you research back a few years you'll see we have submitted multiple plans to the state Department of Education and at the end of the day still are not getting the job done. As for using funding as an excuse it is not just education that is faced with unfunded mandates. All aspects of the town that receive state funds are under requirements that don't necessarily bring dollars with them. Further, when we do get money for education it seems we don't necessarily spend it in the best way. As an example over $400,000 was spent on chrome books to help reduce the achievement gap. No one yet has been able to show me documentation that this will do what we were told it will. Finally to think these issues are not all politically related is silly. Our politicians pass laws the Department of Education creates regulations for towns to follow in order to meet the law. To me that makes this very political. Along with our Board of Education we should be holding our elected representatives accountable for these unfunded mandates that they continue to pass
tina bourke January 18, 2014 at 08:22 PM
Oh supposed to trust but yet their are no last names on the posts. Political motivation perhaps? Come back on with a genuine heart and then lets go forward!!!!
tina bourke January 20, 2014 at 10:55 AM
I read the article by Crokett and the comments by Stafford and both sounded as if they are working together, considering feedback and not rushing into anything. I think they are going about in a way that will help people understand it and getting people involved. It is a tough and big decision and no matter what happens not everyone is going to be happy. At least I can say it was good to know these two are taking it serious and working together!
tina bourke February 24, 2014 at 08:32 AM
I learned that our governor has been very generous in helping to fund education to cities and towns which is us.
tina bourke February 24, 2014 at 08:34 AM
I learned that the governor has been very generous in funding education for cities and towns which we benefit from.
Dean February 24, 2014 at 05:48 PM
Tina, you are right, he has been giving more for education, but he has earmarked the money for new programs only, mainly to pay for corporate reform backed common core and computerized testing. Towns can not use the new funds to fill current obligations or budget holes leading to cuts and other town services like police, fire, and parks and rec along with the towns being forced to raise taxes. Not sure how this benefits kids or taxpayers.
James Bond March 19, 2014 at 09:40 AM
Corporate backed tests,will result in those corporations using those results to hire in the future.That's why they're involved.The tests themselves does nothing for the students learning process. The proof of it lies in the fact that they do not affect a students promotion or graduation.This begs the question what do these tests affect? I feel it only affects the amount of money a town receives,with no designation where the money is spent.Thus there are no requirements that it be spent on student based programs.Common Core should be titled what it is,'Where the Money Goes'.

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