Gilford delays deliberative session of Town Meeting

GILFORD — Due to weather conditions, the town moderator has decided to change the date of the deliberative session of the annual Town Meeting that was originally scheduled for today. The meeting will now be held on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. in the Gilford High School Auditorium.

Bill to fund full-day kindergarten offers $261,792 to Laconia schools

02 07 kindergarten funding bill

Helped by teacher Holly Knowles, Emily Catudal reads from a story book she created in full-day kindergarten at Woodland Heights Elementary School Monday. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — Legislation to increase state funding for full-day kindergarten programs would add $261,792 to Laconia School District's coffers and help other public schools in the county, but the bill's outlook remains uncertain as Gov. Chris Sununu prepares to give his budget address on Thursday.
"Like all budget items, funding for kindergarten is one of thousands of items. It will unfold in the next few weeks," state Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, chairman of the Education Committee, wrote in an email to The Laconia Daily Sun. "The governor's budget address is scheduled for Thursday in a joint session."
HB155-FN increases funding for pupils attending full-day kindergarten programs by amending current law, which only allocates a per-pupil base adequacy cost of $1,818, or a half-day attendance rate. Under the bill, in fiscal year 2018, the rate would rise to a full-day rate, or $3,636, for a total increase of $14.538 million in adequate education grants for traditional public schools and an additional $350,880 for eligible public charter schools.
Laconia School Superintendent Brendan Minnihan said, "We do have full-day kindergarten. This bill would provide some relief for Laconia and other districts."
The Laconia School District would see an increase of $261,792, based on 144 kindergartners in full-day programs in SAU 30, Minnihan reported.
Gilmanton School Superintendent John Fauci said full-day kindergarten has existed in the district for at least the 11 years he has been there.
"We have been well ahead of the curve as far as kindergarten is concerned," he said.
In Gilmanton, 34 students attend full-day kindergarten, for $61,000 in potential reimbursement under the legislation.
"We would welcome that. It would pay for a teacher," Fauci said.
"The rebate would be wonderful, but the Gilmanton School Board, administration, taxpayers have all supported this out of their own pocket," he said.
"We've been very proactive in offering what we see as a benefit. All the studies I read will tell you that early interventions pay huge dividends and get kids involved in education earlier. Early intervention – you're solving issues before they become big issues," Fauci said.
New Hampshire Department of Education maintains a database of districts with full-day kindergarten (www.education.nh.gov/instruction/curriculum/documents/kindergarten-districts.pdf). The list includes Alton, Franklin, Gilford, Gilmanton, Governor Wentworth Regional, Inter-Lakes in Meredith, Laconia, Moultonborough, Shaker Regional and Compass Classical Academy charter school in Franklin.
Eric Johnson, principal at Woodland Heights Elementary School in Laconia, said eight sections of full-day kindergarten are offered in the Laconia School District elementary schools, including programs at Elm, Pleasant Street and Woodland Heights. The program has existed for seven or eight years, he estimated.
"We firmly believe in Laconia in early intervention. If you look at our data of kids coming in, many of them do not have prerequisite kindergarten skills," Johnson said.
In a half-day program, there is not enough time to teach the kids and help them bridge a gap in skills, he said.
"There is a large population of our students that do not have the skills needed," Johnson said, adding, "A half-day program is not going to cut it with some of the needs of our students."
Title I, a federal program designed to help public schools with children from low-income families, pays for roughly half of Laconia's full-day kindergarten, Johnson said.
Woodland Heights Elementary started with a pre-kindergarten program last year to help socialize children and get kids "ready to learn," Johnson said.
For fiscal year 2018, the legislation's sponsor, Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, estimated that the bill would raise adequate education grants from $562,489,000 currently to $577,027,000. "With a statewide property tax of $363,148,601, the total funding would rise to $940,175,399," the bill reads.
"I have a similar bill in Senate Education," Reagan said. "The two questions are: Is this a good policy?, and secondly: Is it possible for the budget to sustain the spending? The situation is exacerbated by the desperation of parents looking for day care. So, as it stands now, the governor may or may not have placed the money in the budget. If it is budgeted, the first hurdle is House Finance and will have to pass the affordability test."

Revenue estimates suggested by Ways & Means Committee and accepted by the whole legislative body guide lawmakers as they prioritize money for budgeted items, he explained.

According to The Concord Monitor, a projected $65 million shortfall in the Department of Health and Human Services will occupy much of the governor's budget presentation to legislators on Thursday. (Efforts to contact the governor's office for comment on the funding bill were unsuccessful at press time.)
Advocates for full-day kindergarten argue that the money is well spent.

According to Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, "lack of funding for full-day kindergarten is one of the biggest hurdles for children" in New Hampshire.
"Our state continues to struggle with a tragic opioid epidemic, which has caused an increase of crime in our communities," Hilliard wrote in an opinion article. "There are many ways we can tackle this problem, but one I believe can help in the long run is high quality early education. Unfortunately, New Hampshire is one of the only states east of the Mississippi River without state-funded preschool, putting our kids at an early disadvantage compared to those from other states. Further, our state does not provide full-day kindergarten to all of our students."

Autism defense fails, man gets 8 years

By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun

CONCORD — A Lakes Region man described as a "sexual cyber predator" by a prosecutor, will spend the next eight years in a federal prison.

Moments after U.S. Marshals escorted a handcuffed Ryan Vallee out of a third-floor courtroom in U.S. District Court, his mother approached three of his victims who spoke during the sentencing and tearfully hugged them.

Senior trial attorney Mona Sedky said Vallee, 23, was a "prolific sextortionist" who terrorized teen-aged girls he'd once gone to school with into making pornography for him by hacking into their social media, email and online shopping accounts. He then threatened to delete, deface and make purchases from the accounts, unless the victims sent him sexually explicit photos of themselves.

In August, Vallee pleaded guilty to 13 counts of making interstate threats, nine counts of computer fraud and abuse, eight counts of aggravated identity theft and cyberstalking.

Vallee tormented his victims relentlessly for years. Some he knew from his hometown, some were friends and because they didn't know his identity, others even confided in him about the harassment they were experiencing, Sedky said.

Several of the victims emotionally recounted the terror Vallee inflicted upon them to Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.

Defense attorney Jonathan Saxe said two different experts diagnosed Vallee as being on the autism spectrum and described his client as being emotionally stunted, with limited communication skills.

"This was something he was doing on the computer. He didn't grasp its effect," Saxe said.

Vallee never held a serious job, and has always lived with his mother, according to Saxe, who told the judge the defendant's mother was in the courtroom and was especially distraught, as she knew the victims.

While the judge agreed Vallee's mental health had to be considered, he said in reading the reports and the case file it was more than what he called a "stunning lack of empathy" but a desire to harm. The defendant had to know that the sexually explicit pictures he posted online would be deeply humiliating to his victims.

Saxe countered that Vallee's inability to stop his crimes, even when he was on bail awaiting trial, was proof of his mental health issue, asserting that experts agree that compulsive behaviors common in those with autism, help soothe anxiety.

The prosecutor said the government considered both Vallee's mental health and his age in deciding to ask for a 96-month sentence. Under federal guidelines based on his offenses, Vallee was eligible for a sentence ranging from 87 to 102 months.

"The thing that affected me most was being trapped," said one victim, recounting how she has changed her phone number numerous times and even moved in an effort to regain a sense of safety.

"What I went through, people can't totally understand. The emotional scars will never go away. It's never ending," she tearfully said.

"I was scared in my own house," said another victim, describing how Vallee was able to send her text messages, hack into her email, her Amazon account and even access her credit cards. "I don't know how I'll ever feel comfortable even if he's in jail. I feel like I can't trust anyone."

Another victim spoke of how she had already moved from New Hampshire when the crimes began. What started out as harmless chit chat about books and movies took a dark twist at first desperate and then threatening. She had trouble sleeping and eating and finally had to take time off from her job. When the threats escalated, she confided in her guardians and they went to police in the southern state where she was living.

When she'd told Vallee she was going to police in an effort to get him to stop, he told her that nothing would come of it. His prediction initially proved true. But when Vallee's terror campaign continued, the girl contacted police in her former New Hampshire hometown, which sparked an investigation that identified 12 other victims.

Vallee, who also used the aliases Seth Williams and James McRow, had his bail revoked on March 22, after Secret Service agents discovered he was continuing to victimize other girls while awaiting trial for the same crimes.

While free, Vallee surreptitiously piggybacked onto a neighbor's wifi connection while visiting his sister's condo in Gilford and also used public wireless connections at multiple Lakes Region businesses in an attempt to shield his identity and continue preying on minor girls.

When Secret Service agents pulled up next to Vallee, who was stopped at a traffic light near the entrance to the Gilford Wal-Mart, they flanked his car with guns drawn and ordered him to turn off his vehicle and get out. Instead, he drove off, with a Gilford police cruiser in pursuit and called his mother telling her the police were chasing him. She advised him to stop and he did.

"The extraordinarily damaging effects on the victims, requires this sentence," Judge Barbadoro said. Other aggravated factors he considered were the number of victims, the length of Vallee's criminal conduct, and the efforts the defendant took to conceal his actions. Mitigating factors included the defendant's young age, his lack of any prior criminal record and his mental health. The judge said despite the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, he felt that Vallee had the functional capabilities of making decisions about right and wrong behavior and that while he may lack empathy, it doesn't excuse what he did.

"His conduct is difficult to comprehend even for a judge," Barbadoro said.

Other conditions of the sentence include that Vallee receive mental health treatment while incarcerated. He is to serve his sentence at the federal correctional institution that allows closest access by his family, and remain on parole for three years following his release.

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