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Shaker voters add all-day kindergarten, approve teachers’ contract

BELMONT — The Shaker Regional School Board will begin offering full-day kindergarten to all Belmont and Canterbury students beginning in school year 2015.

All-day kindergarten came in the form of a petitioned warrant article included in the School District warrant as Article 9. The initial warrant amount of $150,000 was amended on the floor to $403,856, the amount the administration determined would allow the district to implement the program.

Petition spokeswoman Jill Smith also asked that the $95,000 allocated in the budget for universal pre-kindergarten be used to offset the costs of full-day kindergarten.

Two parents spoke to the motion by telling the nearly 250-strong crowd of voters that full-day kindergarten was what was needed most in the district's two elementary schools, not one-half day of kindergarten and one-half day of universal pre-school.

Universal pre-school is a program all 3- and 4-years old in the district can attend. The pre-school program currently in place at Shaker Regional is for children who may need some extra educational time before entering kindergarten and this program will continue.

The cost to Belmont taxpayer will be 53 cents per $1,000 of assessment while the cost to Canterbury taxpayers will be 37 cents per $1,000 of assessment.

The School Board wrestled all budget year with all-day kindergarten verses universal kindergarten because the feeling was that Belmont Elementary School would lack sufficient space for both programs until school year 2017-18.

After a presentation extolling the benefits of universal pre-school was made to the board early in the budget year, it decided to include it in its budget and wait until 2017-2018 for all-day kindergarten.

Parents pushed back, and at a special meeting in January, the board decided to add two sections of full-day kindergarten – one at each school and whose students were to be chosen by lottery.

After hearing from parents about the inequity of a lottery, the School Board went forward with a budget that included $95,000 for universal per-kindergarten and a half-day kindergarten.

With Friday night's vote, Superintendent Maria Dreyer said yesterday she was having a meeting with her administration to discuss how full-day kindergarten can be implemented without too much physical disruption to other programs.

In other news, a two-year contract with the Shakers Teachers Association passed by a vote of 191-41. The vote was taken in a secret ballot.

The contract adds $569,188 to the bottom line in 2016-17, and $513,464 in 2017-18.

The $569,188 for 2016-17 includes $318,000 that would have been necessary to pay the teachers had the contract not passed and the district plans on using $250,000 from their retained earnings from this year's budget for the rest.

The administration said in exchange for the salary portion of the contract, the teachers agreed to a different and less-comprehensive health insurance package that would satisfy the standards established by the Affordable Care Act.

Starting pay for new teachers is increased to $34,000 in 2016 and for an additional $1,000 in year two. The increase is to bring the pay scale at the Shaker Regional School District similar to those at surrounding school districts.

The individual tax liability for the contract is 66 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for Belmont and 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed value for Canterbury.

The meeting also added $52,076 to the operating budget to preserve the job of a science teacher who was being let go because of decreased enrollments.

The written amendment was presented by Jim Miller of Canterbury who projected a growth in science enrollments because of the needs for science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM students.

Shaker Board Chair Heidi Hutchinson said there were other science teachers and the elimination of one teacher wouldn't hurt the program and the district will "still (be) able to offer science programs."

Miller was not the only person who supported keeping the science teacher and the motion to increase the budget passed by voice vote but not without discussion.

Belmont Selectman Jon Pike said he wanted to make sure the $52,000 was spent on the teacher. He informed the crowd that the School Board has the right to spend the money voted in the budget anyway they wanted and the School District's attorney agreed.

Atty. James O'Shaunessy said the School Board "tends to honor" the will of the voters, but the legislature has given it the authority to spend its budget as it wants.

As a result of passing the teachers' contract, adding full-day kindergarten and keeping the science teacher, voters added an estimated $1.39 to the school portion of the annual tax rate for Belmont and an estimated 93 cents to the Canterbury tax rate.

In the election for open School Board positions that took place in the 90 minutes preceding the district meeting, challenging candidate Patty Brace defeated incumbent Donna Cilley by a vote of 245 to 48 in the Belmont race and Hutchinson, who was unopposed, was elected to another three-year term.

Jon Pike explains to the crowd at the Shaker Regional School District meeting Friday night that despite the body's desire to add a science teacher to the operating budget, the School Board has the authority to spend the funds however it decides. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 12:24

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Convention restores revenue estimates for nursing home but cuts administration budget (376)

LACONIA — Faced with a nearly six percent increase in county taxes if it stuck with its action of last week in reducing revenue estimates for the Belknap County Nursing Home, the Belknap County Convention last night restored $470,00 in anticipated revenue estimates for the nursing home.
Convention Clerk Brian Gallagher of Sanbornton proposed restoring a $370,000 increase to the Medicaid Home Care line, which brings it to $3,370,000, and a $100,000 increase to the Medicare Part A line, which brings it to $1 million. The vote to restore both cuts was made in one motion, which passed by a 13-4 vote,
That stood in sharp contrast to last week when the increase in homecare lost 7-6 and the Part A increase was defeated 9-4.
That was a major victory for the majority of the Belknap County Commission, who had advocated for the increase.
But the commissioners lost out on their proposal to retain funds for a vacant human resources director position in the administration budget which they had sought to retain funds for as a hedge in union negotiations when Rep. Ray Howard of Alton garnered support from nine of the 17 representatives present to cut $100,000 from the administration budget.
The convention also approved a $45,000 cut in funds for debt service and voted 12-5 to cut funding for all outside agencies by five percent, a $22,000 cut.
The cut for outside agencies was precipitated by a motion by Rep. Herb Vadney, vice chairman of the convention, for a token one percent cut as he maintained that the county should gradually withdraw funding for those agencies.
When his motion received support from others, including Rep. Russ Dumais of Gilford, he withdrew it and it made a new one calling for a 5 percent cut.
Supporters of the cut said they were a burden on taxpayers, a view challenged by Rep. Dennis Fields of Sanbornton.
Convention Chairman Frank Tilton of Laconia urged holding off action and appointing a study committee, maintaining that the move was coming late in the budget process.
A subsequent motion by Rep. Michael Sylvia of Belmont to cut an additional $20,000 from the $75,000 Belknap Economic Development Council, lost on a 13-4 vote.
BEDC Chairman Henry Lipman and other officials of the organization testified earlier in the evening against a proposed cut in the agency's budget.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 01:45

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Telephone pole tax legislation could cost Laconia $30,000 in revenue

LACONIA — The City Council is urging state lawmakers to vote against legislation that would enable telecommunications companies — chiefly FairPoint Communications Inc. — to shift a share of its property tax liability to other taxpayers.

Originally House Bill 547 sought to restore the exemption from property taxes on poles and conduits owned by telecommunications companies, which the Legislature ended in 2010. The elimination of the exemption sparked a spate of litigation challenging the authority of municipalities to tax poles and conduits as well as the methods to appraise them.

The House Ways and Means Committee declined to restore the exemption, but amended the bill to prescribe a formula for appraising them in hopes of ending the litigation. The bill specifies that "the direct replacement cost of the pole or conduit, defined as the actual cost of the pole or conduit including the labor cost of installation less depreciation calculated on a straight-line basis for a period of 30 years with a residual value of no less than 20 percent."

Supporters of the bill claim it will not only put an end to the litigation but also ensure consistency in the appraisal of poles and conduits from one municipality to another. They stress that because telecommunications companies operate in a very competitive environment they are seeking a level playing field.

The bill's opponents, however, claim that this formula would ensure an artificially low valuation. They argue that "replacement cost" refers to the original cost which, since two-thirds of poles are more than 30 years old, does not represent replacement cost at all. Likewise, requiring application of 30-year straight-line depreciation ensures that poles 30 years old or older, with market values close to replacement costs, will be depreciated to 20 percent.

In a memorandum to the city's representatives City Manager Scott Myers said that FairPoint Communications owns poles and conduits with an aggregate value of more than $2.4 million, representing more than $30,000 in annual property taxes that would be born by other taxpayers.

Furthermore, Myers anticipates that other utilities — Eversource, the successor to Public Service of New Hampshire, and Liberty Utilities, the natural gas company, would seek to apply the same appraisal method and depreciation formula to their poles and infrastructure, further eroding the city's tax base. "It will mean additional corporate giveaways to for-profit companies, again, paid for by the rest of the local taxpayers," Myers warned.

Myers reminded councilors and lawmakers that all the Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee endorsed the amended bill and urged the city's five representatives — all Republicans — not only to vote against the bill when it comes to the floor, but also to speak against it in the GOP caucus.

HB 547 will come to the floor when the House meets tomorrow.

Last Updated on Monday, 09 March 2015 11:34

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At Inter-Lakes, sportsmanship culture is cultivated year-round

MEREDITH — Inter-Lakes High School has won the NHIAA's Sportsmanship Award for Division III twice in the past three years. Athletic Director Jeff Cloos, who came to Inter-Lakes four years ago, said that maintaining a high standard of sportsmanship takes more than a policy written in a handbook or a slogan painted on a wall. It requires that all parties involved believe in good sportsmanship as a philosophy.
"It is a culture," he said. It was a culture he found in place when he was hired by the district, and it's one he has taken deliberate steps to encourage. The athletes buy into it, he said, as do the coaches, fans and parents. "And they hold each other accountable. We have high expectations of how we hold ourselves as far as athletes and as a community."
The work begins as early as pre-season meetings, where videos of good sportsmanship are watched and discussed. During the seasons, fans who exhibit excellent behavior are rewarded with Inter-Lakes T-shirts. Athletes are awarded for their conduct in the after season awards banquets.
There's another side to the coin, too. When fans, whether they're students or parents, exhibit what the school considers inappropriate behavior, Cloos said the issue is dealt with immediately, either by him or another administrator. A quick discussion is often all that is required, though repeated offenders will be asked to leave the event. "We want our schools, our community to be well-represented," he said.
"If someone crosses the line of poor sportsmanship, we deal with it quickly. We certainly have our share of issues, all schools do. We're not perfect."
What behavior should and shouldn't be allowed? Cloos said the NHIAA gives each school a certain amount of latitude to develop their own standards. For example, at Inter-Lakes, fans aren't allowed to make distracting noises, such as stomping their feet in the bleachers, when a basketball player is attempting a free throw. However, at other schools, it's allowed. He encourages his athletes to adapt to and respect the rules of the schools they visit, even if the behavior wouldn't be permissible at Inter-Lakes. "That's part of sports and traveling to other schools."
Some of his players, he noted, actually prefer the raucous atmospheres. To some, silence is more distracting than any crowd. "There's a balance that can be found."
For Cloos, sportsmanship is one of the benefits students gain from participating in athletics. He said, it teaches the athletes to have respect for themselves, for their teammates, coaches, opponents and referees. "In sports, as in life, the athletes understand that winning isn't everything."

Last Updated on Saturday, 07 March 2015 12:23

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