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Proposed Inter-Lakes budget prepared with an eye on declining enrollment

MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes School District voters will be asked next week to approve a $21.9 million budget at the annual District Meeting which is scheduled for next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the high school gymnasium
That figure represents a 4.3 percent increase over the nearly $21 million budget which voters approved last year.
Included in the proposed budget for school year 2014-2015 are funds for capital projects, such as repaving and roof repairs, according to Assistant Superintendent Trish Temperino. "It's part of the ongoing care of our buildings and grounds, but there's nothing out of the ordinary," she said.
The budget also reflects a slight decrease in staffing levels which is a direct result of lower enrollment.
A retiring second-grade teacher will not be replaced, and a part-time math teaching position at the high school is being cut. In addition, a custodial and four paraeducator (aide) positions are being eliminated through attrition. The savings from the reductions in paraeducators will be used to hire a certified behavior specialist who will work with students who are at-risk, in crisis, or who have some kind of education disability.
The realignment and reduction in staff equates to the loss of just over two full-time positions, said Temperino.
School Board Chairman Richard Hanson said that balancing the goal of providing a strong educational program for Inter-Lakes students in the face of declining enrollment is a challenge which school administrators and the School Board will be facing for years to come.
Salaries, benefits and other costs associated with teachers and other staff account for 80 percent of the district's budget.
According to the latest enrollment figures, the largest class in the Inter-Lakes District is this year's graduating class which at present numbers 93 students. The freshman class at Inter-Lakes High, however, has 81 students.

First-graders in the three-town district make up the smallest class, with just 66 students. The decline in enrollment is not consistently downward, however. For example, second-grade enrollment is 82, but third grade is 67.
Temperino said that when it comes to drawing up the budget, school administrators "always focus on the needs of the students that we have, and those needs shift and change from year to year." She said that the proposed budget reflects a greater focus on improving education in science, math and technology, which means in part spending money so students have more access to emerging technology.
"Education is rapidly changing," said Hanson. Besides the increased use of technology, he said schools are faced with the "increasing reality our students are having increasing needs and educational difficulties."
The school board at its budget work session in January returned money to the proposed budget in order to retain a teacher position at the high school to work with students who are struggling with reading.
Hanson said it's his sense that overall the public feels that the Inter-Lakes District is doing a good job in educating its children. He said that he hasn't seen the "nasty letters to the editor or anger" that accompanied the district's budget process four or five years ago.
Still, he acknowledged that if enrollment continues to decline then the size of the school staff will continue to decline as well. The challenge, said Hanson, will be finding a way to cut those staff numbers "without harming our students."
Hanson said the move to more customized and individualized learning could mean that students could get some their credits by using on-line education programs at home. And he said the impetus toward more competency-based education would put more weight on what skills a student possesses than on what courses they take.
Aside from the operating budget, the only other major item scheduled to come up at the school district meeting is a vote on the cost items contained in a tentative contract with the Inter-Lakes Support Staff Association, the union which represents the district's paraeducators. The contract calls for increases in salaries and benefits totaling and additional $46,117 for the 2014-15 school year, and $47,619 and $51,460 in each of the following two years.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:33

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Belmont couple just turning in when they smelled smoke

BELMONT — Firefighters extinguished a chimney fire at 112 Lamprey Road Tuesday night that officials said was likely caused by a corroded thimble in a pellet stove.

Chief Dave Parenti said the call came into Belmont at 11:47 p.m. — three seconds before what ended up being a four-alarm fatal fire in Laconia.

"We use the some resources," Parenti said, saying it was unusual to have two major calls come in at virtually the same time. "As usual, (the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid) dispatch did a great job sorting it out.

Parenti said Belmont crews went to Lamprey Road along with crews from the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department to put out the fire while a crew from Gilmanton covered the Belmont station.

Parenti said the home owner had installed a pellet stove last year where there had been a wood-burning stove and it appeared some sparks went through the thimble and down along the outside of the chimney, igniting some of the beams.

He said firefighters were able to extinguish most of the fire from the outside of the house causing minimal damage to the inside.

Parenti said the house has a secondary heating system and the owners were able to stay there last night.

He said the couple had just gone to bed when one of them smelled smoke. There were no working smoke detectors in the home.

"They were very fortunate this happened while they were still awake," he said.

Parenti said all homes should have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and that homeowners should call the Belmont Fire Department at 267-8333 if they have any questions about installing them or changing the batteries every six months.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:23

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Clock ticking as Lakes Region Public Accesss TV seeks to put new biz model in place

LACONIA — Lakes Region Public Access television has adopted a fee schedule which it will start to implement as soon as a new contract with MetroCast Cablevision, which is still being negotiated by Laconia and town in the area, takes effect around July 1.
''We can't approach the towns to get them to sign on until they sign their new contracts with MetroCast'' said Chan Eddy of Gilford, chairman of the board of directors of LRPA-TV, which is adopting a new business model in order to sustain its operations in the face of crumbling financial support from member communities, which used to fund its operations from MetroCast franchise fees.
He said the board is grappling with a number of changes, including those being negotiated in the new 10-year contract with MetroCast.

The new plan calls for each of the dozen or so member communities served in the MetroCast franchise area to operate their own education and government channels (24 and 26) while LRPA will provide public access on Channel 25 as a regional channel which will air material from citizens, organizations and groups from any community which is a member of the LRPA.
The education and government channels will air only in the communities in which their programs originate but the high cost of becoming a public access provider, estimated at $85,000 a year by Eddy, means that LRPA will likely be the only public access provider in the area.
But uncertainty over when the new agreement will take effect and how LRPA will be able to bridge the funding gap has board members nervous.
''We're in a frozen-in scenario and watching the money tick away,'' said LRPA treasurer Joe Jesseman, who added that LRPA is on pace to run out of funds by the end of the year.
One of changes in the yet to be ratified contract will see the annual $30,000 grant, which MetroCast has previously provided for LRPA-TV, ending. The grant provided one-quarter of LRPA's $126,000 operating budget.
Eddy says that he hopes the new fee schedule and a plan to attract sponsorships will eventually produce an income of $500,000 a year and has set a goal of $300,000 in the first year.
The new fee schedule sharply reduces the fees paid by communities as an incentive for them to remain affiliated with LRPA. There is a ''receive only'' option for $200 a year, a ''receive and provide programming option'' for $1,200 more on Channel 25. Communities which want a ''education and government add on'' option for their local channels in addition to public access would pay an additional $250.
He said that Laconia, which currently pays $43,000 a year, will pay only $1,900 under the new model but expects that between 50 and 100 corporations will sign on as sponsors in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, which coupled with other fundraising activities will produce the needed revenue, which will enable LRPA to raise enough funds to be able to upgrade its equipment and provide better service.
The fee schedule for sponsorships include a corporate and small business level of support ranging from $100 to $200 a month, $250 to $500 quarterly, $750 to$1,500 yearly with premium sponsorships ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 a year and a platinum level of $1,250 to $2,500 a year.
LRPA Station Manager Denise Beauchaine said that LRPA is offering to handle public access filming and editing services at a rate of $50 an hour for the town of Belmont, which has no money in its current budget for such services.
Production Manager Patrick Sweeney said that one of the changes which will be needed is tighter editing of submitted materials such as church services, which will continue to be run for free but will have to be limited to less than an hour in order to fit into a new program format.
Shane Selling, technical consultant, said that live streaming has proven popular and that among the most popular video on demand offerings are the Belknap County Convention and Commission meetings in which the county budget is being followed closely by interested viewers.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 02:03

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Kimball Castle committee to meet today

GILFORD — The Kimball Forest Wildlife Committee will meet today at the town offices at 4 p.m. to discuss two of the options regarding the future of Kimball Castle and its 20-acre plot.

The two suggestions are to allow the private owner to raze the castle and sell the 20-acre lot for a single family home.

The second is to seek preservation grants and private money to buy the property from the owner for price a to be determined by an independent appraisal and build a fence around the castle itself, allowing it to decay naturally.

In addition, Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the Conservation Commission is meeting on March 4 to discuss the possible use of conservation money that would buy the castle land and merge it into the remaining 280 acres that are now managed by the Kimball Forest Wildlife Committee.

Owner David Jodoin, doing business as Kimball Properties, LLC, has asked selectmen to back a petition to the Belknap County Superior Court seeking permission to tear down the landmark castle.

Selectmen don't own the castle or the property but act as trustees of the Kimball Castle Trust. In 2013, the town's code enforcement officer determined the castle was crumbling and that it poses a safety hazard.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 February 2014 01:31

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