Thursday, October 16, 2014

Does This Sound Oh So Familar In Out Town ?

A breech of public trust - Brattleboro Reformer

By RICHARD DAVIS

When an elected public official acts in a manner that is not only behaviorally inappropriate but also ethically unacceptable, a sacred public trust has been violated.
We elect people who we hope will reflect what is best in us. That means that they should be held to the highest ethical standards and that they should behave in a respectful manner. Their election by their peers implies that they understand that their actions will be under more scrutiny than the people who elected them.
Recent events in Vernon have put a blemish on the integrity of small town politics everywhere. The chairwoman of the Vernon Selectboard not only allegedly tried to intervene in the outcome of a police action, but also acted in a demeaning manner to the officers involved.
If this was an isolated incident of an abuse of power and an isolated act of arrogance by a public official we should still be outraged.
At the very least, this elected public official needs to make a public apology to all the parties involved.I believe she then needs to resign. I would go so far as to suggest that this official make a good faith effort at making sure this kind of thing is never done again by her.
The current behavioral indiscretion by the Vernon Selectboard chairwoman appears to be a case of bullying by an adult. If that proves to be true, then we have an instance where the behavior of a public official is undermining the efforts of school officials who have been working hard for a number of years to send a message that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
Adult bullying by a publicly elected official is a mean-spirited type of politics that should have no place in Vermont. If we disagree with each other we should be civil enough to be able to speak to each other frankly and to freely express our differences of opinion. In the case of this official, it has been my experience that differences of opinion are not well tolerated and even considered an affront to her way of life.
This current incident between the police and a public official in Vernon is only the most recent in a long line of controversial events in this little town. One has to wonder if there is some sort of toxic force at work that is causing too many public proceedings to be contentious more often than they need to be. There was a time when dealing with people and issues in Vernon was not so contentious and when anger and arrogance were not in the air. I hope for the days when a political candidate from Guilford can canvass door to door in Vernon and not have to worry about being treated as a hostile interloper.
The hope for those days begins by removing any bad apples from the barrel. If laws have been broken, public officials need to pay the price. The public trust has been violated and this Vernon official needs to step back from public life, whether as an elected official or a member of any institutional board, and reflect on her actions and try to make herself a better person.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net.


One could easily make the connection to a certain town official who on numerous occasions has used her position(s) and personal feelings to influence outcomes of board decisions in this town many times. One has to ask themselves why would someone act in such a way time and time again? A bigger question is why the Selectboard of Winchester allows this type of behavior and does nothing to uphold the public trust?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thayer Library remains closed

 By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff

ASHUELOT — One of Winchester’s two public libraries remains closed three months after two floods damaged mechanical systems in the building’s basement and likely caused paint and oil contamination.

Selectmen Chairwoman Roberta A. Fraser said late last week that town officials want to reopen Thayer Public Library soon, but repair work is on hold until the probable oil and paint spills in the basement, which has a dirt floor, are addressed.

She said she doesn’t have a time frame for when the library will reopen, but town officials will hopefully know more this week about the scope of work and when repairs can start.

The library is on Ashuelot Main Street (Route 119) in Winchester’s village of Ashuelot. It’s on the first floor of a historic two-story house, which was donated to the town by Julia Thayer in 1906 for the purpose of being used as a library.

The house is at the base of a hill that torrents of water rushed down during heavy rains on the late night and early morning of July 15. Heavy rains also caused flooding in the area June 26.

The town’s other library, the Conant Public Library, is at 111 Main St. in Winchester.

Frank J. Amarosa 3rd, chairman of the Thayer Library Trustees, said this morning that about 12 cans of paint and paint thinner were stored in the basement when flooding on July 15 caused them to float. All the cans were closed, but there is concern some of the materials inside them leaked out, he said.

During the first flood, which was in June, 52 inches of water filled the basement of the 210-year-old building, and twisted the building’s two heating oil tanks, Amarosa said. On advice from an insurance adjuster, the tanks were emptied, he said.

When the next flood came, 60 inches, or 5 feet, of water filled the cellar, and the tanks were damaged further, he said.

Town Administrator Shelly Walker said the furnace was running during the first flood, and some residual oil is believed to have leaked out onto the surface of the water. When the water receded, the oil would have gone onto the dirt floor, she said.

The N.H. Department of Environmental Services has become involved, she said.

Town officials also don’t know how much paint and paint thinner may have spilled, and therefore how much contaminated dirt will have to be replaced, she said.

The town has hired StoneHill Environmental of Portsmouth to assist in assessing the situation, she said.

As for paying for cleanup and repairs, Winchester officials expect to receive $10,000 from the town’s insurance company, and are applying for state funding to cover anything beyond that, Fraser said. At this time, they don’t have an estimate of the total cost, she said.

Once the environmental cleanup is done, other flood-related repairs can be made, including to the library’s handicap-access ramp, and some lights and smoke detectors, Walker said.

The windows to the library’s basement need to be replaced, Amarosa said, as well as the two oil tanks, the hot water heater and the boiler and controls for it, he said.

The also plan to have 18-inch high wells installed in front of the basement windows to prevent water coming off the hill from entering the building in the future, he said.

“Both events had tremendous amounts of rain,” he said. “The building had never had water like that before.”

The Thayer Public Library means a lot to the village, and the Winchester community as a whole, and prior to the flooding, he’d been working to strengthen its programs and offerings, Amarosa said.

The library was also open during days and hours when the Conant Public Library was closed.

“There was a library in Winchester open seven days a week. If it wasn’t in Winchester, it was in Ashuelot,” he said.

Like town officials, he is hopeful the Thayer Public Library will come back soon.

“It’s pretty straightforward. We’re just waiting — waiting on the paper work so we can get going,” he said. “We just have to stay closed until we get it fixed.”

Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or mfoley@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

New selectman appointed in Winchester

WINCHESTER — The town's board of selectmen has returned to full strength following the appointment of a fifth member.
Board members unanimously named William McGrath to fill the seat held by Kenneth S. Gardner.
Gardner, who was in his second, three-year term, resigned from the board on June 11.
McGrath, who has served on the school and zoning boards, will serve out Gardner's term until elections in March 2015.
Besides, McGrath, Ken Berthiaume, Brian Moser and Steven Thompson also submitted volunteer interest forms for the position.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Keene, Winchester school leaders vow to work together

By KAITLIN MULHERE  Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — Winchester and Keene’s school leaders will resume regular meetings in an attempt to improve relations between the two districts, which have a shared interested in Winchester’s teen students.
The commitment followed a meeting Thursday between a team of Keene officials and the Winchester School Board to address concerns Winchester board members and parents say they’ve raised several times before. Winchester has sent its high school students to the 1,450-student Keene High School since 2003.
Keene’s business administrator also will attend an upcoming meeting to answer Winchester board members’ questions about tuition calculations.
Winchester officials have grown frustrated in recent years with what they say is a lack of information about how their students are doing at Keene High.
Some board members and residents have said the rising cost of tuition to attend Keene is unsustainable. Others feel that Winchester students are lost in a sea of students in Keene.
Besides Winchester, students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Keene, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan and Surry attend Keene High.
“This is not easy for us to send our kids away,” Winchester board Chairman Richard Horton said. “They’re stripped of their sense of community.”
For the past year, a study committee approved at town meeting in 2012 has been researching whether a contract with the Keene School District provides the best option for Winchester students.
One major component of that, board members say, is determining how Winchester students are performing academically and socially at Keene.
In particular, members want to know whether Winchester students are taking advantage of all the opportunities attending a larger high school provides, such as a wide range of classes and extracurricular activities.
Yet gathering that data has been a source of irritation.
When former Keene High Principal Lynda C. “Lynne” Wagner presented an annual report to Winchester in June, board members tore it apart. There were inconsistencies in the data about grade-point averages, disciplinary action and extracurricular involvement, and a lot of missing information.
On Thursday, Keene High Interim Principal Jim Logan gave Winchester board members an updated report that answered some of their questions.
But it also led to others, including why so many Winchester students are placed in lower-level classes at Keene High School.
During the 2012-13 school year, almost three-quarters of Winchester students’ courses were foundations courses. Foundation-level classes are the lowest of four class levels at Keene.
Board members from each district agreed that it’d help to talk about how Keene places students in those courses, and what they can do to bring that number down.
“Moving forward, this conversation has got to be a year-long conversation,” Logan said. “It can’t be once a year or twice a year.”
Everyone agreed.
Logan also suggested using some of the time set aside in the school day for individual learning needs and small group meetings to gather all the Winchester students and talk with them about their concerns with Keene High.
“If they’re unhappy, they need to have the avenue to tell us that,” he said.
The conversation grew tense when questions were brought up about tuition prices and why prices haven’t been reduced, even when Keene has closed recent budgets with surpluses.
Winchester paid about $3.1 million to Keene for fewer than 200 students last year, Winchester board member Elisha Jackson said. Tuition rates have increased year after year.
This year, Winchester is paying $13,081 for each regular-education student and $29,000 for each special-education student.
The regular-education fee is average, Winchester board members said. But they think the special-education price is far too high.
“If you were a business, you wouldn’t be in business,” board member Jason Cardinale said.
Keene Superintendent Wayne E. Woolridge said at the beginning of the meeting that the high school offers more than 200 courses, including several AP and career-education classes. He highlighted a diverse collection of sports and clubs. He also touted the school’s staff recruitment, professional development and college and career counseling.
When adding all that together, Keene offers the best option for Winchester, Woolridge said.
“I think it’s a good deal for you, and we want you to think that, too,” he said.
Winchester board members said they were thankful to the Keene delegation of administrators and board members for coming to their board meeting.
“This is probably the most productive conversation we’ve had with your leadership,” Horton said.
But all the unhappiness they’ve voiced recently over their relationship with Keene wasn’t all of a sudden corrected.
Board member Kevin Bazan said he didn’t understand why Winchester had to ask so much. The town pays Keene tuition. It simply should be able to expect information and communication in return.
Horton made similar comments, and said he’s heard some of these promises about an open dialogue and changes before.
“Why has it taken this to get you guys here?”

Kaitlin Mulhere can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or kmulhere@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @KMulhereKS.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Winchester likely to face flood repair bill without federal help

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff


WINCHESTER — What took torrential rains hours to wash away, the town’s highway crew will try to rebuild in a week.
The Winchester Board of Selectmen gave the go-ahead to the town’s highway department Monday morning to begin rebuilding a large section of Old Westport Road that was annihilated by flash flooding last week.
The goal, selectmen Chairman Roberta Fraser said Monday afternoon, is to have one lane of the road open to through traffic by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, it appears unlikely that the town will be able to receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency despite the widespread damage caused by the storms that began the night of July 15 and ended the next day on July 16.
Of all the Monadnock Region’s communities, Winchester sustained the worst damage, with at least 12 roads washed out and residents living in 26 homes off six of the roads being stranded for some time.
Of the 26 residences affected, only three at the top of Purcell Road remained inaccessible by car as of Monday, town officials said.
Selectmen Sherman Tedford said Monday a contractor is scheduled to tend to that section of Purcell Road Friday, which needs to be ground up and resurfaced.
Some flooding was also reported in other areas last week, including Keene.
Damage costs must meet both county and state thresholds for a community just to be considered for FEMA assistance, said Michael D. Todd, public information officer with the N.H. Department of Safety.
Based on early estimates, the amount of damage Winchester received would be enough to reach the $269,000 threshold for Cheshire County, but not the $1.8 million threshold for the state.
In Winchester, early damage estimates are in the range of $600,000 to $700,000, but town officials have yet to receive final numbers, Fraser said Monday afternoon.
For the 2014-15 fiscal year, which began July 1, the town has an operating budget of about $3.3 million and a highway department budget of roughly $500,000.
Town officials hope they can get most of what needs to get done finished by just using the highway department budget, Fraser said. But without federal emergency funding, they expect they’ll have to look at other options — include bonding and asking the state to allow the town to use its unreserved fund balance, she said.
“We’re probably going to be looking for hundreds of thousands of dollars we don’t have,” she said.
At this time, four road paving projects planned for this year have been put on hold as well as some water and sewer work, Tedford said.
Selectmen have yet to discuss whether spending in other town department should be put on hold, he said, but the town needs to continue to operate for its residents.
For the remainder of the week, pending any emergencies, the highway department has been asked to focus on Old Westport Road so it can be reopened as quickly as possible, according to Fraser.
Highway crews are limited to opening one lane on the side of the road opposite the Ashuelot River because engineering work must be done before the road on the river side is rebuilt, she said.
Cars and large vehicles can get to residences and businesses on Old Westport Road and connecting streets that are south of the washout. But north of the washout, access is limited to vehicles under the weight and height restrictions of the Coombs Bridge.
As a temporary solution, town officials got permission from Mitchell Sand and Gravel off Route 10 to have highway and fire trucks cross the property to get to Old Swanzey Road, which connects to Old Westport Road.
But that solution isn’t working as well as town officials had hoped, as highway and fire trucks were having trouble getting through the area, Fraser said Monday.
“We need to get the road reopened,” she said. “It’s come down to a public safety issue.”
It appears the section of Old Westport Road was first undermined by the Ashuelot River before a tributary on the other side overflowed, taking out the rest of the roadway, she said. The area that washed out didn’t have a culvert or any other drainage structure.
Road Agent Dale Gray said the washed-out area is the length of “a couple hundred feet.”
Gray and other members of the highway department spent Monday afternoon cutting and removing trees that had fallen into the gully during the flood. The gully, which was filled with crashing and fast-moving water last week, is now a pool of calm water with rising dirt and stone cliffs on either side.
Fraser and Tedford stood along the road pulling aside tree branches as they were placed at the top of one of the cliffs.
Both said residents, along with local businesses and contractors, had come forward over the past few days with donations of equipment, materials and manpower to help rebuild Old Westport Road and other streets.
State highway crews have also come forward to help, they said.
In a statement this morning, William H. Boynton, public information officer for the N.H. Department of Transportation, said, “The Town of Winchester is doing an excellent job in repairing the damage to local roads from the recent storm. The NH Department of Transportation is providing expertise and limited assistance with three or four trucks from Highway Maintenance District 4 being used to transport materials.”
With a four-person highway department, the offers of assistance have been appreciated, Winchester officials said.
Besides the short-term repairs, there is now the long-term to worry about too, Tedford said.
Last week was the third time this summer Winchester fell victim to flash flooding. Besides road washouts, flooding has damaged some homes and properties around town. And more rain is expected this week with thunderstorms predicted for today and Wednesday.
The town’s drainage infrastructure, including culverts, is likely something officials will have to look into, especially following the most recent flooding, Tedford said.
And funding for that will be tough to come by, too, he said.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Do the public's business in public

Sentinel Editorial

Alstead’s selectmen made it clear this week the town’s finances are in trouble.
Though the town has only six full-time employees, the board sent letters to all six, advising them to seriously consider alternative employment if they can. It was an unusual move that could be interpreted as either an extraordinarily generous heads-up or, more cynically, as a scare tactic aimed at voters heading into the next budget cycle.
Selectman Matthew Saxton insists the letter was meant only to give the town’s workers notice that next year’s budget may call for cuts, so they might want to jump on any employment chances that come their way. To elaborate, the board then scheduled a meeting with those employees — behind closed doors, in clear violation of the state’s open-meeting laws.
Whether the board has the right to meet privately with employees might depend on circumstances and legal interpretation. There are, of course, exceptions to the requirement that elected boards do their business in public.
The board eventually emerged from behind closed doors with a claim the private meeting was to discuss personnel issues and/or matters that could adversely affect the reputation of people not on the board. However, those exemptions are meant to protect individuals; a meeting called for the purpose of discussing the possible future employment of ALL of the town’s full-time workers would not seem to qualify.
As Rob Bertsche, general counsel to the New England Newspaper and Press Association, put it: “… the exemption upon which the selectmen rely applies only to personnel actions of specific, identified employees.

… It is not a reference to a meeting to discuss the mass possibility of not rehiring any and all public employees.”

In any case, Alstead’s board did not, as is required under state law, meet publicly first to vote on such a move, nor did it cite, until after the fact, what exemptions to the state’s open-meeting law it felt warranted the session. Pressed by a Sentinel reporter beforehand to justify closing the doors, it dismissed any need to do so.

To call the board’s actions disappointing would be underselling the importance of the public’s role in good government. Selectmen Saxton, Joel McCarty and Michael Jasmin slapped the voters and taxpayers of Alstead in the face Tuesday.

All three have been on the board for years, Saxton and McCarty for a decade or longer. Situations involving the Right-to-Know law have undoubtedly come up repeatedly during their tenures. They have no excuse for not following the law.

In closing the doors without a valid vote and without justification, they told the town’s residents: We don’t care what you think. You have no place in this discussion.

They are, of course, mistaken. The town’s residents have every right to be involved in the running of the local government, and to hear the reasoning behind such an unusual letter.

In this case, we imagine Alstead taxpayers are wondering why their town, which is not unlike many others in the region, is facing such a dire fiscal future. They might wonder how much trouble the town is in, and what steps the selectmen have taken to try to head off having to let workers go, if it comes to that. The public has the right to know why, and how, and when and who.

Civics matters. What the government is up to, at every level, matters. It’s not just a case of protecting against corruption and malfeasance, though those are certainly important. It’s also about being able to understand the decisions that are made, and to question those decisions.

The state, in enacting the Right-to-Know statute, showed agreement with these principles.
However, the law is also unwieldy. It involves suing those who break it, something that is costly in time and money, and most often yields only a stern rebuke and a warning to do better.

Because of that, legal challenges based on the statute are few these days.
And that’s led, far too frequently, to officials choosing to duck public discussion simply because they don’t want anyone listening in as they make hard choices.
Alstead’s selectmen have served the town’s interest well in the past. That doesn’t give them a pass on following the law and letting the townspeople in on their decision-making.

 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Winchester selectmen to meet again in flood's wake

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff


WINCHESTER — Selectmen will meet again Monday to discuss how to address the damage caused by flash flooding this week, according to town officials.
Meanwhile, as of Thursday afternoon, all but three houses on roads that were washed out could be accessed by car, Town Administrator Shelly Walker said.
The three homes are on Purcell Road, and people are able to get to them on foot, she said.
In total, at least 12 roads were damaged during the deluge late Tuesday night into Wednesday, with some of the worst being Fosgate Road, Jantti Road, Old Swanzey Road, Old Westport Road and Watson Road.
Old Westport Road remains closed as of this morning to through traffic, as a roughly 120-foot section of it is missing.
Arrangements have been made for ambulances and fire trucks to get to homes on the section of Old Westport Road that is only accessible by crossing the Coombs Bridge, Winchester Fire Chief Barry Kellom said this morning.
Ambulances can cross the covered bridge, which has a height and weight limit, but fire trucks can’t, he said.
Fire trucks responding to calls will be sent through Mitchell Sand and Gravel off Route 10 and onto Old Swanzey Road, he said. From there, they can access Old Westport Road and other connecting streets, he said.
Local and state officials continued to assess the damage Thursday, and met with town officials, Walker said.
Town officials are awaiting a cost estimate of the damage, and whether the town is eligible for any aid.
For images of the flooding’s aftermath, visit SentinelSource.com

Winchester School Board mulls withdrawing from Keene

by:  Kaitlin Mulhere
WINCHESTER — A breakup could be brewing for the Keene and Winchester school districts.
Winchester school board members here once again voiced their displeasure Thursday with their relationship with Keene High School.
Board members agreed with a committee report that Winchester should tell Keene it's unhappy and that it will continue look at other high school options.
Board members also decided to have an independent lawyer review the district's 20-year contract with Keene.
The report comes after a withdrawal study committee, approved at town meeting in 2012, spent about a year looking into whether a contract with the Keene School District provides the best option for Winchester students.
The town has been sending its high school students to the 1,450-student Keene High for more than a decade, but the relationship has often been tense.
Winchester paid more than $3 million to Keene for its 177 students this year.
That tuition price has grown every year, and that, along with concerns the small town's students are lost in the sea of students at Keene are two of Winchester's top issues.
The board also is growing frustrated with what it describes as a lack of information and poor communication from Keene High School.
Those frustrations were especially evident last month, when outgoing Keene High Principal Lynda C. "Lynne" Wagner visited Winchester.
Board members questioned her then for nearly three hours, and told her repeatedly that the report she gave them was essentially useless.
Wagner told them their report was the same one all towns who send students to Keene received.
Winchester board members sent her home with a laundry list of questions looking for more specific information on how Winchester students perform academically and socially at the high school.
Member Trevor S. Croteau said the board has been telling Keene for three or four years that it wants more detailed information in the high school's annual report about how Winchester students are fairing in Keene.
The information the board wants has never come, he said.
"I really don't think they care that we're unhappy," he said.
As part of the withdrawal study, a Winchester team toured the high schools in Keene, Monadnock and Brattleboro school districts. Members also reached out to Hinsdale School District.
School board Chairman Rick Horton said he'd like to see Winchester be able to offer its students a choice of where they attend school. But the contract with Keene has an exclusivity clause that doesn't allow that.
The group also collected preliminary information about what'd it take to bring students back to Winchester to attend high school.
Still, Winchester wants more information before making a concrete decision to stay at Keene or leave.
Some of that information — particularly detailed cost estimates about reopening a high school in Winchester — will cost the district some money up front, Horton said.
One key piece that's still missing is what students think of Keene.
Winchester designed a survey earlier this year to gather students' opinions and sent it to Keene High last month. But board members don't know if the survey ever made it to students, as they didn't receive any responses.
Board members are hoping some of their questions are answered next month, when Keene officials are scheduled to come to Winchester for a meeting.
Besides Winchester, students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Stoddard, Sullivan and Surry attend Keene High.
But Winchester easily makes up the largest block outside of Keene students, and therefore, pays the highest tuition bill.
Winchester board members say the service they get from the high school ought to reflect that.
"Shame on us for never pushing as hard as we are now," Horton said. "But we're on track to get some information and get our answers."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wouldn't it be nice if ours had common sense too ? ..

Alstead selectmen warn town employees of cutbacks ...

ALSTEAD — Worries about next year’s budget have prompted the Alstead Board of Selectmen to warn employees of possible staffing cuts next year and to encourage them to seek jobs outside the town. 

In a letter sent with employees’ paychecks last week, selectmen told the town’s six full-time employees their jobs face cutbacks after the 2015 budgeting process.

“We are just one medium sized economic surprise away from drastic and immediate changes,” the letter said. “It is certain that town staffing will look different in 2015, perhaps sooner.”
The selectmen also warned that the town could not guarantee continued health care coverage for its employees.
The selectmen held a nonpublic meeting of the town’s employees at the town offices Tuesday night to discuss the details of the letter and possible changes to staffing and health care. While the state’s Right-to-Know law allows for the board to meet in secret for some personnel-related matters, the selectmen did not cite such an exemption before holding the meeting, and did not vote in public to enter the nonpublic session, as required by state law. A Sentinel reporter’s objection to the handling of the matter was dismissed by the three selectmen.
At a public meeting following the nonpublic meeting with employees, the town’s three selectmen — Joel C. McCarty, Michael Jasmin and Matthew D. Saxton — said they have made no plans to cut specific positions, and they are researching possible alternatives to the town’s health insurance provider before making any decision to cut benefits.
Saxton said the announcement was prompted only by the board’s desire to give ample warning to employees who might be offered employment elsewhere.
“The potential is for Alstead to not have anything like the staffing it has now,” he said at the meeting.
The town employs six full-time workers who receive health insurance benefits, and more than 50 part-time workers. The town has already notified two part-time plow drivers they will not be hired this winter.
Alerting the employees now to the staffing and health coverage uncertainties is better than waiting until next year’s budget deliberations to tell them, Saxton said.
“That’s not fair to them,” he said at the meeting.
One full-time employee, who worked in the town’s transfer station and the highway division, will leave Alstead after this week to work in another municipality. He will not be replaced.
“That helps our situation a little bit because we’re not paying him or buying his health insurance,” Saxton said. “There’s been enough uncertainty over this that if it were me, I’d be looking elsewhere, too.”
The board has requested help from a “navigator” employed under the federal Affordable Care Act, who will advise it on possible alternatives to town-provided health insurance under the new health care law for full-time employees who do stay with the town next year.
In an interview before Tuesday’s meeting, Saxton cited public pressure from Alstead residents to cut spending as a reason for the uncertainty.
Of the town’s roughly 1,200 registered voters, 178 came to a February deliberative session of the town meeting to push for more than $344,000 in cuts to the budget and eliminate a number of proposed allocations. They passed a slimmed-down 2014 budget largely as a reaction to a 2013 tax hike of 19 percent over the previous year.
“There is this constant drum of less, less, less,” Saxton said.
He also said that two spending requirements that will likely be in next year’s budget — workers compensation dues that were offset last year by a refund, and the projected cost of a five-year property revaluation — would tighten the budget further.
Alstead Department of Public Works Director David L. Crosby said he had received the letter, and that he had taken the news in stride.
“It’s business as usual,” he told The Sentinel after the meeting. “We’ll get through it.”
Martha Shanahan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1434, or mshanahan@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MShanahanKS.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Covered Bridge Celebration, July 12th

 The Winchester Historical Society
celebrates 150 years of
 
New Hampshire Covered Bridge #1
(The Ashuelot Covered Bridge)
1864-2014

Antique fire pump wagons
 
Photo contest (enter your image of Winchester for $5)
 
Local organizations and vendors on exhibit
 
 
 
Space is still available for craft, farm, garden, or food vendors!
 
$15 a space
 
Registration deadline: July 10, 2014
 
For more information, please call Erin Robb (603-239-8919)
or Jenn Bellan (602-239-7206)
 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Winchester selectman resigns

WINCHESTER — The town's five-member board of selectmen is now down to four.
Kenneth S. Gardner resigned from the board June 11, two days before he sold his house on Adams Court.
Gardner, who was elected to the board in 2009, was in his second, three-year term. That term was set to expire in March 2015.
While Gardner will remain in the area, he plans to spend the winters in Florida, town officials and residents said.
Town Administrator Shelly Walker said Thursday selectmen are looking for residents interested in filling Gardner's seat until town elections in  March 2015. The board plans to address the matter after the July 4 holiday, she said.
Walker said anyone interested in serving on the board of selectmen can fill out a volunteer interest form either at town hall or from the town's website at www.winchester-nh.gov/pages/winchesternh_clerk/index.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Development site put up for sale

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
WINCHESTER — There’s a new twist in the controversial plan for a combined convenience store, gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts here, and it’s not another lawsuit.
The property on which the store is supposed to be built, 4 Warwick Road, is for sale as legal wrangling over the proposed project continues.
The property, which is at the corner of Routes 10 and 78, is being offered for $595,000, according to a listing on the ReMax Town and Country website.
A message left Monday afternoon for Teofilo Salema, manager of S.S. Baker’s Realty Co. of Keene, asking why the property was for sale, wasn’t returned. S.S Baker’s owns the property and is proposing the project. It also owns other Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the area.
The roughly 1.19-acre property is valued at $64,700, according to town assessing records.
Meanwhile, one of the two court cases involving the project has been resolved, while the other has been appealed to the N.H. Supreme Court in Concord.
The first lawsuit was brought by S.S. Baker’s against the town after the Winchester Planning Board denied the proposal for the convenience store, gas station and Dunkin’ Donuts in July 2012.
The case was heard in Cheshire County Superior Court in Keene, and in April 2013, Judge John C. Kissinger Jr. upheld the board’s decision. Kissinger said in his ruling the board was justified in denying the application based on traffic safety concerns, and determining that the project would overwhelm the site. He also said that the board acted within the law in denying the project because it didn’t adhere to certain design standards.
S.S Baker’s then appealed Kissinger’s ruling to the state Supreme Court in May 2013. The court accepted the case in June of that year, and in March, it affirmed Kissinger’s decision.
Around the same time S.S. Baker’s appealed the case to the Supreme Court, it filed a second site plan application for the project with the Winchester Planning Board.
The second plan, while similar to the first one, had some differences. First, the proposed 3,500-square-foot building was going to be 4 feet shorter than first suggested. In addition, vehicles wouldn’t be allowed to make left turns from the store’s parking lot onto Main Street (Route 10), and up to 11 cars could fit in the drive-through lane for Dunkin’ Donuts. The drive-through lane in the first plan had space for only 10 vehicles.
The planning board approved the second plan in July 2013.
A month later, the Winchester Zoning Board of Adjustment decided not to grant a request from Stanley S. Plifka Jr., owner of Kulick’s Inc., to rehear, reconsider and reverse the planning board’s approval of the project.
Plifka, who operates Kulick’s Market at 30 Warwick Road, opposes the project.
Plifka said Monday he isn’t against Dunkin’ Donuts, but doesn’t think the proposed project is good for the property.
“It’s a very dangerous intersection for the building they’re trying to put up,” he said.
Plifka then appealed the planning board and zoning board decisions to Cheshire County Superior Court, and in February, Judge Kissinger upheld the boards’ decisions once again. He then denied a motion filed by Kulick’s Inc. to reconsider his ruling in March.
On April 30, the N.H. Supreme Court accepted Kulick’s Inc.’s appeal of Kissinger’s ruling. That case remains pending.
Meghan Foley can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436, or mfoley@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MFoleyKS.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Unanswered questions about Winchester students at Keene High

Sentinel Editorial
Sometimes what’s ideal isn’t what’s feasible. And sometimes, what seems to make sense somehow just doesn’t work.
A decade after Winchester started sending its high school students to Keene, there is still a palpable tension over the arrangement.

The latest issue has been one of information: Winchester school officials say they’ve repeatedly asked for data on how their teens are doing at Keene High School, but that information hasn’t materialized.
At a meeting earlier this month in Winchester, parents and board members alike said they feel their kids are looked down upon in Keene. This despite Keene High Principal Lynda Wagner’s proclamation that “You’re part of us.”
That message was certainly better received than when a previous Keene official said five years ago that Winchester students were dragging down the high school’s test scores.
Wagner was in Winchester to present a report that theoretically would satisfy the town’s demand for information. What she provided was, she said, the same information the district gives each Unit 29 town on the students it tuitions into Keene.
It wasn’t enough. For each number, the Winchester board had questions. And some of the data — such as that Winchester’s students have a grade-point average of 2.49 compared to Keene High’s overall 2.92 — begged for context that simply wasn’t to be had at that meeting.
Now, Winchester School Board members want more: They want to know how their kids feel about being at Keene High School.
That — and conversely, how Keene students and staff feel about the Winchester students being there — is the million-dollar question. More likely, a multimillion-dollar question.
The question revolves around whether Keene High is a good fit for the Winchester students, and if not, what the town can do about it.
Winchester is 10 years into a 20-year deal to send its students to Keene. Officials say they’re not looking to get out, but they have also formed a withdrawal committee to study that very possibility.
The issue is, then, what? Conversations with Hinsdale about sending Winchester’s students to Hinsdale High School were friendly, but Hinsdale says it can’t take that many more students.
The current arrangement came about because Winchester’s Thayer High School building had become so run down it no longer was accredited. The school is still used for some middle school and other programs, but would require an expensive overhaul to become fit to be a high school again.
Keene officials say they’re committed to all the high school’s students, including Winchester’s. But after a decade of uneasiness, some may conclude Keene simply isn’t a good fit for Winchester’s students. That’s what the town’s school board wants to determine.
At the time, Keene was the best option for Winchester’s teenagers, and whether a perfect fit or not, it still may be.
Winchester pays Keene about $13,000 per student, more for special education students. With about 200 students tuitioning in, that’s a minimum of $2.6 million the town is paying out to educate its teenagers in Keene.
For that amount, Winchester is certainly due whatever information it reasonably wants. It’s looking out for its kids. It’s plausible some of the answers Winchester officials hope to get simply can’t be gleaned from available data. But to the extent it can, the Keene district should make every effort to accommodate the request.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Looking for straight answers, by Brian Moser

On June 5, I had the chance to sit in on a meeting between School Administrative Unit 29 officials and the Winchester School Board.
Winchester has been asking for both timely and in-depth reports on our students for several years with no results, and promises were again made to bring them this time. It was no surprise that the SAU officials didn’t bring that information to this meeting either. No wonder Winchester is looking for other options for our students.
This is not about Winchester. This is about everyone who has students attending Keene High.
When Winchester asks about more information, they are told no other districts ask for it, so why should Winchester want more? Maybe Winchester is looking more closely at what its students are receiving at taxpayer expense.
We’ll move on. I was told that data is provided by Keene High guidance department that if a student at Keene High School applies to five colleges and gets accepted to all five, the guidance department counts that as five students are going to college. You might ask why. The only answer I see is that it makes Keene look like it has success rates better than they are (Book cooking 1).
Also, if a 12th-grader does not graduate, and does not come back to school, the guidance department doesn’t count that as a dropout. Why? It makes Keene look better than it is (Book cooking 2).
These two practices inflate the numbers of college-bound students and deflate the number of dropouts.
I hope someone else will see this and start asking questions.
Next up can anyone at SAU 29 explain conflict of interest?
Can anyone in the legal world explain conflict of interest?
This is about students! Why isn’t SAU 29 forthcoming with true and honest statistics involving very expensive “educations?”
Let me know what you think.
Brian Moser
168 Clark Road
Winchester

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Winchester board seeks more information about its students at Keene High

 By KAITLIN MULHERE Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — A school board committee wants to know how Winchester’s teens feel about life at Keene High School as part of a study on whether the school is the right fit for the small town.
The decision to conduct a student survey was made at a Winchester School Board meeting Thursday. It followed a nearly three-hour discussion with Keene High School Principal Lynda C. Wagner, in which board members and residents told her repeatedly that they weren’t satisfied with the data and information the high school provides about the town’s students.
Wagner was presenting an annual report on Winchester students’ academics, involvement and behavior at Keene High during the 2012-13 school year. The school delivers the same report to each of the nine towns that pay tuition to send students to Keene.
In March 2012, Winchester voters approved a petition warrant article to study withdrawing their students from Keene High and either reopening Thayer High School, which closed in 2005, or sending the students elsewhere. Supporters said that with the price of tuition to attend Keene rising each year, Winchester should explore other options.
The withdrawal committee didn’t form until last year, though, and it only recently began meeting regularly. Committee members said in October the district wasn’t looking to breach its 20-year contract with Keene, but just wanted to research whether they were getting the best value for their money.
Winchester will pay $13,081 for each regular-education student next year and $29,000 for each special-education student.
School board Chairman Richard Horton told Wagner that Thursday’s presentation wasn’t about tuition prices or budgets. It was about how Winchester students are faring at Keene High.
And it was clear Winchester board members aren’t entirely pleased with their relationship with Keene.
They asked for more information on almost every category in the report. In several cases, Wagner said she’d have to report back to them since she didn’t compile the data.
Specifically, Winchester board members asked to see the graduation rates for Winchester students from the 2012-13 school year, the percentage of Winchester students in lower-level classes and the number of Winchester students participating in athletics, and to clarify several categories where the numbers didn’t add up or make sense.
In addition to Winchester, students from Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson, Surry, Sullivan and Westmoreland pay tuition to attend Keene.
Wagner said she would do her best to get the information the Winchester board requested, but that this was the same format and report that every town with students at Keene High receives.
“We’re not every town,” Horton said. “We want more information. We continue to ask and we’re not getting it.”
Those at the meeting, both board and audience members, said they’re not confident in much of the report because of the questions and mistakes they found.
Still, Horton wanted to know how Wagner planned to use the data she presented. If, as the report shows, Winchester students’ grade-point average (GPA) is lower than the rest of the student body and their number of discipline infractions is higher, he asked, what is the high school going to do to remedy those situations? In 2012-13, Winchester students’ average GPA was 2.49. The school-wide average was 2.92.
Wagner said more than once that she doesn’t single out groups of students from specific towns. She looks at students on an individual basis. After a decade of Winchester students attending Keene High, there’s no distinction among students, she said.
“We’re Keene High School,” she said. “You’re a part of us.”
Horton disagreed.
“I hear what you’re saying, but I think there are still labels,” he said. “When you say you’re from Winchester, it’s a different look you get.”
Parents of Winchester students who were sitting in the audience echoed many of the board’s concerns. Their students face a stigma at Keene High simply for being from Winchester, and it comes from teachers just as much as from students, they said.
Wagner was not happy to hear those reports, calling that attitude unacceptable. She said she’d work with her administrative team about ways to improve.
She also said she thought additional late buses would help Winchester students participate in more after-school activities, which build relationships with classmates and motivate students to do better academically.
Other improvements Wagner and the board discussed included better communication between Winchester School and Keene High in terms of planning curriculum and preparing Winchester students academically for Keene High, and more regular visits between administrators from the two schools.
“I’m offering you an open door to work with me,” Wagner said.
Board members were happy to hear that.
This is Wagner’s second year as Keene High principal, and she said she can’t explain or change anything that’s happened in the past decade.
This isn’t the first time the Winchester-Keene relationship has been less than smooth. In 2009, Winchester students were singled out by some Keene officials as a cause of the school’s low test scores. Since the tuition agreement began, many in Winchester have had concerns about the pre-dawn drives to Keene putting students at a disadvantage academically, and about how students fit into a 1,500-student school after growing up in a small community. About 380 students attend Winchester’s kindergarten through 8th-grade school.
One of the biggest advantages mentioned by supporters of sending Winchester students to Keene High is all the opportunities students have there that a smaller school couldn’t provide. But, Horton asked, if they find Winchester students aren’t participating in those sports and clubs, then how is that benefiting them?
That’s where the Winchester Withdrawal Study Committee comes in. The committee has toured Keene High, looked at other high schools and examined what would be required academically to reopen a high school in Winchester. Now the committee needs to hear what Winchester students think, board member Elisha Jackson said.
Questions on the survey will ask things such as how students perform academically, what extracurricular activities they’re involved in and whether they feel accepted and happy at Keene High.
The committee is aiming to complete the survey before school ends in a couple weeks.