Council looks to raise teacher pay while preserving tax cap



LACONIA — Members of the City Council and the School Board will try to fashion a deal to give teachers significant pay raises despite the constraints of the city's property tax cap.
The council decided on that strategy at a packed meeting Monday night as an alternative to an immediate vote for or against a five-year contract approved by the teachers' union and the School Board.
Several dozen people overflowed the council chamber, many wearing red, Laconia School District-realted T-shirts. Some in the crowd complained teachers are grossly underpaid, while others argued against tax hikes for salary increases.
Amanda Youssef, a fourth-grade teacher at Elm Street School, testified before the council. She has a daughter who will be entering kindergarten next year.
"As parents we're gravely concerned about the future of Laconia schools," she said.
Last year, the School District made $1.7 million in budget cuts, and this year nearly $900,000 in cuts are anticipated. Teachers, who are among the lowest-paid in the region, are working without a contract. Yearly salary step increases for experience have not been granted in four out of the last 12 years.
"As a teacher I can share with you that I've sacrificed tens of thousands of dollars during times our contracts were frozen to save other teachers positions because that is what is best for our students," Youssef said.
"I am appalled when I research other districts and see what I would be making had I not made the decision to come back and continue to contribute to the city I love."
Even more troubling, Youssef said, is that many quality teachers are leaving the district to seek higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

Longtime Laconia resident Richard Hodgman asked the council to consider that some people can't afford tax hikes.
"I feel like a piece of red meat that has been thrown into a lion's cage as I see all these beautiful teachers here who have done a great job," he said. "But on the other hand I have lived here since 1960, worked here since 1960, and believe me it's getting tougher and tougher."
He said his costs of medical care continue to increase, while his income remains static.
"I hope that the council here remembers there are an awful lot of older people here who really, really can't afford some big, big changes," Hodgman said.
He said he would support major teacher raises under one condition.
"I'll go along with it if you guys can get me that same raise," he said.
The tentative contract would ultimately put Laconia teacher salaries at or above most other districts in the area, but the plan requires City Council approval.

A presentation to the School Board before it approved the contract indicated the agreement was contingent on a 2017-2018 tax cap override sufficient to fund a budget increase of at least $850,000.
A tax-cap override is a non-starter for most council members.
Growth provided under the tax cap inflation factors will provide $508,000 in additional money that could be applied to pay raises in the school district in the first year of the new contract.
School board member Mike Persson said there are variables that make it difficult to calculate exactly how much additional funding would be needed initially.

One of these variables is state funding. 

The district could get as much as $400,000 in additional money from the state for full-day kindergarten under pending legislation. Some of this money could free up for the contract money the district now spends on full-day kindergarten.
However, since the legislation hasn't passed yet, uncertainty remains.

Also, 17 teachers are leaving the district or making plans to do so. It's possible that the district could save money if their replacements are less experienced and can be hired at a lower wage.

One provision of the tentative pact calls for the council to place a measure on the November ballot that would allow voters to place a floor on the tax cap for the next five years. That floor would allow for district budget increases of at least $850,000 yearly, a figure that would include whatever growth occurs through annual growth in the tax cap. Such growth comes under a formula tied to increases in the Consumer Price Index (urban) and new building permits less demolitions.
Some council members hope that additional state funding for full-day kindergarten together with the natural growth of the tax cap could provide enough money for the contract so that they don't have to consider overriding the cap or asking voters to consider altering the cap.
Council member Henry Lipman said creative solutions have been found for school funding in the past, and he thinks one can be found in this instance.
"I think we can find a way to solve the gap between what the tax cap provides and what is needed to fund a contract without having to resort to overriding the tax cap, which ends up being a scary thought for those on fixed incomes," he said. "There are a number of different ideas that can be pursued to stay within the tax cap and still meet the gap that is here."
Council members, school board members and staff are to hold meetings at 3 p.m. in the council chambers Friday and June 2 to pursue these ideas. The council will then meet on June 5 to consider the contract again. 



Laconia asking for special election to fill Fisher's House seat

LACONIA — The Laconia City Council is asking the governor and Executive Council to approve a specail election to fill the New Hampshire House seat left vacant by the resignation of Republican Rep. Robert Fisher.
Fisher represented Belknap District 9, which takes in Laconia and Belmont. He resigned in a scandal over his creation of a website critical of women.
The City Council has requested that the election coincide with municipal elections, with a primary on Sept. 12 and a general election on Nov. 7.
City Manager Scott Myers said his understanding is that Belmont town officials also support an election to replace Fisher.
Rep. Frank Tilton, R-Laconia, was re-elected last fall, but has been ill and was never sworn in. He is making a recovery and intends to serve in the next legislative session, which begins in January.


Connor Craigie named Presidential Scholar

GILFORD — He's described by Gilford High School Principal Anthony Sperazzo as "the epitome of a 21st century learner."
And Connor Craigie, a senior, is so highly regarded by his teachers that not one, but two of them, nominated him for recognition as a U.S. Presidential Scholar.
Craigie, one of 160 honored nationwide, will be attending a gathering in Washington, D.C., on June 18-20 at which U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and possibly even President Donald Trump, will be present to greet the young scholars.
Craigie is one of only 20 Presidential Scholars chosen in the career and technical track nationwide and is unique in that he attends the Huot Technical School in Laconia as well as Gilford High School, where math teacher Gene Duquette was one of two who nominated him.
"He's a problem solver with an engineer's mind and a willingness to learn," says Duquette.
Ken Martin, an instructor in manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Huot Center, says that he's impressed with Craigie's innovative abilities and his quick grasp of the key elements of reaching a solution to solve a problem.
"When we went to Eptam Plastics in Northfield he had an ear to ear grin watching the manufacturing process. People there were so impressed that they wanted to get ahold of him for an internship," says Martin.
Craigie has been a leader for three years on the school's robotics team which competes statewide, regionally and nationally for honors in the FIRST program designed by inventor Dean Kamen. He said that he had to use "a ton of calculus this year with the robotics team" and also had to learn a lot about wiring and electrical systems to help make the team's robot complete a variety of tasks.
He's also a talented athlete and plays for the undefeated Golden Eagles tennis team, which has won more than 50 straight matches and is listed as a scholar athlete at Gilford..
Last summer Craigie attended the Saint Paul's School summer program on artificial intelligence and this fall will be headed to Worcester Polytechnic Institute where he will be in the robotics engineering program.
He recently built his own desk fan for less than $5, using a repurposed car window motor which he removed the gear box from and then reconfigured. He also used an old power supply to convert alternating current to 18 and a half volt direct current power for the fan.
Craigie says that he enjoys the challenge of solving problems and working with others in a team setting to complete projects.
He says that he's always been fascinated by robotics, going back to when he was a seventh grader in Alton and was a member of the Legorobotics team.

Connor Craigie, a senior at Gilford High School, shows a fan that he made for less than $5. He has been named a U.S. Presidential Scholar and will be attending a ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 18-20 at which he will be honored along with 159 other Presidential Scholars. (Courtesy photo)