After Many Years Playground Becomes Reality at Library Street School
by Lynne Ober
It’s been a long-awaited event, but the new playground at Library Street School has finally been installed.
Fundraising began a number of years ago when Lori Krueger was the principal at Library Street School and continued through the years. With the award of a large grant from Hillsborough County the playground became a reality.
Russell Packard, President of Dr. Play Associates, worked with staff and PTO members in designing the new equipment and evaluating existing equipment. “We were able to save a lot of the equipment,” smiled Linda Philcrantz, Library Street Nurse, who helped shepherd the new playground initiative to its completion. “The spider is gone and so is the car, but other pieces of existing playground equipment were in good repair and are being used in our revamped playground.”
“That basically gives us a lot more play space for students,” said Principal Scott Baker.
Nancy Jones, who originally chaired the Playground Committee before moving out of town, even came back on Saturday to see how it all came together.
It was a busy four days. Linda Philcrantz thanked Hudson Highway Department for helping pull out the old pieces of equipment that could not be saved. “They brought in a couple truck loads of sand and loaned us a cement mixer. Kevin’s people are always great to work with,” she noted.
By Friday parts of the playground were being assembled and trash from the packaging of all of the pieces was being broken down and carried to the dumpster. Packard said that it was fun to put a playground together, but that digging all the deep holes was a lot of back breaking work.
The crew ate lunch with the kids in the cafeteria, much to the excitement of the kids who peppered the workers with questions about the new playground. Excitement filled the cafeteria.
On Saturday the working crew had expanded. Neil Philcrantz was putting swings together. Benches were being set in cement. Scott Baker and Linda Philcrantz were putting in the groundwork for the new picnic tables, and kids were already hanging around the newly installed equipment.
Parents donated food and cooked lunch outside for everyone who was working. It was a cheerful group with lots of smiles.
Linda Philcrantz admitted that she’d invited everyone who had been involved over the years. “The Nottingham West Lions gave us $1,000. Brian Lindsey arranged for 130 bags of cement and there were so many others. I just hope I didn’t forget anyone.”
Jeremy Griffiths recalled his friend Dustin Dizoglios who had moved to Hudson from California. Justin loved Hudson and living in Hudson. He unfortunately died at a young age. His family contributed to the playground fundraising. “They sent money from all branches of the family,” recalled Jeremy, who had been on the original Playground Committee. “It was amazing.
“In honor of this young man a plaque will be place on one of the new picnic tables,” said Linda Philcrantz.
Thanks to a lot of hard work from everyone involved, the new playground was ready for Library students this week.
Hudson School Board and Federation of Teachers Reach Contract Agreement
by Maureen Gillum
According to a joint press release this week, a four-year master contract settlement has been reached between the Hudson School Board and the Hudson Federation of Teachers, AFT Local #2263, representing teachers and full-time paraprofessionals in Hudson.
After nearly a year and a half of collective bargaining, the contract agreement was finally reached in two recent steps. On October 31, the HFT ratified the school board's latest SAU 81 contract offer, in a school-by-school, secret ballot vote. The final HFT tally was 198 in favor (almost 77 percent); and 60 opposed (about 23 percent). Shortly after re-emerging from non-public session, during their 3.5 hour November 7 meeting, the Hudson School Board unanimously accepted the contract in a 3 - 0 vote. One of the five board members was absent and the chairman, who is married to a district teacher, abstained from the vote.
“From the beginning, the board recognized that our salaries were substantially lower than other school districts in our area, and that our health insurance contributions were among the highest,” said School Board Chairman David Alukonis. “We were determined to redress that balance, and we believe we have.”
Virginia Lunt, President of the Hudson Federation of Teachers, expressed support for the contract settlement, “Although our teachers’ salaries will remain relatively low for this area, we have reached what we believe to be the best result we can obtain for our faculty members.”
Under the settlement, teachers will receive no salary increase for this year (2005 - 2006), and the average salary increase over the four years of the contract will be 4.9 percent annually. For example, the minimum starting salary in Hudson will increase from $29,053 in 2005 - 2006 to $32,211 in 2008 - 2009, as shown in the current and projected salary schedules below. Of note, Hudson’s projected starting salary won’t meet the comparative 2005 - 2006 salary average ($31,112) until 2007 - 2008 ($31,122). Again, within the salary schedules of Hudson teachers with master’s degrees in the maximum levels, Hudson is more than $3,400 below the current comparative average, and remains below the 2005 - 2006 average even with projected salary increases to $55,583 in 2006 - 2007.
Similarly, paraprofessionals will receive no salary increase for the current year, and over the four years of the contract will receive an average salary increase of 2.5 percent. “The school board also recognized that our paraprofessional salaries were above the area average, and their increases were subsequently lower,” Alukonis stated.
Both teachers and paraprofessionals will also contribute more to their health insurance than they do presently within the new contract. For point of service plans, the school district’s contribution will decline from 87 to 80 percent during the next three years; conversely, teachers and paraprofessionals’ health payments will increase from 13 to 20 percent. For health maintenance plans, the district’s contribution will be reduced from 87 to 85 percent, while staff rates will rise from 13 to 15 percent. These shifts in health care contributions will partially offset the salary increases the new contract provides teachers and paraprofessionals.
While the hard-won agreement is not perfect or pleases everyone, it represents compromise, cooperation, and movement in a positive direction for all. “Last summer, Alukonis continued, “The district lost 38 teachers, and many of them left reluctantly for higher salaries. We don’t want that to happen again.” He concluded, “We believe that this contract settlement is fair to both our faculty and to Hudson taxpayers. Even with this contract, our salary schedule will still be below the average for the area, but we are confident that this schedule will allow us to be competitive for the teachers we need.”
HFT President Virginia Lunt, admitted, “These negotiations have been long and difficult and we are pleased that they have been concluded.” With more than 50 (roughly 20 percent) of the total SAU 81 staff leaving the district last year (including teachers, department heads, administrators; and about 15 retirees), the fourth grade Hills Garrison teacher added, “Far too many good people have left Hudson’s classrooms, and those dedicated staff members who have stayed throughout this period deserve appropriate salary levels. Despite the difficulty of these negotiations, we are confident that the resulting contract will attract and retain quality teachers for the students of Hudson.”
While the contract has been ratified by both central parties, several steps remain and will require Hudson citizens’ input and support. First, the contract (along with school budgets and warrant articles) will be reviewed by the Hudson Budget Committee through December and submitted to the town with their recommendations. A public hearing for town input will be held in January; followed by the district’s Deliberative Session on Saturday, February 11 (Hudson Community Center, 9:00 a.m.). Ultimately, the final approval step for this long-negotiated contract, which the HFT and school board now solidly support, is up to Hudson voters at the March 14 elections. As part of your democratic rights and responsibilities to your town and schools, please come voice your opinions and cast your vote.
Hudson Police and School Department Unite to Keep Hudson Children Safe
by Doug Robinson
In response to the recent alleged stalker arrest, a parent in the Bush Hill area spoke with the Hudson~Litchfield News about her concerns, asking if the “Hudson Police Department used her kids as bait to catch this person."
Last week, the Hudson Police Department arrested David Leclercq, 41, of Pelham, for “four counts of stalking related to his activity,” according to the Hudson police report. The arrest had been the result of a “lengthy investigation” on-going since October 3, 4, and 6. According to the police report, “a male subject in a maroon Chevrolet pickup truck approached teenage girls on back roads attempting to lure them into his vehicle. On October 28, the Hudson Police received a fourth report of the same subject engaging in the same conduct.”
“Each fact pattern we deal with is so different we react to these situations on a case-by-case basis. In this case, we had a person approaching high school students and asking them if they wanted a ride,” explained Hudson Police Captain Ray Mello. ”We were on the investigation right away and had extra patrols including unmarked cars in the area since these incidents were happening during a specific time period. We then identified the suspect through our surveillances, interviewed him and arrested him.
“The reason this person was charged with stalking is because asking a person if they want a ride is not a crime. This suspect was not targeting a specific person. The stalking happens because he appeared in the same area more than once with no reason to be there.
“We (Hudson Police) took this case very seriously, notified the school to tell their students to be vigilant, applied all our resources, and arrested the suspect. No student was ever used as bait and no person was ever put at risk. The patrol officers and detectives who worked on this case did an outstanding job and should be commended for their diligence.”
One Bush Hill parent, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed concern over the incident. “I am disappointed that the police searched for this gentleman for the month, involving several incidents, informed the school but neither school nor police notified parents,” stated the anonymous Bush Hill resident. ”Parents in the area could have been notified, and I am disappointed we were not notified. The police caught the person at the expense of what? Are they using our children as bait?”
According to Hudson School Superintendent Randy Bell, “The school and the police work cooperatively on these issues, as we are all concerned with student safety. We respond to each incident on a case-by-case basis.” According to Bell, Principal Lane was asked by the Hudson police to inform the students at Alvirne of these incidents and to caution them to behave safely.” As a result of these communications between the Hudson Police Department and the Hudson school system, the message was communicated effectively and “when the students refused (to go for a ride), the individual drove away.”
Bell continued by stating that “Our policy is to cooperate with the police department, and engage in two-way communication in these cases. We have always felt that the police department has been responsive to us, and I believe that they feel the same way.”
Adorable Horribles March with Band at Hills Garrison
Hills Garrison School celebrated Halloween with an outdoor Parade of the Horribles -- otherwise known as the adorables -- on October 31. The Alvirne High School Bronco Marching Band paraded up and around the school to the delight of students, families, and staff. As the band made its way around the school, all students in grades one through five joined behind the band and marched. The warm, sunny afternoon was perfect for this fun event. The students at Hills Garrison were fascinated by the talented musicians going by in costumes, proudly playing a variety of songs. Enthusiastically, all joined in a magnificent parade. Special thanks go to Gerry Bastien and the Alvirne High School marching band. Perhaps this event will be that spark that ignites a yearning to play an instrument. This spark could lead to band members of the future!
The Beat Goes On Between O’Brion and Selectmen
by Lynne Ober
And it doesn’t appear that the dance between former Litchfield Police Chief Joseph O’Brion and selectmen will end without at least one trial.
Despite the Summary Judgment issued on October 24 that reinstated O’Brion as police chief, Lieutenant Gerard Millette is still acting chief.
Since October 24 reams of paper have been used in court fillings and contract negotiations.
Selectmen, through their attorney, have offered two separate contracts to O’Brion, who has rejected both of them. Reportedly O’Brion is looking for a five-figure raise and no longer wishes to report to selectmen.
These issues undoubtedly represent significant stumbling blocks. Budgets have been set and unexpected large salary increases are not in those budgets. Additionally, Litchfield does not have a town administrator. All department heads report to a selectmen’s liaison to the department.
Selectman Jack Pinciaro was the selectmen’s liaison to the Litchfield Police Department. In the first court filling made by O’Brion’s attorney, allegations were made about Pinciaro’s role in the matter of the chief’s non-renewal.
However, when O’Brion was questioned, under oath, for his deposition, his story very nearly matched the events as recounted by Pinciaro and not the allegations made in the original court filling.
Nevertheless, neither Pinciaro nor selectmen wanted O’Brion to have a bad transition back to the chief’s position. Pinciaro urged selectmen to choose someone other than himself to be the liaison and after deliberating selectmen decided that to ease the way. Two new liaisons were chosen for the police department and would work in tandem with O’Brion in the coming year, but O’Brion rejected that proposal.
On November 1 selectmen had their attorney ask the court to keep O’Brion a master patrolman pending the town’s appeal of the Summary Judgment.
O’Brion’s attorney immediately filed a competing brief with the court and on November 2 asked that O’Brion be immediately reinstated to his position as chief.
A motion for back pay, fees, and costs was also filed on November 2. In this motion, O’Brion asked for the difference between his master patrolman’s pay and the chief’s pay. He also asked that he be reimbursed for additional healthcare insurance premiums he had to pay as a patrolman compensated for the loss of the use of the police chief’s cruiser to travel between work and home. The chief’s total wage and benefit loss was approximately $3,300, according to the motion.
However, O’Brion had already incurred approximately $8,700 in legal fees. The motion stated, “Additional fees are likely to accrue as this litigation progresses.”
O’Brion also asked for reimbursement of $145 in court costs which represents the costs to file his suit.
The motion states, “Parenthetically, although Chief O’Brion need not show the reasonableness of his conduct, the court should know that the chief made the town fully aware of the legal merits of his position and the likely costs to the town of their termination of him prior to the termination.”
On November 3 the town filed an appeal asking the judge to reconsider his decision to reinstate O’Brien.
On November 7 Judge Groff denied the town’s motion to reconsider and also denied the motion to stay the court’s order pending appeal.
However, he noted that this motion did not concern the counter lawsuit filed by the Town against O’Brion for improperly revealing the contents of a non-public meeting in public court documents and ended his order with, “Trial shall remain as scheduled.”
The dance will continue.