School Board passes budget. Parents bemoan cuts

03-24 Lac school board meeting 001

A parent speaks against cutting the elementary band program in front of a standing room only crowd at last night’s Laconia School Board meeting, which was held at the high Sschool in anticipation of a larger-than-normal crowd. (Laconia Daily Sun Photo/Gail Ober)

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — After hearing voices of parents bemoaning the across-the-board cuts being made by the school board, mostly in regard to the elementary band program and the ski program, the board unanimously passed without discussion a $37,780,254 budget with $23,183,198 to be raised in taxes.
The $23,183,198 includes local tax revenue that is limited by the city tax cap, the amount the district gets from the statewide property tax and $6,052,278 in state adequacy aid.
The amount is $1,641,995 less than the school district needs to operate at the same levels in fiscal year 2016-2017 than it did this year, which necessitated the cuts.
Many of those at last night's meeting bemoaned the elimination of the elementary band program, which will now be offered as an after-school program. Others wanted to see the ski team continued and others feared that the reduction of six language teachers to five throughout the school district could negatively affect education.
Business Administrator Ed Emond said that music education and language arts will continue to be taught at all levels, but the way the programs are structured will be altered. He added that the current structure has been in place for about 15 years and harkens back to when there were 2,400 students in the district and now there are about 2,000. He said a retirement in each of those departments meant there wouldn't need to be any layoffs in those departments.
While it didn't get mentioned at last night's meeting, some of the parents who attended said after the meeting that they understood cuts had to be made but disagreed with some of the programs that were cut. When asked what they would do differently, they said they would eliminate the position of assistant superintendent and noted that Laconia is the only district in the area that has one.
At the end of this school year, Phil McCormack, who is a temporary superintendent, and Emond will retire. Assistant Superintendent Kirk Beitler will be taking over as the Gilford School District superintendent. The parents said this would have been the perfect year to restructure the very top of the pyramid.
The board also approved changes to Laconia education contract that would potentially ameliorate some teacher layoffs by allowing 10 teachers who qualify to retire at the end of this year.
Until yesterday, five teachers each year could retire at the end of the school year provided they gave notice to the administration. Those teachers with seniority are allowed to retire first. With 10 teachers being allowed to retire at the end of this year, the district can potentially reduce the number of teachers who have to be laid off and potentially hire newer teachers at a lower rate.
The LEA and the school board also agreed to continue to allow "bumping," or the practice that if any teacher is laid off, he or she can bump a teacher who holds an existing position. The changes allow that if a laid-off teacher wants to "bump," he or she must have one year of experience in subject area or position.
Teachers who will be laid off will be reinstated in the inverse order of being laid off, if at the time of the recall they are certified and qualified to teach the available position. Recall rights exist for two years and a laid-off teacher must maintain contact with the school district as to certifications.
A laid-off teacher must accept a recall within 10 days if one is offered and years of previous credit cannot be lost because of a layoff. A teacher who has been laid off is allowed to take other employment immediately.
The approved budget now moves to the City Council for its approval.

Jail workers contract would provide first raise in 4 years

By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Corrections officers at the Belknap County House of Corrections could see their first pay raise in four years when the Belknap County Delegation votes on a two-year contract with unionized employees there. The delegation will meet on Monday, April 4, at 6 p.m., at the Belknap County Complex for the vote.
All 21 members of the Belknap County Corrections Officers Union last week voted for the contract, which provides a 1.4 percent pay raise in each of the two years, as well as step increases, which could increase total compensation by 4.4 percent each year for eligible workers.
It also provided for health insurance changes, going from an HMO plan to a "site of service" plan. Belknap County Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that change will save the county $3,000 per employee, even though the county will pick up the entire cost of the health insurance premiums. Currently, employees pay 5 to 6.5 percent of the premiums for the HMO plan.
There is also an incentive bonus of $1,000 in the first year for employees who make the switch to the site-of-service plan, which provides for $1,000, $2,000 and $3,000 deductibles on single, two-person and family plans.

DeVoy said that the contract, if approved by the Belknap County Delegation, will save the county $64,000 in health insurance costs over the next two years.
The proposed contract is similar to the collective bargaining agreement between Teamsters Local 633 and the county, which was approved by a 10-5 vote by the County Delegation last August.
DeVoy said contract talks were being held this week with the new union representing the Belknap County Sheriff's Department. Last week, employees of the department voted unanimously to switch from the State Employees Association to the Teamsters Union.
County Commissioners will take formal action when they meet at 3:30 p.m. today to approve the contract with House of Corrections employees. Both DeVoy and fellow commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) are members of the county's negotiating team.

Where to graduate? I-L considers request to move ceremony to field

MEREDITH — In what could become nearly an annual event nearly as regular as graduation itself the senior class at Inter-Lakes High School this week again petitioned the School Board to move the ceremony from Prescott Park to the gridiron at the school.

As of yesterday, the online petition had gathered 180 signatories, including about 90 percent of the class of 2016.

"Would you rather be under a tent with your feet in the mud at Prescott Park," asked Mark Billings, who chairs the School Board, "or sitting in the sunshine on the artificial turf field at the high school?"

The petitioners noted the shortcomings of the parking lot, particularly during or after a rain, and restroom facilities, which are inadequate and inconvenient, at Prescott Park . But, above all they stressed that the field, where "championships were won and individual accomplishments were achieved," holds "an abundance of great memories." Moreover, the field lies between the two schools where many graduates spent most of their young lives.

Billings said the board has two concerns about changing the venue: the risks of damaging the artificial turf and of running afoul of inclement weather. He said that the field was laid at significant expense nine years ago with expectation that it would last at least 15 years. He said that to spare the artificial turf, the cost of raising a tent is prohibitive. In the event of rain, the ceremony would have to be moved indoors, but the capacity of the gymnasium is limited. He allowed that the ceremony could be scheduled for Friday with the following Saturday or Sunday as rain dates.

"I fully understand the reasons for the students' request and the passion with which they have pursued it," Billings said. He anticipated that the board will address the request and make its decision when it meets on April 12.

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