By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — Fewer than 24 hours after the city’s school board took a vote of no confidence in him as its chairman, Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said he is ready for whatever comes next.
“I woke up this morning ready to come to work and do the people’s business,” Gatsas said. (See related story, Page A8.)On Monday, Ward 10 school board member John Avard called for the no-confidence vote in Gatsas as school board chairman. The board also approved a motion asking aldermen to reconsider their vote on a three-year contract with city teachers at their next meeting. And the motion asked Gatsas to recuse himself from taking part in that vote and any potential veto action, due to a conflict of interest in his role as school board chairman and mayor.
The motions came less than a week after Gatsas vetoed the ratification of a new three-year contract with city teachers.
On Tuesday, Gatsas said he has no plans to sit out any potential reconsideration of the contract the aldermen may bring forward.
“I plan to be the mayor of this city,” Gatsas said. “I plan to follow the charter as it is written, and to represent the taxpayers of this great city.”
The call for a no-confidence vote took many at City Hall by surprise, but Avard said his decision to ask for one followed days of deliberation.
“I did not take the decision lightly and it has been weighing on me for almost a week since the veto at the BMA meeting,” said Avard, who represents Ward 10. “I truly feel that the mayor’s actions, while true to his position as the mayor and the leader of the BMA, were in direct conflict to his duty as the chairman of the BOSC and his responsibility to represent the will of the board.”
Avard accused Gatsas of letting his political interests take precedence over the interests of the school board.
“Through our unanimous vote in favor of this contract, we instructed you to go forward and represent our interests and our total support of the agreement,” Avard told Gatsas on Monday. “Instead, you represented the interests of your own political career. You refused to accept the financial projections of the two greatest mathematical minds of the city. You deemed yourself above their skills and manufactured your own numbers and financial projections to justify your veto of a contract that you were unable to justly discredit otherwise.”
Last week, Gatsas told the aldermen the contract would exceed the city’s tax cap, which led to his veto. He cited reports provided by city Finance Director Bill Sanders showing deficits over $700,000 in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018.
Outgoing Manchester Education Association President Ben Dick said he heard a no-confidence vote was a possibility, but was still caught off-guard Monday night.
“I’d heard rumors, but you never know how something like that will play out,” Dick saud. “Obviously the message is clear. With the exception of four people, the mayor being one, every elected official in the city believes this is the right contract to move the city and schools forward. I don’t expect the mayor to recuse himself from any additional contract vote by the aldermen, but I do support the idea that this agreement is the right agreement and I would hope the mayor might find a way to change his thinking regarding that and help us move forward.”
Dick also commented on the extreme disappointment expressed by MEA members following Gatsas’ veto of the deal.
“After surviving on fumes for two years, the teachers in this district were ready to enter this year feeling appreciated,” said Dick. “Though we made concessions on our health care, though 50 percent of the members were willing to receive no salary increase in the second year of the agreement, the teachers in this district saw all 14 school board members support a new contract. This isn’t to be taken lightly. We saw our superintendent and her entire team support this agreement, and by extension teachers. We saw seven out of ten aldermen vote in favor of this contract. And in the end, it wasn’t enough.”
School board member Debra Langton, herself a teacher in Litchfield, expressed surprise at the no-confidence vote.
“I don’t agree with the veto, but I believe he did what he thought was best for the city,” said Langton, one of two school board members who voted against Avard’s motion, along with Ted Rokas.
“A vote of no-confidence is unacceptable under this scenario,” posted Alderman At-Large Joe Kelly-Levasseur online Tuesday. “The man is an elected official. He is allowed to vote the way he wants. In my opinion I believe the school board and the teachers union just gave Gatsas another two years.”
Candidates speak out
Following the school board meeting, two mayoral candidates seized the opportunity to issue statements claiming the no-confidence vote is a sign the city needs new leadership.
“Last night, the Board of School Committee overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan vote of ‘no confidence’ in the mayor’s ability to improve our schools,” said Ward 1 Alderman and candidate for mayor Joyce Craig on Tuesday.
“For six years the mayor has bullied his way through these school board meetings to the detriment of our students, teachers, and taxpayers. During his tenure, we have lost teachers, our class sizes are still high, we lost the sending towns of Auburn, Hooksett, and Candia, and now our school year begins in a few weeks and teachers will return to their classrooms without a contract in place for the third year in a row…Because of Mayor Gatsas’ veto, I fear class sizes will again be higher than state standards and that our students will suffer as a result. Our city deserves better.”
“Mayor Gatsas, work with those elected by the voters, or step aside for someone who will,” said mayoral candidate and former Alderman Patrick Arnold Monday night. “Tonight’s vote of no-confidence further demonstrates that Ted Gatsas has lost a mandate to lead this city. People of this city deserve strong leadership to move beyond business as usual, and the clock has run out on Ted Gatsas’ failed leadership.”