For Pelham bus schedules please go to the school district website.

For Windham bus schedules please go to the school district website.

Birds of Prey Come to Nesmith Library

by Tom Tollefson

Joanie Albers with a screech owl.

Three raptors came to visit the Nesmith Library on Monday, September 24.  The sharp-toothed raptors did not leap off the screen from the movie Jurassic Park; these raptors are part of the bird family. 

Joanie Albers, the program director from the New Hampshire Audubon McLane Center in Concord, used three live raptors — also called birds of prey— in her presentation for the 17 home-schooled children, ages 5 to 12, and their mothers.

“I like the mix of information she gave.  It wasn’t just all geared for younger kids,” said Kim Raison, a mother in attendance.  Caroline Mravelias, mother of Luke, 9, and Debbie, 6, enjoyed it as well.  “I was going to go to the bank, but it was so interesting, I stayed,” she said.

Children and parents alike gasped in amazement as Albers displayed a barred owl, red-tailed hawk, and eastern screech owl one at a time.  Each of the birds had previously suffered an injury and been treated by a wildlife rehabilitator before being taken to the McLane Center in Concord. 

According to Albers, these three types of raptors are among the most common types found in New Hampshire, but seeing these birds were still a first for many of the youngsters.  “I’ve never seen a bird like it before,” Caroline, 6, stated. 

Albers discussed the differences between the birds, such as the positioning of their eyes and their size.  The barred owl’s eyes are closer together, which requires the use of his 14 neck bones to turn his head in order to see to the side.  While the red-tailed hawk’s neck can rotate as well, he does not need to as much since his eyes are farther apart, allowing him to easily see on the side.

All birds of prey do not sleep and hunt on the same cycle.  The barred owl is nocturnal, meaning that he hunts at night, while the red-tailed hawk is diurnal, hunting during the day.  Albers referred to the birds’ schedules as “different strategies of survival.”

The eastern screech owl is much smaller than the others, weighing only a few ounces. 

Despite the variation in hunting habits and size, the two similarities that bind the bird of prey family together are sharp beaks and talons, also called claws.  The talons help the birds hunt, while the beaks help them break down their food if it’s too large.  In addition to the live birds, Albers also brought in several real bird of prey monts (stuffed birds) skulls and beaks. 

At the end of the session, all the children crowded around the table to get their hands on the monts.  Albers used the lightweight bone structure and feathers to teach the children how birds are built for flying. 

The Birds of Prey presentation is part of the library’s efforts to provide monthly educational events during the school year for the home-schooling families; they have done so for the past two years.  “They’re a community too, and it gives them a way to reach out to each other and have social interaction,” Nesmith Youth Services Director Lori Morse said about the monthly home-schooling events, which have included a presentation on reptiles, along with math and writing workshops.

These programs are also not limited to Windham home-schoolers.  “It’s for all towns, not just Windham.  There’s not so many home-schoolers in Windham to where it would be overflowing,” Morse said. 

As a non-profit organization, the New Hampshire Audubon’s mission is to protect and preserve the state’s natural environment.  It was originally started over 100 year ago by a group of people who were against making hats out of birds. 

Debbie, 6, is looking at bird feathers. 

Pelham Teachers’ Contract Reviewed

by Lynne Ober

There were more empty seats than people at Tuesday’s Deliberative Session.

“This is the best teacher contract that I’ve seen in my career,” said Attorney Gordon Graham, who makes his living negotiating school contracts and advising school districts.  “It’ a great deal for the taxpayers, and they should vote yes.”

But what makes this contract so attractive to the town came out only after a bit of back-and-forth discussion.  The Pelham teachers’ contract provides one, and only one, raise per year for teachers.  Most union contracts provide for two raises, and it was clear from some of the questions and comments that this was not clearly understood.

Pelham Business Administrator Kathleen Sargent finally spoke up and clarified the situation.  In Pelham, teachers get one raise — the step increase.  They do not get both a step increase and a COLA raise as had been discussed by residents.

“We put all of the money into the step raises, and there is only that one raise,” said Sargent.  “We do not give two raises every year — just one.”  Those raises were documented and handed out to the audience.  The charts showed the current contract and the proposed contract for every step.  Audience members could make their own percentage calculations to see the percentage and amount of each raise for every teacher.

“Facts and figures.  That’s what we wanted to give people,” said School Board Chairman Bruce Couture.

Hal Lynde, who understood that there was only one raise for the teachers, spoke twice as did Bill Scanzani, who said that he thought teachers were getting two raises — one a step increase and one a 3.5 percent COLA raise.

Lynde, responding to Scanzani’s comments, pointed out teachers would get 3.5 percent total raise.  He directed the audience to look at the materials provided by the school district.  He highlighted a bottom step and a top step, and he explained the calculation and size of the total raise.

There was conversation about the benefits and the cost of benefits.  Beginning with this contract, teachers will be paid a higher percentage than under the old contract.  Couture pointed out the differences and offered dollar-and-cent figures to support the changes.  He also said that there are more benefits than just health insurance, and there had been a significant reduction in the severance benefit, which is paid to teachers upon retirement.

Scanzani and Ed Gleason both spoke against that proposal. They each felt more movement should have been made in the health benefit. 

Couture asked them to look at the total picture, including the reduction in the severance package, which over the cost of the contract is estimated to save more than a million dollars.  “The severance package is also a benefit, and there’s been a significant drop in those benefits.  We did grandfather teachers who are close to retirement, but if you just look at the teachers who are currently on the payroll and could retire, you’ll see a savings much greater than one million dollars.  That’s forward thinking.”  Couture did walk the audience through the specifics of those savings.  Couture told the audience to get a contract, look at the formula for this program [it’s found on page 24 of the contract], and do their own calculation.  “You’ll come up with a huge savings.”

Budget Committee Chairman John Lavallee told a very small audience that there were two primary reasons the Budget Committee did not vote to recommend: (1) the percentage of health insurance give back and (2) the increase in the number of stipends.

Built into the contract are nine additional stipend positions. Mike Conrad, a school board member, explained that this was due to increased after-school attendance for sports and other school-sponsored activities.  In addition, there was no increase in the stipends over the life of the last contract and a total 3.5 percent increase over the life of this contract.  He gave a couple of examples.  One stipend was for $850 and would increase to $880 at the end of the proposed contract. 

The school board moved to amend the warrant to have voting at Pelham Memorial School because school will be in session and there was more parking there than at the high school.  That amendment passed.

Scanzani moved to add $1,283,574 to the first year of the contract; this would provide the teachers with an 8.5 percent raise the first year.  Scanzani said that he made the motion after listening to a presentation made by one of the teacher union representatives.

Couture asked people to vote no and asked Attorney Graham to explain why.  Graham read the state law; it requires that negotiations be completely re-opened if any modification is made to the warrant article.  So, even if the modification is to add more money, the unintended consequence would be to send the board and the union back to the negotiating table.

On a voice vote, the amendment to add money failed.  The next stop is for Pelham residents to vote.  The polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23.

Selectmen Join School Board at School Site

by Barbara O'Brien

On the evening of Monday, September 17, members of the Windham Board of Selectmen joined School Board members at the site of the future Windham High School on London Bridge Road, directly off Route 111.

“It was a beautiful night for a walk,” School Board Chairman Al Letizio said, upon their return to the meeting room in the town's planning and development department.  “I don't think there was a mosquito out there.”  After having viewed the latest work at the site, Letizio said, “I think we will have a spectacular finished project.”  The high school is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2009-2010 school year.

Glenn Davis, owners’ representative for the school district and the town, as well as “taxpayers’ advocate,” as he described himself, said there are two unique projects going on at the construction site at the same time — the building itself and the access road to the future high school.

Davis said he found it amazing, but not one incident of theft or vandalism has taken place at the construction site since work began last spring.

The road winding up to the high school site itself was paved on September 13 and 14, Davis said, shortly before town and school officials visited the area.  Guardrails still need to be installed and landscaping is still being worked on, according to Davis.

Originally, the road was designed with a retaining wall, but concerns over stability of the wall resulted in subsequent changes, Davis said.  Those changes were all approved by the State Department of Environmental Services (DES), he said.

Davis also said he is fairly confident that the State Department of Transportation (DOT) will approve the current plan being reviewed for the installation of a traffic light at the intersection of London Bridge Road and Route 111.  To date, there have been five revisions sent to the DOT for review.

Selectman Margaret Crisler said she has concerns about the safety of the sloped areas adjacent to the road and questioned the strength of the guardrails being installed, especially since large school buses will be using the road.  Davis said the guardrails are metal and will be pile-driven approximately six feet into the ground.  He said the town had initially requested wooden guardrails, but engineers working on the project felt metal would be more substantial.

Davis said he wants the road to be finished this fall, with the exception of the final topcoat.  It was emphasized that the road leading up to the high school site is not currently open to the public due to safety concerns.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger asked about erosion control in the area of the roadway.  Davis said plans are to install curbing this year to help control erosion.  Hohenberger also said he feels a second egress from the high school site should be finished prior to the high school opening to students.  Davis agreed that this is a priority issue.

All utilities to the site have been installed underground, including phone, cable, and electric.

Selectman Bruce Breton complimented those working on the high school project on the appearance of the site thus far.  “It's mind-boggling how much work has already been done,” Breton said.  Chairman of the School Board Alan Carpenter thanked Davis for his “perseverance” in working diligently on the project.

Superintendent Frank Bass said that Windham High School “could be and should be the best high school in New Hampshire.”

Future Athletics for Windham To Be Planned

by Barbara O’Brien

By a unanimous vote, school board members will proceed to develop a master plan for possible future athletic facilities at both the existing Windham Middle School and the currently under-construction Windham High School.

During the September 18 work session, the school board gave their full endorsement to contracting with Appledore Engineering of Portsmouth in an amount not to exceed $7,500.  Of those funds, $5,500 is designated for the development of a master plan for both high school and middle school athletic facilities; the other $2,000 is for meeting and consulting time.

The need to develop a master plan came about as a result of school board members voting earlier this month to accept the athletic committee’s recommendations for additional sports facilities; a wish list designated as a “vision for the future.”

Two grass fields for football and soccer, one baseball field, one softball field, one physical education field, and one gymnasium are included in the current plans for Windham High School, which is expected to open in September 2009.  Members of the athletic committee do not feel that these facilities are sufficient, however; so they created a set of three recommendations for future development.

The first recommendation is to build four diamonds at the future high school.  Two diamonds are budgeted for in the current plans: one for baseball, the other for softball.  If four diamonds were constructed, two would be for girls’ softball (play and practice), while the other two would be for boys’ baseball (play and practice).  School Board Chairman Al Letizio said this would allow for junior varsity as well as varsity teams at Windham High School.  The additional diamonds would also provide extra space for town recreational teams to play and practice, he said.

The second recommendation is for a stadium to be built with a track and artificial-turf playing field, plus seating and lighting for nighttime games.  According to Chris O’Neill, a committee member, without the installation of an artificial-turf playing field, there would be great difficulty in supporting the number of programs that are currently planned.  A grass field would not stand up to the prolonged and constant use, he said.  If built, programs expected to use a stadium would include soccer, football, field hockey, and lacrosse.  The town would also be able to use the stadium for community events, O’Neill said.

The third and final recommendation is for a second gymnasium at the future high school.  The proposed 60-foot by 100-foot gym would provide space for other sports, committee members said, including volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, etc.  “We need to have a master plan which includes needs at Windham Middle School, too,” School Board Member Bruce Anderson said.  A new soccer field at the middle school was one of the needs discussed earlier in the meeting.

School Board Vice-Chair Beth Valentine supported the master plan development, but she also feels it would be premature to take the recommendations for additional athletic facilities to the Capital Improvement Committee (CIP) at the current time.  The costs involved need to be firmed up and precise locations for building these facilities need to be determined first, Valentine stated.  “The fuzzier the information, the less serious the CIP committee will take it, and the farther out they will place it,” she said.  “I think it’s bad business to go to the CIP committee prematurely,” Valentine added.

Glenn Davis (the owners’ representative for the school district and town in regard to the construction of Windham High School) said that board members would need to prioritize their “wish list” (fields and stadium) and develop a list of anticipated costs for each component.  Prices will vary depending on where these facilities are going to be built, he said.

Davis also said that projected costs would need to include the extent of site work to be done, gaining access to those sites, as well as the cost of providing essential utility services to each of the sites.  “Obviously some of these potential sites are better than others,” Davis said.

Letizio said school officials aren’t saying when these facilities will actually be built, but specific plans do need to be developed showing where they will be constructed, if, indeed, they are eventually built.

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