Election Results are availible at the bottom of the page.
Editor’s note: This article largely focuses on the grievances Hudson school bus drivers have wrestled with over the past few months. In an upcoming follow-up, the Hudson~Litchfield News hopes to provide the responses of current and future bus company management as well as SAU 81 leadership on this issue.
Hudson School Bus Woes Intensify as Drivers are ‘Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place’
by Maureen Gillum
The school bus problems with our waning service provider, First Student of Hudson, have greatly intensified in recent months. For example, one mom witnessed more than a dozen different drivers on the south-end neighborhood bus route lately. Monday’s fill-in, who was 35 minutes late for pick-up, said he “was called in from Nashua last minute to cover.” Flustered and with a map in his hand, he also admitted he’d “never driven the route,” nor did he know how to get to the school. Unfortunately, such irregularities are becoming routine in Hudson, while serious concerns regarding consistent service, student safety, and bus driver shortages are all on the rise.
Citing “low pay” (wages typically start around $10.50 an hour); “poor working conditions”; a “revolving management door” at First Student; frequent route altercations; and uncertain futures (with bus contracts changing); Hudson bus drivers are bailing fast. One regular bus driver of two years, “Miss Jen,” recently gave her two-week notice, and left last Friday. She is one of eight or 25 percent of the 32 Hudson bus drivers who have resigned or have been fired since the start of the year. (First Student of Hudson has a total roster of 72 to serve Hudson, Litchfield, and Chester, including regular and SPED drivers, monitors, and administration.) Despite First Student’s regional VP Percy Abbott’s “qualified” promise of a “$750 retention bonus” in a February 17 memo to Hudson bus drivers to try to thwart the hemorrhaging, many believe a lot more drivers are about to walk. And with all that is going on, who could blame them?
Candy Paradise has been a Hudson school bus driver since 1976, taking just a few years off to raise her three boys. Like many, she is a “professional bus driver” who takes pride in “servicing my kids and parents of route 5” and “knowing my route well and patterns of her neighborhoods.” She explains, First Student collectively transports roughly 6,000 students each day in Hudson, Litchfield, and Chester – that’s nearly 4,000 in 1.5 hours every school day, twice a day, in Hudson alone. “It isn’t always an easy job, but it’s kind of a calling,” Paradise shared with a weary smile over a cup of coffee last week, “I’ve stayed all these years mainly because I got attached to my kids and I enjoy watching them grow up.”
Providing some background, SAU 81 announced last December, that it will sever its contract with First Student, a First Group America Company, when its current five-year contract (with a one-year extension) expires this summer. SAU 81 Business Manager, Norman Sanborn targeted to “improve both service levels and cost efficiencies,” in finalizing the new five-year $1.4 million special education bus contract with Provider Enterprises (Fremont, NH); while the five-year $1.02 million regular education transportation agreement was awarded to Goffstown Truck Center, part of the national Student Transportation of America.
Since then, things with First Student of Hudson have been falling apart rapidly with serious concerns for driver shortages, contract violations, safety issues and poor and inconsistent service. “With Hudson’s contract expiring -- and Litchfield and Chester’s continuing contract taking precedence -- things are a real mess and we’re simply no longer a priority,” detailed Paradise. “Sadly, First Student seems to no longer care about us, the schools, students, or parents of Hudson.” One disbelieving Hudson school principal relayed an incident where the bus company “actually hung up on me” this week when he was trying to rectify a student disciplinary case.
A chief complaint from Hudson drivers is their “recent revolving door of managers;” with four documented contract managers for Hudson since December 2005. The first victim was Hudson’s long-time contract manager, Lorraine Hart-Lussier, who many believe was fired December 5 as the “scapegoat” for the contract loss. Her successors, including Keith Longtin, who filled the position for almost two months before walking off February 7, have had little to no transport management experience. After an internal promotion without proper postings, a Hudson driver of 4.5 years, Bill Morris, stepped up for three weeks, and is now back driving. As of March 3, Joyce Finn-Manzi, a former Hudson driver and trainer since 2003, was named the contract manager.
Finn-Manzi attempted to meet this week with Hudson Superintendent Randy Bell in a well-intentioned, but invalid attempt “to save the contract,” when the “real issues” are effectively completing the contract and smoothly transitioning to the two new carriers. Even Hudson’s current dispatcher, Laurie Makarawicz, “who is doing the best she can,” according to drivers, has resorted to dispatching from her Litchfield bus to help cover shortages. It appears that no one is at the helm and largely the bus drivers are trying to keep the Hudson school bus life boats afloat.
Digging into the current bus contract (awarded 5/11/98), Rob Everett, Hudson route #17 bus driver of four years, alleges to have found First Student in violation of more than two dozen contract and policy handbook statutes. These include doubling up on routes and overcrowding, improper coverage (missing dispatchers, management), numerous safety issues, and all the frequent last-minute scrambling to cover for shortages, no-shows, and vehicle breakdowns. “I’m often late for my regular route, because I’m pulled off to cover Chester or Litchfield in a Hudson bus,” stated Everett in frustration. “There are also many complaints from drivers on back wages and unpaid toll money.”
A parent, taxpayer, and route #18 driver of seven years, Connie Liles, cited, “People underestimate the importance of our jobs and safe and reliable student transportation, until it’s no longer there.” She concurs that “Hudson bus drivers are being kept in the dark” and “often treated like fourth-class citizens.” Liles also reinforced, “Our kids are our number-one priority and we’re a key part of the village as the eyes and ears for parents in school transport.” Unfortunately, since parents and students really only see the bus drivers, they’ve become increasingly “caught in the middle” and taking the unfair heat for the growing amount of school bus problems.
With the absence of management resolutions, several discouraged, but concerned professional bus drivers like Paradise, Everett and Liles have tried to recently address issues and rectify problems. They have called “town meetings;” met with Superintendent Bell (2/16/06 and later) and with First Student’s regional VP, Percy Abbott. Bus drivers are also suggesting a “school bus coordinator” be re-established as they once very successfully had, to act as liaison between drivers, schools and the contract manager. They’d also like to meet with the two new upcoming contract providers, Goffstown Trucking and Provider Enterprises, to discuss and outline transition plans, logistics, and employment for next year. They also intend to go before the next Hudson School Board meeting on March 20 to air their grievances with the hopes that some concerned school staff and parents will do the same.
Emerging from the chaos and troubles are several legitimate questions and key concerns for every Hudson bus driver, parent, and taxpayer and district employee. For example, how much does SAU 81 owe in its remaining contract with First Student Hudson and if the bus company is actually in violation of their contractual obligations, why should the town pay the remaining contract fees? Why isn’t school district management doing more to influence or dictate to First Student to rightfully complete their contracts and better facilitate the transition to the two new bus companies? Short of a bus driver walk out, or an incident where a student or students are harmed in the chaos, what will it take to address and resolve these critical Hudson school bus issues?
“I’ve worked for five different bus companies, for the town of Hudson over more than 25 years,” recalled Paradise as she lists her bus employers, including First Student, Bruce, Jancar, and Connells. “I’ve never seen anything as bad as the unprofessional behavior, disregard, secrecy, and deceit currently at First Student in Hudson.” Paradise, who is seriously considering hanging up her bus keys, concludes, “We’re really caught between a rock and a hard place.”
Hudson parents, taxpayers, and district employees: be aware of the current school bus problems. Hudson people need to voice their concerns and demand that actions be taken to help build a better solution for all – watch or attend the next school board meeting on March 20, call or e-mail into SAU 81’s central office (883-7765, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Residents of Hudson Have Spoken: Challengers ‘Trounce’ Incumbents
by Doug Robinson
The residents of Hudson have voted and have made their decisions known. The incumbent Hudson Selectmen, Bill Cole and Terry Stewart, lost their attempt at re-election. Challengers Ben Nadeau and Shawn Jasper have both been elected as selectmen and will represent the town of Hudson for the next three years.
Ben Nadeau received 1,208 votes while Shawn Jasper got 1,205. Terry Stewart garnered 710 votes while Bill Cole got 893.
“First of all I want to thank the voters of the town of Hudson for the confidence they have shown in me and my family and I am grateful for that support,” stated Shawn Jasper. “My primary focus will be to see that the Green Meadow project is managed in such a way that the town of Hudson is not consumed by this project.”
Ben Nadeau states “I liked to thank all the supporters for all the trust and support for the next three years. I look forward to working with the Hudson Seniors as well as the residents of Hudson.”
John Drabinowitz stated, “You guys not only won, you trounced them.”
Selectmen Kathleen MacLean commented that this was “a great demonstration in democracy. Any resident who did not vote and is surprised by the outcome should remember this day and take it as a lesson. Voting is important and everyone should vote.”
Selectman Richard Maddox stated, “I look forward to working with both Ben and Shawn, and we have a lot of important work to do ahead of us. Both Ben and Shawn bring many years of service and knowledge to the board, and I look forward to working with both of them.”
Chairman Ken Massey stated, “Congratulation to both Ben and Shawn on their election to the board. I look forward to working with them as we have many important issues ahead of us in the town. The south end and Green Meadow are only two of the many important projects facing the town of Hudson and their impact on the town’s infrastructure. I would also like to thank Bill Cole and Terry Stewart for their many years of dedicated service to the town, and I hope they continue to contribute as we go forward.”
Election Gremlins Affect Announcement of Results
by Lynne Ober
What else can go wrong at an election? The Litchfield Town Deliberative Session was announced for the wrong day. Town ballots had to be reprinted and then the voting machine that should have made things easier, quit counting ballots. With approximately 47 percent of the eligible people voting, this was a significant problem.
After the ballots were counted by the machine, there were still a large number that had to be hand-counted because they had write-in votes.
Board of Selectman Chairman Cecil Williams said, “Even after we got a replacement voting machine, we had to run approximately 75 percent of the ballots through it to ensure that we had an accurate count and it ran all the ballots with write-in candidates very slowly.”
Williams noted that some of the write-in votes were not serious votes. “People wrote in their kids.” Others said that some of the ballots contained votes for Batman and other comic book characters. All in all, it made for a very late night.
When the dust cleared, Litchfield’s proposed new school failed for the third year and unlike last year when it got a majority of the votes, but not the required 60 percent needed for a bond, this year it failed to get a majority of the votes and failed by 1,102 yes votes to 1,319 no votes.
“I was very surprised,” said School Board Chair Cindy Couture, who stood outside the polls from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. “I have never had more positive responses and thanks from citizens as I and other supporters received today at the polls. It was so nice to hear that from such a variety of people. From senior citizens and long-time residents to newer residents and young families, thank you for your support and encouragement.”
This year at the School Deliberative Session it was clear that the School Board had answered all of the questions that had been put to them about building a new school and about the future of Griffin. There were few questions and lots of approval throughout the small audience at that meeting.
The warrant article to sell Griffin also failed, but it failed by 1,176 yes votes to 1,234 no votes. That vote was interesting because it couldn’t be sold unless the school was built, but more people supported selling Griffin than building a new school.
“It's my hope the proposed buyer for GMS looks to continue their plans in Litchfield,” state Couture. “If they can't wait another year, I hope they can find another property in town. The community really needs a facility like congregate care for its senior members of the town. It's a great loss for senior citizens as well.”
On the positive side the school operating budget did pass by 1,206 yes votes to 1,193 no votes and the teachers’ contract passed by 1,274 yes votes to 1,139 no votes.
“I think the board will have to wait for the reval process to be over before we decide what to do next,” said an obviously disappointed Couture.
On the town side, the money to repair the Children’s Room at the Library passed, but that was the only positive vote on warrant articles with money.
With town-wide revaluation on-going there is great uncertainty about the effect of reval on property taxes. “I just voted no on everything,” said one resident who refused to give his name. “I need to be able to live here next year and I don’t know what’s going on with my taxes.”
Voters rejected three warrant articles on the town side: The operating budget failed, repairing the drainage system on Corning Road and $53,043 to hire a full-time staff person for the selectmen’s office.
“This (failure of the operating budget) will be an issue for us,” said Williams, who noted that the Highway Department is already over budget as a result of the snow storms.
The town will operate on the default budget of approximately $3.8 million. “Much of those increases were due to the rise in utility costs,” said Williams.
Voters accepted a proposal to elect a fire chief for a three-year term and a road agent every two years.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Sueddesutsche Zeitung, German’s equivalent to The New York Times.
Musical Gift from the USA
American exchange students present a Big Band concert at the Carl-Orff Gymnasium in Unterschleissheim
When Americans travel to Germany, what better to bring with them than the music that revolutionized the 20th century: Jazz? It was so appropriate that the American exchange students who are currently visiting the Carl-Orff Gymnasium presented a big band concert right away on the day of their arrival.
With six trumpets, four trombones and five saxophones, the band from Alvirne High School had plenty of power. Guitar, bass, and drums provided the necessary musical support. The musicians could not complain about a lack of attention, as the auditorium was packed full on all sides. There were constantly new chairs being brought in to create seating for students and host parents.
Clearly the band leader, Gerry Bastien, was pleased with the audience. “We are tourists,” he shouted enthusiastically, as he grabbed his camera and took a picture of the crowd, which was excited by his relaxed American style. They eagerly listened to numbers by Art Blakey, Count Basie and the like.
It is true that there is a tension for many Germans regarding current American foreign policy. Not coincidentally, there were advertisements in the auditorium for the American documentary, “Why we fight,” a film by Eugene Jarecki which presents the connection between the military-industrial complex and the American government.
Jazz made everyone forget all that. It brought to light that American culture and American foreign policy are two very different things. It broke down barriers in people’s heads. It was a pleasure to see the oversized painting of a laughing Bob Marley on the wall behind the band.
Regardless of the organizers’ good intentions, it was a bit unusual for German ears when the band played the German and American national anthems in recognition of the exchange partnership.
Fortunately, immediately afterwards, the outstanding young musicians focused again on what they do best: swinging and “jazzing.” For it is known that through the power of jazz, the best musicians of the 20th century have broken down mental barriers for everyone.
Local Student Named New Hampshire Geography Bee Semifinalist
Fionna Howes, an eight grade student at Hudson Memorial School, has been notified by the National Geographic Society that she is one of the finalists eligible to compete in the 2006 New Hampshire Geographic Bee.
Bees were held in schools with fourth through eighth grade students throughout the state during the past few months to determine each school’s Geographic Bee winner. School level winners then took a qualifying test, which they submitted to the National Geographic Society. The National Geographic Society invited the students with the top 100 scores from each of the 50 states and the territories to compete at the state level.
The 2006 New Hampshire Geographic Bee will be held at Keene State College on Friday, March 31. The state winner will represent New Hampshire in the national finals at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 23 – 24. This state winner will receive $100 and the trip to Washington, D. C.
The first-place national winner will receive a $25,000 college scholarship and a lifetime membership in the Society. “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek will moderate the national finals on May 24, which will air on television.
For additional information check out the National Geographic Bee website at www.nationalgeographic.com/geographicbee/.
Hudson Candidates 2006
Selectmen (2) 3-Year Terms
William P. Cole 895
Shawn N. Jasper 1205
Benjamin J. Nadeau 1208
Teresa Stewart 712
Budget Committee (3) 3-Year Terms
John Beike 1463
Robert Haefner 1509
Write-in Bill Cole 19
Budget Committee (1) 1-Year Term
Arlene Creeden 1644
Cemetery Trustee (1) 3-Year Term
Robert Haefner 1678
Code of Ethics (1) 3-Year Term
Daniel Hodge 1679
Write-in Jean Serino 14
Library Trustee (1) 3-Year Term
Arlene M. Creeden 1646
Library Trustee (1) 2-Year Term
Anne (Connie) Owen 1627
Moderator (1) 2-Year Term
Michael P. Keenan 1722
Supervisor of the Checklist (1) 6-Year Term
Karen L. Knox 1678
Treasurer (1) 3-Year Term
Karen Burnell 1690
Trustee of the Trust Fund (1) 3-Year Term
Write-in Ed Deschenes 19
School District Election
School Board (1) 3-Year Term
David J. Alukonis 1695
Moderator (1) 1-Year Term
Paul E. Inderbitzen 1705
School District Clerk (1) 1-Year Term
Cecile Y. Nichols 1707
School District Treasurer (1) 1-Year Term
Cecile Y. Nichols 1681
Warrant Article Results
Article 2: Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 1 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town Zoning Ordinance as follows?
Yes 1516 No 527 passed
Article 3: Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 2 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town Zoning Ordinance as follows?
Yes 1423 No 642 passed
Article 4: Are you in favor of the adoption of Amendment No. 3 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town Zoning Ordinance as follows?
Yes 1245 No 812 passed
Article 5: Combined Dispatch.
Yes 986 No 1164 failed
Article 6: Hudson Fire Fighters’ Union Contract.
Yes 1539 No 625 passed
Article 7: Fact Finders Report for Administrative & Support Union.
Yes 588 No 1532 failed
Article 8: Wage and Benefit Increase for Town Clerk/Tax Collector.
Yes 1233 No 905 passed
Article 9: Wage and Benefit Increase for Employees of Hills Memorial Library
Yes 1432 No 718 passed
Article 10: Operating Budget.
Yes 1337 No 800 passed
Article 11: Part-Time to Full-Time appraisal Technician
Yes 554 No 1583 failed
Article 12: Firefighters EMT-P.
Yes 1030 No 1133 failed
Article 13: Replacement Ambulance.
Yes 1756 No 412 passed
Article 14: GIS Capital Reserve Fund.
Yes 619 No 1510 failed
Article 15: Capital Reserve for VacCon Truck Replacement.
Yes 1368 No 763 passed
Article 16: Information Services Capital Reserve Fund.
Yes 1315 No 809 passed
Article 17: Sewer Utility Capital Reserve Fund.
Yes 1406 No 715 passed
Article 18: Water Utility Capital Improvements Capital Reserve Fund.
Yes 1303 No 814 passed
Article 19: Purchase Benson’s Property – Referendum.
Yes 1622 No 468 passed
Article 20: Wage and Benefit Increase for Non-Union Personnel.
Yes 1280 No 805 passed
Article 1: Operating Budget.
Yes 1409 No 670 passed
Article 2: Hudson School District Federation of Teachers Union Contract.
Yes 1338 No 820 passed
Article 3: Hudson School District Custodians & Electricians Union Contract.
Yes 1262 No 886 passed
Article 4: Hudson School District Secretaries Union Contract.
Yes 1324 No 827 passed
Article 5: Hudson School District Federation of PSRP’s NHFT Union Contract.
Yes 1178 No 960 passed
Article 6: Hudson School District Non-Bargaining Staff.
Yes 1371 No 771 passed
Article 7: Expendable Trust Fund.
Yes 1431 No 711 passed
Article 8: Renovation Capital Reserve Fund.
Yes 1429 No 679 passed
Litchfield Candidates 2006
5,221 Registered Voters
2,472 Citizens Voted
47% Voter Turnout
Moderator (1) 2 –Year Term
John Regan 66
Board of Selectmen (1) 3-Year Term
Al Raccio 37
Budget Committee (2) 3-Year Terms
Mike Falzone 190
Brian McCue 61
Check List Supervisor (1) 6-Year Term
Shirley Reed 86
Fire Chief (1) 1-Year Term
Thomas B. Schofield 1966
Library Trustees (2) 3-Year Terms
Tom Keugler 7
Road Agent (1) 1-Year Term
Gerard J. Decosta 1321
Rodrick W. Jones 795
Trustee, Town Trust Funds (1) 2-Year Term
Trustee, Town Trust Funds (2) 3-Year Terms
School Board (2) – 3-Year Term
Dorothy Beauregard 1551
Dennis Miller 1524
Warrant Article Results
Article 2: Are you in favor of the adoption of the Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 1 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town of Litchfield Zoning Ordinance?
Yes 1249 No 942 passed
Article 3: Are you in favor of the adoption of the Zoning Ordinance Amendment No. 2 as proposed by the Planning Board for the Town of Litchfield Zoning Ordinance?
Yes 1253 No 836 passed
Article 4: Operating Budget
Yes 1001 No 1269 failed
Article 5: Corning Road Drainage System.
Yes 890 No 1429 failed
Article 6: Florence C. Center Young Reader’s Room at Cutler Memorial Library
Yes 1295 No 1070 passed
Article 7: Selectmen’s Office Full-Time Staffer
Yes 693 No 1669 failed
Article 8: Increase Term of Town Highway Agent
Yes 1804 No 529 passed
Article 9: Increase Term of Fire Chief
Yes 1815 No 532 passed
Article 10: Cablevision Equipment Capital Reserve Fund
Yes 1196 No 1061 passed
Article 1: Build New School for Grades 1-5.
Yes 1102 No 1329 failed
Article 2: Operating Budget
Yes 1206 No 1193 passed
Article 3: Litchfield Education Association Union Contract
Yes 1274 No 1139 passed
Article 4: Shall the Litchfield School District, if Article 3 is defeated, authorize the Litchfield School Board to call one special meeting, at its option, to address Article 3 cost items only?
Yes 1212 No 1162 passed
Article 5: Sell the Griffin Memorial School.
Yes 1176 No 1237 failed