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With no attractive options open, Newfound will stay the course on school configuration

BRISTOL — Concerns about decreasing student populations and the state of some school buildings prompted the Newfound Area School Board to consider reconfiguring the educational structure of the district. Following a report from the superintendent on Monday evening, members concluded that the current class grouping is appropriate, unless the downward census continues over the next few years.
Board Chair Vincent Paul Migliore of Bridgewater said the board's request that Superintendent Stacy Buckley look into reconfiguring the school district came about because the trend of falling student populations is showing no sign of leveling off and because his town had asked the board to look into what cost savings might be realized by consolidating some of the schools.
As the first of the superintendent's goals for the 2013-2014 academic year, Buckley, in her first year on the job, made a comprehensive investigation into the history of the seven-town district and the capacity of its schools. She looked at current enrollment and utilization of space at the schools, and how shifting the configurations would affect the various buildings and the delivery of education.
Specifically, she looked at having all of the elementary schools provide kindergarten through Grade 8 or kindergarten through Grade 6, or returning to a K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 structure; or even doing a total reconfiguration that would group all pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students together at the Danbury school, grades 1-3 at Bristol Elementary, and grades 4-5 at the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School, keeping the higher grades where they are.
Included in her analysis was the possible closing of another outlying school, as the district finally succeeded in doing with the Alexandria Village School after many attempts and plenty of push-back from residents in that town. When the Newfound Area School District had formed, part the agreement was that none of the small, outlying schools would close without the residents of that town supporting it. The only school to close prior to Alexandria's was the Bridgewater Hill school in the early years of the Newfound District.
One by one, Buckley described the pros and cons of each option, with the cons outweighing the pros. She concluded that it was not feasible to adopt a K-6 or K-8 option because it would create the need for additional staff members while adversely affecting the district's ability to provide for unified arts and athletics and, in the case of K-6, the loss of foreign languages and algebra. There also would be additional costs to align the curriculum between schools and update the libraries at the schools, as well as creating scheduling problems with more lunch periods to fit in to accommodate all the students.
The superintendent acknowledged that the 4-4-4 arrangement the district originally had when it built the new high school "can work" but she said many parents object to having fifth graders interacting with eighth graders. Making that move would potentially allow the district to close the Danbury and New Hampton elementary schools, but with additional costs in transportation.
Transportation was the only reason for objection to her "radical" option of grouping the students by grade at different schools, Pre-K and K, 1-3, and 4-5. Jeff Levesque of Groton said that would be the perfect option, once the district can teleport students from their homes to the distant schools they would be attending.
Buckley said that, if the board wanted to pursue one of the options, she would recommend setting up a committee to study it in greater detail.
"If cost is a factor, would it be more cost-effective to close Bristol Elementary School, the New Hampton Community School, Newfound Memorial Middle School, and Danbury Elementary School, and build a new school?" she posited.
Her final suggestion, to create a facilities committee to look into issues of space, utilization, and the need for maintenance on the district's buildings, was the one the board took to heart after accepting her report. Ruby Hill of Danbury made the motion to establish a standing facilities committee to do long-range planning, and the motion passed unanimously. Migliore asked the superintendent to make a recommendation on the structure of the committee. Buckley had said it would be helpful to have members of the community as well as staff and board members taking part.
In ending her presentation, Buckley raised the question of whether it would be better for her spend her time looking at curriculum, instruction, and assessment, rather than restructuring the district. Aligning curriculum, she said, was the most pressing issue among the staff who are concerned about students arriving in seventh grade from the various schools with different levels of skills and different "vocabularies".
Throughout her talk, Buckley stressed that she looks at the system as being one district, rather than seven towns. While each town has its own character, and should preserve that character, she said that, educationally, it is important for all students to receive the same education.
"Everyone, both staff and students, should have a good space to work and learn," she said.
Although he ultimately voted for the facilities committee, Lloyd Belbin of Bristol said he felt the school district should look at acquiring land for new buildings before going ahead with a facilities committee. "We can go on for years with what we've got," he said.
Migliore repeated a recommendation he has been making at the last few meetings, that the community view the DVD "Community and Consequences" which is on the district website. It describes the problem of young people leaving the state for employment elsewhere, partly because of a lack of affordable housing here. That has created many problems for communities and school districts, accounting — along with the trend toward home schooling — for the decreases in student populations in the public schools.
He noted that, while the trend looks to continue for some time, it could change with some school districts looking to split up and align with other districts. The Hill School District has been making overtures for some time about withdrawing from School Administrative Unit 18 and tuitioning its students to Bristol. On the other hand, Migliore noted that there had been a move by Danbury at town meeting to withdraw from Newfound and join another district, which would reduce revenues for the district.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 01:50

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Free Putnam Fund concert on Friday night will feature Grammy-nominated Roomful of Blues

LACONIA — Roomful of Blues, which at 45-years-old has a distinguished history and five Grammy Award nominations, will perform a free Putnam Fund concert at Laconia High School at 7 p.m. Friday night.
The band has won seven Blues Music Awards, including one for Blues Band of the Year in 2005, and twice have won the DownBeat International Critics Poll as the Best Blue Band.
Attendees will be seated on a first come, first served basis.
New England's Roomful of Blues, based in Rhode Island, have celebrated the jump blues, R&B and early rock 'n' roll music of the horn-powered golden era of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Roomful don't simply recreate the famous and obscure 78s and 45s of those years. Inspired by the spirit of the groundbreaking bands of the post-World War II decade, they've breathed new life into vintage songs, infusing them with boundless energy and fiery, swinging solos and vocals.
Currently an eight-piece unit led by guitarist Chris Vachon, the band has never sounded fresher or stronger. In 2010, singer Phil Pemberton took over the vocal duties, bringing his sweet and soulful vocals and adding another bright new dimension to the jazzy, jump-blues musical roots.
Their winning combination of jump, swing, blues, R&B and soul remains their calling card, as does their ability to fill the dance floor. Along with new members, bassist John Turner, trumpeter Doug Woolverton, drummer Chris Rivelli, and keyboardist Rusty Scott, and longtime members baritone and tenor saxophonist Mark Earley, tenor and alto saxophonist Rich Lataille.
As leader of his own bands for the last 20 years, Massachusetts native Phil Pemberton has found himself playing to intimate clubs all the way to large festivals, throughout the U.S., England, France and Canada. In addition, The Philip Pemberton Band was also the 1st Western band to play in the former capital of China, Xi'an on a two week tour broadcast to half a billion people throughout Asia.
Chris Vachon, guitarist, is a true multi-talent. His prowess as a guitar slinger is well documented, and his strengths as a producer and songwriter grow from album to album. He produced the band's six most recent albums — There Goes the Neighborhood (1998), Watch You When You Go (2001), Live at Wolf Trap (2002) the Grammy nominated That's Right! (2003), and Standing Room Only (2004) and Raisin' A Ruckus (2008) after co-producing all of Roomful's other albums recorded in the '90s. Chris' songs — such as "Turn It On! Turn It Up!," "Running Out of Time," "She'll Be So Fine," "Blue, Blue World," and "Dynamite", have become firm favorites, bringing many new fans into the Roomful fold.

CAPTION: Roomful of Blues Promo Photo in AA
Roomful of Blues will perform at Laconia High School Friday night. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 01:46

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Accused murderer talk police he was a practiced student of choke holds

LACONIA — Newly unsealed documents regarding a June 10 homicide at a mental health group support home on on McGrath Street revealed that accused murderer Kasey Riley, 20, was allegedly involved in a fight with housemate and victim Zachary March over videos.

According to affidavits obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division, Riley told responding police that he and March had been sitting in the living room of the home. He said March was watching television while Riley was watching videos about hunting on You Tube via his cell phone.

State Police investigators said Riley told them that March objected to the videos Riley was watching because he felt they were "gory and cruel."

Riley told police March came at him and swung his fists at him. He said March said he was going to knock out Riley and "then I'm going to get a knife and kill you."

His story was that March got him on his back and Riley put his legs and arms around March and was squeezing him. He alleged told police he was able to secure him and "squeezed his neck for about thirty seconds" and that March "fake passed out."

Riley claims he let go and March picked up a pen and tried to stab him but stabbed the couch instead.

The two allegedly kept wrestling until Riley said he got March's neck between his legs and squeezed his arteries for what he said was about ten minutes.

Riley told police he smelled "flatulence" and March started convulsing. Riley allegedly said "Oh my God, I think I've killed him" and got water and dumped it on March in an attempt to revive him.

A third male who lives in the house told police that Riley had previously placed him in three separate choke holds about two days before the homicide. The unidentified male said he had trouble breathing and started to panic. The same male also said that on Sunday, June 9, he allegedly heard Riley talking on his cell phone and that he seemed agitated and was yelling.

An unidentified woman who also lives in the house told police that Riley came upstairs and started screaming her name and saying that March was "out cold." she said she ran downstairs and called 911.

The woman also said that Riley was pacing back and forth saying "What am I going to do?" She told state police that when police arrived and took Riley out to the porch to speak with him, he turned to her and said, "I guess I'm going to prison for murder."

The same woman also said she, Riley and March would smoke marijuana "on a nightly basis" however she had not smoked any on June 9 and had not seen either Riley or March smoke pot that night.

The lead state police investigator said Riley allegedly demonstrated various choke holds to an officer and told him he had practiced them ofter. He allegedly told police he had held his friends in choke holds during horseplay and had once choked his mother who needed to be hospitalized as a result.

He also said Riley told him he understood that he could "choke someone out" by placing pressure on his or her arteries.

Riley was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on two counts of second-degree homicide — one that he recklessly caused March's death and one that he negligently caused March's death. They are different theories of the same crime.

According to Genesis Behavior Health Executive Director Maggie Pritchard, who was interviewed in June, 24 McGrath Street is one of two support homes the agency owns in Laconia.

She said a "support home" differs from a "group home" in that a "support home" provides homes for people who might become homeless and have some kind of emotional or mental disability. A "support home" has programs but no 24-hour supervision. A "group home," said Pritchard, has 24-hour supervision.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 01:32

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County will submit 'bare bones' budget that increases tax by 4%

LACONIA — After making a second round of cuts on Monday, the Belknap County Commission will recommend a budget of $26,570,997 for 2014 when it meets this morning. The budget represents an increase appropriations of $182,030 or 0.7 percent and an increase in the amount to be raised by property taxes of $555,892 or 4 percent.

"We chopped like hell," said Commissioner John Thomas of Belmont, who chairs the commission. "This is pretty much a bare bones budget. We did all we could without laying people off and we will do anything not to lay people off in this economy. " But, anticipating another uphill struggle to win approval of the budget from the Belknap County Convention, Thomas said "nothing will be enough for them."

The total appropriation recommended by the commission is $3.2 million, or 10.6 percent, less than in 2008, while the amount to be raised by taxes is $173,450, or 1.2 percent, more than in 2008.

Earlier this month the commission pared nearly $2.5 million from the appropriations requested by county departments to reach a budget of $27,0113,237 and this week trimmed another $442,240 to limit the increase to less than 1 percent. The commissioners decided to forego creating three new positions in the Department of Corrections at a cost of $227,000 and eliminated two vacant positions at the county nursing home to spare another $108,500. The replacement of windows at the Belknap County Superior Court at $60,000 and two compressors for the HVAC system at the county complex at $16,000 were shelved. The information technology budget was cut by $15,000 and the maintenance budget by $10,000 while foregoing two television sets for the nursing home saved $2,000.

Thomas said the commission will recommend spending $100,000 for a surveillance system at the county complex, which is the only significant capital project left in the budget.

The budget includes a 1.6-percent cost-of-living raise and three-percent "step" increase for eligible employees. The commissioners also funded bonuses for unused sick days and length of service as well as the increase in the employer share of health insurance premiums, all of which are contractual obligations prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the union representing county employees. The convention struck funding for both bonuses and increased health insurance premiums from the 2013 budget, but the commission paid the bills anyway by shuffling monies within departmental budgets.

"Now this will be convention's budget and their responsibility," said Thomas. "We have given them a bare bones budget to pay for what we thought the county needed."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 November 2013 01:11

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