Op-ed: Manchester’s Educational Funding Quandary

By Winter Trabex

April 25, 2024

This past week, I had the chance to attend a public meeting for Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen. I was interested to see what might happen after the city’s Director of Housing Initiatives was mistreated, and given a settlement to resign after calling out the Board on a radio show. The crux of the issue was not the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis, or Beloin’s performance. It was members of the Board being offended over a radio interview which cast them in a disparaging light.

The meeting allowed public comment twice: once at 6 PM and again at 7 PM. The city’s budget was under consideration. It was the first yearly budget for the new mayor, Jay Ruais. Like his predecessor, Joyce Craig, Ruais is faced with a high spending obligation for the city’s public education system.

Between 2021 and 2024, spending increased by 8 million dollars. However, Ruais’ proposed budget for fiscal year 2025 increases spending even further – at 227 million dollars.

Manchester has 12,105 students in its public school system. This averages out to almost 19,000 dollars spent per student.

Rich Girard, a conservative former candidate for mayor, pointed out that Manchester was overspending on its education. Commenting during both sessions, Girard came across as bitter, angry man. He mentioned DEI as though the acronym was poison to him. Even if his motivation was to ensure a tight budget with efficient spending in public education, his demeanor, tone, and choice of words undermined his entire argument.

Conversely, Manchester’s At-Large School Board member, Jim O’Connell, came forward in the 7 PM session to suggest that Manchester was under-spending on education. O’Connell has been working with the Board, in his words, for “years and decades.” If there’s anyone who knows Manchester’s public education system, it’s him.

Girard’s viewpoint is validated by a decision made in the Rockingham County Superior Court. At issue was how much funding New Hampshire’s government was giving its public schools.

Judge David Ruoff, presiding over the case, found an average of 4,100 dollars being spent per student statewide was insufficient. He suggested 7,356 dollars was the right number. Both numbers are well below Manchester’s per-student funding for FY 2025.

Manchester’s test data has typically been low, especially in comparison with the rest of the state. Higher spending doesn’t correlate with better academic outcomes. Only 68% of students from Manchester schools graduate. 27% are proficient in reading, while 14% are proficient in mathematics.

Compared with Bedford, NH, a town close to Manchester, the numbers are startling: in Bedford, 97% of students graduate. 78% are proficient in reading, while 70% are proficient in mathematics.

Bedford has 4,169 students in its school district. Bedford spends roughly 72 million on its educational system, for a cost of 17,418 per student.

Something else is going on in Manchester that’s not going on in Bedford, and it isn’t spending. It seems unlikely that the teachers are to blame, given that 13 Manchester teachers were nominated for New Hampshire teacher of the year in 2021.

In December 2019, I had the chance to interview Principal Richard Dichard of Manchester West High School. He illuminated some facts of which I was unaware: some students in the public school system are homeless. Others utilized a food bank within the school so they could have enough to eat.

Manchester, unlike Bedford, has had a persistent poverty and homelessness problem for years. Unlike Bedford, Manchester has three homelessness shelters: New Horizons at 199 Manchester Street, the city shelter at 39 Beech Street, and Waypoint, a shelter for young adults aged 18 to 24.

A 2019 study published in Psychology of Schools journal suggested achievement disparities between homeless students and housed students. Homeless students, the authors suggest, are less likely to have mental resilience when faced with life’s challenges.

This may be the hidden third ingredient between Girard’s opinion of overspending and O’Connell’s opinion of underspending in Manchester education: money, however much or little, only goes so far if students are ill-equipped to participate in the educational process itself.

Given that the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen have made it a priority to place their own egos over the welfare of their constituents, it doesn’t seem likely that anything will change in educational testing outcomes for the city.

Unless education itself evolves to take into account disparities in mental functioning between impoverished and/or homeless students against those who are not, the taxpayers of Manchester will be faced with an ever-increasing boondoggle; its teachers, however skilled and compassionate, faced with impossible situations; its school board, faced with limited options on how to make things better.

In order to improve education in a serious way, Manchester’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen would be well-served to improve homelessness in a serious way, especially for its youth. If their handling of Beloin’s criticism is any indication, they don’t seem willing to do whatever is necessary to make this a reality.

Author

  • Winter Trabex

    Winter Trabex is a freelance reporter who has been living in Manchester since 2016. She primarily works for Manchester Ink Link, but also takes odd jobs with the Associated Press. She covers politics, economics, homelessness issues, and women's tackle football.

CATEGORIES: OPINION

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This