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Newfound voters restore BudCom cuts to 201402105 school budget

by Thomas P. Caldwell

BRISTOL — Newfound Area School District voters at the Feb. 1 deliberative session restored funding that the budget committee had cut from the school board's proposed spending for 2014-2015 but would not agree to increase it further to support a football program at the middle school level.

Those attending the Saturday morning meeting at Newfound Regional High School also failed to support a warrant article that would have funded a school resource (police) officer. With neither the school board nor the budget committee recommending passage of the article — the school board had a 3-3 tie with the Hebron member abstaining from the vote, while the budget committee unanimously opposed the article — voters amended the appropriation to zero, effectively killing the position.

The operating budget and the proposed teacher contract generated some discussion, but a recurring issue during the two hour and 45-minute annual meeting centered on administrative changes that have little impact on the budget. Several speakers took issue with the superintendent's plan to eliminate 19.5 paraprofessional positions, most of which are devoted to special needs students, replacing them with three certified teachers who would work directly with students. Superintendent Stacy Buckley said, "I believe we can meet the needs of all students by utilizing our resources better," and she explained that some of the reductions are a result of changes in students' individualized educational programs. Philosophically, she said, she believed in shifting resources to the students and away from teacher assistants.

Newfound Area School Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater defended the superintendent's actions, saying the board had directed her to review all personnel and support positions and to make recommendations for re-alignments, reductions, or increases to better meet students' needs. "We used factual, not anecdotal data," he said, "and our decisions were made with a lot of deliberation."

Hinting of serious problems uncovered during the review process — "I wish all of you could sit in on our school board meetings, or better yet, our nonpublic sessions" — Migliore said, "We've come across many things to be addressed and done. ... The superintendent is trying to get things under control in a variety of ways."

In discussing the proposed collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union, Vice-Chair Ruby Hill of Danbury said the district sought a three-year contract that would result in teachers spending more time with students. The new contract would eliminate 19 days of authorized leave while granting wage increases of two percent in the first year, two percent in the second year, and 2.5 percent in the third year of the contract. Teachers also would receive the so-called step increases that are built into the pay scales, based on longevity. The agreement also provides a cost-of-living adjustment to those at the top of the pay scale who do not receive step increases, and a two percent increase for co-curricular stipends.

Fran Wendelboe, chair of the Newfound Area School District Budget Committee, explained why that body did not support the agreement. She said that, between the step increases and the COLAs, a teacher on Step 1 who now makes $34,370 a year would be earning $39,625 by the third year of the contract, an increase of $5,255. A teacher on Step 10 earning $46,313 would be earning $54,485, a raise of $8,172 in three years' time, she said. The total three-year cost to the district would be an additional $861,451.

"We felt that most of our taxpayers would not see that much of an increase in their wages," Wendelboe said. "The give-back on leave time did not come anywhere near making up for that, so there are no projected savings at this time."

Retired teacher Natalie Murphy of Bridgewater said Newfound teachers are in the bottom third in terms of earnings among educators in the state. "Don't punish our teachers because they're the only salaries you have control over," she pleaded.

In discussing the hiring of an SRO for the district, Migliore said, "There is no more important personal goal than providing for the safety of our students and employees."

Buckley said a school resource officer would be responsible for safety workshops and protocols, would be able to handle crime and drug issues in the schools, and serve as a liaison between the police department and the schools.

Wendelboe said the budget committee did not support the position, noting that previous times the district has had an officer in the schools, "It didn't work out very well." She also noted that the high school is a mere two miles from the New Hampton Police Department, should an emergency occur. "We haven't seen any need for this position," she concluded.

Lloyd Belbin, the school board member from Bristol, had been among those voting against the position. "I've worked in all phases of law enforcement," he said, "and this doesn't affect the safety of our students. ... We've just spent $90,000 for a surveillance system," he added, saying that is a more effective way to provide protection.

Archie Auger of Bristol who has retired as a school district official moved to "zero-fund" the position, and the amendment passed on a voice vote.

Voters did not go along with the budget committee's recommendation to reduce the budget from the school board's version by eliminating two guidance positions, even though the superintended had recommended one of the cuts. Newfound currently provides 7.8 guidance positions while state standards call for 3.3, based on current enrollment. Wendelboe pointed out that, even if the two positions were cut, Newfound still would exceed the state requirements.

The budget committee also had eliminated $5,000 in administrative stipends, $2,000 in equipment replacement, $2,674 in miscellaneous board expenditures, and $9,999 in legal expenditures.

Hebron school board member Don Franklin pointed out that the school board's original budget proposal, although higher than the budget committee's budget, was still less than current-year spending and it is $200,000 below what the tax cap allows.

A motion to restore the school board's appropriation passed on a 124-68 hand vote.

With those amendments, the warrant now will go onto the ballot for a decisions at the polls on March 11.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 01:42

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Sponsor takes one for the team, which goes on to claim 'Just For Fun U35 crown at Pond Hockey Classic

MEREDITH — Sponsoring a pond hockey team can be a painful experience, even if you're not on the ice and your team wins.
That's what Michael Bourgeois found out Sunday when he and his wife, Julie, were watching Broots Magoots, the team sponsored by their restaurant, Giuseppe's Pizzeria-Ristorante, play in semifinal action in the Just for Fun Under 35 bracket of the 5th Annual New England Pond Hockey Classic.
Bourgeois, better known for his guitar playing at the restaurant than his hockey skills, was dinged on his right cheek by an errant puck launched by a member of the opposing team that jumped over the boards, and spent the rest of the game holding a cold, ice-filled compress to his face as he cheered on his team.
''We won some early games by lop-sided scores but we're meeting some good teams today,'' said Bourgeois.
He was rewarded with a 7-5 victory in a game which only got close near the very end, and, later in the afternoon was able to cheer the Magoots, all of whom are originally from the Manchester area, on to a 4-3 win which gave them their second straight Pond Hockey Classic title in their bracket.
''They're a great bunch of guys who stop by our place a lot. When they asked us to sponsor them we were glad to do it. We bought them shirts and we've been working to build a little fan base for them,'' said Bourgeois.
Nate Gagne, team captain, hails from Manchester and is a Trinity High School graduate who has ties to the Lakes Region.
''My brother-in-law lives on Cummings Cove, not that far from right where we're playing,'' says Gagne, who says that this is the Magoots third year playing in the classic, which this year had more than 220 teams taking part.
He and his teammates rolled over their early round opponents and played what they call ''spirited'' hockey along the way.
''It's a great way to get out and have a fun weekend,'' said Ben Courchesne of Boston, who along with his brother, Matt, of Litchfield, now are two-time champions in the pond hockey classic.

 

CAPTION (Pond Hockey1.2)

Broots Magoots (white tops) defeated the Sweater Kittens (dark tops) 7-5 in the Just for Fun Under 35 semifinal bracket Sunday at the New England Pond Hockey Tournament and went on the win the division with a 4-3 victory in the final. The team is sponsored by Giuseppe's Pizzeria Ristorante of Meredith. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 01:37

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Chief reneges on deal with selectmen & firefighters prevail in Gilmanton

GILMANTON — Voters at Saturday's deliberative session of annual Town Meeting added the money to the town budget that would keep the fire chief's schedule as it is — seemingly negating the selectman's desire to cut costs by having him fill two, 12-hour shifts a week as a first responding firefighter.

The vote, which was overwhelmingly supported by the estimated 100 people who attended, added $10,400 back into the Fire Department's budget.

As it stands now, two FF/EMTs staff the station for 12-hours a day, seven days a week. Hempel works 40 hours a week and does not have to be one of the first two people to respond to a call. Twenty-four of the 48 hours required for weekend coverage are filled by part-time FF/EMT for a total of 208 hours per week.

Chief Joe Hempel had objected to taking two shifts weekly but in an executive action in early January, selectmen voted unanimously to make him do it. The executive action is still in place and is scheduled to take effect on March 1.

In addition, voters amended a petitioned warrant article (Article 30) that, if it passes at the ballot session on March 11, would require that of the 208 hours of coverage required to have two firefighter/EMTs available for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 184 of them be filled by full-time firefighters — 48 hours weekly for each of three firefighters/EMT plus 40 hours for the chief.

While simple on its face, the circumstances surrounding Article 30 has at least two selectmen crying foul — saying the board and the chief struck an agreement about hours and staffing on January 29 in a non-public meeting held in the town offices.

Part of that agreement, according to the draft minutes, was that Hempel would agree to fill one shift as a first-responding firefighter — not two — in exchange for using part-time firefighter/EMTs to fill a vacancy created when one of Gilmanton's firefighters took a full-time job with a neighboring fire department about two months ago.

This would mean that the department would go from four to three full-time employees — including the chief. The measure, said Selectman Brett Currier, would have saved the town about $33,000 and kept the staffing and service levels the same. The savings would have come health insurance and other benefits afforded to full-time employees.

Currier said yesterday that part of the agreement was that Hempel would go to the floor at deliberative session and encourage voters to vote against Article 30, which cannot be removed from the warrant by state law because it was petitioned on to the ballot.

"We haggled it out," said Currier, who yesterday described Hempel's change of heart as a "slap in the face."

"He's trying to make sure we can't hire part-time people to fill the full-time position," Currier said.

Currier said that every department in Gilmanton has faced some kind of reduction in the past few years and the voters want the selectmen to save the town money. He said the call volume for the Gilmanton Fire Department has remained about the same for the past 10 years and that Hempel told them that he has seven or eight qualified FF/EMTs who would be willing and able to fill the hours created by the recent vacancy.

Currier also said there is nothing personal between him and Hempel and that the selectmen are not trying to "micro-manage" the Fire Department or any other department for that matter.

"I was elected to watch the dollars," said Currier.

He added that he was personally disappointed that Hempel went back on their arrangement. "We shook hands," he said. "A deal's a deal."

Hempel admitted yesterday that he reneged on his deal with the selectmen. He said when he was called to the office for the January 29 meeting he had no warning and felt he was cornered and somewhat blind-sided.

He said he probably shouldn't have made the deal but the more he thought about it he felt it wasn't in the bast interests of the Fire Department and of public safety.

"I thought about it and I realized it the position should be a full-time position," he said. He also said he called Town Administrator Arthur Capello on January 30 and told him he was backing out.

Hempel's reasons for wanting the position to be full-time is that while at this moment in time he has enough trained part-time FF/EMTs to fill the 48 hours created by the vacancy plus the hours he already fills with part-timers, that may not be true in the future.

He said he foresees potential problems with part-time staffing in the summer and that 48 hours a week in addition to the 24 he already has to cover with qualified part-time people is too much for a small department.

Hempel said he realizes the selectmen are the governing body and are his bosses. He knows selectmen have the final say on who, if anybody, gets hired as his third firefighter.

What he is hoping is that when voters go to the polls, they support operating the department as it has been operated since he became chief and the selectmen don't make the proposed changes to the way it's staffed.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 01:31

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Belknap County reps split on House keno games vote

CONCORD — When the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted this week to allow the holders of liquor licenses to operate keno games under the regulation and supervision of the Lottery Commission, representatives of both parties found themselves divided on the issue.

Of the 18 members of the county delegation 17 voted, 12 of the 13 Republicans and all five Democrats. The Republicans split evenly with six voting in favor — Representatives Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Dennis Fields of Sanbornton, Bob Greemore of Meredith, Bob Luther of Laconia and Michael Sylvia of Belmont — and six voting against — Representatives Jane Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Don Flanders and Frank Tilton of Laconia, and Herb Vadney and Colette Worsman of Meredith. Charles Fink of Belmont did not vote.

Two Democrats — Representatives Lisa DiMartino of Gilford and Ruth Gulick of New Hampton — voted in favor while three voted against — Beth Arsenault and David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton.

The Lottery Commission projects that licensing fees and gaming revenue, net of operating costs and prize payouts, will generate $3,875,000 in the current fiscal year and $8,875,000 in the following and subsequent years, all of which will be applied to the education trust fund to finance public schools.

Last Updated on Saturday, 01 February 2014 02:24

Hits: 193

 
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