Tax cap blamed for low teacher salaries

LACONIA — "The current tax cap is preventing Laconia from successfully attracting middle class families to Laconia and is causing us to steadily lose the strong middle class that once was the backbone of our city," Mike Persson told the City Council this week.

Persson, a member of the School Board, was speaking at a public hearing on the municipal budget, which included deep cuts in school spending. "I am not happy with the city's proposed budget and believe that it is inadequate to meet the city's needs now and into the future," he said.

For middle class families, Persson noted, the quality of public schools is a major factor in their choice of where to live.

"Beyond our inability to expand programming to increase quality," he said, "the tax cap has prevented our teacher pay from keeping pace with other area districts and our current teacher pay is not competitive."

Persson distributed spreadsheets comparing the salaries of teachers in the Laconia School District with their counterparts in Gilford, Inter-Lakes and Concord and remarked that "my jaw dropped" at the comparisons. The disparities, he said, are widest in the middle of the pay scale, among teachers with between eight and 19 years of experience. With the tax cap, Persson said, the district cannot overcome the disparities and offer competitive salaries, even if all new monies were applied to compensating teachers for next five to seven years.

He suggested that young teachers will become experienced in Laconia then leave for more lucrative positions in other districts. As Laconia's most experienced teachers retire, he concluded, "We will be left with a revolving door of new teachers who we will spend money to train, to the benefit of surrounding districts." Offering several examples of administrators and teachers who have left the district, he said that "With cuts of over $1.6 million from the schools' 2016 programs and uncertainty of future budget cuts causing anxiety for our teachers, this trend is sure to continue."

Persson said that unless Laconia can compete with neighboring school districts for the best teachers and can invest in more expansive educational programming, the city will fail to retain and attract middle families.

"As middle class class families move out," he said, "they are being replaced by lower-income families," a trend raises the cost of social services, lowers property values and discourages investment and development. "The end result," Person warned, "will be that our tax bills will increase even though our property values are decreasing."

In urging the council to address these issues, Persson suggested they "amend the tax cap to ensure that it does not prevent us from making the investments that are needed to ensure our success."

Persson was echoed by Kevin Treat, who recently moved to Laconia from Merrimack. He said he was disappointed by the cuts to the school budget, particularly in light of the "low ratings of the schools" and the turnover of teachers and administrators. Like Persson, he pointed to the tax cap as the source of the problems.

Aaron Hayward said that despite a 27 percent increase, spending per student in the Laconia School District is the lowest in the Lakes Region by $2,000 or more. Since the tax cap was introduced, he said that teachers' salaries have slid from 49th in the state to 70th. "You are losing your best people," he said. "Period."

Dave Huot, a former district court judge and state representative, reminded the council that "the state of New Hampshire is not innocent in all this" and urged them to "advocate, make a statement." This year, state aid to the school district was reduced by $455,338 to reflect its declining enrollment. At the same time, Huot advised the council to "adjust the tax cap to where it is amenable to the changes taking place."

Councilors did not respond to these statements.

One charged in theft of police officer's cell phone

BARNSTEAD — A Beauty Hill Road woman has been charged with two misdemeanor counts of receiving stolen property after she allegedly had a Gilford Police officer's cell phone in her possession.

Police said Julie A. O'Leary, 35, was with a group of people who attended a concert Saturday night at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion, when one of those people was taken into protective custody for intoxication.

Investigating Barnstead Officer Douglas Trottier said at 10:30 p.m. the officer briefly walked away from his phone in the temporary booking area at the music venue and when he returned, O'Leary and the rest of her party were gone – as was his cell phone and charger.

Trottier said the iPhone 6S was equipped with electronic tracking, and within 90 minutes police from both agencies were able to track the cell phone to O'Leary's home, where it was found. Barnstead Police recovered it just before midnight that same night.

"It was intentionally taken," Trottier said.

Trottier said O'Leary was released on $800 personal recognizance bail and given a court date of Aug. 4 in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

– Gail Ober

Belmont teen sets off alarms at middle and high schools (148).

BELMONT — Police have arrested a 16-year-old boy who allegedly entered the middle school and high school over the weekend.

On Saturday, police were notified by the high school's alarm system that someone had entered the building. When they got there, the noticed the alarm panel was damaged.

Police searched each room of the school but found no one. A review of a surveillance tape with the help of school administrators the next day, showed someone walking along the halls and triggering the motion sensors.

While investigating, police determined someone entered the middle school and set off the alarms there. Police said entry was possibly made through a window.

Middle school surveillance tape was reviewed and juvenile police officers were able to identify a 16-year-old, who was interviewed and identified as the trespasser in both cases.

The youth is charged with multiple counts of trespassing and criminal trespassing.

– Gail Ober