Shaker board close to approving $20k contract to evaluate school 'culture'

BELMONT — After meeting three consecutive nights this week, the Shaker Regional School Board is close to hiring PCG Education of Boston to conduct a far-reaching "culture" survey.

According to Business Administrator Debbie Thompson, the board initially approved spending up to $19,000 for a survey that will query community members, current and past employees, students, and parents.

The survey will address morale, collaboration, change and the pace of change, and community communications.

The reason for the survey is two-fold — the board has already planned on doing one this year and voters passed a non-binding, petitioned article placed on the 2015 school district warrant that requested one.

The article's sponsors wanted a separate committee to be created whose members would be appointed by district Moderator Roy Roberts — one of the titular heads of the survey request. The board decided though that they would oversee the survey but would contract it to a professional company so the questions would not be directly influenced by them.

Roberts is not thrilled that the school board took it upon itself to do the survey but said he expected it would be outsourced.

On Monday, all seven members of the board met with two consultants from PCG Education at Belmont High School.

The board has a choice between a "canned" or already prepared survey or a custom-designed survey. On of the PCG representatives said the company had never been asked to survey previous employees so there was no existing template for that.

The purpose of the meeting was to negotiate the final price for the survey and to button down the types of questions each core group would be answering. The school board will be responsible for the survey but will have no direct input into the actually framing of the questions.

Some school board members were concerned that if the employees of four schools were polled individually and then by job description, the small size of the schools could jeopardize anonymity.

PCG representatives said the survey should be brief and take no more than 15 minutes for someone who receives to respond. She said in her experience, the longer the survey means that fewer people will take the time to complete it.

Gretta Olson-Wilder said she would like a small space for people to write their own comments to address things that were not on the survey and Jill LaValley said she would like to present very cut-and-dry questions.

"If people aren't happy it would be a good time to know why," she said.

After discussion the issue at their regular meeting on Tuesday and by conference call on Wednesday, Thompson said the board made a motion to approve a contract up to $20,000 because the final best price from PCG for the type of customized survey it wanted is $19,434.

Thompson said the final price was determined on Wednesday at the conference call but, even though there was a quorum, the members who participated felt it was too important to not have all the members present.

She said the final vote on whether or not to enter into the contract is scheduled for the May 26 meeting to be held at 6 p.m. at the Belmont Elementary School Library.

Alton fire chief leaving after 30 years with department

ALTON — Fire Chief Scott Williams said yesterday that he has retired from the town's Fire Department. He has been with the department for 30 years, serving as part-time chief for the past seven.

Williams said that he and Town Administrator Russ Bailey had a conversation Thursday and he felt the two were heading in different directions as it related to the future of the Fire Department.

"The department has a lot of (future) challenges in equipment and at some point a building," Williams said, noting the department is handling 750 calls annually.

Williams said his departure from the department was not done out of animosity or anger and he said he and Bailey parted, "before we stopped liking each other."

"I have no regrets," said Williams about retirement. "I love the Fire Department."

He said because of his involvement with the department, he's done some of the most interesting things that he never thought he'd be able to do, including flying in a Black Hawk helicopter.

Williams said that it was a good time for him and his family for him to retire as chief. He said his full-time work as an excavator and builder has been growing considerably in the past few years and he'll be able to dedicate more time to that.

He added that he and his wife were in the "buttoning down" stages of their lives where he would like to begin planning for a time when they can spend their winters in the Caribbean.

30 Derbys in a row: This weekend's salmon fishing tourney will be last for retiring Fish & Game biologist Don Miller

SANBORNTON — New Hampshire Fish and Game fisheries biologist Don Miller recalls growing up on the shores of Lake Winnisquam ''walking around with a fishing pole in my hand'' and knew from an early age what he wanted in life would involve the outdoors and fishing.
Miller grew up in Manchester, where he graduated from Memorial High School, but says that all of his fondest childhood memories were of Lake Winnisquam, where spent summers at his family's camp, which was built in 1962.
One day when he was eight or nine years old he found a dead landlocked salmon on the beach and noticed that it was tagged. He retrieved the tag and sent it to the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and received a latter from Dick Seamans, who was in charge of the fisheries division, thanking him.
Some 15 years later it was Seamans who gave him a job with the department.
He recalls that while he was growing up Winnisquam was a legendary fishing lake. ''It was a tremendous fishery. There were salmon and lake trout and and it was the best lake in the state for smelting.'
But all that changed in the mid 1960s when the phosphorus rich sewage from the city of Laconia's sewer treatment plant created large algae blooms, including toxic blue-green algae, which the state treated with copper sulfate, resulting in massive fish kills.
''It was a complete eco system failure. The white perch took over and it was a sad situation. We'll never have the smelt population we used to have and without that the game fish will never be as large or as plentiful as they were then,'' says Miller.
After graduating from the University of New Hampshire Miller started work with Fish and Game in 1976 and was at the New Hampton Fish Hatchery for four years and then a marine biologist on the seacoast for five years before being assigned to the department's Division II headquarters in New Hampton.
He says that for the last 30 years he's been at the Winni Derby, which this year marks its 33rd year this weekend, and has kept a close eye on the health of the landlocked salmon which are landed during the fishing tournament. He says that the derby was started by the late Rick Davis with the goal of reducing what was then an excess of small salmon with an eye to a smaller but healthier salmon population.
As the department's Large Lakes biologist, Miller is in constant touch with all aspects of inland fisheries and says that the state's salmon stocking program has a goal of providing better quality salmon, a difficult task for a non-native species which does not spawn at a high enough rate to be self-sustaining.
''We've had some good success but, just as the size of the salmon being landed went up, the pressure on the lake increased,'' he says, noting that Davis decided several years ago to cancel the derby for a year after seeing for himself the health of the salmon netted during a fall survey, many of which were smaller and had hook wounds from having been caught and then released.
He says that the state has had good success with its rainbow trout stocking program, which is producing four and five pound catches. And the brook trout stocking program continues to produce good results, although many of the fish are landed early in the season, when water temperatures are cooler.
He says that bass fishing has gained popularity in recent years and that the warm-water species makes for good fishing during the summer months, when water temperatures reach the mid 70s at the surface and salmon and lake trout move down to the lower and colder water levels.
Miller says the long-range trend for fishing in New Hampshire tends to look better for warm water fish, like bass, which can produce a self-sustaining population.
He will be retiring on the last day of June, after nearly 40 years with the department, and says that he's going to miss seeing all the people he's met over the years, but won't miss having to go to work when the elements are bad.
''I've got two years worth of work to do around his house,'' says Miller, who adds that he's looking forward to being able to fish and hunt when he wants to and plans an active retirement which will keep him outdoors as much as possible.

Captions Miller 1,2

Fish and Game biologists Don Miller and John Viar collect salmon eggs and milt for the state's salmon stocking program. (Courtesy photo)

Fish and Game biologist Don Miller holds a 9 pound male landlocked salmon. (Courtesy photo)

Gilford will look at discontinuing maintenance of 4 'driveways'

GILFORD — Town Administrator Scott Dunn recommended to selectmen Wednesday night that they begin the process of declaring five roads in the town that are currently Class V and town maintained into Class VI roads that the town won't maintain.

Dunn said the five, Emerson Road, Wood Road, a portion of Pinecrest Drive, Foxborough Drive, and a portion of Woodland Avenue are actually driveways that lead to one or two homes at the most.

"When you drive (on one of these) roads, it's really a driveway," Dunn said.

Public Works Director Peter Nourse said his opinion mirrors Dunn's. He said each of the roads has it's own individual history but the town does spend money maintaining and plowing them.

He said they can be difficult to plow because of turn-around problems. One of them is paved and he said the town also maintains the pavement.

Nourse said that a renter got stuck at night on one of them and called the police, who in turn toned out the Public Works Department for assistance.

"It seems kind of crazy for the town to maintain driveways," said Selectman Chan Eddy.

"Yeah, there problematic and subject to maintenance problems," said Selectman Richard Grenier but said he was still "inclined to keep maintaining them".

Selectman's Chair Gus Benevides said he felt the selectmen should look at each road individually before giving Dunn the go-ahead to begin the often lengthy process of changing their classification.

Dunn noted that most of the roads are old and at one point in time led to somewhere else.

Typically, there are four ways a town road is created: the town builds it on its own, builds it as part of a municipal plan, or a deed holder dedicates the road to the town and the town accepts it. For a town to accept a road it typically must be up to town engineering standards.

The fourth way is governed by a state law that says a road must have been used without the permission (prescriptively) of the landowner for 20 years prior to 1968 (from 1948) to be considered public.

A Belmont land technician who went through the same process noted at the time that prescriptive uses rarely if ever appear on deeds and are often very difficult to determine.

Should the selectmen choose to go forward with the process, Dunn or his designated agent will have to research each road individually to determine it doesn't meet the 1948 standard.

Selectmen have scheduled a walk of all five roads at 5 p.m. on May 27. It will be posted as part of the selectman's regular meeting on the same date.