Vaillancourt, Mead flaps eclipse ‘war’ on schools, Kathy Sullivan, UL 5/23/12

posted May 23, 2012, 4:47 AM by Bill Duncan   [ updated May 23, 2012, 4:51 AM ]
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THE New Hampshire House of Representatives has been awash in kerfuffles. There was the blowup by Manchester Rep. Steve Vaillancourt when Speaker Bill O’Brien attempted to silence Vaillancourt during a debate on a voter identification bill.

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The Vaillancourt blow-up, and to a lesser extent, the Mead mini-scandal, overshadowed a more serious controversy: the war that has erupted against New Hampshire’s public schools. It is not just about the Claremont decision and the allocation of state resources to public schools anymore. There are legislators whose sneering references to “government schools” makes one wonder if they are still resentful over being put in the corner for their bad behavior in second grade. Then there are local government officials like Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who look at the education of children as an onerous burden, not the most important of responsibilities.

Legislative leadership is attempting feverishly to cobble together a constitutional amendment that will gain enough support to be put on the November ballot. The initial efforts were envisioned as a way to permit the state to target aid to communities that need help more than others, while eliminating future lawsuits. But for many in the New Hampshire House, the goal apparently is to eliminate the state’s responsibility to provide any financial support to the state’s public schools.

The resulting proposal has therefore turned into a bit of a mishmash. On the one hand, it says the Legislature has the responsibility to maintain a system of public education.

On the other, it says the Legislature has the authority to decide how much state funding to provide to public schools.

This does not make sense.

Either the state has the responsibility to maintain public schools, and pay for them, or, the state has no responsibility and does not pay for them.

This amendment tries to have it both ways.

I could get behind an amendment that permits the targeting of some school aid to give all New Hampshire’s students a good education no matter where they live, but this amendment does not do that.

In addition, it is an invitation to litigation, with language about the Legislature making “wholesome” standards for education. I hope the Legislature votes this one down.

One of the bright spots in the education wars was the successful effort by the students and parents of Bedford High School to save the International Baccalaureate Program from the slightly whacky legislators who confused academic rigor with an international conspiracy. It was heartening to see a community come together to fight fiction with facts for the betterment of the children.

As a lifelong resident of Manchester, I hate to say it, but Bedford is putting the Queen City to shame. Here, Mayor Ted Gatsas can find $250,000 for golf course drainage, but chairs a school board and oversees an aldermanic board who may eliminate Latin, German, some music and other courses, in addition to the successful dropout prevention PASS Program.

Eliminate Latin? Does this mean Gatsas will change the name of Central High’s Classical Building to the “Whatever” Building? And German?

Perhaps the mayor has not noticed, but we live in a global economy and Germany is one of the countries at the forefront.

If elected officials don’t understand the correlation between strong public schools and our future prosperity and security, then they are in need of some remedial education themselves. Hopefully, the voters will provide one.

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Kathy Sullivan is a Manchester attorney and a member of the Democratic National Committee. She was chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party from 1999-2007.

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