Letters

Amherst School Board

September Letter to the Editor: 

Schools are open, busses are running, and kids are sitting in classrooms while teachers present lessons in front of them.  In other words, it sounds like a normal September is underway for Amherst School District.  If only it were that simple.

After the more bizarre summer most of us can remember, Amherst schools are open for learning.  To get to this point, there have been hundreds of people spending thousands of hours determining the best way to provide the best possible education for our kids.  They have produced hundreds of pages of detailed plans and protocols to ensure this is done as safely as possible.  You can view all the plans at www.sau39.org but, in a nutshell, this is the current state of affairs:

  1. Administrators of SAU 39 announced a plan to open schools in early August.  The plan gives students, parents, and teachers the choice – based on their personal health, safety, and comfort – of returning to in-person learning five days a week or learning and teaching remotely.

  2. The school year will be divided into approximately month-long segments, with parents AND educators being asked prior to each segment if they will attend remotely or in the classroom.

  3. Prior to each segment, the SAU will set a status for how ‘open’ the schools will be for the upcoming session based on COVID-19 conditions in our community and state while following any guidance or orders issued by the governor. 

  4. This color-coded system ranges from red (100% remote learning) to orange (25% capacity) to yellow (70% open) to green (90 percent open), and blue (99 percent open, all systems near normal).  We are currently operating in a yellow status, meaning schools are open to any student who wishes to return to campus.

  5. Approximately 70 percent of students and teachers opted for in-person learning for the introductory two-week segment.  Decisions on segment two, another two-week session, will be made after press time.  The first lengthier session begins at the end of the month.

To make the above work, the district has put in place strict cleaning and safety procedures.  These include:

  • Mandatory masking for all students and teachers in orange and yellow status.

  • Upgrades to the heating and air systems for air quality and air flow.

  • Limited capacity on school busses with students wearing masks and occupying every other row.

  • Intensive hourly, daily, and weekly cleaning in every building.

  • Daily verification that teachers and students are symptom-free and feeling well before entering a building.

  • New classroom arrangements limit the number of interactions each teacher and student has during the day.

  • Children eat lunch in the class and spend recess with their cohorts outside.

  • Teachers will be encouraged to use outdoor classrooms as much as possible.

  • Strict quarantine plans for students or teachers who have symptoms, have had exposure, or are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Now you would not be wrong to ask the question, how much does this plan cost?  In short, over $1.3 million for supplies and staffing, plus hundreds of thousands more for HVAC modifications that are being prioritized now rather than scheduled down the road in our master facilities plan.

To pay for this, we have petitioned the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) to utilize the unreserved fund balance (UFB) from the 2019-20 school year.**  In April, Governor Chris Sununu foresaw many districts in the state needing additional funds to cover the additional costs of opening schools safely during the pandemic.  In lieu of this information, he signed Emergency Order 38, which allows school districts to apply to the DOE to access these funds.

This was not our original intent with the UFB.  When we got word in June that the UFB balance would be about $1.4 million, we approved $400,000 for the district to use on a variety of projects while $1 million would be returned to taxpayers.  When the fiscal year officially ended June 30, and after some of that $400,000 was expended, more than $1.5 million remained in our UFB.  In a normal year, this money would have been returned to taxpayers as planned.  However, after a lengthy discussion, the board voted to allow the administration to apply to the DOE to utilize these funds for our 2020-21 school year reopening plan.  We chose this option for a variety of reasons:

  1. Overseeing the education of the children of this community is our elected purpose.  Countless experts across the world have repeatedly stated this summer there is no proper substitute for in-person learning, no matter how robust the remote system is (and ours will be robust!).

  2. Those same experts have said there are safe ways to open with proper protocols in place.

  3. The social-emotional impact on kids in the last six months is unprecedented. Returning to schools can mitigate this.

  4. New Hampshire is in a good place in the battle with COVID-19.  Had the numbers been more extreme, our plan would be different.  If they numbers change, our plan is adaptable.

  5. This plan satisfies the needs of most of the families in our district.  Those who want to return to school can, while those who want or need to stay home for health reasons have that choice.

  6. As the state and economy continue to open, parents need to return to work and not everyone can do so if schools are remote only.

  7. There is no additional tax impact if we use the UFB funds.  In the face of economic hardship, huge unemployment, and an uncertain fall and winter, we did not want to place another tax burden on the community. 

We did not relish taking this decision out of taxpayers’ hands but we did so unanimously for the reasons listed above, plus dozens of others.  Had the board not chosen this route, we would have brought the request to the public for a special meeting, which entails a warrant article asking for the money followed by public hearing, deliberative session, and an official vote.  This process would have resulted in an additional tax impact and taken months to organize.  And if it failed, we would likely have had to close schools and go fully remote for the duration of the year.  As mentioned above, we did not think this the best option for our students or community.

There is no easy way to navigate the current state of our world but we made the best decisions we could make with the health, safety, and education of our community firmly in mind.  Let’s hope that New Hampshire continues to put up the good fight against COVID-19 and that science comes to our aid sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, our next meetings are scheduled for September 14 – Amherst School Board at 4 p.m. and the SAU join-level board at 6:15 p.m.  During the SAU meeting, we will be appointing community members to the SAU budget committee.  If you are interested in assisting with the development of the SAU budget, email SAU board chair Stephen O’Keefe at sokeefe@sprise.com.  The Amherst district will get a first look at the 2021-22 budget in October.

**At press time, the DOE and our district were still discussing the legitimacy of the district’s funding request based on ambiguity in the executive order.

 

Amherst School Board

Elizabeth Kuzsma Chair  

Terri Behm 

Tom Gauthier Vice-Chair

Ellen Grudzien 

Joshua Conklin 

Tony Labranche is Running for State Representative from Amherst 

To the editor:

      Earlier this year, I ran to be on the Souhegan Cooperative School Board (SCSB). With the support of my friends, family, and people throughout Amherst, I was able to draw attention to the issues I saw first hand with our schools. Since then, I have stayed involved in local and national politics and have become the Treasurer for the Amherst Democrats and was selected to be an alternate delegate to the DNC.  

      Although I did not get elected, I gained an incredible amount of experience and learned much about the issues in my town. I talked with people on the ground level and heard their concerns. I heard how much the people in this town are burdened by property taxes, medical care, the education of their children, their jobs, and more. From that point, I realized that I had more opportunities to serve this community. I did not achieve what I originally set out to do, so I started working on a new goal. 

      With the knowledge I had gained from running for SCSB, I have decided to run for State Representative. Together, I believe that we can make pragmatic change for Granite Staters and make genuine progress for our community. We need to take better care of our workers, our environment, our students and teachers, and even our very electoral system. 

      With your support, we can fight together for lower property taxes, proper funding of education,  rank-choice voting, paid family and sick leave, protection of our environment, and the many other issues that harm our families, neighbors, and towns. 

      You can help support my campaign by visiting tonylabranche.com 

Thank you,

Tony Labranche

Amherst

Shannon Chandley Deserves Your Consideration

To the editor:

      Some time in late March or early April, my phone rang during the day while I was home poking at my computer keyboard trying to engage in meaningful teaching during the initial weeks of the pandemic shut down. In a fog of Google Classroom flubs and disappearing students, I was surprised to hear the calm, reassuring voice of my state senator on the line. Shannon Chandley called me “just to check in” during the crisis.

      To be clear, I am not a big donor or a power player in New Hampshire politics. What I am is someone who works hard in the local community on behalf of others and is willing to share my struggles. As a teacher, I have a unique window on how situations play out in the arena of public education. Shannon recognized my position and was able to reach a key source in our community. Thankfully, I felt supported during this time from my employer, the Milford School District, but I was able to connect Shannon with other constituents who were not being as well served.

      Shannon Chandley is the kind of representative who looks to serve, reaches out in times of need and works tirelessly to pass meaningful legislation that helps New Hampshire families. Senator Chandley successfully saw the removal of the Merrimack tolls, and has been working with other “water warriors” on a state senate committee to address PFAs chemical contamination of water in an omnibus bill. She works on small nuisances and thorny scientific and legal issues alike to make New Hampshire a better and more livable place for all. State Senator Shannon Chandley is running for re-election to continue representing District 11. She has my vote, and deserves your careful consideration.

Sincerely,

Beth Haverkamp Powers

Amherst 

Vote For Justice in Hillsborough County

To the editor:

      Many voters do not know the function and importance of their County Attorney.

      The Hillsborough County Attorney is the equivalent of what would be a District Attorney (DA) in larger city prosecution offices. The County Attorney is responsible for prosecution of the most serious offenses within the county, including most felony offenses. Hillsborough County has the largest and most complex County Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire. 

      Any New Hampshire attorney is eligible to run for the position of County Attorney. However, as has been clearly demonstrated in recent years, not every New Hampshire attorney has the knowledge and experience necessary to do the job. 

      Michael Conlon met that minimum qualification in 2018. It soon became evident that he did not have the legal, organizational, and courtroom knowledge and experience to understand the complexities of the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.  

      Many senior law enforcement personnel, professional prosecutors, and defense attorneys attempted to assist him on multiple occasions, by offering advice, assistance, and recommendations. Finally, the State Attorney General called for Michael Conlon’s resignation due to his inability to fulfill the role. 

      When Mr. Conlon refused to resign, the Attorney General was compelled to take over the direct supervision and management of the office in September, 2019.  

      The Hillsborough County Police Chiefs Association, in an unprecedented move, issued a vote of “No Confidence” in Mr. Conlon. Yet, he remained there and continues to hold that office.  

      Worse yet, he still meets that minimum qualification to run for the office again this Fall.  

      There exists a serious disconnect between the current Hillsborough County Attorney, law enforcement, and the other stakeholders in Hillsborough County.  

      The people of Hillsborough County deserve better and expect more of our Hillsborough County Attorney.  

      I retired as a Senior Justice in the New Hampshire State Circuit Court to run for Hillsborough County Attorney. I have actively sought out and spoken with defense bar members and police chiefs, listening and seeking their recommendations.  

      I do not pretend to have all of the answers, but I have built a forty-year law career, to include twenty years in civilian private practice, fifteen years as a State judge, and military experience as a US Marine Corps and later Army Guard/Reserve judge advocate. 

      I deployed three times to Iraq as a judge advocate. I served as a Liaison to the Iraq General Counsel’s Office for the Iraq Ministry of Defense to rebuild their military courts and establish the Rule of Law. I served for thirteen years as a State Human Rights Commissioner, with eight of those years as the Chair of the Commission. 

      I want to use all of that training, education, experience and insight on behalf of my fellow citizens of Hillsborough County. I would be deeply honored to serve as the next Hillsborough County Attorney and I respectfully ask for their vote.

 

Sincerely,

John J. Coughlin

Amherst

Peter Maresco Seeks Your Support in NH State Primary 

To the editor:

      My name is Peter Maresco and I am a candidate for State Representative in Hillsborough County District 22 representing Amherst.  I was motivated to run after witnessing two consecutive budgets that proposed increases in both personal and business taxes and would have negatively impacted our community.  I welcome the opportunity to represent our town in Concord to help maintain the New Hampshire way of life we all currently enjoy.

      I was born and raised in the Bronx, then moved to Westchester County after marrying my wife, Lisa.  We relocated to Amherst in 2000 in search of a better environment to raise our two children, Emily and Alex.  After benefitting from the unique and wonderful New Hampshire way of life and having a great experience with the Amherst school system, it is clear we could not have made a better choice for our family.  Given the opportunity to be your State Rep, I will work tirelessly to make sure that this wonderful environment remains intact for many years to come.

      I recently retired from a 40-year career as a system engineer at BAE Systems.   I received both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Manhattan College in the Bronx.  I also obtained an MBA in Financial Management from Iona College in New Rochelle, NY.  Since I was always interested in education, I served for three years on the Amherst School Board and four years on the Souhegan School Board.  Through my school board service, I have hopefully demonstrated my ability to listen to both sides of an issue and ask probing questions while maintaining focus on the best interests of our students and our town.  I am asking for your support to help me take that same independent thinking approach to Concord to help protect the New Hampshire Advantage.

 

Sincerely,

Pete Maresco

Amherst

SEPTEMBER 2020

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