Snowy Easter Egg Hunt

by Lynne Ober

The little ones spotted those beautiful bright eggs.

Everyone says that New Englanders are tough and that was proved at Windham’s snowy Easter egg hunt.  Parents and munchkins came dressed for the snowy day.  Long before the event was to start, there was happy chatter on Windham Town Hall’s grounds.

Recreation Director Cheryl Haas said that over 3,500 eggs had been stuffed.  She noted that the Boy Scouts of Troop 266 were “the best.”  “They helped stuff eggs, came early and hid the eggs and will help keep the kids in the right areas,” said Haas.  

Because snow had been falling, Haas decided not to have the hay pile Easter egg hunt for the 0 – 2 year olds.  “We hid the eggs on the lawn where the 3 – 5 year olds usually hunt.  This year we’ll let the little ones get their eggs and then we’ll hide eggs for the 3 – 5 year olds in the same place.”

With the Boy Scouts directing foot traffic, the children were lined up next to their respective hunting spots and when “ready, set go” was announced, kids swarmed into the grassy areas to retrieve eggs.

Brownie Troop 2958 held a canned goods drive.  For every canned good that was brought in, an Easter egg was handed out.  The food was to be donated to the food pantry.

For the 0 – 2 year old toddlers, dealing with bulky snow suits while trying to bend down and retrieve the eggs was quite a production.  More than one sat down in the snow – with a giggle filling the air as the colorful egg was retrieved.

Upstairs everyone had a chance to visit with the Easter Bunny and have a picture taken.

Bradie and Brenna visit with the Easter bunny.

Jill and Ben look into the camera while Eliza gazes at the Easter bunny.

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State Senators Talk With Windham Officials About Public Kindergarten

by Barbara O'Brien

While still a Windham School Board member, Beth Valentine, as well as School Superintendent Frank Bass met with a group of State Senators in Concord to discuss state mandated public kindergarten and how best to implement it in the Town of Windham.  Valentine's term expired on Tuesday, March 11.  She did not seek re-election.

Windham is one of only a handful of towns remaining in New Hampshire that don't have public kindergarten.  In fact, because New Hampshire is the last state in the country not to have public kindergarten, Windham is one of only a few towns nationwide without such a program for five-year-olds.

Valentine said the discussion she and Dr. Bass had with State Senators on Tuesday, March 4 was "very positive" and that they expect those conversations to continue in that manner.  "The State is more interested in long-term solutions," she said, "not just knee-jerk reactions."  "The State really wants to see it work out for the town," Valentine added.

Bass said that he feels the State has been especially receptive to Windham's efforts in working to establish a public kindergarten, and because local school officials have taken the initiative in meeting with State officials.  During an interview following the March 4 meeting, Bass said he feels that "the kindergarten issue is far more approachable, than it was six months ago," when the remaining towns without public kindergarten learned their time was running out to implement such a program.

While Bass said it was very exciting to talk with members of the State Senate and to learn of their interest in assisting Windham, he also realizes the legislative process is far from complete.  A bill which recently passed the State Senate will now have to go the State House of Representatives, and if passed in the House, would then need to go to the governor for his signature, before becoming law. 

Existing State legislation regarding funding for the implementation of public kindergarten expires June 30, 2008.  In the meantime, there will be no kindergarten funding provided for any school district which has not already been authorized for that funding, as no school district would be able to start and complete the construction project before July 1 of this year.  This is the reason the new legislation was initiated.

The new bill, which was recently passed by the State Senate and still needs to be considered by the House of Representatives, extends the kindergarten construction aid program for five more years, through June 30, 2013.  This new bill also authorizes kindergarten classroom transition grants through June 30, 2011, money to be used to cover the cost of leasing and the set-up of portable classrooms, as well as furniture, fixtures, and equipment for school districts providing a public kindergarten program as of September 2008 or September 2009.  This bill also states that a school district which provides public kindergarten as of September 2008 or 2009 shall receive, in that same year, an additional adequate education grant, based on the number of pupils attending kindergarten in that district at the beginning of that particular school year. 

Initially, the State Department of Education (DOE) said that all communities in New Hampshire must have public kindergarten by September of 2008.  Although that deadline has since been extended to September of 2009, any remaining town which does not have public kindergarten in place by December of 2008 must file a specific plan with the State Commissioner of Education, detailing what will be in place by September of 2009.  Dr. Bass said he doesn't see the State Legislature allowing any town to go without a public kindergarten beyond 2009.

"So much is up in the air, right now," Dr. Bass said.  "It's a very fluid process."  If the House of Representatives approves the proposed kindergarten funding and it is signed by the governor, a bond article will then need to be put on the school district warrant.  The earliest that could happen is March of 2009.  Bond articles require a 60 percent majority of those votes cast in order to be approved.  If voters don't approve such a bond, as proposed, the State's "No Means No" statute will come into play.  According to this state law, if a bond article is defeated, no money can be expended on the subject of that warrant article for a period of 12 months following its defeat.  "If a kindergarten warrant article is defeated," Bass said, "it would certainly put the Windham School District in a bind."

Bass said Windham School Board members and administrators will continue to work with the DOE on the kindergarten issue.  Suggestions which have been bandied about regarding potential locations for housing a public kindergarten program, at least in the short-term, include: portable classrooms, space in the new high school when it opens in September of 2009 (only freshman and sophomores will be in attendance at that time); or classrooms in a future middle school that might be set aside for that purpose. 

"We still have room to maneuver in implementing kindergarten," Bass said.  "We're certainly not ready to go to the bank at this point.  We have a lot of ideas to sift through, first," he said.

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Four New Firefighters for Windham

by Barbara O'Brien

Windham Fire Chief Tom McPherson is ecstatic that voters recently approved the hiring of four new full-time firefighters, an expense which will be easier to handle due to the receipt of a federal grant.

On Tuesday, March 11, Windham residents threw their support behind the fire department's warrant article (#20) by a vote of 1,308 in favor to 1,089 opposed.  Following the election, McPherson expressed his sincere appreciation to all those residents who supported the fire department's quest to provide more efficient service to the Town of Windham.

Now that the Homeland Security funding has been granted by the federal government and voters have agreed to accept the money, McPherson is ready to begin searching for candidates to fill the four new slots.  "We will do a short advertisement for the positions (two weeks)," McPherson said, "and then take the resumes on file from the job we advertised for only a month ago and begin the recruitment process."  McPherson said he hopes to have the new firefighters on board by June.

According to Chief McPherson, calls for service are increasing daily, monthly and annually; a situation which is complicated further by the large number of simultaneous calls for service.  A major goal of the Windham Fire Department, McPherson said, is "adequate full-time staffing."  The recent passage of this year's warrant article will go a long way to meeting those demands, he said.

McPherson said he pursued the federal SAFER grant in an attempt "to be fiscally responsible," adding that he knew selectmen wouldn't support hiring more full-time firefighters at full cost to the town.  SAFER is an anagram for Security Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response; a federal program administered through Homeland Security.

According to the recently approved warrant article, federal funding will run from 2008 through 2012, with the federal share declining with each subsequent year.  During 2008, the federal share will be $101,200; the town's portion $81,030.  Funding in 2008 will not be for an entire year, since voters did not make their decision until March.  In 2009, the federal share will be $140,545; the town's portion $167,305.  During 2010, federal money will total $101,185; the town's payment $233,895.  In 2011, the grant will provide $61,880; the town $302,505.  And in the final year, 2012, the SAFER grant will provide Windham with $16,890, while taxpayers will need to come up with $370,190.  After that, the full cost will be paid through the town's annual operating budget. 

The grant provides money to be used for firefighters' salaries and benefits only.  The level of those salaries and benefits will be capped under the conditions of the grant.  Uniforms and any other necessary equipment will need to be provided by the town.  McPherson said it's his goal to hire firefighters/EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) who are already trained; thereby saving residents that additional cost.

Assistant Fire Chief Robert Leuci said there has actually been a decrease in the overall number of firefighters in the department during the past 16 years, due to the loss of many call firefighters.  Leuci said that there were 35 firefighters on the Windham Fire Department in 1991, at which time a total of 800 calls was handled.  This compares with 27 firefighters today, handling more than 1,400 calls for service.

In 1991, there were 16 call firefighters on the department's roster, Leuci said.  Today there are only nine.  Leuci said the department is not trying to get rid of its call firefighters.  The problem is that they are leaving due to increasing personal and employment commitments elsewhere. 

Prior to 2002, there were three firefighters on duty per shift.  Since that time, there have been four firefighters assigned to each shift.  With the grant money being awarded to Windham, that number will increase to five firefighters on each shift.  "An extra pair of hands on each shift will allow us to do more," Leuci said. 

While there is a lot of interest in building a sub-station in Windham, Chief McPherson said, an increase in staffing must come first.  "It's fruitless to increase equipment without the needed increase in staffing," he told selectmen.  "Staffing remains our number one priority, hands down," McPherson emphasized.

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