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March 13. 2013 11:37PM

Manchester's February, April school vacations may end up as one week in March

MANCHESTER - Changes are coming to the school calendar starting next fall, including the possible replacement of the February and April vacations with one in March.

Under a motion approved by the Board of School Committee, the school year would be shortened from 180 days to 175 days. This calendar would go into effect if contract negotiations between the teachers union and school board representatives do not yield an agreement by April 17.

If there is no agreement, an alternative calendar would eliminate the week-long vacations in February and April in favor of one from March 10 to March 14.

In both cases, the projected final day of school would be June 12, about a week earlier than usual. The board, by a vote of 9-6, approved the two options in a combined motion Monday.

Board member John Avard said he saw the consolidation of the spring vacation weeks as a "default" option, and that he hoped to reach agreement to put in place the 175-day calendar.

"I'm hopeful that we'll be able to work well with our bargaining units," he said.

Avard is the chair of the subcommittee negotiating with the teachers union, the Manchester Education Association.

Under the original 175-day calendar, daily instruction time at the high schools would have been extended by shortening the length of the lunch period. The MEA had threatened to take legal action if the board unilaterally approved the change, arguing that it amounted to a change in "work conditions" that is subject to negotiations.

Avard said altering the school calendar is necessary to ensure that the district meets state requirements for minimum instruction time without running into July, which would violate the teachers contract.

Voting in favor of the motion were board members Avard, Art Beaudry, Jason Cooper, Roger Beauchamp, Sarah Ambrogi, Roy Shoults, Dave Wihby, Kathy Staub and Erika Connors.

Voting in opposition were Mayor Ted Gatsas and board members Debra Gagnon Langton, Christopher Stewart, Ted Rokas, Donna Soucy and Dave Gelinas.

Maximum enrollment

The school board has also approved a policy setting a maximum enrollment in high school classes at 30 students and a minimum of 15.

The superintendent would be allowed to grant exemptions to the policy on a case-by-case basis. Principals would also give higher priority to students who need to meet graduation requirements over those who want to enroll in a course to take a full load or double-up in a subject area.

The policy was proposed in response to complaints over large class sizes, particularly from the high school sending towns. However, Hooksett officials raised concerns over the minimum 15-student limit, which they said could result in the elimination of advanced courses and electives.

The superintendent exemption was aimed at addressing such concerns.

State guidelines already call on districts to keep classes below 30 students per class. Superintendent Thomas Brennan told the board the policy would underscore the need to properly fund the schools.

"I think as a board you need to put things in place that will cause you to take different actions relative to the budget, and this is one way of doing that," he said.

The vote on Monday was unanimous, with one abstention.

Principal requirements

The board also voted to reduce the teaching requirements for prospective principals in the district. The changes reduce the years of experience in education for principal from 10 to six, and the years spent teaching from five to three.

The change represents a shift from a year ago, when the board voted to increase classroom experience requirements for principals.

Board member Erika Connors said she believed the current policy was limiting the pool of qualified applicants.

"This would disqualify a lot of candidates," she said. "There are talented principals who want to come to Manchester and help here, but they can't."

The vote was 11-4.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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