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State insisted Laconia accept early education grant

LACONIA — The School District has tapped veteran early-childhood education administrator Julie Sackett to coordinate the 4-year SAMHSA grant recently conferred on the district by the N.H. Department of Education.

Sackett's first day with the district was Tuesday.

The N.H. Department of Education was awarded an $8.6-million grant from the federally administered Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) program and three schools in New Hampshire, including Laconia, were specifically chosen.

About $550,000 annually over the next four years will come into the Laconia School District. Some of the money will be spent for contracted services with local social service agencies.

SAMHSA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"They came to us several times," said Superintendent Terri Forsten last week, saying the DOE looked at a number of school districts and decided Laconia, Concord and Rochester could best benefit from the grant.

"They were insistent we get this," Forsten said.

A N.H. DOE PowerPoint presentation about the program that's posted online says the grant would go to states that had three school districts that qualified.

Those qualifications are based on demographics — Concord and Laconia have the 2nd and 3rd largest political refugee populations in the state according to DOE SAMHSA Administrator Mary Steady. Manchester, she said, has the largest refuge population.

Refugees were not the only criteria that the DOE used to decide which communities received the grant, said Forsten.

In addition, Laconia has a relatively high portion of its students who qualify for the federal "free and reduced-price" lunch program — a standard by which the federal government measures the relative wealth of a community.

According to statistics from the DOE, 57.21-percent of Laconia's students qualify for the lunch program, which is the highest among New Hampshire's cities with the exception of Franklin, that is 60.84-percent.

Other contributing factors to Laconia being solicited for grant participation by the state were its relatively low median household income, the number of people below the federal poverty line, gaps in early childhood education; gaps in promoting mental, emotional and behavioral health, gaps in connecting family, schools and communities, youth risk assessments; school suspension date and bullying and harassment data.

As for hiring an early childhood education coordinator, Forsten said that was not a specific condition of being award the grant, however she said she included it in her proposal because she wanted someone on staff who was already familiar with area social service and mental health agencies and how they interact with the School District.

She also said that the School District's ongoing relationship and access to social services and mental health services was one of the reasons the state felt Laconia was going to use the grant to achieve the stated goals of improving the emotional and social skills for students ages infant to 5 to prepare them for kindergarten.

Another goal of the SAMHSA grant is to substantially improve the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of young children and reduce the amount of violence and bullying within the School District.

According to its own documentation, SAMHSA's goal is to build a safe and supportive school and community by building partnerships among educational, behavioral health, and criminal justice systems.

The program aims to accomplish this by involving parents of children who are pre-school aged and who may be exposed at an early age to violence and or drug and alcohol abuse.

Areas of Sackett's focus will be promoting early social and emotional learning and development, promoting early social and emotional learning, connecting families with schools and curriculum, preventing behavioral health issues including drug and alcohol abuse, and creating safe and violence-free schools.

Sackett's specific goals are to ensure cross-agency and cross disciplines partnerships with local agencies like Genesis, the N.H. partnership for Public Health, the Boys and Girls Club, New Beginnings, and Horizons Behavioral Health.

In addition, Forsten said Sackett would be coordinating her efforts with the state Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), Juvenile Justice Systems, the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, the Office of Minority and Refugee Affairs, N.H. Parent and Family Organizations.

Forsten said the School District hasn't done a student Risk Behavioral Analysis in a few years and one of the goals for this four-year grant is for all students to take the test.

About 40 percent of the $550,000 available to Laconia each year will be spent on the grant administrator and the early childhood education position.

The balance, said Forsten will include subcontracting with Genesis Behavior Health for mental health services for some students, some parent training subcontract services with Lakes Region Community Services,  and some training classes for PBIS or a Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program that teachers will take to help students behave in school.

Forsten said the school will hire a student assistant coordinator who will work with students primarily at the high school level with students with substance issues. She said the School District used to have this position but at some point they lost it.

She said this person works to connect individual students with support and substance abuse counseling.

There is also be a bullying component. Forsten said the federal government gives the district a "menu" of choices of programs and with Sackett's being on board now, she will evaluate which programs will do the most good for Laconia's students.





Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:36

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'Most Exquisite' - Historic Moulton Opera House drape going out for restoration

LACONIA — The grand drape that hung in the Moulton Opera House for eight decades and lay hidden in a barn on Pleasant Street for another four will soon be restored and rigged to grace the Laconia Public Library.

Yesterday Christine Hadsel, executive director of Curtains Without Borders of Burlington, Vermont, and Robert Brier of Barre, Vermont, who together will restore and hang the curtain, came to the city to measure its dimensions and assess its condition in preparation for the project. Two years ago, when the grand drape was discovered, Hadsel, who has restored more than 250 painted curtains from opera houses, town halls and Grange halls in northern New England, called it "the most exquisite curtain I have ever seen."

Brenda Kean, executive director of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society who is managing the project, said that restoration work is expected to begin the week of October 20 and several volunteers are needed. No experience is necessary and volunteers will work under Hadsel's direction. Volunteers will be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those interested in contributing should contact Kean at 527-1278 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The grand drape, consisting of eight panels, each 30 inches wide, of medium weight scenery muslim, measures 26 feet, 10 inches across and 20 feet high. Like many of its counterparts, it was painted with a scene mimicking a romantic work of art. Eugene Cramer of Columbia, South Carolina chose "Morning on the Nile," painted by a Belgian artist, Jacob Jacobs, in 1859. Cramer copied the painting, added a frame around it and purple drapes at the upper corners to complete curtain. Hasdel said that the scene, painted in 1886, was the first Egyptian motif she had ever seen and among the earliest painted curtains she had encountered.

Apart from some water damage Hasdel pronounced the curtain in very good condition. She said that the water damage could be overcome and with cleaning the vibrancy of the colors would return.

However, there is no space in the library high enough to display the entire curtain. After it is restored, two uppermost panels will be removed and stored. Brier, who will design and assemble the rigging to hang the curtain, said that it operated much like an inverted window blind, but inverted. The bottom of the curtain will be attached to a rigid aluminum tube. With a system, which Brier likened to a set of "blocks and tackles," the curtain will be rolled and raised into a valence.

The Moulton Opera House, built by banker, industrialist and entrepreneur John C. Moulton, opened in August 1887 on the second and third floors of the brick building that housed O'Shea's Department Store. By 1909,the manager of venue said that with changing tastes he would no longer book traveling theater companies but rent the venue for movies and vaudeville, which he called "the cheaper shows." The Colonial Theater, almost four times its size with 1,450 seats, opened in 1915 the fortunes of the opera house began to wane and by the early 1930s it went dark, becoming a store room for the department store.

In 1970, the building was razed in the course of the urban renewal project. According to Wayne Fletcher, Sam Dunn, the owner of Pheasant Ridge County Club, purchased the contents of the theater and hired Fletcher and others to collects remove them. In 2012, Fletcher told The Daily Sun when they lowered the grand drape, he told them, "I think this is going to be history. Let's roll it up and take care of it."

Fletcher arranged to store the curtain in the barn on Pleasant Street then owned by Frank Neal, a banker. The property changed hands several times and most recently purchased at a foreclosure auction by Don Houle, an acquaintance of Fletcher. Fletcher asked Houle to see if there was a large roll of fabric in the barn and Houle offered to donate the curtain to the Laconia Historical and Museum Society. The rest, as Fletcher foresaw, is history.

Kean secured a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and in partnership with the city and library has arranged for the restoration and display of the grand drape.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:33

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Belknap Commission to ask judge to reconsider his ruling

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners plan to file a motion for reconsideration of the court order issued last week by Belknap County Superior Justice James D. O'Neill III which granted a request by the Belknap County Convention for a preliminary injunction which prohibits the commission from spending more money from any line item in the county budget than the convention appropriated. It also prevents commissioners from transferring more than $300 from any line item without the express approval of the executive committee of the convention.
Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) made the announcement when questioned about what had taken place at a "non-meeting" the commissioners held with their attorney when they met yesterday at the Belknap County complex.
''We disagree with the decision and feel we have been following the law,'' said Thomas, who declined to elaborate further.
Thomas had told The Daily Sun on Tuesday that, from the commission's standpoint, the judge had not been looking at the ramifications of his decision.
In the 2014 budget the convention adopted in March, $2,594,925 was appropriated for health insurance, the same amount expended in 2013. However, the commission, without approaching the executive committee, has transferred sufficient funds from other line items to fund the employer's share of the annual premium increase and has authorized those payments for the first three quarters of the year.
The commission has maintained that paying the employer's share of the increased cost of health insurance is a contractual obligation under the collective bargaining agreements negotiated with the unions representing county employees. Those contracts have expired and new agreements have not been ratified or funded.
In the interim the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) and New Hampshire Supreme Court have ruled that a public employer is required to maintain the "status quo" until a new agreement is ratified and funded. Furthermore, the court ruled that "that the health insurance benefits received by the bargaining unit members ... are conditions of employment" and the employer "must continue to provide these benefits during the status quo period regardless of the cost."
Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, insisted after Judge O'Neill's ruling that there are no current contracts and that convention met its obligation by budgeting the same amount in 2014 and as it did in 2013. During the budget deliberations by the convention the members went through the budget line by line and reduced the amount commissioners had included in their proposed budget to reflect what had been spent last year.
During the first three quarters of the year, the commission will have spent approximately $180,000 more on health insurance than the convention appropriated. One option would be to lay off a sufficient number of employees, whose remaining health insurance costs would match the overage. The effect would be to balance health insurance expenditures with what the convention appropriated while spending less than appropriated for wages and associated costs. The Daily Sun estimated that this option would require laying off about 30 employees.
Alternatively the commissioners could reduce the number of layoffs and request the executive committee to approve transferring the funds saved in wages to offset the overage in health insurance.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:19

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5 GOP candidates vying for 4 spots on Meredith & Gilford ballots for state rep

MEREDITH/GILFORD — With the retirement of two of the three incumbent Republicans representing District 2 (Meredith and Gilford) in the New House of Representatives, the GOP primary next week has drawn a field of five candidates vying for the four places on the general election ballot.

Reresentatives Colette Worsman and Bob Greemore, both of Meredith, chose not to seek re-election to a third term. Herb Vadney, also of Meredith who was elected in 2012, is the lone Republican in the district seeking re-election. He is joined in the primary by three candidates from Gilford — Glen Aldrich, Russ Dumais, George Hurt and John Hodson of Meredith.

Michael Hatch of Meredith, the first to file his candidacy, recently explained in a letter to local media that he entered the race to replace Worsman or Greemore and announced that "there are many other candidates on the ballot with more qualifications and experience than me." He said that while his name will appear on Tuesday's ballot, he wished the other candidates good luck and said he would support the winners of the primary.

Vadney was raised in Francestown, studied engineering at the University of New Hampshire and tended missiles in the United States Air Force for 27 years. During his first term in the House he compiled a voting record that earned him high marks from the House Republican Alliance and Americans for Prosperity, both conservative organizations.

"I wouldn't vote for anything that would jeopardize the state finances," Vadney said, explaining his opposition to the plan to extend health insurance to those without it. He also voted against raising the gas tax, explaining that the proceeds would be applied to purposes other than road construction and improvement. Although a former chairman of the Meredith Planning Board and commissioner of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, he voted for a bill to abolish regional planning commissions.

Vadney served on the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee and is committed to developing alternative sources of energy from local materials like biomass. He said that limiting the role of government by reducing spending and easing regulation offered the best means of strengthening the economy, while conceding a shrinking workforce remains "a major problem."

Turning to the future of the county jail, Vadney said that "there is no question that something has to be done in the next two years." Skeptical of the plans pursued by the Belknap County Commission, he said that more analysis is required before deciding whether to renovate or build anew.

Hurt, founder of former Hurt & Forbes Insurance Agency of Laconia and a consultant since its sale in 2000, represented Gilford for two terms in the House from 1994 to 1998 and ran unsuccessfully for the New Hampshire Senate in 2010, losing the primary to Jim Forsythe of Stratford. He also served on the state Board of Education, Post Secondary Education Commission and Judicial Conduct Commission.

Hurt emphasized that he is opposed to a personal income or general sales tax as well as any infringement of the right to bear arms. A strong advocate for a return to biennial sessions of the Legislature, suggesting that annual sessions of six months would save about $15 million, which could be added to the "rainy day fund" to improve the state's bond rating. He also intends to join Senators Chuck Morse (R-Salem) and Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) in seeking to ensure revenues from the gas tax are applied solely to roads and bridges. At the same time, he opposed the recent increase in the gas tax. He favors lowering business taxes and offering businesses incentives to promote economic growth.

"Doing nothing is not an option," Hurt said with respect to the Belknap County Jail. He suggested improving and maintaining the existing facility and adding a building to house additional inmates and women prisoners. "We can do this," he declared, stressing that any plan must be affordable to the county taxpayers.

Dumais, who owns and operates the Airport Country Store & Deli in Gilford, has long been engaged in local government, serving three terms as a selectman in Gilford and sitting on the Laconia Airport Authority for 23 years. He also served for eight years on the Water Supply and Pollution Control Commission, the forerunner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. "I'm not happy with what's going on," he said. "You need a permit for anything and everything. Government is too big, too cumbersome and too unresponsive."

Making his first bid for a state elective office, Dumais stressed his experience rather than his positions. "I'm a very sensible person," he said. "I only come to conclusions after doing my homework. That's what you have to do when you hold a public office," he continued, "look at every fact and try to come up with a sound conclusion. It's not brain surgery. It's common sense."

Dumais admitted "I don't know enough about the county jail to take a position, but I intend to delve into it." He described the $42-million figure being tossed about as "a big ticket," cautioning that "the jail shouldn't be a place where people want to be." Alluding to the tensions that have divided the Belknap County Convention and Belknap County Commission, Dumais said that "the dust has to settle" before progressing toward a solution.

Aldrich, the third candidate from Gilford, is a small building contractor who moved to New Hampshire from South Carolina four-and-a-half years ago. This is his first run for office. Describing himself as "very conservative," he said that he had no intention of entering the race, but "the final straw was the gas tax. It's not just the four cents at the pump," he continued, "it's at the grocery store, the hardware store, the drugstore and everywhere else." He is also troubled that "a third of the revenue is siphoned off and should be put back."

Aldrich too believes that lower taxes and relaxed regulation will encourage local businesses to expand as well as attract companies to move or open operations in the state. Excessive regulation, he said, discourages entrepreneurs and stifles competition, which are essential to to a strong economy.

Hodson grew up in Meredith, graduated from the University of New Hampshire then embarked on an academic career on the other side of the country, earning his Masters degree at the University of Alaska and doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley. A biochemist, he turned to computer science in San Francisco before returning to Longridge Farm in Meredith in the 1970s. "My father needed me," he said.

"I've been a moderate Republican all my life," Hodson said. He noted that he originally decided to run because of the conflict between the convention and the commission in Belknap County. "The Tea Party got control and really made a mess," he remarked. "Things really fell apart."

Hodson , who has farmed in Meredith for more than four decades, has been involved with the Belknap County Conservation District and New Hampshire Farm Bureau for almost all that time and also served on Lakes Region Planning Commission and Lakes Region Conservation Trust, each for more than a decade. In the House he said he would expect to serve on the Environment and Agriculture Committee, before which he has often testified,

Hodson confessed "I'm not an expert on jail construction," but ventured that the plan proposed by Ricci Greene Associates is "unaffordable." He said that "something can be done for much less that would bring the jail up to standard and provide the programs to reduce recidivism. "

The primary election is on Tuesday, September 9. The four top Republican vote getters will face Democrats Lisa DiMartino, Nancy Frost and Dorothy Piquado of Gilford and Sanra Mucci of Meredith in the general election on November 4.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 September 2014 02:05

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