Net gain? Push for tennis in city schools hits up against budget woes


LACONIA — Like an ill-timed lob, an effort to reinstate tennis in Laconia schools may arrive in front of school board members at the worst possible time, when they are grappling with budget cuts and a grim financial outlook.
"Given the kind of budget situation we're in, I'm not optimistic," said School Board member Michael Persson on Friday when asked about what he thought of reinstating tennis, a program cut from the district about three years ago due to budget pressures.
"Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of funds under the tax cap," Persson said.
The Lakes Region Tennis Association, a nonprofit organization of volunteers who are passionate about tennis, vows to bring tennis back to schools, and they say they can do it without seeking district funds.
"We just want them to at least put a sign-up sheet out to see what interest there is," said Kamal Gosine, head coach for the association, in a recent interview. The association won't be asking for a budget line, he said.
"This is totally free" for the school district, Gosine said.
On Friday, Gosine confirmed that he sent a letter to Superintendent Brendan Minnihan and other school officials floating the idea and asking for a decision.
This week, Minnihan reported that he received the letter, and noted, "This request would need to be discussed at a future school board meeting as well as discussed with other individuals. No decision has been made at this point."
Persson said new sports typically come with costs such as stipends for the coach, pay for officials and travel expenses. It's unclear if tennis could be folded into the school district cleanly without any cost to the district, but Gosine and others with the association are making this pitch.
In a Jan. 31 email to school officials, Gosine wrote, "We have the resources to help you in accomplishing these goals. What we need first is to get the schools to set up a sign up sheet at the middle and high schools. We are not going to cut any person from the team if they sign up. We will provide the equipment as needed, as well as some free boot camps to get the kids ready for the season, this we can do at your gyms. We can start the program in your gyms and then move to the public courts. Please let me know if we are in agreement and if you will post a signup sheet letting the kids know that we are here to help them and the schools with a Tennis Program."
One of the goals of the Lakes Region Tennis Association has always been to bring back tennis to Laconia High School through a grassroots tennis program for younger kids. The idea has been to create demand for a high school team by getting kids playing in elementary school and middle school, according to the association.
If it doesn't get done this year, Gosine said he fears it won't happen at all.
With a self-funded approach, a Laconia-based school-sanctioned tennis program could swell into a successful option, he said.
Persson said that tennis — like other sports or after-school activities — can provide much-needed activities for teens between 2 and 6 p.m., a "critical time" when students may be unattended and prone to get into trouble.
But any proposal for a new sport or activity will receive careful vetting by the School Board, based on the budget.
Last year, the Laconia School District cut its budget by $1.6 million, and Persson said teachers are the lowest paid in the Lakes Region as a result of deferred raises.
"We have teachers that are four years behind on the salary schedule," he said.
This year, Persson said he expects "substantial cuts" as part of another tough budget year.
Last June, in a budget hearing statement, Persson reported, "In order to get to the same pay levels given our 2015 teacher census, Laconia would need to increase its school budget by $1,705,163 to get to Gilford's level, $2,774,888 to get to Inter-Lakes' level and $3,217,711 to get to Concord's level."
The Laconia School Board Budget and Personnel Committee, chaired by Persson, is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, to discuss the budget. The Laconia School Board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. Both meetings are at the Laconia School District Administrative Building, 39 Harvard St.

County eyes $650,000 in grants for community corrections training


LACONIA — Belknap County will be applying for at least $650,000 in federal grants for programs at its new Community Corrections facility, which is scheduled to open in September, according to Kevin Warwick, the consultant from Alternative Solutions Associates who helped design the program for the facility.
Warwick told Belknap County Commissioners when they met at the Belknap County Complex Thursday afternoon that he thinks there is a real good chance that the county will receive the grants, which would cover a three-year period, because the county has developed a well thought out after-care model program for the new facility which is evidence based.
The funds would be used for staff training and, if awarded, would be available in October, shortly after the 18,000-square-foot, 64-bed facility opens.
Warwick said that the county developed a pilot program, which has been in place for nearly a year, which will strengthen its case for funding, and that there are only 10 or 15 comparable programs nationwide.
Commissioners on Friday approved a $35,000, one-year contract with Warwick's company for developing programs for the center and assisting in the development of grant proposals.
Commissioners also met with Belknap County Corrections Department Superintendent Keith Gray and Jacqui Abikoff of Horizons Counseling Center to discuss a pending application for a $400,000, three-year federal grant for a Drug Court program.
Abikoff said that the Recovery Court program, currently operating in Laconia Circuit Court, relies on volunteers who meet on their lunch hours to monitor the progress of those accepted into the program, which offers alternatives to jail sentences for those willing to undergo counseling, undergo random and regular drug testing and commit to at least 250 hours of community service.
The program has 10 participants and Abikoff said that the grant would enable the program to hire a full-time coordinator and scale it up to the point where it will be able to more than double the number of people it serves as it expands to cover Belknap County Superior Court. She projected that it could expand to up to 30 participants.
Abikoff told commissioners when the grant was first discussed last month that the grant requires a $133,333 local match, much of which can come from in-kind services already being provided. She said the funds will be used to improve the quality and intensity of services being provided, including access to health care coverage and vocational and job training.
She said that the coordinator can either be a county employee or someone the county contracts with to provide services and, that after the grant runs out in three years, the drug court which has been established will be eligible for state funding.
Both Gray and Abikoff are members of the Recovery Court. Other members include Jesse Friedman of the Public Defender's Office, Circuit Court Judge James Carroll, Belknap County Prosecutor Melissa Guldbrandsen, the Laconia Division of Parole and Probation, Laconia City Prosecutor Jim Sawyer, the Belknap County Restorative Justice Program, the Belknap County House of Corrections, Genesis Behavior Health and Laconia Drug Prevention, Education and Treatment Officer Eric Adams.
Gray said that the Department of Corrections will be the lead agency in applying for the grant. The deadline for applications is Feb. 28.

Ossipee woman, Effingham man indicted for selling OD drugs


CONCORD — Melissa Ford, 27, of Ossipee and Andrew Garland, 21, of Effingham have been arrested and indicted for acts prohibited relating to the sale and possession of the controlled drugs heroin and fentanyl, according to a press release from New Hampshire Attorney General Joseph A. Foster, Tuftonboro Police Chief Andrew Shagoury, Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Ferguson of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration – Manchester Division, and Colonel Christopher J. Wagner of the New Hampshire State Police.
Ford and Garland were indicted by the Carroll County Grand Jury on Jan. 27, and are charged with sale of a controlled drug, death resulting. Specifically, the indictments allege that on Sept. 29, 2016, Garland knowingly dispensed a combination of fentanyl and heroin to Melissa Ford, who then dispensed this quantity of drugs to Joshua Fournier, who died from ingesting them. Garland was also indicted separately for the sale of fentanyl/heroin, possession of fentanyl/heroin with intent to distribute and possession of marijuana.
The charge of acts prohibited, death resulting carries with it a possible maximum sentence of life with the possibility of parole in state prison.
These indictments came after a four-month joint investigation by the Tuftonboro Police Department and the DEA's Manchester Office, with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General and the New Hampshire State Police Department's Narcotics and Investigations Unit. Additional assistance was provided by several local police departments including the Carrol County Sheriff's Office and the Ossipee Police Department.
"Anytime there is a loss of life involving a drug overdose it is a tragic event, but even more so in this case given the young age of the victim," said Ferguson. "Those suffering from the disease of fentanyl and heroin addiction need access to treatment and recovery. But, those responsible for distributing these lethal drugs like fentanyl and heroin to the citizens of New Hampshire need to be held accountable for their actions. In response to the ongoing opioid epidemic DEA and its local, state and federal partners are committed to bringing to justice those that distribute this poison."
"While the need for treatment, rehabilitation, and education to combat drug addiction is paramount, we must also hold dealers accountable for selling drugs that kill," said Foster. "Over the past year, the New Hampshire Department of Justice, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the New Hampshire State Police presented joint trainings for law enforcement agencies state-wide to better investigate opioid deaths starting as soon as 911 is called. I am pleased to report today's arrests are a direct result of that training and other great work conducted by these agencies. I am committed to continue holding fentanyl dealers accountable for the deaths they cause and for anyone who makes selling drugs their business of choice."
It is anticipated that Ford and Garland will be arraigned in the Carroll County Superior Court Thursday morning, Feb.