By Thomas P. Caldwell
BRISTOL — The Newfound Area School District Budget Committee received an updated budget proposal on Nov. 13, reflecting changes the school board made to bring its FY 2015-2016 spending in line with the district's property tax cap.
The school board on Nov. 10 voted to approve a budget of $21,818,244, of which $20,134,617 represents general fund expenditures. With a separate warrant article calling for $305,620 to fund the first year of the negotiated agreement with the Newfound Area Teachers Association, the total general fund budget amounts to $20,440,237, which is $3,874 less than the amount allowed by the tax cap.
The school board originally was looking at a $21,039,997 general fund expenditure which, after accounting for anticipated revenue, would have forced the board to cut spending by $837,218 to meet the cap. Since then, Business Administrator Michael Limanni received the figures for the Health Trust insurance premium surplus, which increased the anticipated revenues upward from $7,999,045 to $8,240,377.
Spending adjustments, meanwhile, included a higher increase in health insurance premiums — 8.5 percent instead of the seven percent he had estimated — which added $38,373 to the budget; and a retiring teacher added another $12,137 to benefit payments. Offsetting the higher spending were staff changes coming next year that will reduce the non-teacher retirement costs by $44,353 and teacher retirement by $85,123.
With those changes, the school board still had to cut $520,794 from the superintendent's proposed budget to stay within the cap. The board trimmed $20,000 in textbooks, leaving the majority of the money the superintendent had proposed in that category. New furniture was reduced by $25,548; school board legal funds were cut by $10,000; and another $10,000 was cut by moving training funds to Title IIA. Other reductions were $46,500 in technology spending; $65,894 through a change in health insurance for specialists; $10,960 that would have gone toward refinishing gymnasium floors at Newfound Memorial Middle School and Newfound Memorial High School; $191,015 that would have replaced the telephone system at all schools; $16,000 for a new projector for the high school auditorium; $10,000 for painting buildings; $93,000 for the replacement of the roof at the middle school; and the elimination of $21,877 for administrators' wage increases.
The budget committee will be going through the budget in detail in preparation for its next session on Nov. 19 at the Bridgewater-Hebron Village School. At that time it will develop its own budget for presentation to the voters and make a decision on whether to support the negotiated teachers' contract.
On Thursday night, school board member Jeff Levesque of Groton explained the board's reasoning in making the cuts it did, as well as its decision to drop its push for all-day kindergarten. While six of the seven board members had voted last month to ask the superintendent to develop a plan to implement full-day kindergarten next year, the board reconsidered that decision in light of the challenge the tax cap presented.
"The majority felt that would have a whiplash effect at the deliberative session," Levesque said. "We expected it would result in the board's budget and the teachers' contract being shot down. It was very important to the school board that we didn't add anything back in that would jeopardize the budget or the contract, and that made for some hard decisions."
Harold "Skip" Reilly, vice-chair of the budget committee, asked whether cutting the money for building maintenance would "come back to bite us". Levesque said that, if there should be an emergency, such as a major roof leak at the middle school, the school board could come back to the budget committee seeking the release of the $400,000 in reserve funds the board had set aside from last year's unexpended fund balance.
Limanni noted that the district is developing a capital improvement plan with the intention of establishing capital reserve funds to set aside money to handle planned maintenance and equipment replacement. "With the tax cap, that's almost a necessity now," he said. "The middle school would be included in that."
As to dropping the new phone system which had been touted as being important to school safety, Levesque said they are hoping to work with the Town of Bristol to site a cellular tower that would improve phone reception in the district so teachers would have a way to communicate during an emergency. "It's not a solution, but it's a supportive measure," he said.
The budget committee also discussed the debate about reducing the number of facilities maintained by the district. The school board had voted to hire a consultant to do a thorough study of demographics, building capacity, and space needs to determine if it makes sense to close the middle school and transfer the seventh and eighth graders to the high school. The board previously voted to move sixth graders from the middle school to the elementary schools.
Limanni said the study is important because "We don't want to fill the elementary schools to capacity and end up stuffing kids into modulars."
At the end of the meeting, Reilly, who was presiding over the meeting, opened the floor to comments from the public.
Steve Favorite of Bristol, a member of the Newfound Education Conference Group that formed to bring business expertise to the operation of the school district, provided a history of the tax cap, explaining that the school district adopted it after several years of large budget increases that administrators could not justify. He said that, although the budget committee's task is not an easy one, his group is willing to help in any way it can.
Favorite noted that there are grants to assist communities with security needs and he said the recent armed robbery of Bristol's Rite Aid Pharmacy, as well as an incident at Dunkin' Donuts, could be used to justify an application for funding for the phone system the district needs.
He also noted that he has been working on a cell tower solution and that the Lakes Region Planning Commission has worked with demographics and could be helpful to the school district.
John Sellers of Bristol raised the issue of Hill student tuition, saying Newfound needs to demonstrate that it cares about its buildings and its technology if it wants to attract those students. Hill is trying to negotiate tuition agreements with Newfound, Winnisquam, and Merrimack Valley, as well with Franklin where it currently sends its middle and high school students.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 November 2014 12:38
BELMONT — The cost to demolish the 120-year-old Gale School building could run upward of $43,000, according to information given to the Shaker Regional School Board this week.
School District Building and Grounds Director Doug Ellis told the board at its meeting Tuesday that he had received two bids from New Hampshire demolition companies and was waiting to receive a proposal from a third.
The historic but empty building sets on perch, to the rear of the Middle School in Belmont village.
The bid from Danley Demolition was for $43,500 which would pay for demolition of the wood-frame structure as well as the cost of removing the bell tower and bell prior to actual demolition. The bid submitted by New Hampshire Demolition was for $44,250 to cover the cost of tearing the building down and an additional $15,000 to remove the bell tower and bell.
The School Board had requested to know how much it would cost to save the tower and the 3-foot-diameter brass bell.
Ellis said he was awaiting a third price proposal from Spears Brothers.
On Tuesday the board asked Ellis to get information comparing the costs of merely filling in the building's cellar hole as opposed to removing the stone and brick foundation.
The Gale School was built in 1894 and was last used for classes in 1985, when the Belmont Elementary School opened. Since then the district has used the building for cold storage. In the ensuring years there have one or two proposals submitted to School District voters to have the building torn down, according to Ellis, but matter was tabled at the School District Meeting.
The demolition of the building would need to be approved by a special vote at a School District Meeting, School District Business Administrator Debbie Thompson said.
In other business, the School District administration presented its proposed budget for the coming fiscal year to the board. The 2015 budget is $299 less that the district's current operating budget of $21 million, Thompson said. The board will be scheduling meetings in the coming weeks to review the budget plan with various department heads, she added.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 November 2014 12:33
LACONIA — The manager of the area's largest food pantry is appealing to the public to donate turkeys needed to fill Thanksgiving food baskets.
Jo Carignan, manager of the food pantry operated by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said that she expects that 800-plus families will qualify for Thanksgiving baskets this year. With the holiday now less that two weeks away, she has received 200 turkeys.
"I need about 600 more" she said Friday morning.
Carignan, who has worked at the food pantry for 24 years, said that she always gets anxious as the time approaches to give the food baskets to needy families. But, "This year I'm panicking earlier," she said.
She urged those who can, to donate a turkey, preferably frozen, weighing around 20 pounds, explaining that most food baskets go to families of four to six people.
One of the reasons Carignan is worried about the level of donations is that organizations which have typically called her with promises of donating a number of turkeys have so far not done so. She said some of these groups are charitable organizations. Others are local businesses.
Carignan noted that in past years a local manufacturer has given turkeys to its employees, and that some of those turkeys ended up being donated to the food pantry. But this year the company opted to give its employees gift cards instead of turkeys.
Anyone who wants to donate one or more turkeys can drop them off at the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry at 1269 Union Ave., Monday through Saturday between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m., between now and next Saturday, Nov. 22, when the food basket distribution will begin. Carignan said the pantry would also appreciate the donation of fresh vegetables.
"We can use everything," she said.
Carignan expected the number of requests for Thanksgiving food baskets would be "up a little" from last year. "But not a whole lot. It's always a guessing game," she observed.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 November 2014 12:29
BELMONT — About 100 Belmont Middle School sixth graders have worked together on an integrated Human Body Project over the last three weeks, which has created an impressive display of art work on walls on the third floor of the school, including a giant skeleton model more than 12 feet long which is suspended from the ceiling.
''We made the skeleton through trial and error in the classroom. At first it fell apart but we finally got it to hold together,'' says 11-year-old Raven Gates, who along with her 12-year-old partner Katharyne Davies, were among the students who helped put together the framework.'
''We measured our own body parts and then multiplied the average by three so we could make the skeleton,'' said Davies, who said that the skeleton is made from recyclable materials, including cardboard and plastic bottles and wrapped with window shrink wrap to hold it together.
Both she and Gates agreed that head of the skeleton bears a resemblance to E.T. ''It's fun to watch the reaction of the other students to the skeleton,'' said Gates.
The project used several curricular areas, including science, art, technology and computers as well as the school's enrichment program.
''It's a STEM project involving science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics,'' says art teacher Jaylene Bengston, who watched Friday as Alex Connell, a student teacher in the art program, made minor repairs to the skeleton to keep it firmly attached to the ceiling.
Technology/computer teacher Celeste Craig said the said that students especially enjoyed the technology part and created their own videos which explained their poster and project.
Sixth graders Gabby Day and Aurora Couto worked as a team to prepare a poster on the human nose and even created their own webpage as part of the project.
''It was a lot of fun,'' said Day, who along with Couto, demonstrated how people could use a QR code placed on their poster or model download related videos from their website to a smartphone.
Students were assigned body systems or organs to study and then worked together in groups of up to four according to science teachers Dianne Klabechek and Tom White. The groups then used computers for research and the preparation of their posters.
In the art room, they made scale models of the organ or system they had been assigned and then spent time on computers making their own web pages and videos and incorporating a photo of the poster they had created.
An open house for parents, which was held Thursday night, brought out about 35 families to view the completed projects.
Gates said that the students had a good time explaining their projects to the visitors and received many favorable comments from their guests about the work they had done.
''It was nice to be able to tell people what we had done and have them ask us questions,'' she said.
Last Updated on Saturday, 15 November 2014 12:22