Gilford budgeters struggle to agree on school spending recommendations

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — Perhaps tonight will be the night the Gilford Budget Committee approves next's year's school spending, including $1.6 million in teacher raises over three years, but last Thursday there was no progress. Three key warrant articles, including the proposed 2017-18 operating budget, were tabled.

The committee will reconvening in a special meeting tonight (Tuesday) at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall to discuss and decide whether to put its stamp of approval on the operating budget, the money portions of the proposed three-year teachers contract, and a petitioned warrant article the mandates the Budget Committee and not the school administration create the default budget.

Ironically, after reviewing the default budget at the Jan. 5 committee meeting, members, including Chairman Norman Silber, who was its biggest critic, seemed satisfied with the final budget, which included the removal of the one-time only expenditures.

The administration said it also removed the $110,000 for the 2017-18 default budget that occurred in the 2015-16 budget that was not removed from this year's default budget. This money was spent on the Imagination Play Station.

The school district is operating on a default budget for this year, as voters rejected last year's proposed budget. A 3 percent raise was not included in it; however, School Board members moved some money around and gave the raises anyway.

While that raise is removed from the proposed default budget, it is included in the proposed budget, plus an additional 1.75 percent across-the-board raise for 2017-18.

Silber said Monday that he is not necessarily opposed to some raises for the lower-paid staff, depending on their income now, but would not support any raises for administrators. At best, he said he could support the same raise for administrators as those who receive Social Security, which is 0.5 percent, or about $5 a month.

Unlike Silber, Budget Committee Vice Chairman Kevin Leandro said he supports the raises for all of the non-union employees but not for the administrators.

The committee also declined to vote on whether to recommend the raises proposed in the negotiated three-year contract with the Gilford Education Association. Silber said not only is it one of the largest raises he seen in a number of years, it doesn't include a big enough increase in the amount each teacher pays for his or her health insurance.

Superintendent Kirk Beitler said he supports the contract because Gilford did get its employees to pay for 10 percent of their coverage in the third year of the contract, and that compared to salaries of other teachers in the competition area, Gilford salaries for teachers are slightly lower than the rest of the area.

Beitler added that it is important the school district keeps its seasoned teachers, and noted that some teachers in the math and science disciplines are hard to get because they can earn much more in industry.

"We got them to 10 percent, but it cost us in salaries," Beitler said.

Leandro said the teachers union had a very weak hand, in that they can't strike, and the negotiating team of Karen Thurston and Sue Allen could have done a better job with a contract more favorable to the taxpayers.
Some committee member expressed displeasure that Allen is on the negotiating team and her daughter is on the payroll.

The general contention of the Budget Committee is that the new contract, which adds $300,000 in the first year and will eventually cost the school district's taxpayers $1.6 million over three years, coupled with the proposed budget, which is up 1 percent but includes the first bond payment for the Elementary School renovations, means the district is closing in on a $600,000 increase that they believe is unsustainable in the near or long-term future.

"You blew your budget before you even bought a pencil," Leandro said, reminding the administrators and the room full of teachers that last year's budget was voted down because of a similar increase.

The School Board also tabled a discussion on whether the Budget Committee should prepare the default budget. Silber said Monday that, as a petitioned warrant article, the School Board can give its recommendation but the Budget Committee may not.

"We are only concerned with the money articles," he said.

Gilford crash victims visited by Recycled Percussion’s Justin Spencer

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

GILFORD — As the state police accident reconstruction team works on determining the cause of the crash that left a father and his 2-year-old daughter in critical condition at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, people from around the state, including Justin Spencer of Recycled Percussion have joined to support them.
Spencer, who is a Manchester native, posted to his Facebook page that he was heartbroken by little Arianna and her father, Brent Stranger, both in comas and in critical condition as they struggle to survive the Jan. 2 crash.
“The family wanted to me to share this so they could tell their story, and (theirs) is a story is of resilience, love and heartbreak,” wrote Spencer.
Stranger, his wife, Sarah Kunst, and their children, 2-year-old Arianna and 1-month-old Aiden, were driving toward their home in Alton when their Ford Focus collided with a Ford Econoline van being driven by James Willingham of Pine Street in Laconia who was headed toward Laconia.
Police at the time said the driver’s side bumper of the van opened the driver’s side of the Ford Focus “like a can opener.” Stranger and his daughter, who police said was in a car seat, were on that side of the car.
Police also said Monday that they got a call after the accident from someone who said they saw a white van swerving but didn’t call police at the time. Chief Anthony Bean Burpee said the caller was likely feeling some remorse about not calling earlier, but he said the person never came in to police to make a statement. He said police don’t know if this was the van involved in the crash or not.
Bean Burpee said the New Hampshire State Police took a series of photos, measurements and mathematical information at the scene but have yet to completely analyze the results to determine who, if anyone, was at fault.
He said police have not been able to speak with Stranger since he is in a coma, but they have spoken with Willingham.
Beyond that, he said there is no new information.
In a separate statement released by Deb Kunst, she thanked the community for their thoughts, prayers and support.
She said both Stranger and Arianna are extremely critical and both remain on life support at Dartmouth. She also asked that people ignore some of the statements made about their conditions on social media, as many of them are not true.
She said they have both undergone multiple surgeries and are still fighting for their lives.
Kunst said they family wanted to thank the police, fire, ambulance crews, the staff at LRGHealthcare, and the teams of doctors at Dartmouth Hitchcock who have helped the family in so many ways.
She said a GoFundMe page has been set up by family friend Kim Martin and is titled “Sarah and Brent.” As of noon on Monday, people had donated $15,900 to the fund to help the family offset medical costs.

 

01-10 Recycled Percussion hospital Facebook

Recycled Percussion’s Justin Spencer visited the family from Gilford who were involved in a serious crash Jan. 2 and posted this photo on Faceboook. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help them at https://www.gofundme.com/help-sarah-brents-family. (Screenshot photo)

 

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County commissioners defend administrator Shackett, say she does work of three people

By ROGER AMSDEN, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners defended County Administrator Debra Shackett against criticism brought by an Alton legislator during budget discussions by the Belknap County Delegation Monday morning.
Delegation Vice Chairman Ray Howard (R-Alton) said that he was concerned that money was taken out of the 2016 budget for the 2015 salary account and that it was "a slap in the face that we weren't informed." He said that it was "a poor job performance by administration," adding that "in the private sector some of us would be looking for a new job."
He was referring to a budget transfer request of $84,492 for the entire salary account, which had been sought by Belknap County Commissioners after County Administrator Debra Shackett found that she had miscalculated the number of paydays remaining in the year due to the transfer ordered by auditors of five of the seven days in the first payroll of 2016 to the 2015 budget.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) later defended Shackett and said that she has been trying to do the work of three people, as the county is the only one in the state which lacks both a finance director and a human resources director.
The commissioners have requested $65,540 in the 2017 budget to hire a human resources director, a request Delegation Chairman Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) suggested is "a want rather than a need,"
Taylor answered, saying, "We're putting the entire load on the County Administrator. We're understaffed. We have less administrative staff than Coos or Carroll counties, which are smaller and doing less business than we are. This is not a want, this is a need."
Commission Chairman David DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that the continued problems with the transfer requests are the result of placing too much on Shackett's shoulders. "She needs some help."
Delegation Chairman Vadney has set an ambitious goal of completing work on the proposed $28 million county budget in what would appear to be record time.
He told his fellow legislators Monday morning when they met at the Belknap County complex that it should take three weeks, not four months, to complete work on the budget.
"We're asking people to do more with less. We're going to do the same and streamline our process," said Vadney, said that rather then break down into subcommittees examining each part of the budget, he wanted to have the whole delegation work together on the entire budget.
"We need wise spending and good accounting and a very clear picture of where we need to go. We need the county to be well run and avoid building reserves unnecessarily. We need to concentrate on things we need, not things we want," said Vadney.

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