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)

Laconia students are not 'shamed' over parents' hot lunch debt

LACONIA — Around the nation there have been reports of school districts “shaming” students into having their parents pay off overdue hot lunch bills.

Shaming policies have been known to include denying students lunch, making them eat an alternative meal, or stamping their hands with a notice saying that they owed the school money. However, in the Laconia School District thanks to the efficient strategy in place and help from local philanthropy, there is no “shaming”, according to Tim Goossens, Director of Food Service.

The presence of negative lunch account balances in school districts has been around for decades and is not a new issue for the Laconia. Although Laconia is a smaller district, with only five schools providing daily lunches, the debt has risen in the past to nearly $10,000. In recent years though the estimated debt has lowered significantly, averaging around $2,000-$2,500 weekly, according to Goossens.

To tackle accounts that have gone into the rear, the district takes an active behind-the-scenes approach with the parents. “We try not to get the kids involved,” said Goossens. “Clearly, it’s not the child’s issue, fault or concern in any way. We try and do everything we can to resolve the issue with the parents.”

The process of contacting parents begins before the account even goes into the red, as all parents receive a notification when their account begins to get low on money. Following these initial notifications, parents also receive an email through the mealtime account when the student has dipped below even. These preliminary notices allow parents to send a check into school with a student or pay off the balance online before it becomes a significant amount.

If a parent does not address the account balance immediately after it dips into the red, the district will then send a letter home requesting funds to pay off the account and will review whether the student is supposed to be on a free or reduced-price lunch plan. Additional phone calls may be made to the home if the debt continues over a notable time.

“It’s a long process, where parents have many opportunities to communicate with us,” said Goosens. “We just need a parent to explain the situation to us and we will be able to accommodate with the family depending on each situation.”

Possible accommodations include allowing a student to bring in the money in incrementally, or pay for each individual lunch daily, even when there is an outstanding balance. In some cases, where there is an unexpected financial setback, the account does not need to be addressed at all until a specific time that the district and parent agrees upon.

“We work with the families and there is never a situation where I will tell a kid that they can’t get lunch,” said Laura Friend, director of Food Service at Pleasant Street School. She went on to state that in situations involing negative balances she may need to discretely deny a child getting “extras” that are not part of the set hot lunch provided, but she never denies a student from getting the standard hot lunch. 

Outside organizations and citizens also help to alleviate the presence of school lunch debt. The non-profit Lakes Region Santa Fund, for example, sets aside a pool of money annually that can be used to pay for a week of lunches if the account gets to a certain negative amount, according to Friend.

Another solution comes in the form of donations from local philanthropists. Just this past school year, an anonymous donor came to the SAU office and offered to pay off the outstanding balances for 14 students in the district who had individually collected the most debt. Donations toward eliminating the school lunch debt are always welcome, according to Goossens, who further stated that anyone wishing to make a donation can contact the SAU office directly.