Making up for lost pay

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Caitlin Friend-Rush, first-grade teacher at Pleasant Street School, gives her students instructions prior to a grammar evaluation. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

‘Faith restored’ as teachers learn of contract approval


LACONIA — Fourth-grade teacher Mandy Youssef said there was a great feeling around Elm Street School as word circulated about significant pay raises.

“Our faith has been restored in the city and in the school board,” she said Tuesday, the day after the City Council approved a five-year contract containing the salary hikes.

The salaries of Laconia’s 191 teachers are well below those of colleagues in most neighboring school districts.

A contract approved by the City Council, 4-1, Monday night is intended to reverse that trend.

Councilor Brenda Baer, who voted against the contract, said it was premature to consider it before the council has decided on the city budget.

Youssef has two daughters, ages 2 and 4, who will be entering the school district.

“I can't say enough positive things about what is going on in our schools and I'm more than happy to have children coming through our system,” she said. “This new contract gives me faith we can retain the amazing teachers we have here.”

The budget agreement came after the School Board and the City Council held study sessions to arrive at a funding mechanism that didn't require any alteration to the city's property tax cap.

Caitlin Friend-Rushton, who teaches first grade at Pleasant Street School, said there were positive feelings on campus Tuesday.

“I think it really is wonderful that the City Council and the School Board could come together,” she said. “This really strengthens the community as a whole. We're really feeling appreciated today.”

Superintendent Dr. Brendan Minnihan said competitive wages and stability provided by the contract should help with recruitment and retention of teachers.

Ten teachers have said they won't be coming back next year. Some, including New Hampshire Teacher of the Year Tate Aldrich, are going to neighboring districts where they can immediately boost their income by thousands of dollars.

People don't seek a career in education to make a lot of money, but that doesn't mean pay isn't important.

“Money isn't the only thing,” Minnihan said. “But at certain point, when some of these teachers can earn $8,000, $10,000, $15,000 more a year elsewhere, to some extent it does become partly about the money.”

Teachers have been working without a contract. Yearly salary step increases for experience have not been granted in four out of the last 12 years. Sixty percent of teachers in Laconia are four steps behind the step they ought to be on based on their tenure.

In the first year of the contract, all salary steps get a $700 increase, and all teachers will immediately gain a step. Those at the top experience level will get a $1,700 pay hike.

Those who are four steps behind will gain two steps in the first year of the contract. A teacher making $39,413 could see as much as a $2,293 salary increase.

Increases in subsequent years are intended to bring Laconia teacher salaries to the level of the Gilford district, where a teacher with five years of experience now makes $43,223.

Councilor Baer has been outspoken in opposition.

“I don't see how we can possibly pass a contract with this kind of money in it when we haven't passed the budget,” she said. “We haven't seen the school budget, and I think for us to go ahead and do something of this size should wait until it comes before us in the budget process.

In a letter to the editor, she said the city faces various potential increases in costs in the coming year and that pay increases for other city departments have been limited to cost of living adjustments. She also noted about half of the city budget is spent on schools.

“Our Police Department gets only 6 percent of city tax money,” she said. “With the drug problem we have, don’t they have a good argument for more? The Fire Department also gets only 6 percent. Public Works gets 8 percent and the school gets 49.4 percent, but these raises would boost that percentage by quite a bit.

“Can we not expect other departments to feel they, too, are entitled to substantial raises?”

Councilor Ava Doyle spoke in favor of the contract.

“I think we need to bring the teachers up to parity with other areas and if we don't make a step like this, I don't know how it's going to happen,” she said. “We'd just get further and further behind.”

Racing into reading

Woodland Heights students read 900 books to win NHMS reading contest, earning pizza party with NASCAR driver


LACONIA — First- and fourth-graders at Woodland Heights Elementary School were rewarded for reading the most books in New Hampshire Motor Speedway's Speeding to Read program by having NASCAR driver Brennan Poole visit their school Tuesday morning.
Poole brought along a NASCAR race car, which he started up for the students, who later peppered him with questions about driving the car and his racing career.
He told the students he enjoyed reading Dr. Suess books when he was younger and now is a big fan of mysteries.
He also told them that he has driven a race car at a top speed of 195 mph and that the cars he drives are capable of at least 200 mph.
Poole said that he started racing when he was only 5 years old and won his first race ever in a quarter midget racing car, which is about one-quarter the size of an adult midget car.
He urged the students to stick with their reading and praised them for their achievement. First-graders read more than 400 books and fourth-graders over 500 books in a competition which included Alton Central School, Loudon Elementary School, and Laconia's other elementary schools, Elm Street School and Woodland Heights. The speedway plans to have as many as 20 schools on board when the Speeding to Read program begins again in September.
Students posed for group photos with Poole and shared pizzas for lunch. They also received gift bags which included two tickets for July's XFINITY Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Speeding to Read was created by SMI sister track Texas Motor Speedway in 2011 to encourage elementary school students to read more frequently during the school year. To date, a total of 33 schools have participated in the Texas program, with more than 18,000 students reading 3 million books.
The 26-year-old Poole is in his second full season driving the No. 48 for Chip Ganassi Racing in the XFINITY Series. Poole is currently ranked seventh with four top-10s in the XFINITY Series standings. In two career XFINITY Series starts at NHMS, he has a pair of top-10 finishes, placing 10th in 2015 and sixth last July.
Poole compiled 90 wins in the quarter midget ranks and was 2002 National Champion when he was 11 years old. He then moved to racing aspalt legends all across the south and won 96 races in two years.
He won the Texas World Dirt Track Championship in 2007 and switched to late models in 2009, winning 10 races over the next three years. He won his first ever ARCA race in 2011 and made the jump to the NACAR XFINITY Series in 2015 with a top 10 finish in his first start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


NASCAR driver Brennan Poole is all smiles as he poses for a group photo with students at Woodland Heights Elementary School in Laconia. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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NASCAR driver Brennan Poole starts his race car at Woodland Heights Elementary School in Laconia. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)


NASCAR driver Brennan Poole speaks at Woodland Heights Elementary School as New Hampshire Motor Speedway mascot Milo the Moose watches. The school won the Speedway's reading program competition and was visited by Poole, who spoke about the importance of reading. (Roger Amsden photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Rogue recycler gets bill from city

City manager cries foul at dumpers who break rules


LACONIA — The city has sent an $844.50 bill to a trash hauler after surveillance photos captured someone dumping materials at an overflowing recycling station on Memorial Day.

City Manager Scott Myers said the city takes illegal dumping seriously and has cameras in use at the city's three remote recycling locations.

“We will continue to take any and all necessary steps to hold those responsible for this type of activity accountable,” he said.

He declined to provide the name of the hauler, which is being assessed a $250 fine. The rest of the bill is the cost for handling the material that was dumped.

Myers said Laconia's recycling locations apparently filled up quickly over the holiday weekend and people began leaving their material on the ground. Bulging plastic bags and stacked cardboard can be seen in the photos.

“I guess people felt, 'I've gotten it this far. I really don't want to take it home with me.' So, they just left it,” Myers said.

Meanwhile, he said the city could face increasing costs for recycling services as commodity prices for recycled materials have dropped.

The city currently pays a flat rate for a recycling service, but this could change to a rate tied to the weight of the material that is recycled.

Some cities limit access to its recycling locations or otherwise seek to ensure they are being used only by residents.

Myers said Laconia provides easy access to its recycling locations for the convenience of the community. If costs go up, new policies may be considered.

“That will lead to a conversation about these locations, about how we control them and make them available for resident uses,” he said. “On the one hand, we want them available on weekend days and weekend hours, but at the same time, how do you control it?”

The city offers curbside recycling. People can also drop off recyclables at the Laconia Transfer Station. It also offers remote locations where they can be dropped off around the clock. These are at The Weirs Community Center parking lot, behind the old City Garage at 257 Messer Street and at Lindsey Court, across from the Memorial Park Clubhouse. A fourth location, behind the Lakeport Fire Station, has been closed, with its recycling bin transferred to the Messer Street location.

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Someone hauling trash and recyclables left a mess at the Messer Street recycling center on Memorial Day when the receptacles were beyond full. Laconia City Manager Scott Myers said a commercial trucking and rubbish company was identified through security video and is being billed for dumping the trash. (Courtesy Scott Myers)