Cook On Concord: Politicians ignore the reality of education

The last week of May brought news on the front page and in the obituary columns tied various subjects together.

Continuous stories and editorials about the need to improve schools and test scores raised the entire issue of education at a time Nashua and Manchester were considering school budgets that certainly would not add resources enabling schools to provide additional services in an attempt to raise their test scores.

The No Child Left Behind law enacted by Congress at the request of President Bush presents the anomalous situation of having schools being declared a “school in need of improvement,” or entire school districts being cited as a “district in need of improvement” – even though test scores increase, if they do not increase enough. (This reminds me of the police officer who once unjustly gave me a speeding ticket with the explanation that “I know you were slowing down, but you were not slowing down fast enough.”)

Politicians who ignore the reality do not understand it – or want to use such designations as an excuse to disparage public schools – somehow combine the promise to improve schools with budget cuts and then walk away with such illogical expressions as, “They will have to figure out different ways to do things” or, “I gave the schools enough money in my budget proposal.”

This is out of the political playbook, not based on logic or sound policy. It also points out the problem of severe changes in the amount of support for schools from year to year in New Hampshire with its unpredictable funding formula and local budgeting scheme.

At the same time school quality was in the news, Manchester received the wonderful notification that one of its premier teachers, Kathleen Mirabile of Central High School, was named the Daughters of the American Revolution’s National History Teacher of the Year and will be awarded that honor at the national convention in July.

Mrs. Mirabile, recipient of many honors in the past, is a demanding teacher whose assignments include papers of 70 or more pages in her advanced U.S. history course, which is a legend of preparation and quality in a department that includes many other teachers of note. Remembered by generations of students as their favorite teacher at any level, Kathy Mirabile and her colleagues are proof of the nonsense spewed by the politicians and their rhetoric. Her students regularly go on to Ivy League and other prestigious colleges where they perform at or above the levels of graduates of public or private secondary schools across the nation.

Mirabile’s late husband, Arthur Mirabile, was the music director at Manchester’s Memorial High School for many years until his death.

After he died, many of his former students including the then-principal of Manchester High School West, Robert Baines (later Manchester mayor), helped raised funds through a concert at the Palace Theatre to create the Arthur Mirabile Scholarship at the Summer Youth Music School at the University of New Hampshire.

This appropriate honor preserving Mirabile’s memory and dedication to the education of students of music and helping them to get ahead through the discipline of music, featured a reunion of the Ted Herbert Big Band, another New England institution, in 1997.

Herbert (the stage name of Thaddeus Piaseczny) died the last week in May in Manchester, in the house where he was born. Ninety years old, he had founded and run Ted Herbert Music Mart on Elm Street in Manchester, which educated thousands of musicians in various musical instruments and was for many years the music school for entry-level instrumentalists. Herbert became famous in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s playing jazz in Hampton Beach and later at the Danversport Yacht Club. He performed with many of the famous vocalists of the various decades and was an institution himself.

He saw the development of his city, and his countless acts of charity meant much to generations of Manchester children.

The way all of these stories came together was an interesting and poignant reminder of what a small community even a big city can be and how many issues are interrelated.


In Concord, the Legislature finished its business by voting on conference committee reports on May 24. Much contentious debate surrounded several bills, most notably House Bill 656, on advance medical directives which passed the House by a mere three votes and which saw Speaker Scamman give the gavel to his deputy, Kenneth Weyler, so he could vote on the floor in favor of the measure.

Those watching the procedural history of this bill still are scratching their heads. Depending on what Governor Lynch does with the bills that passed and are sent on to his desk, lawmakers will meet for one more day in late June to act on vetoes. Otherwise, they have gone home for the season, with the filing period for those seeking election in the fall open.

While summer might often be a slow period for those observing public policy issues and the activities in Concord, this election season promises to be full of surprises and interest. Both political parties are scrambling to attract candidates to contest all races. As the weather gets warmer, so will the political debates.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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