12th hour dilemma for Shaker kinderarten & pre-K

BELMONT — Parents and Shaker Regional School Board members learned Tuesday night that adding full-day kindergarten and half-day pre-school program could add as much as $480,000 to the proposed 2015-2016 school district budget.

The costs include two additional teachers, additional buses, and a two, used modular units for classroom space and Superintendent Maria Dreyer said they were "guestimates" at this point.

Dreyer pointed out that the school board and the administration did a "great deal of listening" at an information public information session held earlier this month and learned that parents want full-day kindergarten as opposed to the planned half-day kindergarten and half-day pre-school programs incorporated into one version of the 2015 budget.

Parents packed the Middle School media center Tuesday evening to show support for full-day kindergarten.

Of the four who spoke, seemingly for the rest of the crowd, three were teachers.

Lisa Tucker said kindergarten today is like first grade was when she was in school and with half-day kindergarten only, children lose nine hours of instructional time weekly.

She agreed that pre-kindergarten programs were a "great thing," but said only providing a half a day of kindergarten was a "disservice" to the children.

"They're missing all of the afternoon time," Tucker said.

Parent Lisa Ober, a teacher for 15 years, said there are too many "transitions" with half-day kindergarten. Transitions means a child is home, then in kindergarten for 2 1/2 hours, then in some kind of transportation, then daycare, and then back home again.

She said full-day kindergarten eliminates many of those transitions that she believe can be too many adjustments for a 5-year-old to process.

The problems with implementing full-day kindergarten in Shaker Regional in 2015 in the two elementary schools are multi-faceted.

The first is space. While there is room for full-day kindergarten at Canterbury Elementary School, Dreyer said at Tuesday's meeting, there is not room in Belmont Elementary.

There is a "bubble", or unusually high number of students, in the second and third grades and Dreyer's original two-year plan called for implementing pre-kindergarten in 2015 and working toward full-day kindergarten as the "bubble" moves through elementary school, freeing up much needed space.

Additionally, because of the number of students taking the bus, Dreyer said two additional buses would be needed to accommodate approximately 80 additional students in the afternoon run. The cost of the two additional buses would eat up any potential savings for eliminating the mid-day run.

In Canterbury, there would be some savings because no additional buses would be needed and the mid-day run could be eliminated.

To accommodate the space challenges at Belmont Elementary, the school would need to site a two-classroom modular for two years and rearrange a number of programs and classrooms so that the older children would likely be in the modular. The modular would also cost the school the basketball court which would be needed for parking.

The second issue is political. School Board member Donna Cilley of Belmont said she feels like the school district is treating the full-day kindergarten issue as an "emergency" when it really isn't.

She said the district was reacting to the parents, which is good, but that the district already has a two-year plan and that Dreyer's newest plan for both was a 12th-hour reaction without a solid picture.

"Here we are at the 12th hour talking about a very important program," Cilley said. "It needs to be done right."

Canterbury School Board member Bob Reed said the issue is an emergency for parents. "All these years parents have been thinking they're getting all day-kindergarten and we drop the bomb on them for pre-k," he said.

The third issue is money. Dreyer's two-year plan that called for a half-day of pre-school and a half-day of kindergarten was not going to cost the school district any additional money in 2015. As it stands now, the proposed budget was slightly less than the $21-million total budget approved by voters last year.

To implement full-day kindergarten and half-day of pre-school the cost is "guestimated" to be about $480,000. To implement full-day kindergarten and eliminate the pre-kindergarten program would cost about $90,000 less, said Dreyer when asked.

The School Board was slated to vote on a final proposed budget for 2015 Tuesday but made a unanimous decision to hold a special meeting Monday at 10 a.m. for a final vote on the budget.

Before adjourning, the School Board instructed Dreyer to develop more solid numbers and design programs that would incorporate pre-k, full-day kindergarten and a combination of the two.

Monday is a holiday, however the meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. in the SAU Building.

Proposal for investigation of county government gets little support

LACONIA — A Belmont legislator's call for an investigation of Belknap County government received little support at Monday night's meeting of the Belknap County Convention.

Two-term Rep. Michael Sylvia called for an investigation by the convention, citing what he said were violations of state statutes by former commissioners and county officials and suggesting that the investigation would help determine whether or not ''people have benefited from misappropriated money.''
''Maybe there's nothing out there. We know that lawyers have benefited greatly,'' said the Republican in asking the convention to consider creating an investigative committee.

He cited RSA 24:17 which authorizes county conventions to appoint a committee "to investigate conditions pertaining to the conduct of county affairs by any county officer or person appointed or employed by such officer." The law specifies that the committee, convened by a majority vote, consist of no more than five members, not more than three of any one of the parties, and empowers it to summon witnesses, take sworn testimony and "do other necessary acts to conduct such an investigation."

Among the issues which Sylvia said should be considered included the failure of the former county commissioners to conduct jail inspections every six months for a period of three years, which he said was a violation of state law, adding that ''sweeping it under the rug is difficult for me.''

He also pointed to RSA 24:15, which provides that ''no county commissioner, or elected or appointed county officer, shall pay, or agree to pay, or incur any liability for the payment of, any sum of money for which the county convention has made no appropriation, or in excess of any appropriation so made except for the payment of judgments rendered against the county.''

Sylvia asked ''where did the money go?'' and also questioned whether or not the county should have utilized a health trust rebate to offset 2014 health insurance costs.

Convention Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said that he wanted to set the record straight on some of Sylvia's charges and noted ''there's no missing money evidence in all the things we're looking at. The money may have been used for other purposes, but there is no missing money.''

He also questioned the wisdom of embarking on an investigation, pointing out that the investigation would have to be conducted by the convention. ''There's no money for it and we would have to hire an attorney,'' said Tilton.

RSA-18, which covers expenses of an investigation by the convention reads: ''The county convention shall appropriate a certain sum for expenses for any committee established pursuant to RSA 24:17. The reasonable expenses of such investigation shall be paid by the county when approved by a judge of the superior court.''

Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) said that a call for an investigation was premature, noting that there was going to be an annual audit conducted of county finances and that the convention would deal with any issues which were raised by the audit.

During a public comment segment of the meeting Meredith, resident Paula Trombi asked if any Sylvia had any proof of his allegations and said that his statements were ''inflammatory. There are things you shouldn't say publicly unless you have proof.''

It was not the first time that Rep. Sylvia has called for an investigation of the county. In March of 2013, when he was in his first term, he called for creating a committee to investigate county government, maintaining the convention had a duty ''to oversee the operations of the county.''

At that time it drew a rebuke from Tilton, who explained "our duty is to appropriate funds, not oversee. The commissioners oversee county operations. We are the legislative body and the commission is the executive body."
Earlier in that 2013 legislative session, Sylvia was critical of fellow legislators on his Facebook page after the House voted by a majority of 196 to 153 to reinstate the prohibition against carrying firearms in the chamber, anteroom and gallery of the House.

"I'll look forward to seeing the roll call on the final adoption of the rule. It seems clear to me that many legislators, and I suspect some Republicans, are happy to violate the New Hampshire Constitution. I call this treason but I'm a radical. Legislation coming from a treasonous body is invalid and a violation of Law. And there ends working together, I will not be supporting criminals even though they call themselves 'Honorable'," Sylvia wrote.

The House recently voted to lift the ban in the current legislative session with all members of the Belknap County delegation who were present voting to lift the ban.


Members balk at prospect of selling Belknap Mill

LACONIA — When between 40 and 50 of the some 150 members of the Belknap Mill Society met at the mill yesterday by a show of hands an apparent majority of those present opposed the society divesting itself of the mill by transferring ownership to either the city or a private party.

In October, Christine Santaniello, president of the society, and the trustees concluded that the society lacked the financial means to own and maintain the historic building. The trustees announced that they were searching for a partner who would assume ownership of the property while ensuring public access to the first and third floors of the building and enabling the society to offer its educational and cultural programs. They approached the City Council, offering to sell the building to the city at an undisclosed price, but a majority of the councilors urged them to explore alternative arrangements.

Yesterday's meeting was confined to members and closed to the media. However, attorney Pat Wood, a former trustee of the society who has done legal work on its behalf, said that the sentiment of those members in attendance favored the society retaining ownership of the mill. Wood was among a number of members to question the judgment of the trustees that the society could no longer sustain its ownership of the mill and suggest ways of overcoming the immediate financial problems and placing the society's finances on a sound footing.

Ed Engler, a member of the society and mayor of the city, raised the issue by reminding the membership that the trustees preferred to sell the building and suggested the meeting address the question. The proposition drew scant support from the members. Tom Tardif questioned whether the society could sell the mill to the city, referring to documents indicating that it could only be sold to Belknap County. City taxpayers, he said, would then only bear 20 percent of the cost of maintaining it.

After the straw poll, Santaniello said that the trustees, having sounded the members, would reconsider the situation and prepare a recommendation to present to the membership at the annual meeting of the society in February.

Engler said that he was "encouraged that the trustees have a decision-making plan. I think it is a good one," he continued, "and we'll see what happens." The decision about whether or not to disclose the terms of the offer the trustees made to the city, Engler said "is up to the trustees. We are respecting their wishes." The council sealed the minutes of the non-public session on October 17 at which the offer was was presented.

Engler expected that "further discussion with the city will be placed on hold until after the annual meeting" and doubted that the City Council would consider the issue in the meantime.

Speare medical office closed due to water damage

PLYMOUTH — Speare Memorial Hospital's medical office building, Speare Memorial at Boulder Point, is closed due to water damage from a frozen pipe that burst on Sunday. The pipe was a water feed for a rooftop unit that controls the building's humidification system.
According to Director of Facilities Dennis Patnaude, restoration services are onsite mitigating the extensive cosmetic water damage including carpeting, flooring and some furniture. While a damage estimate is unknown, Patnaude said there was no structural damage to the building.
Speare Memorial at Boulder Point is located on Boulder Point Drive, off Tenney Mountain Highway. The building is home to the hospital's affiliated practices including Plymouth Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Clinic, Speare Primary Care, White Mountain Eye Care & Optical, as well as Choice Physical Therapy and RehabFIT Medical Fitness. White Mountain Eye Care & Optical is expected to reopen as early as Friday, but the rest of the building will remain closed for clean-up and repair for up to three weeks.
Plymouth Orthopedics, Speare Primary Care and Choice Physical Therapy have relocated their practices to the hospital while Boulder Point remains closed. Patients with appointments should report to the following locations:
— Plymouth Orthopedics will see patients in the Oncology Clinic located on the first floor, just off the Main Entrance on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and in Surgical Services on Wednesdays.
— Speare Primary Care patients are being seen in Plymouth OB/GYN, located in the hospital's northwest wing. Building access and parking are off Avery Street.
— Choice Physical Therapy will begin seeing patients at the hospital on Thursday, January 15. Patients should take the main elevators to the second floor. Patient check-in will be located off the elevators to the left.