Down to one elementary school, Franklin finds early grades bursting at seams

By Thomas P. Caldwell

FRANKLIN — While most New Hampshire school districts are facing declining student populations, the numbers — if not the individual students — have been relatively stable in Franklin; but Paul Smith Elementary School, the only one in the city, is actually experiencing an increase that may force the school district to look for additional space.
Principal Mike Hoyt told the school board at its October meeting that he has one classroom with 27 students and that, if the trend continues, total enrollment at the Paul Smith School could reach 500 next year. If that happens, there will not be enough space at the school to accommodate the students.
Superintendent Robert McKenney said he is just starting to consider the options, should additional space become necessary. McKenney, who rejoined School Administrative Unit 18 this year after having previously served as superintendent a decade ago, said that, at that time, the school district had been using portable classrooms but discovered that they were more expensive to maintain than it would cost to build an addition. In fact, the district had added several classrooms to Paul Smith School at that time.
Budget constraints forced the school district to give up the Bessie Rowell Elementary School which now serves as a community center. McKenney said that, while the district could consider moving classes back into Bessie Rowell, it would be difficult because of the community use of the space.
Another option would be to approach St. Paul Parish about utilizing classroom space there, but McKenney was not sure it would be available to the School District.
That leaves modulars or building another addition on the end of Paul Smith. McKenney said former business manager Bob Brooks had pointed out that, in addition to the rental costs for a modular classroom, the building had to be connected to electricity, water, and sewer, and those costs add up.
Meanwhile, Paul Smith School is meeting students' needs with the use of aides and Foster Grandparents. Hoyt said there is at least one helper in each grade and sometimes two to provide one-on-one instruction when necessary. Title I funds provide some help and the school has other specialists it can use, along with four foster grandparents who Hoyt said do a great job working with the children.
Currently, Paul Smith School has 486 students and, while they try to keep classrooms at a maximum of 25 students, that is not always possible. Hoyt said he tries to move staff around when there is a need for an additional class in a particular grade, pulling a fourth grade instructor to teach a third grade classroom, in order to balance out the class sizes.
"The teachers do an amazing job," McKenney said, "combining patience with firmness and a caring attitude."
While Franklin, like most school districts, has some homeless students, a bigger problem is a huge transient population, due to unstable financial or social family situations. Last year, Hoyt said, there were 100 students who came or left — more than 30 percent of the population — and some of those enrolled or departed more than once.
"We've had second or third graders that have been in three or five different schools," he said.
In some cases, a student will temporarily move in with a relative; in others, a family is taking temporary shelter with one friend or another for brief periods of time. It makes it difficult for the school district to help such students catch up with the rest of the class or provide a continuum of education.
"The foundation has to be a sense of cooperation and familiarity between parents and teachers," said McKenney. "We encourage parents to get to know the teachers."
Hoyt said it is not uncommon for a student to begin a school year in one district and, part-way through the year, to relocate in another community. Sometimes a family does not register the student in the new school district and that student disappears from the system until someone realizes and calls in a truant officer or contacts the Division of Children, Youth, and Families.
McKenney noted that fewer students get overlooked since Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act that requires a school district to accept a student from another district if that student seeks enrollment. In the past, a school district might hold off until all the documentation is in, but now the student gains enrollment immediately, after which the district will seek prior medical and academic records. Additionally, if a student lives in one municipality and wants to attend school in another, the two school districts are required to share transportation expenses.
For a city with a property tax cap, that could be a problem, but McKenney said special education in general is a bigger problem for the budget. A child with special needs moving into a district can break the budget while a student moving out may result in budgeted expenses not being necessary.
"I don't criticize the tax cap," McKenney said. "I understand we all have our limitations, and we don't spend more than we make. We have to live within our income, so we do the best we can. Sometimes it's like a magic show, but I give credit to people around here; everyone knows we can do anything as long as it doesn't cost money. All have a good attitude to get the job done."
He continued, "Most schools are good about dealing with the transient population. At a superintendent's meeting I just attended, the subject of homelessness came up, and there were no solutions, just problems, so it came down to, 'We enroll them.'"
One of the problems with enrolling children whose living conditions are constantly changing is that they often have no books at home. The school district will loan out books, even though not all of them may be returned, in order to see that those students have a chance to read at home.
McKenney summed it up by saying, "In spite of what the teachers try to do, we need a stable population so we get to know the kids."

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Laconia woman dies in Parade Road wreck

LACONIA — A single car accident early Sunday morning on Parade Road has claimed the life of a 28-year-old local woman who was a passenger in the back seat of the car.

Police said Tiffany Nieves of Laconia was killed instantly in the crash that also sent the driver to Concord Hospital with serious injuries and a second passenger to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center with life-threatening injuries.

The driver of the black Cadillac, Ryan M. Means, 26, of Kingston has been charged with one count of felony level aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Means was released on personal recognizance bail and is scheduled to appear in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division on November 20.

Police said passenger Jeremy King, 28, of Atkinson remains in Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in the intensive care unit and is in critical condition.

Police said the vehicle was headed north on Parade Road, just past the Elm Street intersection, November 2 at 1:57 a.m. when the car crossed into the sought bound lane, collided with a tree, and catapulted back into the road way.

City police continue to investigate the cause of the crash and are being assisted by the Belknap Regional Accident Investigation Team (BRAIT). Police said additional and upgraded charges could be forthcoming.

Anyone with any information or who may of witnessed the crash is asked to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252 or the Greater Laconia Crime Line at 524-1717.

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Meredith & Belmont commit funds to LRPA-TV

LACONIA — Lakes Region Public Access television received a badly needed infusion of funding last night as selectmen in both Meredith and Belmont approved funds which will enable the station to continue to provide programs through the end of the year.

The station broadcasts on several channels on the MetroCast Cablevision platform.
Meredith approved the entire amount requested by LRPA-TV, $17,991.75, while Belmont approved half of the $15,000 request, $7,500. The Belmont board made the remaining funding contingent on the LRPA-TV board of directors approving an updated business model at its next meeting.
The action follows the approval last week by the Laconia City Council of $20,000 in funds for the station, which late last month had said it was out of money and would have to cease operations as of the first of November.
The station still has a request for $18,000 pending in Gilford, where it was tabled last week by selectmen.
In Meredith, selectmen approved the full request after hearing support expressed by Phil Polhemus, who has worked on producing over 600 shows in the last 12 years for Public Access TV, and Steve Merrill, who said it was important that shows as the WLNH Children's Auction, which will take place next month, continue to be provided.
Town Manager Phil Warren endorsed the request based on actions taken at a meeting Saturday of the LRPA board attended by Trish Laurent, the town's Human Resources director and representative on the board, at which he said the board decided to ''aggressively address'' problems with its business model.
At that Saturday meeting board members both Jean Beaudin, Belmont town administrator, and Bob Hamel, Laconia's Ward 4 city councilman, pressed for changes in the board's business model as well as its operations.
The board had adopted a new business model earlier this while negotiations were still underway between a consortium which represented communities which are served by MetroCast and the cable service provider on a new contract, which ended the $30,000 yearly funding that MetroCast had been providing to LRPA-TV. That model called for much lower contributions from communities served by Metrocast while seeking to raise the balance of the $129,000 budget through sponsorships and fees for service.
When no communities signed up for the new contracts sent out by LRPA-TV, the board held an emergency meeting in mid-October at which it voted to send out bills to member communities based on last year's contribution levels.
Saturday, on Hamel's recommendation, the board decided to drop the proposed business plan, which was never fully implemented, and proceed with a hybrid plan which would seek to obtain at least 75 percent public funding for the station in the immediate future.
''I don't see the formula which has been discussed as working. It's too great an amount to raise,'' said Hamel.
Beaudin said that it was important that other communities served by LRPA-TV which have stopped paying to start picking up their share. ''We've got to get them back in the fold. They're getting all the public access programs for nothing and only six towns are paying for it.''
The LRPA board decided to send letters to those seven communities which have stopped funding and she said that she and Meredith town manger Phil Warren would be agreeable to visiting with selectmen and city council members in those communities to point out the importance of public access to their communities and why they should be involved in funding is operations.
Beaudin said that much of the discussion leading up to the new contract had centered on government meetings while the public access programs had been neglected and that it was important moving forward that public access be emphasized.
Hamel said that it was also important going forward that LRPA get recognition for the services it provides, like televising the Children's Auction at a cost of as much as $1,000 a day. ''We see MetroCast on the screen all the time but they don't lift a finger. They are required to put it out there. LRPA needs more recognition that week. They should have banner there which lets the public know that.''
He also says that LRPA was shorted by MetroCast in the new contract, which dropped all references ti LRPA-TV. ''The consortium left us out and made us go on our own for governmental programming.''
Linda Frawley of Belmont, who described herself as a strong supporter of public access, volunteered to work with LRPA to develop a media plan and also craft press releases. She said that she was too busy as a grant writer to work on grant applications for the station but did provide a list of foundations where grants might be obtained.

People at Saturday gathering want community to focus on answers to heroin problem

LACONIA — About two dozen people gathered Saturday morning at Rotary Park to express their concern over recent heroin related deaths in the Lakes Region.
Organized by Kathy Sorell of Meredith, a Salvation Army volunteer who works with homeless people in the city, the event brought together people who have lost close friends or family members to heroin overdoses as well as others concerned about the the rash of overdose deaths, including Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams.
She said she was so saddened when she learned of the two recent apparent heroin overdoses that she put the idea of an informal gathering on her Facebook page and at least 10 of her friends and others who feel the same way committed to attending Saturday's event.
Sorell said that she hopes that the gathering will be the start of community-wide effort to deal with the city's heroin and meth problems and will bring people together on a regular basis to focus on the issues surrounding drug use.
''There are folks here who have lost friends and family members and we want to get out the word not just about the individual tragedies but on the social impact of drug use,'' she said.
She said that she almost lost a close friend to heroin about a year ago and said that one of the differences in his life was that he had people who cared about him and were able to work with him. ''We have resources in our lives ,but many of these people on drugs don't. It's unacceptable to us that we can have a drug house in our city where a baby is living,'' said Sorell, who praised the Laconia Police Department for its work in dealing with the problem and it's educational efforts.
Sorell said that most of the drug-related deaths are people between the ages of 17 and 40 and that some way must be found to deal with those in that age bracket and provide the resources they need. ''Saying that it's all their fault isn't an answer. Many of these people have severe mental health problems and can't get any help. If you don't have health insurance there's no treatment available to you. That's wrong.''
Ed Darling of radio station WEMJ said that the station is inviting people who have experienced the loss of friends or relatives to drugs to take part in programs the station will be holding on Wednesday and Thursday to call or come into the station to be parts of those programs.


Kathy Sorell, a Salvation Army volunteer who works with homeless people in Laconia (left), speaks at a gathering Saturday morning in Rotary Park which was held in reaction to a rash of heroin related deaths recently in the Lakes Region. (Roger Amsden photo/for The Laconia Daily Sun)