Proposed Laconia school budget cut by $1.7M, including staff

By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — "We're starting to tread in a dangerous area," said Ed Emond, referring to reductions in classroom teachers and staff in Laconia schools. Emond, the business administrator of the School District, and School Superintendent Phil McCormack presented the proposed 2016-2017 budget Monday to the City Council.

The budget includes $1,747,545 in reduced expenditures, $522,696 more than required to comply with the city tax cap in order, Emond explained, to provide funds to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with the unions representing the teaching and support staff and as well as other unanticipated expenses. The largest share of the reductions personnel costs represent the largest share of the reductions, which include eight teaching and three special education positions, three administrative positions and nine secretarial and support positions.

By contrast, the controversial decision to schedule band as an after-school program spared $50,000 in costs. McCormack said the decision is intended to serve academic purposes by enabling students playing in the band to also enroll for Advanced Placement classes, which will be offered in the fourth block, the time slot band traditionally met. At the same time, sports practice will begin at 3 p.m., enabling students to play both in the band and on the field.

The school district faced a decrease of $683,338 in revenues from sources other than property taxes, of which the a drop of $455,338 in state aid is the most significant. The tax cap allows the school district to raise $410,944 in property taxes, reducing the net revenue shortfall to $272,394.

Meanwhile, expenses are projected to rise by $1,143,255, with anticipated jumps of $660,000 in special education costs and $390,000 in health insurance costs accounting for most of the increase. Seven retirements will spare $190,800, trimming the growth of expenditures to $952,445.

To offset the loss of revenue and meet the rise in expenses while budgeting within the limits of the tax cap, the school board identified reductions of $1,224,849.

McCormack told the councilors that rising and unanticipated special education costs are driving increases in the budget. He said that the proportion of students with special needs is 5 percent above the state average. This year, there were 197 students with special needs enrolled in the three elementary schools, 127 of them at Woodlands Heights School, where 45 were enrolled in its preschool program. The total number students with special needs in the elementary schools is projected to rise to 203 in the next school year. There are 81 special-needs students currently enrolled at the middle school, a number expected to increase to 86 in 2016-2017. Likewise, the number of special-needs students at the high school is projected to increase from 86 to 96.

McCormack stressed that the costs are difficult to forecast from the numbers alone, explaining that if a student must be placed in either a daylong or residential program, the cost of tuition and transportation can range from more than $30,000 to more than $100,000 per student.

Emond emphasized the importance of negotiating a contract with the teachers. He noted that the average salary in the district is below the state average, while salaries in neighboring districts, including Inter-Lakes Cooperative, Gilford, Plymouth and Pemi-Baker Regional are above it.

"We're losing teachers to these other districts," he said. "We don't want to go without a collective bargaining agreement."

Blanchette asks for Belknap County cases to be dismissed

By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — Convicted rapist and former sheriff's deputy Ernest Justin Blanchette has asked that a Belknap County Superior Court judge dismiss the four cases he faces locally because he wasn't employed by the Department of Corrections.

He argues, through his attorney Brad Davis, that in order to convict him the state would have to prove that he engaged in sexual penetration of the victims, that he acted knowingly, that he used his authority to coerce the victim(s) into submission and that "he was in a position of authority over the victims ... by virtue of being incarcerated in a correctional institution where the defendant is employed.

"None of the indictments in the above ... cases include ... that the defendant was employed by the correctional unit where any of the victims were inmates," he wrote.

Davis takes his argument straight from the law that specifies there must be coercion and that the actor must be employed by a correctional institution, a juvenile facility or a secure psychiatric facility.

Blanchette's employment as a sheriff and not as a corrections officer, and the plain language of the statute was included in Davis's closing arguments to a recent jury in Hillsborough County North Superior Court during Blanchette's rape trial there.

He also asked the judge to dismiss that case because of his employment status as a sheriff. Judge Gillian Abramson said she would not dismiss the case because of that but she chastised the state Legislature for not addressing it and other elements of the specific statute after a different rape case was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2001.

The jury in Blanchette's Hillsborough County trial didn't buy that argument and returned a guilty verdict in 90 minutes on April 28.

Blanchette argues that a corrections institution is a place and not a "conceptual system of which the county sheriff is a part." He said that if the legislature had intended the law to be broadly interpreted, it wouldn't have specifically focused on "employees of the correctional institute."

He says the Legislature names only three kinds of places – corrections institutes, psychiatric hospitals and juvenile facilities. He said as a matter of a law, a deputy sheriff is not employed by a corrections facility.

Deputy Belknap County Attorney Adam Wood said his office has not yet responded to Blanchette's motion.

Chris Herren brings message of self respect, caring to high schoolers

GILFORD — When former Celtics basketball player Chris Herren spoke to about 4,000 high school students from Laconia, Winnisquam, Moultonborough, Wolfeboro, Inter-Lakes, Belmont, Tilton, Farmington and Gilford at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion yesterday for a program presented by Stand Up Laconia, his message was about self-esteem, peer pressure and to be themselves.

Herren is a heroin addict. Sober for the past eight years, he has spent the past five traveling across the country talking about drugs, but with a delivery that focuses more the decisions he wished he had made when he was their age.

He told them he knows that 85 percent of them made jokes about the assembly on the bus ride to the pavilion like he did in 1994 when he went to his first high school assembly drug lecture. He said he already knew then that he was never going to be "that guy."

"All I do is drink and smoke on Friday and Saturday nights," he said. "I'll never be that guy. I'm a MacDonald's All-American."

"Four ODs, seven arrests," he said. "No, I'll never be that guy."

He said he wished he could go back to 1994 and to when he could hang around with the friends he'd known all his life, just be himself and not have to drink and take drugs to hang out with them.

In a clip prepared about Herren that he played before his speech, it's noted that Herren played basketball for Durfee High School in Fall River, Massachusetts; that he was heavily recruited by many colleges and coaches including Rick Pitino; that he played for Fresno State and that he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, later playing for the Celtics.

He told the assembly they need to feel comfortable enough in their own skins to enjoy themselves with all of their friends without drinking or taking drugs.

Herren told them stories about some of the students he's met throughout the past five years, mainly focusing on the ones who stayed sober and who were ostracized and bullied for not being "cool."

He said he calls his outreach the Purple Project because it is named for four young girls who dressed in purple T-shirts at one of his lectures, who thanked him for validating who they were because they said they were the only sober ones in a class of 180. They told him they were made fun of by the other students, which brought Herren back to self-esteem without drugs and alcohol.

"I liked it. It was an impactful message," said Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee, saying Herren touched on a key issue when he posed the question to them by asking "Why aren't I good enough to be me today?"

"There were 4,000 students and you couldn't hear a pin drop," said Bean Burpee.

Bean Burpee and Belmont High School Principal Dan Clary said they both appreciated how Herren told them stories about other students he had met and then brought his message through their stories back to the audience at hand.

"He gave students some tools they can use to help themselves and their friends," Clary said.

Herren told the students that if they feel like they can't be themselves without drinking and smoking or if they have struggles at home with alcoholic or drug-addicted parents or siblings, then they can reach out to a teacher. He told them to say something to a friend if the friend is using alcohol and drugs and to let them know someone cares.

Herren said for him it was the fact his father was an alcoholic, and as a small child he would lie in bed and listen to his parents fighting. When he turned 13, he said he drank his father's beer, describing it as the very thing that was tearing his family apart. As he grew older, it was alcoholism at home plus the pressure of an entire town having high expectations for him as a basketball player. An injury led to painkillers and he became hooked on heroin while playing in Italy.

But Herren said it isn't about him. It's about them and how they see their role in the world.

He told the students that the next time their friends are sitting outside of the house in a car on a Friday or Saturday night, to take a minute and go in and see their younger siblings and think about how important is it for them to have a role model. He challenged them to be someone their parents could be proud of and someone who their siblings will look up to.

Belmont High School prevention coordinator Jen Gagnon said her students thought it was "awesome." She said some of them stayed behind so they could get Herren's email, as he promised all of them.

She said she's already had lots of conversations with her students about being comfortable in their own skins.

Gagnon said she was impressed by him saying that if one of his three children came to him with an alcohol problem he would ask why they felt they couldn't be themselves without alcohol and drugs.

Gagnon said that some students get caught up in their own worlds like Herren did as a teen and that people like him are trying to shift to cultural norms against alcohol and drugs being a rite of passage.

"I loved his message," she said.

"He said he wanted to reach one student, yesterday," Gagnon said. "I know he got what he wanted a few times over in Belmont."

Social worker and School Prevention Coordinator Laurie Maheu at Prospect Mountain High School said he students loved it.

"They really liked that he made it about them and others and not about himself," she said.

Maheu said Herren got to the humanity and his message in her eyes is to think about who they are in the world and how things can be right when they don't use alcohol or drugs.

For Laconia Principal Jim McCollum, it was how Herren focused on where kids are now and not where he is. He liked that he didn't glorify his own travails but focused on how he wished he could go back to where today's students are now.

"He shifted it to, 'Hey, can you love yourself, your family, your friends,'" he said. "It was an excellent presentation and we're fortunate to have been able to see it."

Stand Up Laconia received a $6,000 donation from Meredith Village Savings Bank to secure the Stand Up Laconia Lakes Region program.

05-10 HS kids at Meadowbrook

Former Celtics basketball player Chris Herren spoke to about 4,000 high school students from Laconia, Winnisquam, Moultonborough, Wolfeboro, Inter-Lakes, Belmont, Tilton, Farmington and Gilford at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion yesterday for a program presented by Stand Up Laconia. (Gail Ober photo/Laconia Daily Sun)