Franklin offering lower student tuition rate to entice Hill to stay

By Thomas P. Caldwell

FRANKLIN — Members of the Franklin School Board are hoping their counterparts in Hill will see the wisdom of establishing an AREA review board that could revise the tuition formula contained in the current Authorized Regional Enrollment Area agreement between the Hill and Franklin school districts.
The Hill board meets on Wednesday, Jan. 14, and it will take up Franklin's request that proposes using the tuition calculator the Newfound Area School District developed in its bid to accept Hill students in grades 7 through 12.
Superintendent Robert McKenney said using Newfound's formula to calculate the per-student cost to send the students to Franklin would save Hill $103,735.25 in tuition costs, compared to sending them to Newfound. Additionally, by staying with Franklin, Hill would avoid paying the $25,000 plus interest that Franklin would lose in state building aid if Hill were to sever its current agreement.
As it stands, the AREA agreement would require Hill to spend $864,847.32 to send students to Franklin next year. The figure was a surprise to everyone and when McKenney presented those figures to the Hill board last month, he said, "I sit here stunned. If we were going to fudge the numbers to win your support, we wouldn't have come up with this."
The number was high because of increased spending for Franklin schools at a time when the overall student population is decreasing.
Newfound, on the other hand, had proposed a per-pupil rate that would put total tuition at $839,917. Winnisquam, which also was competing for the Hill tuition students, came in with a cost of $712,918.
The Hill board decided to pursue a tuition agreement with Newfound while remaining part of School Administrative Unit 18 which serves Franklin and Hill.
The Franklin board, meeting on Jan. 6, voted to aggressively press Hill to remain with the city, and it sent a letter to the Hill board stating, "the Franklin School Board would ... be open to a revision of the tuition formula so that the tuition going forward would be calculated using the same formula utilized by (Newfound) in its most recent tuition proposal."
At its Jan. 12 meeting, the Franklin School Board agreed with the 10 talking points offered by Attorney Matthew Upton: There is no reason to dissolve a long-term relationship over short-term disagreements; staying with Franklin will continue a 50-year partnership; Franklin is willing to amend the AREA agreement to use Newfound's formula; Hill taxpayers could save $100,000 by engaging in an AREA review board; Franklin has comparable educational programming to Newfound; there would be less disruption to Hill students if they remained with Franklin; both Franklin and Hill should try to resolve their differences before dissolving the AREA agreement; the Franklin board would give the Hill School District a greater say in the operation of schools than Newfound would provide in a tuition agreement; and all of the necessary support systems and logistics to accommodate Hill students are already in place in Franklin.

Hill Vice-Chair Greg Husband called Franklin's proposal a good-faith effort on their part, but he said, "We're at their mercy at this point."
The Hill board, in response to Franklin's letter, wrote, "Hill School Board has had some discussions with our attorney regarding the issues raised in said letter. The board members will continue these discussions amongst ourselves at the Hill School Board meeting on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. The board anticipates that it will have a more definitive response to said letter on Thursday or Friday of this week."

County legal battles cost taxpayers $70,000+ in 2014

LACONIA — Belknap County's legal bills for 2014 topped $70,000 and nearly $32,000 of that amount remains unpaid.
On Monday the Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention declined to take up a request for transferring $31,852.54 from one line item to another to pay the county's outstanding legal bills, all of which have been received since October 31.
Committee members noted that the transfer requests were not signed by new commissioners Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) and Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), both of whom said they had not had time to study them.
''We'll be happy to give you a few weeks to study them,'' said Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), newly elected chairman of the Executive Committee. The committee twice last month turned down requests for transfers to pay those bills.
Commissioner DeVoy said ''it is my intention to pay the bills once we get them sorted out.''
The unpaid bills all relate to disputes between the former Belknap County Commissioners and the Belknap County Convention and its Personnel Committee. There are two bills for $6,856.98 and $1,080 from the Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella law firm, which represented the commission in it's challenge to the convention's successful attempt to win a temporary injunction prohibiting transfers between budget line items of greater than $300 without approval of the convention's Executive Committee.
There are also two bills from the Upton and Hatfield law firm, which represented the Personnel Committee in its handling of Mathew Logue 's appeal of his firing as Superintendent of the Belknap County Home by commissioners in late August. Those bills are for $4,973.58 and $1,325,30.
There are two bills from the Drummond Woodsum law firm which represented the commission at a hearing on Logue's dismissal and on an appeal of the Executive Committee's reinstatement of Logue. Those bills are for $12,223,28 and $4,220.90.
There is also an unpaid bill from the Wescott Law firm for $1,172.50 relating to a personnel issue.
Legal bills which have been paid through the end of the year total $39,574.59 and many of those relate to the year-long struggle between the former commissioners and the convention over line item budget authority.
The convention's legal fees, originally budgeted at $5,000, shows $18,000 having been spent, including $7,317.95 to Upton and Hatfield LLP regarding litigation filed by former Rep. Ruth Gulick and other members of the convention's Democratic minority which sought to overturn a decision made to allow Rep. Guy Comtois to vote by telephone on a crucial vote on the 2014 budget.
Legal fees charged to the convention's account also include payments to the Donahue, Tucker Ciandella law firm for budgetary authority issues of $1,272.32 in March, $814.73 in April and $5,746 in October.
Upton and Hatfield was paid for three different Personnel Committee billings of $514 and $1,446 in August and $294 in September.
Legal expenditures charged to the administration totaled $16,754.59 for a budget listed at $17,000.
Those expenditures included payments to the Donahue, Tucker and Ciandella law firm for budgetary authority issues of $216 in May, $3,251.94 in August and $4,797.52 in October. There is also a payment of $3,414.26 to the Drummond Woodsum law firm for a Personnel Committee issue in October.
Of the $5,000 budget for nursing home legal expenses there are four bills from Wescott Law PA for personnel issues for $597.22, $341.25, $402.50 and $1,029 and $2,504.03 from Drummond Woodsum relating to the Personnel Committee.
Convention chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) said ''we'll have to sort these out'' and said that money that the Executive Committee agreed to transfer in November was intended to pay The Upton and Hatfield law firm for its $4,973.58 and $1,325,30 bills for its work on behalf of the Personnel Committee.
When the Executive Committee met on December 1 to take up the proposed transfer of $28,000 to pay legal bills the request was denied by a 6-3 vote after former County Convention Chairperson Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) questioned why the Personnel Committee's attorneys hadn't been paid but while attorneys representing the commissioners had been paid.
County Administrator Debra Shackett told the committee members that the oldest bills had been paid first.
Worsman maintained that the transfer of $8,000 to the convention's legal line made on October 27 was intended to pay the Upton and Hatfield firm.
But Shackett, County Financial Director Glenn Waring and former Belknap County Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) maintained that the convention lacks the authority to direct the commissioners on what bills should be paid.
Members of the newly-elected Executive Committee George Hurt (R-Gilford) and Brian Gallagher (R-Tilton) have expressed reluctance to vote on budget transfers for legal fees until they have more information about the fees and under what authority they were incurred.

Norman Lyford harvesting ice on Squam Lake for 70th consecutive year

SANDWICH — The annual ice harvest which will fill the antique ice boxes at the Rockywold-Deepahven camps on Squam Lake next summer got underway yesterday at Squaw Cove, a few miles up Rte. 113 from the camps.
Taking part for the 70th straight year was Norman Lyford, 88, of Ashland, who first started working on the ice harvest with his father, Colby, back when they used horses to pull the blocks of ice from the lake and haul them to ice houses.
''We used a one-lunger engine with a saw like you'd use for cordwood. It had a wide belt which ran the saw,'' said Lyford, explaining that a one-lunger was an engine with only one cylinder that made a distinctive pop and chugging sound while running.
The three-day harvest will see about 3,600 blocks of ice, weighing between 125 and 150 pounds each, cut from the ice and pushed and pulled through a 16-inch wide channel where they are winched up a ramp and layered into the back of a pickup truck, which hauls them away 15 blocks at a time as a new pickup truck comes onto the ice to handle the next load.
John Jurczynski, manager of the Rockywold-Deephaven camps, oversees about a dozen workers during the three-day harvest and says that about 20 years ago the camps tried to switch to electric refrigerators but got no support from their customers, who wanted the old, historic ice boxes instead.
He said that the ice harvest tradition stretches back over 100 years at the camp and usually takes place in mid or late January, when the ice reaches a depth of at least 12 inches on one of the two coves used as harvest sites.
Ice harvesters use a 36-inch motorized ice saw attached to a sled-like undercarriage to cut 40-foot-long, 16-inch wide ice blocks which are then sawed across the long cut at 20-inch intervals. They use power saws to complete the cuts, using power saws with no lubrication on their chains to keep the lake water free of contaminants.
The blocks are then pushed with long hooked poles across the open water to the narrow channel where they are lined up for loading.
Helping push the blocks along was CeeCee White of Sandwich, whose husband Dave was working with a power saw, and will spend all three days at the harvest.
''We get to keep about 150 blocks of ice for our ice house,'' says White, who says that she and her husband use an ice box instead of a refrigerator at their home, which produces its own electricity and is not connected to the electrical grid.
''We've been taking part in the ice harvest ever since 2002 and think it's a great tradition,'' says White.