Open House for Parents at PES

by Karen Plumley

First grader Patrick Zimmerman and his little brother Ben played enthusiastically with a giant ball maze constructed by middle school student and Destination ImagiNation enthusiast, Amelia English, 12, and her parents.

Spanning two evenings, this year’s open house at Pelham Elementary School was as busy as ever.  The east wing section of the school was open for students and their parents on Tuesday, September 16, while the west wing was open on the next evening, Wednesday, September 17. 

Students led their parents and siblings by the hand through the entrance and into the hallway, where consecutive tables were set up for Destination ImagiNation (DI), a creativity and problem-solving program for students who want to showcase their skills in areas such as performance arts, science, problem-solving, teamwork, and music.  Volunteer-driven and touted as the “most important course in education,” DI is now recruiting students for this year’s projects.  To further entice, the DI tables were full of many interesting and challenging experiments during open house, including a giant-sized ball maze.

Representatives from the Pelham Boy Scouts were also present to hand out information on this year’s troops.  Many first grade boys and their parents crowded around the tables to talk to the troop leaders and check out pictures from last year’s very exciting Pinewood Derby.

Classrooms were open for all grades, and each teacher had his or her own special way in which to welcome visitors.  Many teachers prepared pictures and slideshows of the first days of school.  On the students’ desks were displayed artwork, written stories, and journals for proud parents to admire and help them feel confident that their little ones are already back in the swing of another great year of learning.

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Pelham American Legion Building Gets Facelift

by Karen Plumley

From left: Former Post Commander Paul Kazalski and current Commander Aram Jeknavorian in front of the newly updated American Legion building on Windham Road

The siding is whiter.  The shutters and doors are more colorful.  The handicap ramp is brand new.  There is no longer a troublesome leak into the basement from cracked and crumbling walls.  During his one-year term as commander of American Legion Post 100, Paul Kazalski of Dracut, Massachusetts, put his desire to upgrade a tired, historical building into action.  A member of the legion for the past 28 years, Kazalski has made it his mission to complete the facelift that will include many improvements to the outdoor pavilion and the interior.

The front hall of the American Legion is the oldest portion of the building and was one of the very first schoolhouses built in Pelham.  Records do not indicate exactly what year “No. 1 School” was constructed.  However, in Reflections: A Pictorial History of Pelham, New Hampshire 1746-1996 the authors wrote that a committee to plan and establish the first schools was formed in 1775.  Additionally, a committee report excerpt dated February 13, 1797 verifies the existence of four of the five original school buildings, and by the mid- 1880s, all five schoolhouses were completed.  Pelham historian William Hayes, who attended first grade at No. 1 School in 1946, said there was no running water and no electricity in the building until 1938.  According to members of the legion, one can even now see the old tin ceiling under the current tiles.  Furthermore, Kazalski pointed out that they have kept aside the school’s original cement front steps, which are safely tucked away between the handicap ramps.

Kazalski has overseen all of the improvements thus far and plans to make sure the remaining work is done as quickly as possible.  “We are currently working on the reconstruction of the band stage and will start staining the outdoor pavilion soon.  We’re also updating the inside, installing new paneling and a ceiling,” he said.  The outdoor pavilion and the indoor front hall are available for rent to the public.  The hall accommodates about 75 people, and the pavilion has a full bar and band stage.  The legion has offset the improvement costs with money raised during its many fundraisers including their largest one, the annual clambake.  However, Kazalski commented that most of the labor and materials have been donated.

Stepping aside from his commander role to focus solely on the betterment project, Kazalski has left some pretty big shoes to fill.  Aram Jeknavorian of Pelham, who has been vice commander in the past has taken over as commander, and while Kazalski continues with the revitalization of the building, Jeknavorian will be concentrating his efforts on growing its membership.  “At one time this post had the highest membership in New Hampshire, reaching about 300.  Numbers have dwindled somewhat, but this year we are hoping to reach out to the younger veterans, and also encourage current members to rejoin,” he noted.  He estimates that now there are close to 200 active members.

Kazalski, a Vietnam War veteran, is grateful to the members of the legion and its ladies’ auxiliary who donated their time and materials.  “The donations we’ve been getting have been indispensable,” Kazalski said.  “I especially appreciate the help and support we’ve received from nonmembers.”  

“No. 1 School” on Windham Road in Pelham, date unknown.  Picture courtesy of Pelham Historical Society.

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School Board Votes for Public Kindergarten in Windham

by Barbara O’Brien

Windham School Board members have voted unanimously to move forward with implementing public kindergarten for the 2009-2010 school year.

The 5 to 0 decision was made during the school board’s Tuesday, September 16 meeting as the result of a state mandate calling for public kindergarten in all school districts.  Windham is one of only a few communities nationwide that don’t have public kindergarten.

According to Superintendent Frank Bass, school administrators will need to meet with the state education commissioner by early December to present preliminary plans to begin offering public kindergarten in Windham as of September 2009.

In the short term, Windham plans to install portable classrooms to house a kindergarten program.  Although the location has not yet been chose, it is likely that the portables will be placed either at Windham Center or Golden Brook Elementary schools.

In addition to paying for the portables, the state will give Windham $1,200 per child to help finance the new program.  Based on a projected need for six certified kindergarten teachers, and taking into consideration the state’s contribution, the local district still will need to come up with about $200,000 to pay staff costs during the first year of operation.

According to recent legislation, the state will pay for portable classrooms for a maximum of three years.  Bass said administrators are still not sure where a kindergarten program will be housed permanently, once the three-year period is over.  A study of potential facilities is in progress.

Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said there is also the need to evaluate the district’s transition program, for instruction of six-year-olds not yet ready for a traditional first-grade classroom.  Now there are two teachers in the transition program.  The question to be answered is whether a transition program will be needed once kindergarten is in place.  “There’s a big philosophical difference developmentally between kindergarten, transition and first grade,” Wilson said.  Plans are to investigate what other area communities have done with their transition or readiness programs once they introduced public kindergarten.

Once public kindergarten is in place, it will not be mandatory for parents to send their children there, Wilson said.  They can still choose to enroll their children in a private kindergarten or not to enroll them anywhere for kindergarten.  “It’s the parents’ choice,” she said.  The public kindergarten to be offered by Windham will most likely be a half-day, morning or afternoon, program.

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Open House Set for Windham High School

by Barbara O’Brien

Saturday, October 25, will be the first formal opportunity for residents to get a peek at the new Windham High School.

According to Superintendent Frank Bass, an open house has been scheduled from approximately 9 a.m. until noon.

“I’m very excited and pleased how it’s all coming together,” Bass said, referring to progress being made in the construction of Windham’s own high school.  Now, Windham pays tuition to send its high school pupils to Salem High School.  Although the new high school won’t be finished by the time the open house is held, it is expected that the first floor of the building will be open for tours.

Bass particularly encouraged future Windham High students to attend the open house, so they can envision the programs and equipment that will be in place for them when the school opens next September.  During the first year of operation (2009-2010), only freshmen and sophomores will attend Windham High School.  Juniors and seniors will continue their education at Salem High School.

Windham School Board members are asking that no politicking be done during the open house, as the event will be held only a short time prior to the General Election in November.

Also planned is an unveiling of the proposed high school curriculum, scheduled for the Tuesday, October 7, school board meeting, as well as a technical presentation slated for the school board meeting on Tuesday, October 21.  Both of meetings will be held at the Planning and Development Building, adjacent to the old Town Hall.  As for additional opportunities for the public to visit the school, Bass said there will be plenty of chances for people to do just that.

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State Recommends Windham Maintain Higher Operating Fund Balance

by Barbara O’Brien

Windham Financial Director Dana Call is asking selectmen to increase the amount of money left in the town operating fund balance at the conclusion of each year as recommended by auditors and the state.  Call’s suggestion is based on the recommendation of the town’s auditing firm, Vachon and Clukay, as well as state officials at the state Department of Revenue Administration.

Selectmen agreed several years ago to leave no more than $250,000 in the fund balance, an amount significantly less than many towns in New Hampshire.  “We don’t have a lot of wiggle room with the fund balance,” Call said. 

Call brought the topic up for discussion during the Monday, September 8, selectmen’s meeting in anticipation of an upcoming meeting with the DRA; an annual session where the 2008 tax rate will be set. 

According to Call, the DRA recommends that Windham have a fund balance set aside at the end of each year in the approximate amount of $1.7 million.  This amount is based on 14 percent of the town’s annual operating budget.  The DRA and town auditing firm recommend this level to ensure financial stability.

Selectmen, however, argue that they’d rather return as much of the fund balance, as possible, to offset taxes, rather than have it sit in an account waiting for an emergency or other financial crisis. 

“The Town of Windham is not in a financial crisis position,” Town Administrator David Sullivan said. “Windham is still viewed by the DRA as one of the jewels of southern New Hampshire.”  Windham is in excellent financial shape, Sullivan said.  “The town is very solvent.”

Sullivan said the only effect that might come from the relatively low fund balance is that Windham might receive a lower bond rating should it go out for a new bond issuance.  “Don’t be surprised if it goes down,” Sullivan said.  According to Moody’s, which provides ratings for bonds, without a plan in place for Windham to increase its fund balance, the town’s bond rating is likely to take a downward turn.  Windham has a very high bond rating of Aa.

The fund balance at the end of 2007 was $382,836.  Call recommends that that entire amount be left in the account as an unreserved fund balance, rather than only leaving $250,000 as in the past.  Call believes this will show the DRA a good faith effort that Windham intends to increase its fund balance during upcoming years. 

“Clearly, it’s a philosophical discussion,” Sullivan said, suggesting that town officials slowly increase the balance to $500,000 in the next five to seven years.  “But, it’s the board’s decision,” he said. 

Selectman Charles McMahon said the system punishes towns for being fiscally prudent.  “It seems that by not being in debt, a town gets a lower bond rating.”

Selectman Bruce Breton suggested that Windham follow in the footsteps of Bedford by developing a fund balance retention policy.  Bedford retains eight percent of its annual operating budget as a fund balance, he said, which would account for approximately $3.6 million. Breton said Bedford has not reached the eight percent level yet, but is working in that direction.

A consensus  among selectmen resulted in Galen Stearns and Roger Hohenberger staying with a $250,0000 unreserved fund balance, while McMahon, Dennis Senibaldi and Breton went with a 2008 unreserved fund balance recommendation of $300,000.

Hohenberger said it is “a bad decision to take the extra money out of taxpayer pockets and put it in a paper bank.”  McMahon said the increase shows good faith and recommends a 10-year plan to increase the unreserved fund balance gradually. 

Call said the $50,000 increase in the recommended 2008 unreserved fund balance is no more than “a step in the right direction.”  She added that the extra $50,000, which won’t be used to offset the 2008 tax rate, will mean about a two-cent increase on the new tax rate.

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